Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference 2000
The Conference commenced with the 300 men singing the metrical version of Psalm 65, and with prayer. Iain Murray then explained to the Conference that the sickness of Dr Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary, California, had prevented his attendance, and that Dr Sinclair Ferguson would speak instead of him. John Marshall opened a time of prayer by reading Scripture from I Samuel of the sudden death of the High Priest Eli at receiving the terrible news of the capture of the ark of God and the destruction of the army.
Why in our praying should we humble ourselves before God? Consider the situation at the time of Eli. Rebellious Israel was attacked. The suggested key to victory was to take the ark of the covenant into battle. The superficial attractiveness of the decision was accepted but further disasters resulted. The glory had departed from the people of God.
Were it not for the mercies of God we would be in a fearful state. We must be thankful for God’s great faithfulness to us. These are not days of absolutely nothing at all. We are not like contemporary Tunisia with a mere fifty professing Christians in the county–a land which centuries ago was a bastion of orthodoxy. We are much better than that. Even this conference has grown tenfold in thirty years. But church attendance is in resolute decline. Schoolchildren are even being given numbers to telephone if their fathers should give them a smack. Many church buildings have been sold for mosques. The quality press is getting like the cheaper papers. You cannot read it without being defiled. What should be done?
Man has his own ideas as to how to remedy things. Like the Israelites brought in the ark of the Lord to solve the problem, even while villainy and immorality were being ignored. They had not consulted God, and not gone to the root of the trouble. The glory had departed from Israel, and thus the Lord confounded men. They failed to do what Joshua did after the defeat at Ai. He rent his clothes and fell on his face until eventide. Joshua did not come up with some bright alternatives. He asked God what was the cause. The moral estate of the nation is going from bad to worse. You would expect the people of God to be filling their Prayer Meetings, crying to God to have mercy on them. But that is not what we find.
Think of the destruction of Yugoslavia, and how that beautiful land, which we remember freely driving around in the 1980’s and admiring, is now terribly destroyed. ‘That could not happen here,’ we say. Why such confidence? Witness the decaying of our corrupt nation, so provocative to God. Did not God take the ark from Israel? And did not the same God raise up David?
Alun McNabb then led the Conference in prayer, briefly and powerfully, and Hywel Jones, William MacLeod, Erroll Hulse and one other.
‘Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,’ (Psalm 103:2) was the verse Dr Robert Oliver read to the Conference. Ingratitude is itself a mark of declension, according to Romans 1. We have come together with a common concern for the church. We gather with a mutual love for what men refer to as ‘experiential Calvinism.’ We should be thankful to God that those truths have been greatly recovered in the last century. We long that they should make much more of an impact on the nation. We thank God that throughout Romanist-dominated Europe there have been gospel churches established, and are being planted today. God has a people worldwide, and these are amongst the benefits that we must remember. The psalmist lifts up his eyes to the living God in thanks for all that he has received. Remember that there have been grievous times in previous ages, and God has revived his work, again, and again. ‘Do you pray specifically for the overthrow of humanism, of Darwinism, of the destruction of the unborn etc? Let us be specific.’ Alex MacDougal led in prayer as did David Ellis, Mark Johnstone, and others.
Dr Sinclair Ferguson on ‘Calvin’s Conversion’.
As in the providence of God Dr Bob Godfrey had determined to choose this subject to speak on, and because of the monumental lessons learned from Calvin’s life Sinclair determined to speak on Calvin too. His is the most significant ‘dead voice’ in the history of the Christian church. It is particularly worthy of our study as ministers of the gospel because that is what Calvin supremely was. Much of his experience is mirrored in our own experience. We look back to the ‘great days’ of the Reformation. Knox called Geneva the ‘most perfect school of Christ’, but it was at great cost. Death worked in him that life might work in his congregation. His hands were dirty with the day to day work of the Christian gospel.
It is also helpful to study Calvin because he was an outstanding Christian man. A man of like passions as ourselves he had a short fuse, was a nervous individual, was conscious of his sins which he frequently lamented. As Beza said in his biography of Calvin, in one man, namely Calvin, God has showed us how to live and how to die.
We can divide Calvin’s life into three segments:-
1. His Early Life.
Calvin was reared within the confines of what godliness there was, but not until he came of age did he come to saving faith. He was born in Picardy in 1509. His father was a minor official in the bureaucracy of a local cathedral. He had brothers, but when he was four his mother died. His father remarried and she had two girls. He had an outstanding private education. His peers remember him as outstripping the rest of the class, intellectually precocious. His memory was retentive and his mind was quick. So Calvin had excessive natural ability. His commentary exegesis gets to the point of a passage with a rapier-like speed, so unlike 21st century commentators. Part of his ability was the fruit of the natural fruit of those early days.
At the age of 12 Calvin took the tonsure in the Roman church. He was available to enter university, and he did so in 1521 in Paris where he matriculated.
2. The University Student.
His Latin teacher was a great help to him and he dedicated his commentary on I Corinthians to him. He taught him ‘the true method of learning.’ It was a time of tension between the old medieval period and renaissance humanism. The latter determined to go back to the first principles and ancient texts. When his spirit was awakened he was able to study the New Testament scriptures this way.
He went to the College de Montagu, an extraordinary place of strictness, in diet and study. Did it have a permanent effect on his health? He went to bed at 9pm and was up at 4am and through the day there was study. The method used was exposition and question. The students was frequently interrogated, the mind of the student dominated by the teacher, and they engaged in basic exposition. The overview of the text was first undertaken, and then the separate components were looked at. This method served Calvin well in the future. We often lament that there are things we need to unlearn from our education. There was little of this in Calvin’s education. During that time, however, he described himself as thoroughly addicted to the papacy, but changes were taking place. In 1524 he was breaking away from the dogmas RC church.
Calvin’s father changed his mind concerning his son entering the priesthood, for a number of reasons, and Calvin obeyed him and so went to university and trained to be a lawyer. He lectured the students in his teachers’ absence. He was fascinated by the new humanism with its emphasis upon going to the original. He was thoroughly acquainted with Latin and began to learn Greek. His first published work was a commentary on Seneca’s work on mercy, exegeting it. He also came under the spiritual influence of a cousin who ‘burned the midnight oil.’ and also more men who were gripped by the ideas of Reformation convictions. In 1523 a young man was martyred in Paris for preaching reformed doctrines. Paris was a hotbed of discussion but it bypassed Calvin. It was not until he got to Orleans university that he met these truths. He began to teach at a Augustinian convent where its leader had sympathies with the Reformation, and Calvin there began his preaching with considerable effectiveness. Calvin graduated from Orleans and he went to Paris. By 1533 Calvin was on the verge of the great transformation, and in 1534 he resigned his chaplaincy and so announced he was leaving the church of Rome. In 2 years he published the first form of Institutes.
3 His Conversion
What can we say about it? He never dates it, but there are two different places by which we can feel the termini. He had studied Seneca as a plea to those who were in authority to have mercy on those engaged in reformed teaching. The latest time was when he resigned his chaplaincy.
He was converted nearer the beginning of that time rather than the end. In his introduction to the psalms he speaks of his conversion and there numerates four stages.
i) He was extradited from the papacy by a ‘sudden conversion.’ He was enflamed by an intense desire to make progress. So Professor Ferguson thinks he was converted during his years as a student. He lost his taste for his ordinary studies, and then he began to preach in the convent. People were flocking to him for counsel, even though he loved obscurity. He was propelled into publicity. He is soon in Geneva with the unannounced William Farel thundering to him to stay and preach there, which he did for the rest of his days apart from the three years when he was exiled from the city.
So it seems that during his period as a student in Orleans he became a Christian. What happened to John Calvin? He describes the nature of conversion in a response to a Roman apologist, and one thinks it must be his own conversion he is describing. Calvin says that you think of the judgment seat of God, and what will the evangelical appeal to there? It will be the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. He appeals to a number of elements: When grace found us we were addicted to spiritual darkness. That is so fascinating in the light of today’s gloom. In Roman theology the deity of Christ is emphasised but his Saviourhood and the finished work of Christ is denied. The Saviourhood of Jesus Christ was dishonoured. The RC’s emphasised mercy and grace, but when Rome made it dependent upon man’s merits, it devalued grace. It was not out of darkness because it repudiated the merit of the cross of Christ. We cannot make satisfaction ourselves. We cannot quieten the guilty conscience except by the finished work of Christ. Calvin’s mind was choked by Rome and there was scarcely room for spiritual conversion. Christ’s word was like a ploughing which cleansed him. That seems to be Calvin’s own testimony. So the background to Calvin’s conversion is addiction. For him it was addiction to Rome. For others it is an addiction to something else.
ii) The end of addiction is the entry of divine light. The power of the Spirit and the power of the Word are the two things he binds together and does not separate. They bring illumination. The eyes of our understanding are opened–our cluttered minds–by the power of the Spirit. He does so by the teaching of the Word and we are brought to a solemn conviction that all our lives we have been in error. So Calvin says that his conversion was sudden. There had been the Word for years, the people of God around him, the Spirit of God was working in him, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, he was converted. He had to say, ‘I’ve been wrong. All my life I’ve been in error.’ There is no greater shock for the natural man to believe than that he has been fundamentally mistaken. So conversion was for Calvin a veritable earthquake. As he studies the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch he observes the suddenness of the event, and that it is as the Eunuch is reading the newly bought scroll. Then Philip tells him that this servant is Jesus, and he goes further than all his reading could take him. Conversion always delivers deliverance from that addiction by illumination by the Spirit and the Word.
iii) The fruit of that conversion is light. It is the light of the knowledge of God in his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. The epicentre of conversion is coming to know God in Jesus Christ. Rom. 1:18-32 shaped Calvin’s whole theology. Before his conversion he did not know God as a Saviour who loved him and had given himself for him. (When Hodder & Stoughton first published Packer’s Knowing God they printed a mere 2000 copies because they did not think there were many more in the UK whose concern was to know God.)
