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Trembling for the Ark of God

Category Book Reviews
Date August 19, 2021

This is the third in a series of ‘taster’ articles to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Puritan Paperbacks series.

I can still remember as a teenager pulling my father’s copy of the 1962 Banner edition of Sermons of the Great Ejection off one of his study shelves and turning to Edmund Calamy’s sermon, ‘Trembling for the Ark of God.’ That sermon impacted me profoundly. But, before turning to the detail of this and other sermons, it will be helpful to explain the historical origin of the book.

These sermons were all preached in 1662, the year when 2,000 or so ministers were expelled from ministry in the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity, which required unswerving commitment to the Book of Common Prayer, episcopal ordination and rejection of the Solemn League and Covenant. This Act was designed to drive Puritan preachers from the national church, and achieved this aim on Black Bartholomew’s Day 1662. In the words of J. C. Ryle this represented ‘an injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired.’

However, at least one good came from the tragedy of the Great Ejection—the farewell sermons of Puritan preachers to their congregations. And this Puritan Paperback gives a selection of the best of these sermons, the parting pastoral counsel of some of the finest preachers and theologians England ever produced. After a helpful foreword from Iain Murray, each of the sermons is introduced with a brief biography of the preacher, some of whom will be well known to Banner readers (Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, Edmund Calamy) and others relatively unknown (John Collins, Thomas Lye, John Oldfield, John Whitlock). Some prayers have also been included, and the volume concludes with the 1772 Nonconformist’s Catechism.

To give a flavour of the sermons, consider the first sermon in the volume, Edmund Calamy preaching on Eli trembling for the ark of God (1 Sam. 4:13). In many ways this is a model Puritan sermon. The context for the text is briefly expounded. A biblical theology of the ark and what it represents (fundamentally a visible sign of God’s gracious presence with his people) and what it typifies (Jesus Christ, the Church, and the ordinances of the church) is outlined. From this, Calamy proceeds to draw rich and varied spiritual lessons from the text. For example, believers are troubled when the ark (Christ, his church, the gospel) is in danger of being lost because 1) they love the ark; 2) they have a personal interest in the ark; 3) the damage that follows the ark being lost; 4) if the ark is lost it is because of our sin. This last point is so vital and so convicting. The ark is in danger, not first because of other’s sins, but because of our sins (e.g. Dan. 9:5-6): ‘Oh, beloved, it is for your sin and my sin that the ark of God is in danger.’

There is realism and a hope in Calamy’s application. He is well aware that ‘England has no letters patent of the gospel; the gospel is removable.’ Therefore, he wanted God’s people to have ‘an aching heart for the ark of God that was in danger.’ But he also wanted God’s people to have hope. As long as there was ‘an abundance of praying people’ Calamy argued the ark was safe, for ‘God will never forsake a praying people.’ There is clearly much more in Calamy’s sermon, all of it was needed in 1662, and all of it is needed today. So, take up this volume and read it.

Other sermons are of a uniformly high standard. Thomas Brooks’ ‘Pastor’s Legacies’ are wonderful; John Collins on ‘Contending for the faith’ is a much-needed word for today; Thomas Lyle beautiful covers the love of a pastor for his people and the congregation’s duty in return to ‘stand fast in the Lord’ (Phil. 4:1); Thomas Watson is as helpful as ever on the difference between the righteous and the wicked (Isa. 3:10-11) and how God’s promises stir up a pastor’s beloved people to holiness (2 Cor. 7:1); John Oldfield outlines how to respond to the sufferings of the godly (Psa. 69:6) and the final sermon of John Whitlock is a is a profound challenge to ‘remember, hold fast and repent’ (Rev. 3:3).

These are not antiquarian sermons. They breathe the spirit of the living word of God and will repay reading today, when, to return to Calamy’s sermon, there is as much need to tremble for the ark of God as there was in 1662.

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    This is the third in a series of ‘taster’ articles to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Puritan Paperbacks series. I can still remember as a teenager pulling my father’s copy of the 1962 Banner edition of Sermons of the Great Ejection off one of his study shelves and turning to Edmund Calamy’s sermon, ‘Trembling […]

Originally printed in the August-September 2021 Banner of Truth Magazine.

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