The Lord has given and now the Lord has taken away one of the most faithful, and fruitful ministers of the Word who has ever served in the Church of Christ. On 12 March, 2009, James Philip was called out of this life and into the nearer presence of the God whom he loved and served and whose gospel he proclaimed through a ministry that spanned more than half a century. We do well to recognize the great and enduring blessing that our Lord has given to the body of Christ in the life and pastoral labours of James Philip.
My first encounter with Mr. Philip was in 1971 while I was stationed in Utah, serving with the U.S. Air Force. Through my father in the faith, Bill Fulton, who was himself a close friend to James Philip, I was introduced through recorded sermons to the sound preaching of this great servant of Christ, who, with his beloved friend, William Still, and younger brother, George Philip, formed a leading triad of reforming ministers in the Church of Scotland. I still vividly recall his sermon series on Romans and on Revelation. His exposition of Romans was, and still remains, a masterful feast for the soul upon the theological truths and loving mercies of God contained in the gospel. His exposition of Revelation opened a vision of heaven’s glory and the encouraging and empowering victory of Christ over all challenges from the foes of his kingdom and redeemed people.
In 1972 I had the privilege of meeting James Philip and sitting under his live preaching of the Word. At that time, with characteristic patience, diligence, and loving devotion, he was expounding the practical treasury of Proverbs. My visit initiated me into the warmth, the humility, and the genuine Christ-like humanity of the man, not only in his pulpit, but also in his home with his family. I have treasured the privilege and spiritual profit that has been mine in knowing as a pastor and a friend over the course of nearly four decades this fine servant of Christ.
James Philip adorned his own profession of faith and enriched the Church through his faithful and fruitful works for the glory of God and edification of his people. His published works are classics of theological truth lovingly and practically apprehended and lucidly commended to his readers. His commentary on Romans is a gem of precious and potent gospel explication. His booklet, The Christian Warfare and Armour, reveals his profound and compassionately sympathetic understanding of the psychology of the saint under pressure, his discernment of the schemes of the devil, and, above all, his grateful grasp and generous commendation of the armour of God by which alone we are empowered to stand for Christ in the evil day.
My friend James was always careful and diligent in his study of God’s Word, and such care showed in all of his preaching. His sermons were characterized by clear and orderly presentation, by his own profound and practical understanding of each Scripture passage he was preaching, set within his comprehensive grasp of the whole counsel of God. Above all, his preaching exalted the saving grace of God in Christ. He was such a pure instrument of the voice of God that those who heard him preach were more conscious of the Christ he preached than of the preacher himself. To the extent that we were aware of the preacher, we were aware of a man who, with sincere and genuine humility and loving devotion to his Saviour, submitted himself to the Word and yielded himself gratefully to being mastered by its liberating truths and by the loving, sovereign, and saving Author of those truths. James Philip was a clear thinking exegete of Scripture but also a man who with warm passion and generosity proclaimed the reconciling truth of the Word. He found and declared Christ in all of Scripture; he gave a clear and simple gospel appeal in every sermon.
This man, so mastered by the Word and Spirit of God, employed all of his gifts and energies by the enabling grace of God to minister Christ faithfully in all situations to which the Lord called him. He gave himself to the faithful fulfilling of his early ministry in the small fishing village of Gardenstown with no less diligent whole-heartedness than he gave himself in his later ministry at Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh. God rewarded his faithfulness in the day of smaller things with a child in the faith, Thomas Swanston, who became himself a faithful and fruitful minister of the gospel.
It is a mercy of our God that he gave to us this prince of preachers in an age where so many of his fine sermons could be recorded. Through those sermons and his writings it is blessedly true that though he be dead, yet still he speaks to us. Just one week before his death, I listened to a sermon from 2 Corinthians 3 that he had preached more than 30 years ago. That sermon was as fresh, as relevant, and as satisfying and edifying in 2009 as it was when it was originally preached.
James Philip’s life and ministry could well be summed up in the words of the great Apostle Paul: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe . . . ‘(Rom. 1:16). James Philip believed, and therefore he spoke words that moved and changed the lives of great numbers of people. He was, and always will remain to me, a sterling example of a faithful believer and a fruitful servant of the God of saving truth and love. Now he joins his beloved friends, William Still and Tom Swanston and countless others in the presence of the God whom he so deeply loved and served in this world. Into the joys of his heavenly Master, James Philip has no doubt heartily entered. Because he is now in heaven, he adds a cord to the growing number of strands that draw our hearts and minds there, and in this, he continues to serve us well.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia.
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