In Calvin’s commentary on Acts he asks what is the root of Saul’s conversion. It begins, he believes, in the sovereign providence of God. He reveals himself in Christ and he humbles the sinner. So Saul falls to the earth and lies on the ground. You do not know of that humbling unless it has happened to you. God knocks him to the ground and humbles him. That is conversion, and that is what happened to Calvin. He became a nobody in his own eyes.
In Scripture and in history the manner of our conversion becomes the manner in which our ministry is formed. Brought from ignorance of God to knowing God, so Calvin more than any has emphasised that all the wisdom we possess consists of the knowledge of God and then of ourselves.
We may learn that if God can do it in Calvin he can do it in all of us.
Dr Sinclair Ferguson on Calvin’s Faith.
Professor Ferguson began commending the Banner of Truth’s books of Calvin’s sermons on Galatians, Ephesians, I Samuel and Deuteronomy. They were all taken down by secretaries by ‘the Company of Strangers’ who had so profited from the master that they hired these men to write down those sermons. There is a lack of illustrations, but when he tells a story he tells it well. His use of language is powerful and evocative of daily life in Geneva. So the words would be in their memories each day.
The medieval theology spoke of the faith by which we believe, and they spoke of the faith which we actually believe. Both are possible interpretations, but we will deal with the faith Calvin believed.
1. His faith was marked by considerable fearfulness in his first decade. But even wavering faith gets an unwavering Christ. What God does is in the people we minister to, and what God is doing in our lives may be two different things. So in that decade God was ploughing down deeply into his life.
As soon as he was brought to this living faith Calvin wanted to be a scholar in the background, in the safety of humanist scholarship defending the reformation faith. He went to Germany for a while for that end. He was terrified of being involved in the real world. Committed to Christ but staying apart from the perils of the world. Then he is touched by the needs of the cause of the gospel. There were his brethren suffering for the sake of the gospel. So he had to oppose them or his silence would be treachery. He determined to publish in 1536 the Institutes, to vindicate his brethren who were precious in the sight of the Lord. So it was not a handbook for the Bible but an apology for the reformed faith. This gospel was simply the teaching of the New Testament.
Yet the interesting thing was that he did not put his name on the cover of the Institutes because he is still struggling with this ‘will I? wont I?’ question. It was far from being the free faith of the fully mature Calvin, and yet God did not despise it.
Calvin was intending to find another quiet place for study and resolved to pass through Geneva, but there a great event took place. William Farel turned up, confronted him, and pronounced some fearful imprecations if he did not work with them there. So Calvin nervously settled in the city always linked to his name. He initially served as an instructor and not as a minister of the gospel for a time. His desire was not only to preach, but to order the people of God according to the Word of God: to have reformation as well as to promote the Reformation. Then trouble inevitably began. If the people could shut him up in the pulpit and have heard good doctrine they would have been at ease, but Calvin wanted the people to change. He insisted that those who came to the Lord’s Supper were those who made a concrete profession of faith, and then the trouble began. At root the issue was one of power. For Calvin it was, of course, the power of the word of God, whereas for the people it was the people’s power. Calvin was then only 28 years of age. He stood up and refused to administer the sacrament to those who had not professed their faith. He will even interpose his own body between them and the table. He will choose death rather that let them come with no profession to the table. There was intense hostility. The City Fathers were informed that on Easter Sunday the Lord’s Supper would not be administered. There was uproar the Saturday night. There were 16 musket shots that Calvin counted during that night outside his home. There were riots in the streets, but Calvin preached the word the next day. Then he and Farel and the other supporting ministers were given three days to leave the city.
It was a nightmare for Calvin, but he walked away from Geneva thanking God that he had seen the last of it. The next three years were spent in Strasbourg with Martin Bucer, and there he found himself with a companion who could engage with him theologically and pastorally. This young Timothy had the blessing of an apostle Paul to be with him. He had a time of retirement for a mighty but still unknown future work. It was to be a blessing of enduring worth. (There are very few theological students with whom any ministers have invested any time.) Calvin became the pastor of the French-speaking believers in Strasbourg. He revised the Institutes which then took shape as an instruction in Christianity. It made a rich contribution to the Reformation debates. He wrote his commentary on Romans. He has rich understanding of the gospel and there is also his own grasp of Paul’s letter to Romans, and both those are in the Institutes. Theology and exegesis are there together. He is doing what he has longed to do, having security he can sit and write, and yet God is preparing him for the future.
2. A period of emboldened faith. In 1540 he returns to Geneva at their invitation. Every bone in his body resisted the invitation. When the letter came he could not think straight for a couple of days. He wrote to his 3 closest friends and asked them what to do for the good of the church of God. With one voice they gave him the message that he did not want to hear — ‘Return!’ So he was prepared to die another 10 deaths for the same of the gospel. He replied, ‘I am not my own. I am Christ’s. I belong to the church of Christ’s.’
So he went back to his old pulpit and took up his series exactly where he had left, and made no reference to the past three years, as if to say that it was not he who had deserted them. He spread before them his vision of what the Christian church should be. He had to battle and fight day by day before Geneva ever became the ‘most perfect school of Christ.’
3. Emboldened faith. The rest of the story of his life is well known. a) his faith grew strong because it was faith in Christ and in the power of his word. There was the Sunday morning service, the children’s teaching and then the evening preaching. Three times during the day there was preaching, but alternate weeks be preached each day. He preached 6-8 times a week. He never seemed to tire. He went to conferences and church meetings. He ministered the Word of God in a million ways. b) It was faith that worked by love. People have a strange view of Calvin. He was passionately concerned to see the life of the people thrive. There were refugees present in growing numbers, but the citizens welcomed and sustained these strangers in their homes and houses, feeding and clothing them, and trying to find work for them c) it reached out in pastoral concern and mission. He wrote letters. He used every opportunity to reach out to people, writing to the bereaved, to kings, to lords and ladies who are taking an interest in the gospel, to those in prison awaiting execution, he encourages them to die rather than renege on their faith in Christ. He tells them of the glorious salvation that lies before them. d) his faith grows through personal trials. He and his wife had three children, and all three died shortly after birth. It was a ‘severe and bitter wound’ but ‘God is himself a Father and knows best what is good for his children.’ Calvin’s favourite way of describing God is ‘Father,’ and his favourite word for the Christian life is ‘adopted sonship.’ Later in 1549 in the ninth year of their marriage his wife dies and it is another deep wound. He made the remark that she never gave him a day’s trouble in his marriage. Sociologists whose marriages are a total wreck can belittle that statement! He also had constant ill health, headaches, spitting blood, consumption, internal abscesses, gallstones, kidney stones, and later arthritis. The Lord filled him with grace. In 1540 he writes to Farel about his weaknesses. They were so normal he carried on as usual. There was also growth to mortify his sin.
There were family trials. For example, his brother left the house because of the housekeeper, and so she also left. He reacted to this by over-eating, he says, and then he felt feeble and had a severe illness with fits etc. There was such a degree of perspiration the whole mattress was damp.
e) Most of all faith that was daily concentrated on Christ. To have faith is to come to Christ, and believe into the resources of Jesus Christ, clothed in the garments of the gospel. Dr Ferguson ended with a moving quotation from the Institutes.
Dr Noel Weeks on ‘Patterns in History: The Contribution of OT History to Today’
There is a biblical teaching that tells us we should be learning from history. Joshua 22 is the story of the two tribes building an altar by the banks of the Jordan and it is misinterpreted not as a memorial but as a place of sacrifice. They say in verse 17 to learn from history. They are also saying in Deuteronomy 8, ‘Remember all the way the Lord led you.’ In 1 Chronicles 12 that the men of Issachar understood the times. Jesus told the people that they understood the weather but they could not understand the pattern of how the Kingdom of God develops.
God punishes sin amongst his people. The pattern is apostacy, recovery and apostacy again. In Psalm 78 there is a picture of God getting up like an angry drunk, like a man with a hangover — what a bold simile. God is unpredictable. After the Judges’ period of decline what surprisingly occurs is the glory of David’s kingdom rather a final judgment. God does not reward according to our iniquities.
In 1 Peter 4:12ff there is a reference to that fiery trial concerning which Christians are not to be surprised. There are times when judgment begins with the household of God. But then subsequently, and far more to be dreaded, upon unbelievers. In Jeremiah 25:1ff we see the pattern of God’s judgment through Nebuchadnezzar, but then the Lord punishes Nebuchadnezzar. In Jeremiah 27:6 there is significant terminology in this ‘time of his own land’ phrase. What time is that? The time of judgment. In Isaiah 10:5ff we find the same Assyria as the instrument, and the rod of God’s anger. It accomplishes God’s purpose, and then God says, ‘Now I will punish you.’
In Luke 21:24 Jesus is speaking about the judgment of Jerusalem. What is the reference to the time of the Gentiles? Is it anything to do with the Six Day War, the capture of Jerusalem and the reiteration of the land? Is it not the judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70, and then that Rome and her allies will receive their judgment?
