Looking Back and Thanking God
My father was taken as a prisoner of war. He was assumed dead, so it was a shock for my mother when he returned home. I was one of the results of his homecoming! I was born at home in Finsbury Park in north London, on 23 September 1946. That was just over 65 years ago. I had three older brothers. A sister and two more brothers were born after me.
My parents were not churchgoers, but my mother, who had attended the Salvation Army as a child, insisted that we attend Sunday school at the Anglican Church. My mother later became a Christian.
My eldest brother, Terry, started to attend a mission hall led by an evangelical Methodist pastor, Albert Smith. The mission was held in a former pawnbroker’s shop. The three brass balls were still on the outside wall. I went to the Sunday school and also attended the Sunday evening gospel service.
In August 1958 “” I was then almost twelve “” I went with Terry on holiday to Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where, on the evening after the carnival, we listened to some open air preachers. It was there by the seafront that the Lord said to me, as he said to his early disciples ‘Follow me’. So, by God’s grace I did, and I’ve kept following him from then until now.
The mission hall closed and I started to attend Tollington Park Baptist Church, because I had already joined the Boys’ Brigade at that church. It was there that I was baptized in July 1961 at the age of 14, a few months before we moved to Plumstead in southeast London.
Leaving school in 1964 I worked in the shoe shop where I’d been working on Saturdays. So, like D. L. Moody, I’ve come from soles to souls . . . At this time, I was beginning to preach, though still in my late teens and early twenties. At least twice, when I preached my first sermons I fainted, but I still felt convinced that God wanted me to preach. And I thank God for my pastor in Plumstead, Rev Gordon Hill, who encouraged me and gave me opportunities to preach even though I was so young and in some ways so naive.
I went to Kensit Memorial Bible College in Finchley in the building that is now used by the London Theological Seminary. I left in 1969 and spent the next six-and-a-half years as an itinerant preacher with the Protestant Truth Society, based in Bristol.
In September 1976 I became pastor of the West Ham Tabernacle in Stratford, east London. Two years later I married Maureen, whom I met on a Christian holiday. I moved, with Maureen and our son, Wayne, to Bedfordshire in September 1986 to become pastor of Potton Baptist Church.
I retired from the pastorate at Potton in September this year when I reached the age of 65. I praise God that in both pastorates God has saved sinners through my preaching. I’ve had the joy of regular baptisms in both churches.
Books have played an important part in my life, although I struggled as a child to learn to read. As a young Christian, and even as a novice preacher, I had problems with assurance. Reading Dr Lloyd-Jones books on Romans as they were being published, I came to the assurance of salvation. My salvation depends not on how I feel, but on what Christ did once-for-all when he died in my place on the cross.
I progressed from Arminianism to Calvinism by reading the sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, A. W. Pink’s Sovereignty of God, John Murray’s Redemption – Accomplished and Applied and Loraine Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. My reading brought into focus the preaching that I was hearing.
I changed, very gradually and painfully, from a tongues-speaking Charismatic into a cessationist. I now believe that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at conversion and gifts such as tongues and prophecy ceased with the apostles.
One of the first Christian authors I read was J. C. Ryle. Reading his Holiness was a turning point in my life. When I started preaching I determined to buy at least one commentary on every book in the Bible. On some books I have several commentaries. One of my favourite commentators is William Hendriksen.1
Have you read any of Warren Wiersbe’s ‘Be’ series of books? Borrowing Wiersbe’s idea, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learnt in serving God.
1. Be holy
I’ve written on the inside cover of my study Bible the oft-quoted words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: ‘It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God’.
To be holy, we must spend time each day with God’s Word and in prayer. If we are too busy to pray, then we are too busy. I confess to my shame that there have been times when I’ve been so busy that my own personal devotions have been hurried.
We ought to constantly remind ourselves of Paul’s command to Timothy: ‘Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine’ (1 Tim. 4:16). Our personal holiness is essential for effective service. We cannot be sinless, but we ought to be sincere.
2. Be disciplined
Be disciplined in your personal walk with God: in the mortification of sin; use of time (e.g. TV, recreations, etc.); and preparing sermons. ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4); ‘preach the Word’ (2 Tim. 4:2). Preach to saints; preach to sinners; preach in the pulpit, and out of it as well. In reading, don’t confine your reading to sermon preparation. Read as much as you can while you are young and your mind retentive. Read as much as you can while you are single, before the distractions of marriage and children.
3. Be patient
I thank God for fellowship with and the friendship of God’s people, especially my fellow leaders. Sometimes relationships with leaders and members have been strained. At such times, God has taught me patience, even as I’ve probably tried the patience of the saints.
We learn perseverance when times are tough. I’ve been distressed, and too often spent sleepless nights, because of Christians being disagreeable with one another and sometimes with me too. Christ is the divine pastor for troubled pastors. But we also need the fellowship of other pastors. Attend fraternals and conferences.
4. Be caring
The Lord told Peter to care for his people who are like sheep (John 21). Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders: ‘Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he has purchased with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28).
The word pastor means a shepherd. Part of caring is visiting your church members, especially those in special need and those who are sick, old and frail.
Some of the sheep will be confused, timid and lack assurance; others are coping with horrendous problems. Some will be abrasive, rude and argumentative. I’ve met them all! You need to know when to smile and say nothing, or when to use the soft answer that turns away wrath. Caring pastors need the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job.
What happens next? Will I take up gardening? Certainly not. Or perhaps catch up with DIY around the house? No. I can’t knock a nail in straight. I am more likely to hit my finger than the nail. I will then be freer to preach in other churches, but I don’t intend preaching every Sunday. Having written four books, I aim to write more, using the large amount of biblical research and the archive of sermons and study material that has been gathered over the years.
Besides writing, I want to read some of those unread books on my study shelves and have time to re-read some old favourites. Retirement will also mean more time for photography and listening to classical music, which have been two interests for many years.
Whatever the future holds, I will, while God gives me strength, serve him and seek his glory.
1. Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentaries are available from the Trust.
Taken with permission from Evangelical Times, November 2011. Note and links added.
A Christian Response to the Corona Virus 3 March 2020
Self-isolation; pandemic; super spreader; coronavirus; COVID-19. Just a few of the words that have become part of everyday conversation in the weeks since the first outbreak of a novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019. As of today there are 83,650 confirmed cases and have been 2,858 deaths worldwide, although those […]
Abounding Hope 21 February 2020
The following are Professor Murray’s notes of a sermon which he preached not long before his illness and death. They constitute only an outline, the material being expanded in delivery. * * * Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the […]