The Influence of Christian books
THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN BOOKS
We had begun reading Sermons on Ephesians when both of us became convinced independently that God was telling us to read the 200 sermons Calvin preached on the book of Deuteronomy
by John Keble
My wife Irene’s background is different from mine in that she was born and brought up in Northern Ireland and worshipped in the Presbyterian Church. I come from the south of England where we were occasional worshippers at the Church of England. We were both born in the early 1930s. Irene tells of CSSM services on the beach at Bangor as a child, of being aware of and looking for the Lord Jesus, but to her sadness she did not find Him in the church the family attended. In her mid thirties she was to meet a number of Christians who not only challenged her values but also amazed her with their Christian kindness and concern. She made a commitment at this time but through moving away and without any teaching to encourage her, she says, she felt as though the light within her had burned low. Later, when she was fifty and was challenged by a minister as to where Jesus was in her life, she said, incredibly, "Here, in my heart" and God immediately blessed her and filled her with His presence in a special way from there on. For myself I was introduced to the Lord Jesus when I was five. My father had died in India on active service in the army and my mother was forced through circumstances to send me away to a boarding preparatory school. The headmaster’s wife was a Christian and used to take the young boys on Sunday mornings into her apartment to tell them the stories of Jesus using life-sized pictures of Bible scenes. My mother told me later on that in the holidays I spoke of Jesus as my best friend. When I was fifteen I was enabled to open my heart’s door to Him at a Scripture Union house party. Some years later, I attended All Souls Church, Langham Place under the Rev John Stott at the time of the Billy Graham Haringay Crusade (1954). That Church had a Training School for young Christians which I attended and I was invited into a Leadership Class under John Stott for those preparing for service either at home or overseas.
That was then, but what about now? The text that Irene and I chose to identify most vividly with our experience of God in our lives is Proverbs 3:5,6. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths". Back in 1997 we were living in the Midlands attending an evangelical Church of England but with very little if any teaching, nor was there in the ten or fifteen minutes allocated for the sermon any challenge. We became more and more desperate for solid teaching and strong fellowship, so we turned to the books on our shelves. I read to Irene so that we both received the content at the same time. We had Spurgeon’s Treasury of David but had only used it for reference. We started one evening with Psalm 1 and read all Spurgeon’s comments and many of those other authors in the Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings section. This was indeed the opening up of a treasure chest of good things. Over time we read on. Then we discovered it was still possible to obtain Spurgeon’s sermons. We bought the Expository Encyclopaedia very reasonably through the Tabernacle Bookshop in London.
You see we do not watch the TV at all. At that time also we stopped reading the newspapers on an every day basis because of the degrading effect they have. Without these things continually cluttering our lives we were freed up and had time in the evenings to spend reading the Psalms or sermons or other Christian literature. By the autumn of 1998 we had read about 90 of Spurgeon’s sermons, but then we were drawn to read the sermons preached by John Calvin which were published by the Banner of Truth, and which we had been enabled to purchase with the aid of a small legacy that year. We had begun reading Sermons on Ephesians when both of us became convinced independently that God was telling us to read the 200 sermons Calvin preached on the book of Deuteronomy. We did not possess this book but a Christian friend lent us his copy to enable us to start. The 200 sermons occupy 1247 pages with two columns containing 65 lines per page. They were preached in 1555-56 in French, taken down in shorthand and later translated into English. We were given a fresh understanding of the depth of meaning of each Commandment. It was not just a case of "Do not kill", "Do not steal", "Do not covet" but it was much more a matter of dealing with our hard hearts in relation to our neighbour.
By September 1999 we had read as far as sermon 139 when we went on holiday to Scotland to visit our two daughters and their families. It was on the journey south driving through the lovely Border hills, that we asked each other if there was any reason to keep us in the Midlands. We turned our questions into prayers and decided we should "push the door" on our return home to see if it would open and lead us north of the Border. Our little house sold quickly and well and the new people wanted to be in by December. We realised we would have to rent and in God’s providence we obtained a farmhouse near Lauder. We moved in on December 2, it was snowing, but the Lord had been so good to us.
In early 2000 we were reading Faith Cook’s "Samuel Rutherford and His Friends" and became interested in Anwoth and the surrounding area of Galloway with which he was so familiar. In late April we paid our first visit to Dumfries looking for what we thought would be a holiday cottage. We both chose the same cottage looking independently at all those on offer. We were told that the elderly owner would accept a lower offer on account of the poor state of the property, so we made an offer which was accepted. The very next day we discovered that our ideas of a holiday cottage were not what God was meaning, so Primrose Cottage, Corsock was to be our permanent home instead.
In Scotland we had originally worshipped at the Church of Scotland in Lauder and became good friends with the minister in the seven months we were there. Now we began at the Kirk again but we were not hearing the whole gospel and after a while tried the Elim Church in Castle Douglas where we received a very warm welcome. Here we were reminded that the tithe is only a part of giving as a further 10 per cent is given as a free will offering. There is very little teaching in the Church of England about giving in this way. Having changed our giving to meet this challenge we are learning how to trust the Lord more. But at the Elim Church we felt uncomfortable with their form of worship, in only singing choruses and in an every Sabbath communion service where even tiny children are able to receive the elements. For the last six months of 2001 we were both in poor health and prevented from attending church. We were reading sermons and Christian literature in the usual way and towards the end of this period came the Sword and Trowel magazine from the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. A special issue dealt with worship. It was the strong recommendation from this magazine to avoid these kinds of worship that led us to seek another Church.
The only other church in Scotland that we knew of was from our reading of the Banner of Truth magazine. We have particularly enjoyed the monthly editorials of the Rev Maurice Roberts and we thought we might have to move to Inverness. In early January 2002 we phoned the Banner offices in Edinburgh to see if they knew whether there was a Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) congregation near us and they told us that the only church in the whole of the south of Scotland was at Dumfries. We were absolutely amazed at God’s wonderful goodness in leading us to this place where we are within twenty miles of the Church. They also gave us the name of the minister and the Rev Bill Scott responded to my phone call by visiting us the next day. Now we have the enormous privilege of membership, both of us are overwhelmed and can only offer ourselves afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ and give Him all the glory.
This testimony of John Keble on behalf of his wife and himself was given at the communion preparation meeting at Collin Village Hall, Dumfries, on Saturday 4 May 2002.
From the Free Church Witness, October 2002.
It has been pointed out to us by friends in the Free Church of Scotland that they have a congregation in Dumfries as well as the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
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