Then there is another strand. In 1 Peter 4:12 what happens to the church is a fiery ordeal. It is a testing ordeal, a purifying trial which brings forth what is good and imperishable. God purges and blesses his church. But there is an additional complication. God gives greater power to the outsider than to his people. The book of Habakkuk deals with that struggle. Why do you deal with the godless and bless them, especially when they fight against us? It is a basic theme of the book of Genesis. The blessing on the non-elect line. Cain’s civilisation has the cultural blessings. The genealogy of Ishmael produces twelve sons. How many does Isaac have? Two. Who does God seem to be blessing? Where is this promise of many sons? Think of the book of Ruth and how Elimelech goes to foreign Moab away from the promised land to live.
Yet a further complication is that the blessing God gives to the outsiders may not just material it may also be spiritual. Think of the story of Ahab and Elijah. In 1 Kings we read how Ahab married Jezebel, and in 17:8 in the midst of the olfaction of the drought which has come because of Baal, the prophet is told to go to Zeraphath which belongs to Sidon — because there is a woman there who is going to be blessed in a way that no women in Israel has. The problems come from pagan Sidon, but the blessing goes to Sidon. There is the familiar story of Namaan in 2 Kings 5:1. Israel was fighting Syria and yet who receives the blessing? Namaan the Syrian. In periods of judgment there is grace, but it goes to the outsider. So you add another dimension to this picture. The blessing goes to the enemies of the people of God.
We find the same in the New Testament. Acts 11:19 describe the OT people of God resisting the gospel. There is a fire of affliction. The Greeks embrace the gospel for the first time. Many believe, because God’s people have turned away from them, and the blessing comes upon his enemies.
Today there is no pure tragedy in the purposes of God. Blessing falls upon people outside the traditional centres of religion. If we turn from God then the Gentiles will be blessed. The churches are declining and so, some say, ‘Let’s be more worldly!’ God has withdrawn himself from us, but he has not failed. God will have a people. The answer is not that we become more worldly.
The church in many parts of the world is in affliction, and how we should pray for the people of God that they be faithful. He has refined them, and now will he not bless them?
How do we see ourselves in terms of these patterns?
We must be careful of assuming that the only true church is the persecuted church. God tells the church in Philadelphia that because they were faithful God will actually keep them from trials. What I think likely is that the churches in our country must face the furnace, but I long that Psalm 78 would occur, that surprisingly and unexpectedly God will arise and give great blessing.
So how do we face the future? With a certain joy and encouragement, that God has a purpose and knows what he is doing. In the book of Zechariah there are a number of visions and in 1:12 the cry goes up ‘how long?’ The angels return and they say, ‘All the world is peaceful and quiet.’ There should not be peace through the earth, but this is the calm before the storm.
The final consideration is that if a fiery trial is going to come upon us, are we preparing the church? Will the people understand what is happening? The area in which we in the Australian church are in danger of immanent persecution is the Christian School movement. The government is saying that there must be no corporal punishment, and it says that Christians must hire homosexuals. The church is not unitedly standing up and resisting it. Many professing Christians have put a barrier between themselves and those schools.
But after the schools the churches will find pressure coming upon them next. First you attack the schools, and then the churches are attacked, and then there is a persecution of the church. It is all done in a very humanitarian way. But then judgment will comes upon the persecutors. Then Zechariah 2 is fulfilled, maybe, of the nations flocking to Jerusalem.
But we say that such persecutions do not happen here. They happen in other places. But God is doing what God does, in his unexpected grace. Let us rejoice in that.
Simo Ralevic of Yugoslavia has been coming to the conference since 1968. John Marshall welcomed him warmly. How grieved we were when Pec, the second city of Kosovo, was bombed, and Simo and his family fled. He thought he would never come to the Leicester Conference again.
Simo asked John Marshall to read from Ezekiel of the man standing in the gap. Simo spoke,
‘I am so grateful to God to stand here before you. I was encouraged to come by John and also a pastor from Holland. It was very difficult. I asked for a visa in Belgrade for three days before I actually received one. We are six from the country here, and all of them have good stories of God’s deliverance. It is a miracle that I am here. What to say and where to start? It is very difficult. The first Baptist church to open in Kosovo was ours, in the 1960’s. We have had armies in the country in a state of war for two years. If anyone would ask me if we might be bombarded I scorned the question. But we were bombed for 78 days, day and night. The first 12 days we could not sleep. After 15 days we started to go to bed after 3am in shifts. The only comfort I had was that there was something worse than bombardment and that is eternal hell, and that I had been saved from that.
I would wish this not to happen to my worse enemy. I know many things you do not know, and I am not here to condemn anyone. I know that God permitted Nato to be in his hand — I do not know why. He can turn the wrath of man to his glory. I have seen people dying daily and paralysed, my school friends and the friends of my children, policemen in the street falling down and being killed. There was war on the ground and war in the air. A whole carpet of bombs would fall on a village and a village brushed from the map. So after the bombing was finished we were in a vacuum and that was the worst time, because the Nato troops did not come and the terrorists came from all over the forest, and we left — everyone who was able to leave. I was looking for food and there was none. I did not like to leave Pec. My wife left with a daughter and son three days before me. I stayed until the last of the church left. They did not have transportation. But on Saturday 13 June there was a police-station which was abandoned. But there were five damaged cars and they were offered us. My son repaired three cars so that three families left. Then suddenly my son Timothy came with a lorry and picked us up. The town was in ruins, but I was hesitating and yet there was not a Serbian left in my street. So I planned to go on Sunday. The last week I wept day and night, and I was unable to help people. There was no one to take care of, and the two sons said, ‘Dad, you must go.’ I felt they were like the two angels urging Lot to leave Sodom.
There was a big lorry and I had hoped to take the Christian literature. A family over the way had failed to leave and they pleaded for help. So I had to choose between literature or that family. The family left for Serbia and it was after this evacuation that two of them were saved and I baptised them. The father was a communist. ‘I had many friends who were communists but they all left me. But you took me. You were a wonderful man.’ The journey of 24 hours was tough, as we were shot at through the forests. We finally got to a village where there was a church which we had started many years ago. The other brothers came to me, and we found old houses to rent, and we have continued to preach, print and work.
The Lord has opened wonderful doors. I have five services a week and many demands for preaching and for literature. If I could not do that I would be ready to die. I am most ready for heaven now. All material things have gone. I have seen very expensive houses simply burnt down, whole towns and villages destroyed. As never before I feel the meaning of the word that ‘we are strangers and pilgrims.’
We are now building a church 80 metres long in the yard and we dug the foundation last week and this week have filled it. How long will I stay there? Where will the Lord lead me in the future I do not know. I would press you to pray for my country. We need intercessors. Nato did not solve the problems in our country, they multiplied them. We are human beings feeling everything. I love the Albanian people, and the gypsies, and I pray that one day we can go back there, but the Lord put on my heart this plea today, that you pray for our country.
We believe that men are in bondage to the human will and the whole world lies in the hands of the wicked one. The stronger one must come and deliver the captive. Serbia did not have a chance after 500 years under Turkish rule, and then the communists coming in. God looks for men to pray for us. We have had encouragements since the war. We have seen new churches born and others growing. One pastor here in this conference from Serbia has sometimes up to 600 people in the congregation, and they have no building.
* * *
Dr Sinclair Ferguson on Calvin
The conference sang the 100th Psalm, and Professor Ferguson said that the medieval church were silent and spectating congregations. The refugees who arrived from Rome were amazed to hear the fervent singing. Bourgoise who wrote the Old Hundredth wanted the congregation to sing in four part harmony, but Calvin had no time for that and they had a disagreement. ‘The Harmony on the Synoptic Gospels’ is, in Sinclair Ferguson assessment, the finest of Calvin’s commentaries. How easy for many today preaching through the gospels to speak on man. Calvin speaks on his Lord.
Calvin and Preparation for Gospel Ministry
What is the best preparation for the gospel of Jesus Christ, locating it in the general context of Calvin’s life? Calvin had a great vision that the church of Jesus Christ was chiefly built up through the ministry of the Word of God. If the Reformed churches were to be strong then what they needed the most was in-depth teaching and counselling from the on-going ministry of the word. For such times as these in which we live the great need is for the proclamation of the word of God. Calvin had to invest his life in others preaching the word too. The word re-orders what sin disorders.
We think of him as the great Calvin, but he was a man of like passions as ourselves. Here is a man scarcely out of his twenties who has a passion to train others for the gospel ministry. Against that background he asks himself the question why does God bring the gospel to human beings by human beings, and not by angels? He answers that those who preach the gospel must be those who have experienced the gospel. The Ethiopian eunuch had Philip sent to him by an angel, but no angel had experienced redemption, and God uses a redeemed man to preach it to fellow sinners. Not only so, but Calvin raises the question again of why we should listen to a mortal man preach to us, because if you are to be humble you are to hear the word from a fellow sinner.
Calvin adds to that a delightful analogy. He speaks about Scripture and he says that the minister of the gospel has digested and chewed the gospel himself and he gives it to them in a form partly digested, just as the mother might chew the food first and gave it to the child.
1. The High Calling of the Minister
Calvin’s vision for preparation is based on the vision of the minister’s work. There is pastor, teacher, elder and that of deacon — so he has a four-fold office. Calvin stresses that the ministry of the pastor is two-fold: to preach the word and administer the sacraments. He draws from 2 Timothy 3 the last verses and the first verses of chapter four. God has breathed the Scriptures and then they are to be preached with all patience etc as he says at the beginning of chapter four. First, our grasp of doctrine and the word must be fuller. So Calvin interrogated the candidates about the Scripture — how well he knew the unity of Scripture and the application of it significance. Calvin says elsewhere that if the person who preaches the word is not truly obedient to the word, then better for him to break his neck entering the pulpit. He must take pains to follow God and do what he is telling others to do. The Geneva pastors met and studied and they were mutually obligated to one another.
Paul’s model in Ephesus for those three years is fascinating to Calvin. Paul hired the lecture hall for two years in the heat of the day and taught the word, expounding the Bible. We need masses more of the teaching of Scripture each week. So Calvin taught the NT on Sundays and in the week the OT. From every part of the word of God he brought truth to bear on the lives of the congregation. It was as lively as he could make it. He would work through the books of the Bible: ‘I find those sermons go most powerfully to the people which have come most powerfully to myself’ said John Owen a century later.
People today who are crying for dialogue in preaching have never heard real preaching. Because preaching is a dialogue between God and ourselves. He looked for the following in preachers:
- If they are to be good preachers they must be good scholars.
- If we are to be reliable preachers then our lives are to be consistent with what we preach.
- We must know the condition of the human heart.
- We must be men of undaunted courage.
2. The Nature of the Minister’s Preparation
He had a two fold plan — a college needs to be in Geneva to train men in the humanities. So Calvin seeks out able teachers to come to Geneva to train men in the ministry. Following that, Geneva should have a theological academy in which there were basically only two required classes, the OT and the NT. So, there was actually no room for a systematic theologian in that academy, because he had the vision that the system of theology was to be derived from the exposition of Scripture. It makes a difference if you have picked up your understanding of Scripture from preaching and teaching the word of God or that we do so from a systematic theological presentation. The teaching must be represented in the context and passion with which the teaching is presented in the Bible. There were scribes also here who took notes of his lectures to these young men who were listening to Calvin.
All this while Calvin was engaged in the revision of the Institutes and he send them forth as a text book in theology for those students who were members of his seminary. Concerned all the while not to provide abstract theology, but what he calls the sum of devotion to God that arises from the knowledge of God.
That was only the formal preparation, but as the students responded to that truth they became men of undoubted courage taking the word into the life of the congregation. We know that during this part of his ministry he sent about a hundred man back to France to preach the gospel and many of them to their death. He knew that what they needed was courage. The blood of Christians becomes the seed. And some of these young men were being prepared for martyrdom and some of them had to understand that that was their destiny. We carry about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus might be in our bodies. Especially in those sections in the Institutes on the nature of the Christian life these themes come through. We are not willing to live for this world, but the world to come. Walking in the footsteps of the Master may be the way of martyrdom and that may be for the church’s fruitfulness. A student told Sinclair that he was glad those chapters had been assigned to him to study and to present because it helped him understand his grandfather who was a preacher and a martyr.
3. The Nature of the Gospel and the Ministry for Which We are Being Prepared
What was Calvin’s approach to preaching? He spent relatively little time in preparation for preaching. He prepared in occasional moments. His genius sustained him. His sermons opened up the text All his life had been preparation, like it had been for Spurgeon. He could call on all his past studies. But Calvin had Paul’s preaching grid and made it his own.
Paul is expounding in 2 Timothy 4 telling Timothy firstly of the Scriptures’ Christological nature. He went from the text to Christ, and Spurgeon did the same. It is Christ that we should be capable of magnifying. All eyes should be turned to him.
Secondly, that passage emphasises the breathed out character of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God, and when we expound it we actually speak in the place of God. The minister needs to be conscious of that.
Thirdly, Calvin grasped that in the preparation of the gospel the Scriptures are also ‘useful’ for certain particular functions. You can put every sermon Calvin preached through that fourfold grid — doctrine, correction, reproof and instruction in righteousness. As that was the style of preaching then earnestness, force, sharpness and power is evident. He taught them to preach like that and he exhibited that kind of preaching in his life. While his contemporaries rejoiced for a season in his ministry, we, hundreds of years later, can rejoice in the sermons he preached.
Stuart Olyott announced that he was going to be saying three things in his three papers:–
* Our Lord was not a boring preacher. * Our Lord was an evangelistic preacher. * Our Lord was not just a preacher. * ‘Our Lord was not a boring preacher’ as we examine Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
This is the longest piece of recorded preaching that our Lord ever gave. He had a clear preaching method. He spoke in an oral style. If you do not have an oral style you are a dead duck. The Saviour did, and it is very copyable: ‘State. Illustrate. Apply.’ said James A. McConkie. Our Lord does that. You can take any sentence out of the Sermon on the Mount and you can ask, ‘Which one is he doing?’
When he says at the end of chapter six that we are not to worry. He is stating and he is giving actual examples of worry, and he is applying it to citizens of his kingdom, that these are the things we are not to do. He appeals to the birds of the air–illustrate–and you are of more value than they–stating–and thus it goes on all the way through the sermon. What we are going to do now is go through those three headings.
Let us simply assume that our English versions have got it right. Let’s listen in to their vocabulary. Are there any words in this sermon which we would not find in ordinary life — with the mothers outside school, or the men in the factory etc. According to the Sunday Times guide to Ordinary English 90% of the words men use are one or two syllables. Ordinary words and plenty of short sentences. See how the sermon begins with sentences such as ‘You are the light of the world.’ There are quite a few long sentences too, but they are easy sentences, very straightforward. There are questions too that do not require a spoken answer. What happens when you ask a question? You try to answer it. And preaching becomes a dialogue. There are how many questions in the Sermon on the Mount? Nineteen. A question a minute in the time taken to read it. More towards the end to keep up our interest. There is repetition — see how chapter five begins: ‘Blessed… Blessed…’ and in chapter six ‘when you pray… when you pray…’ And then in chapter seven the repetition of ‘Ask… Seek… Find’ is evident. Repetition teaches us.
Contrasts: The beatitudes are a series of contrasts. Prayer–not this way but that way–and the same for fasting, and treasure, and giving, and the bad and good tree and the wise and foolish builder. The Lord is mostly using the active voice, but the passive voice is in a couple of places. There the passive has more punch–for example, when he talks of their light shining before men.
How much of the Sermon on the Mount is illustration? About a third. Is there anything abstract in this sermon? The parables are story, but there is little of that here in the Sermon. But there is plenty of illustration. What does he refer to? What you see and experience in your daily life. Salt, light, candlesticks, moth, rust, thieves breaking in, children asking their parents for things. What are the modern equivalents? A mat you trip over. A telephone. A staircase. The kitchen ahead, lights, pictures, people, subjects talked about. Our Lord used that. What do you see in church? Gifts, subjects from the pulpit about murder and adultery, pastors, singing, organs. What were the everyday things seen in 1st century Palestine? Cities on a hill, dogs, pigs, fruits trees, sky, air etc. You can see life as it was in 1st century Palestine. If they find my sermons in a hundred years’ time would they see life in Wales in 2000?
Our illustrations can belong to any time or to just our own time, just as they are in the NT. Our Lord talked about life as his hearers knew it at the time. Spurgeon used illustrations about 19th century London. You adapt his illustrations–hackney carriages and gas lights. But you ask yourself, what are the objects the congregation sees every day, and what is known to them? If I do not I am not ministering like the Master.
Where does the application begin in the Sermon on the Mount? When he opened his mouth and taught them saying, Blessed. The application has begun. What percentage of the sermon is application? A third. Our Lord has different ways of doing it. Sometimes he makes application by a statement. e.g. ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord Lord…’ Others are exhortations–Rejoice! Let your light so shine before men! In this manner pray! He gives instructions. Sometimes it is questions. ‘If you love those who love you what reward have you…?’ Sometimes he gives them specific scenarios ‘going to the altar and your brother has something against you…’ Sometimes he uses picture language–the speck in the eye. There are different ways of applying. Sometimes he rebuffs a truth right to their face: ‘But I say to you’ Or by stating that they should not let the left hand know what the right… And he speaks of the reward, ‘Heavenly Father will reward you.’ There are different sorts of application.
Discriminating applications. There are different sorts of people there. Speak to them man to man. Jesus isolates 22 different groups of people in the one congregation, e.g. a person wondering where happiness is to be found, someone who is thinking about a quick divorce, a person who has favourites, Pharisees, a critic, Mr and Mrs Slow to Pray, a person tempted to go with the crowd, those who judge by appearances, the hearer only etc. They are in the congregation, and our Lord has a distinctive word for them.
Am I really ministering like the master?
And he finished with application. It is always direct–You–but the sermon comes to a great climax and he tell the story of the two builders. You’ve got to do something with what you’ve heard. Don’t just hear. So our Lord was not a boring preacher.
It is only when we have taken in all that data that we understand why the people were astonished because of his authority. There are those who want to make authority the first thing we make about a sermon. So they bore people with the Word of God! And they grumble that ‘if we only had unction then we wouldn’t have to worry about the technical aspect of preaching.’ We reply that the sinner who believes in Christ can speak with authority only if he stays in company and fellowship with the Son of God. These three ways are the way to do that: State, Illustrate and Apply.
Stuart Olyott. Our Lord was not a boring preacher, and he was an evangelistic preacher. Many people do not know the difference between ‘evangelical’ and ‘evangelistic.’ ‘Evangelical’ means that God speaks to us through the Bible alone. ‘Evangelistic’ means I preach from the Bible to reach men and women and bring them to salvation in Christ. Our Lord was an evangelistic preacher. Do we truly believe what M’Cheyne said that it is not great talents that God uses but great likeness to Jesus? We are to be like him in our ministries. So we will look at the Lord’s preaching in Matthew 11 under three headings:–
1. Point your finger.
Matthew 11 is a chapter where our Lord shows a number of his great characteristics. You first see his sternness. From v.20 he sharpens his focus and he speaks to three groups of people directly, and thunders against these people. He speaks firstly of the rural community of Chorazin, a poor subsistence economy. There are a group of people from that village listening to him, and in v.21 he speaks to them directly. Not far from that village is Bethsaida, the home town of a number of the disciples. It was a fishing community and more prosperous than Chorazin. There are people from that village also there and our Lord singles them out. ‘Woe to you!’ he says. We are all familiar with the need of ‘discriminatory applicatory preaching.’ In other words point your finger at particular people with their sins.
What is going on here? Our Lord had been to Chorazin, and verse 20 tells us of what had happened, that blind people were now seeing, deaf people were hearing, and cripples were walking. But after his presence in their midst the people of Chorazin had done nothing to change their lives. The visits of the incarnate God to them had resulted in no moral transformation in their lives. They should have wondered at the mighty works he had done. They should have seen themselves as unworthy and their lives far from what God required of them, and grieve over that. They did not. Jesus tells Chorazin and Bethsaida that Tyre and Sidon would have grieved over their sins if the works Bethsaida had seen had been done them. Tyre was in fact a mere ten miles away, and Sidon was fifteen miles away. They were prosperous godless towns. But if they had seen the dead raised they would have thought ‘God is here!’ But the people in Chorazin and Bethsaida remained exactly as they had been.
So our Lord is pointing at specific sins. Then he turns to Capernaum which was at the centre of his activity–the headquarters of his Galilean ministry. God had been amongst them. Most of the mighty works that the Lord had done had been done in those three places, for example, restored lepers lived amongst their families as normal men and women. What the Son of God had done was extraordinary, but the watchers had done nothing (v.23). Sodom and Gomorra had been destroyed for their sin, but if lepers there had been touched by the Son of God they would have repented and Sodom would still be around that day. The great sin of those three places consisted of simply staying just where they were, but the Lord had been looking for repentance. There is something more awful than rape in the street, or aggressive homosexuality. It is someone listening to the Word of God and staying where they are. So point the finger at specific sins and the day of judgement as our Lord does here on a number of occasions. All men and women must appear before him. Here are the pagans of Tyre and Sidon, but they have lived without the word of God or the Son of God in their streets. They have their pagan religions, and they will come before him, but they are inexcusable because of the revelation of God in creation and also their consciences. Those realities tell them that they are condemned men and women because they had enough light, but did not seek God. The punishment of the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum will be greater because they had greater light. They had miracles and the preaching of the Son of God which came from heaven into their streets. When they come to the throne of God they will receive a far greater condemnation. It will be a more terrifying judgment and a worse punishment. To sin against light is terrible. To sin against more light is more terrible.
These people had the Scriptures, a synagogue, and then the Son of God came into their streets. When all come to judgment it will be terrible for Chorazin. It will also be terrible for Sodom, but the privileges which Chorazin had had will make their judgment more terrible. So we preachers have to point our fingers to specific sins and the judgment upon them. Point your finger!
2. Bend your knee.
See vv. 25-27 of Matthew 11. ‘At that time…’ How does the Lord respond to indifference which is amongst the worst possible responses? We have heard people say ‘No’ during our preaching, and we have seen teenagers getting restless and passing notes. We have been confronted with disagreements in the vestibule. But indifference is worse than all of that. Such people are blasé about what they hear. How does the Lord react to this indifference? Jesus ‘answers’ because he is always in communion with his Father. He answers as he prays. We too must bend the knee. Here are people who want to stay as they are, but they are under the dominion of God the creator. The Lord rules everywhere, and there is nowhere and in nothing he does not rule. Let us imagine David and John who are two brothers. They hear the sermons being preached. One Sunday David says ‘I see’ but John stays the same. Why did David see? Because an invisible hand removed the scales from his eyes. Whom does God hide these glories from? The wise and the prudent. He reveals them to babes. He is at work everywhere all the time, and especially when the gospel is preached He is at work. He has a plan which does not depend on angel or man. He determines it himself. There is not a creature anywhere which is not under his perfect control – the movement of a maggot and the forming of the frost are all part of his eternal decree.
Bend your knee because God is God. He does not explain. ‘Even so Father for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Why did God not condemn everyone justly? He does not explain. Why does he save one brother and not another? He does not explain. Only God can understand who God is and what he does and when he does it. So you bend the knee acknowledging that God is good and wise.
Because God is God he cannot be explained (v.27). Everything God does he does through Christ. No one knows the Son except the Father. Can we understand that? No one knows the Father except the Son. Can we understand that? And the man to whom the Son will reveal him–he will know the Father too. Can we understand that? To go the way of the Master you must adore the mystery though not understanding it, and proclaim it though never trying to explain it.
3. Open your Arms
‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden…’ (vv.28-30). There are other Scriptures that come to mind as you read these words, those that speak of the severity and goodness of God. There are no more severe words than in the earlier part of this passage, leading to the most profound words one could hear, but then you come to these words and you will not find more kind, good and simple words in these last three verses. So open your arms and invite sinners!
Who is invited? It is a crucial question. He does not say, ‘Come all you who are consciously broken and aware of your great guilt.’ All men and women are labouring, out of fellowship with God, facing a certain damnation. What a burden they have to carry. They do not even realise it and that is part of their burden. So the Lord invites everyone.
Jesus has just spoken about election, but now he opens his arms and says ‘Come to me.’ The men of Chorazin and Bethsaida are still there and he invites them all, and your invitings are to be as open as that. Open your arms and invite, and what is the invitation? It is to come, and not keep your distance. There are 300 men here at this Conference. There have been 300 in past years, but some have apostatized. So I must address you all. Perhaps your Christianity has just been imbibed, and you have never closed with Christ. It is possible to be a gospel preacher and yet not be a Christian. Today Christ invites all of you to come to Christ. This may be the way and the day on which God has planned your salvation, that in a ministers’ conference you should come to Christ, and henceforth that you can preach the gospel in a new way. You need not shed a tear or close your eyes. This free gospel is for you to believe and take.
Put on another yoke and go through life under a new Lord. Go under his Saviourhood. Open your arms to him. But in vv.29-30 the Lord makes a promise that if they come to him that he will give them rest! In their being and in their heart of hearts this rest will be theirs. What they are carrying is a crushing burden. ‘You do not need to carry it one moment longer. You can know this rest now as this word is preached. You can enjoy the highest privilege of the gospel now. What is waiting for you is the assurance of God’s love. What is waiting for you is the joy of Spirit and increasing strength and glory and the resurrection, and acquittal at the final judgement, and God’s home. You can promise all that to people. They are exceeding great and precious promises. Do not be afraid to make them. Open your arms and explain, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (v.30).
Is the Lord ever rough with a returning sinner? Does he ever turn anyone away? His yoke is easy and his burden is light. I am not hiding the hardships. There is a yoke, but it is never on your shoulders alone. There are tears in the Christian life, but you go to Christ and have them wiped away. You lose friends, but never this friendship. Please tell the seeking sinner that, and present the gospel in its openness and wonder. Do not hold back anything the Son of God says. Will you do these three things?
Point the finger and be the sternest man they ever met? Bend the knee and be the most worshipping man they ever met? Open you arms and be the kindest man they ever met?
Dr Noel Weeks began by adding an addendum which the youth had found helpful when he had given the earlier address also at the Youth Conference. In the judgments of God the Lord gives people over that they believe a lie. People cannot tell what is destroying them–that is a mark of judgement. When Ahab meets Elijah he says, you are the troubler of Israel. But who was really troubling Israel? It was Ahab. But he says that Elijah had brought all this upon them. In Jeremiah 44 the people were worshipping the queen of heaven. They were saying, We don’t have enough idolatry, when Jeremiah was saying you must stop. We are in a society in which people are saying Give us more of what is killing us.
When I was a student at Westminster we students used to comment that many of our courses began in Genesis and never got out of Genesis. The biblical theological commitment of the lecturers meant that they usually began where the Bible begins. There can be no avoiding that approach.
So when we think of marriage we acknowledge that it is a creation ordinance. There are two aspects to it, a social unity in which a man leaves his parents, and a sexual unity when he cleaves to his wife. You must have both. There is a tendency for the social aspect to be lost, the permanent unit aspect has been swamped in today’s tide of promiscuity. So we Christians think we can take the sexual aspect for granted, and simply emphasise the importance of the social unit. But Satan always distorts, and society can easily swing to another extreme. In 1 Timothy 4 Paul warns Timothy of men who forbid marriage and foods. We may be approaching a time when there is a cultural shift. This is an age of indulgence in everything including foods, but how many fads about food have come and gone. So too with sexual indulgence, how long will this sensuality be accepted? Mixed groups rent flats together, and young people protest nothing is going on! That is what worries us. It is all so unnatural! The age of marriage is rising, and there are young people struggling because of what is happening in our society.
Why does marriage involve this unity? Because it is a reflection of the very nature of God. In 1 Cor.11:3 There is within the Godhead interrelationship and love, and so marriage reflects that. ‘Let us make man in our image,’ says God. Our contention for marriage is a contention for the very character of God. God himself has that very relationship and so human society has it.
Gambling is destructive, and we may approach a politician with the plea that gambling increases materialism and greed, etc. But the main concern we make is, ‘You have a problem with God in not being content with what God has given you and your family.’ Say it, and leave people with God, and then tiptoe out of the room.
I have maintained that casual fornication is not marriage. The Scripture sees the danger of fornication but it says that it is not marriage. A man may seduce a virgin and lie with her but he may go on and marry her, yet her father may refuse to give his daughter to the man though union has occurred (Deut. 22 and 1 Cor. 6 and 7). That is fornication, but marriage is a different issue, and a permanent state.
How can we approach de facto marriage? In earlier days they kept living together quiet as they were ashamed about it. When they were converted they told people shamefacedly about their not being married. But now living together is more common. How are we going to approach it? What if it becomes the statistical norm? Will we say that there must be a church ceremony? Or will we be saying that God regards the relationship you are in as marriage, but he requires a permanence. So regularise it. That is what they need to know.
In other societies there is a contract between the two families concerned, and on a certain day the couple begin to live together. What would you say as a missionary going to that society? Would you run everyone through a western style marriage, or would you say that that relationship they are in is approved by God and they need to stay in it?
But what do you do in our society when you approach the situations we face? There has been a lot of concern over giving the benefits of a marriage relationships to a de facto relationship, that is, property and tax benefits, inheritance, superannuation benefits for widows etc. The Christian community complains that they are getting the benefits on the cheap. It is understandable, because these folk are dodging commitment.
Dr Noel Weeks teaches Ancient History and when the students study the ancient law courts of 1500 BC they remark about those laws, for example, which protect widows, ‘We thought that only today have we thought about widows.’ I say to them that it is very natural for fathers to love their daughters. A father will not allow his daughter to enter a relationship where she is being kicked around. A society will also protect women. Men create de facto marriages to avoid commitment, but society comes creeping along behind them and saying, ‘We want to protect women.’
I recognise realities that are going on, and society is trying to protect women, and that is not bad. We are saying that the relationship is not wrong because it did not have a church ceremony, but it is wrong because of the lack of commitment. Have you noticed that weddings are getting more formal? One reason is affluence and display. But another reason is that society is fighting back. Marriage is natural, and society is trying to make the marriage ceremony more impressive in an attempt to strengthen marriage. We believe that what is in the heart of men will sustain the institution of marriage. We come basically to the fact that we are holding a certain line. Marriage is permanent and an ordinance of God.
How do we address the issue of the breakdown of marriage?
Have you noticed that no sooner had the dam been burst and explicit sex was being shown that violence came through the small breach in the dam? Have you noticed than in the Bible texts there is an alliance of homosexuality and violence. There was a picture in the Times on Monday and it caught my eye. It was of two men in a headlock and the text said that it was a scene from a homoerotic play– one man squeezing the life out of another. Homosexualism and violence are interlinked. The breakdown in terms of sexual law and morality is connected to violence. Why? It is so because when we go back to a fundamental level marriage is about love and about the relationships within the trinity. When we put that aside and open the door to one night stands we have also put love aside. We have entered an area where love does not exist because we have excluded it in its true terms. That is what we have to say to our people, that you cannot have fun (in the sense the world wants you to have it) because you are denying love and are entering that black darkness.
There are many marriage enrichment courses, but are they getting to the fundamental issue? There can be a hatred in the hearts of man or woman that a ‘marriage enrichment course’ does not help. The very depravity of our natures is the basic problem of marriage. I have only one problem in my marriage and that is me, that I would prefer to be loved than to love, that I do not want to be like God. We need to cry to God and say, how can I talk on this subject when it is hard for my wife to live with me? When the church is caving in to the world why did you not do something about it? You really wonder whether Christians themselves believe if it is possible to live in harmony, when there are couples who have split up and been unfaithful within our own congregations.
So where do we go? The great obstacle is also the great encouragement. To marry successfully you need to love God. What is God doing with his people? He is making them like himself. If we give up on marriage, we will end up saying that it is only because our lives are cultured that ladies have not thrown a knife at us. We are giving up on any form of practical Christianity. The hope we put before the people is that God is at work in Christ in us.
In this age when marriage is feared we do not give the people the message that marriage is all too hard. We must give them the message of the triumph of grace. Why is there this reluctance to get married? You feel like cajoling couples to marry. There are rich gifts of God out there. Why do we have to take our stand on the issue of marriage in our society? It is because this is the area under attack these days. We cannot dictate the agenda. The grace that deals with our sinfulness enables us to live in marriage.
1. What about the covenant of marriage? Should there not be a public acknowledgment of our relationship? My difficulties are that you do not need an audience for a biblical covenant–think of David and Jonathan. You seem to have marriages taking place without a ceremony. On the threshing floor Ruth is telling Boaz that marriage can start that night. But he knows something she does not know. What we need to say to people is that as part of our Christian profession we are committed to our spouses. How do you say that? The form has traditionally been marriage. What is there today? If there would be a new form of marriage legislation focusing on a contract and sorting out the property and possessions, what would we do as Christians? We would write in as the terminus of the relationship the day of the Lord’s return. It is the public nature of the contract which is the important thing, and societies will do this in different ways.
2. When people see their parents’ marriages break up can’t we understand when they do not want to marry themselves? You have to say to them that if this relationship of theirs breaks down they will enter into the pain, whether they are married or not. There is no way you can escape from that, even if you live together and do not marry. The de facto relationship has broken down, and there is the same pain. We remind young people who come out of broken homes of that.
3. In a de facto relationship one of them becomes a Christian. What then? Is their relationship a marriage or is it casual fornication? We regard it as having the dynamics of marriage. To me that is marriage. That means that the couple are having to bear the consequence of it, and I will say to the women if she is the one who has been converted, You stay, and you try to win your feller. If it is a casual relationship, then I would tell them, Get out of it. Like a man going to prostitutes is told: You stop it.
4. What of same sex relationships? The state is under pressure to recognise them. We say in such cases ‘No,’ very clearly, and we may face persecution because of our opposition.
5. We have been considering the possibility that people in a de facto relationship may be converted and the counsel we give them, but what of the congregation which may also oppose the counsels we give them? This is why we put these issues out on the table now. We should assume we are going to get people living together and homosexuals all coming to Christ. So we talk about it to our congregations. Get out there and talk about it. They are not worse sinners than any one of us. They are not incapable of salvation. The Lord redeemed us and he is not incapable of redeeming others sinners. There is not to be moral superiority in our congregations.
6. When a couple is living together and yet one or both are legally bound by an earlier marriage, what is our attitude to them to be? There is a general adage in law, that difficult cases make bad law. Trying to make a law to cover a complex matter generally results in the law itself becoming complex, and that creates more problems than the law solves. People go immediately to the gospel passages on divorce and they miss the fundamental teaching of the Bible: do not divorce! But in Deuteronomy it speaks about getting out of this type of problem when it exhorts, ‘Do not go back to the individual to whom you were married.’ You also have to ask this kind of question, is this another marriage? Then they cannot go back. So you say that effectively they are in another marriage, and that they cannot go back. So let them legalise and regulate the situation.
7. If someone in the congregation walks out of a marriage and enters into an adulterous relationship then do you have a de facto marriage? We have to labour to come to a common mind in the church or we will become exploited by the unscrupulous. We have to share our insights from the word. Certainly you have to nip such behaviour in the bud. If they are evangelical Christians you cannot accept it. You say, ‘Before you get right into a second relationship you have been sinning and I tell you before witnesses you are out of the Kingdom of God if you don’t change.’ You bring in church discipline. ‘If you reject the Word of God then your status in the Kingdom is challenged.’ We work with churches and we tell professing Christians that they are going to be dealing with the same message when they leave other churches and come to us or if they leave us for other congregations.
Geoff Thomas spoke on God’s Builder, Ernest Reisinger, one of the trustees of the Banner of Truth. He spoke of the common strengths we all share, but that what is special about Mr Reisinger is that where we are weak he is strong, and it is in the following areas that he teaches and encourages us.
1) He constantly uses books, not just pamphlets and paperbacks but great volumes, some of them written a century or two or even three ago. He sees their unique value and relevance and gives them out to thousands of people. He never ceases mailing books to contacts he has made in all sorts of places. Mr Reisinger has given away tens of thousands of books. He is one of the reasons the US Mail has made a constant profit in its postal services in the past thirty years! We timidly encourage a congregation to use a contemporary paperback maybe once a year, but Mr Reisinger has confidence in the relevance of Witsius, Ursinus, Fairbairn and Boyce and distributes them with enthusiasm and hope. For example, it was through his direction that the works of Herman Witsius were reprinted by the Den Dulk Foundation.
2) He is the pre-eminent (I suppose I have to use this hackneyed phrase) ‘personal worker’. The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that not only publicly but house to house he spread the word. He came right into a person’s life and sat with him and won his confidence and respect. His sincerity and earnestness and affection were seen close-up and hence he drew people to Christ. He has been a most handsome man, and such a cheerful Christian. Mr Reisinger is (I suppose I have to use another cliché) ‘a people person.’ He goes out for a meal with them, and plays golf with them, and talks to them on the phone and keeps us long-term relationships with some who remain in unbelief for many years. We give up too quickly and fail to maintain contacts that God has given to us.
3) He has a generous spirit, and many have been the beneficiaries of his kindness and thoughtfulness. A preacher with us at this conference had told me that he was a theological student in Pennsylvania working in some of the churches there one summer thirty years ago. He was driving an old jalopy. Mr Reisinger saw the car and said, ‘You can’t drive that. You take this car for the next weeks,’ and gave him his own vehicle to use. Much of that spirit has to remain secret, but one day it will be rewarded openly. The Saviour tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but how many of us are strangers to that blessedness?
4) Mr Reisinger is a man of prayer and there have been times when sitting in prayer with him men have been born again to a living hope, their work has again seemed worthwhile and the pain worth enduring. Their love for the Saviour has been revived in those hours together. The basis of all his own great achievements has been the communion he has maintained with the Holy One.
5) Mr Reisinger has the rare facility to lift a conference or a theological seminary of know-all students and inspire them with the glory and relevance of the sovereignty of God. What professors who had excellent academic qualifications and precise theological knowledge and facility in the original languages of the Bible yet constantly failed to achieve Mr Reisinger has been able to do. He could hold some meetings, speak, and everything changed for certain men. They fell in love with experiential Calvinism. What they heard was not only revolutionary, and also the most relevant body of truth they had ever had to consider, it was beautiful. This living God, of whom and through whom and to whom are all things, to whom be glory for ever and ever, setting up a scheme by his own initiative alone through which a vast company of sinners would be saved, and all through the work of his dear Son Jesus Christ alone. That sovereign grace, achieving all that, was simply breathtaking. It demands ‘my soul my life and my all.’ Men who had been raised in reformed churches, and were preparing for the ministry in reformed denominations, had yet not seen it. They were, in fact, rather tired of it. Hadn’t they ‘grown up on the catechism’ while this Baptist building contractor from Pennsylvania grasped it, and come under the power of these truths, and had grace to communicate it so that young men’s hearts burned within them. They were working away digging a hole, and he has been the man also digging a hole, but discovering the treasure hidden there. He has given away much that others might enjoy this treasure too.
In these areas we are weak. So the message was a call, ‘Back to Basics,’ and through his life we may be renewed, as we consider how God changed and used Ernest Reisinger.
Stuart Olyott considered Mark chapter 1 in his general theme of ‘Ministering like the Master’ Ian Hamilton chaired the session and read Mark 1 to the Conference, and Stuart Olyott began…
What is the purpose of that chapter which was read to us? From one perspective it gives us a typical day in the life of Lord Jesus Christ. He is the preacher of vv.14, 15, 21, 38 and 39. But he is not only a preacher. What does he do?
He identifies with sinners in baptism (vv.9-11). He is the promised Jehovah (v.7), the one worthy of all worship (v.8), the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. A baptism which is intended for sinners is received by him. He is unpolluted but he is washed as though he were dirty. The time has come for him to break with obscurity. The heavens are parted and the Holy Spirit comes and the voice of heaven speaks. At the beginning of his ministry he receives the baptism intended for sinners, and at the end he identifies with them on the cross.
How often have you witnessed something very different? Let us imagine a certain John Smith who has modest roots coming from total obscurity. He trains for the ministry and then is ordained. He has come from nowhere, and yet the moment he is ordained he behaves like a member of another caste. Have you ever heard such church ministers talking about their members as if they were another species? The Lord Jesus Christ did not act like that. He puts himself amongst sinners. ‘I myself am aware of my sins especially my foolishness, and so how much more should I identify myself with sinners. The Son of God did so. There is not in him closeness, but identification.’
He undergoes temptation (vv. 12 & 13). Have you ever met someone who claims he has had a wonderful experience of the Holy Spirit? Did they suggest that the thought of sinning no longer even enters their minds? The Spirit who descended on the Son of God is the Spirit who drove him into the wilderness. So you cannot look into the eyes of the Son of God and say that he does not know the temptations that you have gone through. ‘The sea wall I saw built in Tenby when I was a boy was later shattered by the winter gales. But those cliffs of Tenby are still standing.’ The Son of God could not sin, and he knew an intensity in the temptation that we do not know. Do the thoughts of sin come into your mind in a very attractive way? Why do ministers seem to suggest that sins don’t trouble them? Our congregations think that we don’t get tempted as they do. We must let them know how vulnerable we also are. Christ has walked this route before us and he is the one who gives us help. Our congregations need to know that we are intensely tempted men.
He makes disciples by personal conversation (vv.14-20)? This is another means he employs of bringing men into discipleship. Our Lord was not just a preacher or a pulpiteer. He had an evangelistic concern when he preached, but he also had an evangelistic concern when he did not preach. So we see the Son of God here, and what is he doing? He is walking, and then he stops and stands. He is watching two men fishing, and then he speaks. He goes a little further down the coast and then he stands watching another two men repairing his nets. The incarnate Son of the Father will have followers which the religious classes despise. And he will so work in them that they will leave their nets and follow him. Isn’t a pulpit enough? No it is not. Other means must be used as well. ‘But I am a preacher. Can’t you get the others out there to do the witnessing?’ No, preachers have to make disciples like everyone else. How about the lads who hang around on street corners? When did you speak to them last?
He personally confronts evil (vv. 21 – 28). But where is evil? Where does one find it? Evil is residing in personalities, demonic and human. The simple corollary of that is that you cannot take on evil unless you take on people. Some people want to take on evil without having a showdown with anyone. There was evil in the Synagogue of Capernaum. The evil was not in the atmosphere, but in a person who had not come along to be taught. Our Lord is preaching with divine authority, and then this demonic person is alarmed. The spirit knew the identity of this Preacher. The man interrupts the Lord, and what does he do? Does he say, ‘The preaching will do the work.’ No, this is the moment for confrontation. ‘Be muzzled! Come out!’ And that moment the man is delivered from the power of Satan. We in this conference are not dealing with demon possessed people, but still evil does dwell within people and that means personal confrontation cannot be avoided. There are unruly members, and sometimes they are fellow ministers, and sometimes family members. People in our society actively propagate evil. What are you going to do? Back off? You cannot if you are going to minister like the Master.
He cares (vv. 29-34). Firstly for the sick. This tells us a great deal about the Lord of glory. This incident leaves the whole audience gasping. He does not come out of the synagogue as a big preacher walking into the sunset, but he enters a humble cottage where a middle-aged woman lies. His disciples tell him about her, and she is taken by the hand, lifted up and she serves them. I don’t have the power to do that. But am I as approachable as my Lord? Are they as confident in me that I care as they were in him. Will they tell me of any sick person who would benefit from a visit? Why did friends bring their loved ones to Christ’s door? Was it not because of his willingness that they did that? Why were they not put off by the fact that a crowd were around the door already? They knew of his willingness to heal. Now I am not convinced that I am as deeply interested in the people who cross my path as I should be. I can talk of ‘the Young People’ instead of Alison and Steve and Julie. I can feel great when the singing goes very well, and the adrenaline atmosphere is high, and then I can stop looking in their faces. I can fail where Christ did not fail.
He prays (vv.35-39). He is a ‘people person’ but a lot more. He retains a life of secret prayer. When the disciples have crashed out exhausted and slept a whole night, in the morning they wake and look for the Lord, but where is He? He has been up already for hours. Verse 35 informs us that it was well before daylight and that he has gone far far away from the people. Why does he need to pray? Is he not the perfect man? Yet he prays. Preaching is not the first thing to be done. It was not, nor ever will it be. Praying is. Why? Because before I was a preacher I was a sinner. Before I am a preacher I need to be a worshipper. Before I am called to love my neighbour I am called to love God. As a preacher I need a word from heaven and then to proclaim the word I get with the help of heaven.
When is praying to be done? The first day of the week before anything else, and also every other day of the week. Where? Where no one else is to be found. How long? Until I am interrupted. That is, interrupted by people and by commitments I have to carry out that day. If in my life such praying is not a planned priority I am certainly not ministering like the master. You cannot get up tomorrow morning and resolve to make some changes. No one can release us from our bondage except the Spirit given to us from God. Where the blood cleanses me the Spirit helps me. I have a Christianity that helps me by the grace of God. In secret prayer I own up to the mess of things I have made so far.
He touches the untouchable (vv.40-45). I wonder who the untouchables are in your church. What sort of people do we think of? Paedophiles? People who despise the family? The man with AIDS? Perhaps none of those. But what if one such person showed an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ? The leper comes to Jesus and implores him saying that if He were willing he could cleanse him. What if one came to us who believed in Jesus’ power but doubted his willingness. Would you touch him? Someone here is saying, ‘Yes, but no one chooses to be a leper whereas the people we are so unhappy with choose their dissolute lifestyles.’ But Jesus ate with prostitutes and swindlers. He is moved with compassion from his divine heart. Tears are in his human eyes, and where everyone else is harsh, hostile and keeping his distance the Lord draws near and is willing. My Lord’s willingness had a life of its own, unqualified by social attitudes. There were embarrassing consequences that came from the healing. The leper went everywhere advertising the power of Christ so that he could not go into those towns. So we end with the question, are there certain sorts of people you are embarrassed to have in your services?
So our Lord was not just a preacher. His whole life was ministry, and ministry was his whole life. Isn’t that an important lesson to grasp for the future of my ministry – if I am really intent on ministering like the Master?
Stuart Olyott was asked about his present work of ‘Preparing Men for the Ministry.’
There is more than one route to the ministry. I lecture on preaching and we can help men to preach better. I listen to them a lot and that is painful, but a privilege too, and I give them a written evaluation of what they are doing. I am privileged to go out to churches and teach men in seminars how to preach better. Those local preachers keep causes going. I do that in five seminars in five different places. Many of the students have very poor Bible knowledge. Some have had no Sunday School or Christian families, and so they do not know Scripture, and I teach a course in Bible content. Many are yearning to get out into the work of the ministry. But there are some who are bone idle. If a student does not wash his coffee cup and make his bed does he fear God? Hudson Taylor, when he got up in the night, as most men when they older have to, combed his hair. He remarked that the sign of a holy person was that when he wrote to you a letter the writing would be legible. I also run an MA course, part-time.
Maurice Roberts preached the closing sermon. He began by reading Psalms 1 and 2, but his text was Psalm 2, and its theme was ‘Our Message for This World’
Psalm 2 is an example of the gospel net. When we are trying to fish for Christ there is order and progression. Just as we conduct a friend step by step to the door or in some ordered way, so here in Psalm 2 there is order. Again, this psalm is a digest of the whole message of Scripture. It only has one message. The higher critics said that the authors of Scripture all had their own distinct and different messages–Moses, Isaiah, Paul, Peter and John. But we know that they all had one message, the gospel of Christ and the way of salvation. From the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent on through the OT to the gospels, epistles and book of revelation, the entire word of God brings but one message, and it points sinners to Jesus Christ.
In this psalm we have a compendium of the word of God. The attitude to life in this psalm is the only true philosophy of life. Here is the Christian mind. If we would have our people filled with the mind of God it is surely by bringing such truths as we have here before the congregation. This is our sword, wherever we are from. This is the message which will form correctly the thinking of mankind, the way to approach things from above and below. How are we to approach this psalm?
There is first of all a contrast to be observed with the first psalm. The two psalms are similar and yet in another way exactly opposite in how they look at life. In Psalm one the first word is ‘blessed’ and Psalm two ends in exactly the same way. Blessedness surely is the forgotten factor in our fallen world. Everything else is talked about. Politicians want us to believe in their politics, but who is speaking about the blessing of God? But in the Bible it is all important. Nothing matters as much as the blessing of God. Nothing is as important as when we are accepted by Him and received by our Maker. Blessedness involves just sanctification, adoption and glorification. All things are encapsulated in these two psalms.
How different also are these psalms. In Psalm 1 the approach is an individualistic approach to life. This man is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. We enter the world and we leave the world one by one. This is a true perspective on life. This man must stand alone in the judgment as we all must. But Psalm 2 looks at life in a collective sense, at the world as a whole, the heathen raging and the people imagining vanity, the kings setting themselves up etc. Here is mankind as a whole set before us. That is also a valid approach to things. So this psalm looks at life as a whole.
What then is the approach to this psalm? It has four portions. The three verses in each section represents a true division which God has put there.
1. Psalm 2:1-3 What exactly is the Psalmist revealing to us in this section? He is telling us of man’s attitude to God. We will not find this approach in the newspapers or on TV or in the universities. God has shown us man’s attitude to Himself. It shows us mankind as angry and raging. We suffer trouble in this world. The history of mankind is a history of warfares and conflicts. The principle part of this is mankind’s anger with God himself. If mankind could do so they would kill God, gladly blasting him out of existence, sending up their implements of war and bombarding his very throne if only they could rid themselves of the Sovereign who looks down on them. Men are said to be haters of God. You think that that is extreme, but what are idols? They are an attempt on the part of man to find an alternative to God, in some user-friendly, domesticated, controlled god whom we could put in a kennel. What is murder? It is an attack on the image of God in man. When the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world see how they treated him. The Son of God was equal to the Father and hardly had he been born when Herod sent his soldiers to annihilate him. His first sermon in Nazareth was so offensive that they marched him to a clifftop to throw him down. When his hour had come they were not content just to witness him die, but they wagged their fingers under his nose and taunted him without restraint. All that shows the latent hatred in the heart of man towards his maker.
This is shown in this passage: it is anger ‘against the Lord and his anointed.’ So the hatred is against Christ as well as God. You can promote any form of religion today as long as it is not that of the man who honours Christ. It is politically incorrect to live for Jesus Christ alone.
The world cries, ‘Let us break their bands asunder.’ What is meant by these bands and cords? The psalmist is referring to such realities as conscience. That is one reality, the knowledge of sin with which every man is born. If only men could do so they would live their lives without conscience because it spoils their joy. So society is committed to an amoral way of life, without rights or wrongs. That is one of the cords. The moral law is another. The spirituality of it should be declared now as much as ever, but it is outlawed. Merely to have it pasted up in public places is difficult in the USA. Another cord is marriage. It is God’s way of restraining sin. Within God’s limited bands there are limitations.
This picture, which the word of God brings to us, is as true today as when it was written many centuries ago. Are these not the kinds of people who surround us in this post-modernist society?
2. Psalm 2:4-6. This section is exactly the reverse of the first three verses, it is of God and his attitude to mankind. He sits in the heavens, splendidly majestic and lordly, seeing all and taking cognisance of all nations, and telling them that they must give an account. Jehovah sits. Whenever there is a danger we rise to our feet. If the cry was raised, ‘Fire!’ we would get up and race to a place of safety. But there is no panic with the Almighty. He sits.
He is also laughing. There are those who tell you God has a sense of humour. I do not know if that is right, except that there is indeed an irony in his dealing with men. In Esther the man who seeks to destroy the cause of God ends up on his own gallows. There is such irony in his dealings with the sons of men. But people who talk of his sense of humour suggest that God is entering into our kind of amusement. I do not agree with that. He laughs here because he is displeased with his creatures, and their puerility and worthless rebellion against him. The disparity between God and men is huge. God is laughing because he is seeing the futility of what man is trying to do.
Then God speaks. He is a speaking God. That is why he has sent his servants to address the world. But he is speaking in many other ways. We have heard of ‘alternative lifestyles’ in the past years–a man with a man and a woman with a woman. Then a new disease struck the world–AIDS–young men dissolving to a shadow. If men will not hear his word they will hear God some other way. When the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world the inhabitants of this world did everything to prevent him doing anything again.
Consider the final chapters of Matthew’s gospel. The Lord dies and the stone is rolled over the entrance. Unfortunately for these pathetic enemies he rose, and the soldiers rushed into the city and told the priests. They held a counsel as we have it here in this psalm, the kings taking counsel together, and they decide to tell the world that his disciples had stolen his body. They did every they could to keep the Lord dead.
There is a fascinating passage in the book of Revelation 11 about two witnesses, and they represent the ministry of the church. They preach for a long time the truth, and their prayers bring down fire from heaven. They were men who had authority with God. Then these men were killed and their dead bodies were not allowed to be buried. The world rejoices and gives gifts to one another in celebration of their murders. Those who tormented them were dead. It is what we see before our own eyes, as, for example, men pontificating that ‘the whole Victorian religion of our fathers was repressive and harmful to children but is now gone and we are free…’ But after three days and a half these witnesses rise up, to the horror of those who see them. This is revival. God breathing fresh life into his people. This religion was not dead at all, and their message urging men to flee from the wrath to come was heard again. The Lord is not dead, as the world supposes.
3. Psalm 2:7-9. Here is exposed the eternal plan and purpose of Almighty God. It is a reference to the church and the Kingdom of God and its relationship to Christ, the eternal Son. The decree consists of God’s secret will. Human eyes have not seen it, but God has told us in his Word about it. A stone cut without hands smashes in pieces the kingdoms of this world, and so are all the kingdoms destroyed except for the Kingdom of God which will fill all the nations. This kingdom is a mustard seed which will grow, and all nations will be blessed by it. All the Kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord. God is shaking the heavens and the earth and will bring in, in his time, his own nation.
I look at the words of this psalm and wonder why the Jews did not believe in the Trinity. Here is God speaking and saying ‘Let us!’ Here is a mysterious order. The Father has sent the Son, and the Son has sent the Spirit. He is shaping the nations and that power is bringing in the Kingdom of God. Here in these verses we are seeing the covenant of redemption whereby they have decreed that an elect people should be gathered out of all the nations, and that they will sit down in the kingdom of glory. The Spirit and the word is going to God’s elect and they will be Christ’s. Some of them are in our congregations, and some of them will be drawn to God because he has decreed it.
All the nations belong to Jesus Christ in some sense. They have been given as a gift by the Father. All authority in heaven and earth is given to him. It is in the light of that very promise that God will bring the elect from the nations of the world. There is a power given to Christ in this context. ‘He will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ We have a vase on a shelf and here we have a bar of iron and we let fly. That, says God the Father, is the fruit of the authority which God has given to his Son. No wonder our Lord wept over Jerusalem. In Josephus the awful judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is described. The curse had come upon them and in the following years. The judgment was fulfilled upon them, and, pray God that it will not be fulfilled in us.
4. Psalm 2:10-12. We began with man’s attitude to God, and then the reverse is found, and then there is the eternal covenant, and finally there is the gracious voice of God in the gospel. Remember when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Here is the net of the gospel. It is a rational thing. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Yet we are invited to kiss him. Faith works by love, says Paul. In the home of Simon the Sadducee Jesus is sitting to eat when the woman enters and he accepts her. What comfort this is, and this is the gospel we preach. In the light of all God is we may go to God, and we can tell men to repent. May God grant us great blessing and encouragement. May you have stories to tell next year of how the mercy of God has saved many. May the books go out through the whole world. May God grant it to be so.
Hope of the Church 15 October 2021
To help us in the dealings of our lives we should have such a conception of God as not to limit him in our thoughts. When we are in extremity we must not tie him to this thing or to that thing. He can make matter out of nothing. Why should we limit the unlimited […]
The Prayer Meeting 3 September 2021
Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our […]