Friday, 16 September 2016

The Low Door of Humility

Whilst speaking on Luke 18:9-17 at the prayer meeting on Wednesday evening I made mention of the 'Door of Humility' in the Church of the Nativity. It seems fitting that the door has been made so low, that all must bow to enter in. All who want to come to King Jesus, and enter his Kingdom, must enter his presence in humility and childlike trust. No matter how prominent or pre-eminent we may be in the eyes of the world, there is one doorway into the Kingdom of God, and no-one can enter through it without bowing down.

In the back of my mind I knew I'd read a quote along these lines. I didn't manage to find it in time for the prayer meeting, but it was Luther. (Luther is writing about the petition in the Lord's prayer 'forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.')
If anyone insists on his own goodness and despises others... let him look into himself when this petition confronts him. He will find he is no better than others and that in the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 93 (as quoted in Prayer, Tim Keller, 115)

Friday, 1 July 2016

Importunate in prayer

Following on from the quote from Newton's childhood pastor, I was struck by the similarities in this from Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Joy Unspeakable:

Without an element of importunity and persistence, or urgency and almost a holy violence with God, we have little right to expect that God will hear our prayer and answer it.

MLJ, Joy Unspeakable, 382

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

"Beg it of Him, who is the God of grace..." Pray for your children

John Newton’s mum died when he was 6. His father was a moral man, but not a godly one. Newton said of his dad “I am persuaded he loved me, but he seemed not willing that I should know it.” Newton believed the teaching and prayers of his mum in those early years had a huge bearing on the direction of his life.  

Reflecting on this Marylynn Rousse points to a sermon preached by Newton’s childhood pastor, David Jennings:
'As Newton attributes so much to his mother's early teaching and prayers, it is particularly interesting to note a section of one of David Jennings's Sermons to Young People, preached while Elizabeth Newton was still alive and John would have been about five or younger. Jennings challenged the parents from 1 Chronicles 29:19, “And give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart.”

“Did you ever pray this prayer for your children in good earnest? Lord, give them a perfect heart. What pains have you taken to instruct and teach them the good ways of holiness?... O! be earnest and importunate with God, be daily intercessors with him for the souls of your dear children. Beg it of him, who is the God of grace, that he would give your children a perfect heart.”

Such was the faithfulness of both pastor and mother for the child who was later to write, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”'

The Life of John Newton, Richard Cecil (Updated by Marylynn Rousse), 20

Thursday, 9 June 2016

From this day forward

I'm going to be conducting a wedding for the first time in quite a while tomorrow. 10 years into marriage, 8 years into pastoral ministry, 5 years of battling ill-health I certainly now have a deeper appreciation for the weight of these words:
By this sign you take each other, to have and to hold from this day forward
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer
In sickness and in health
To love and to cherish
For as long as you both shall live.
Since you have covenanted together in marriage and have declared your love for each other before God and these witnesses, I now proclaim you to be husband and wife
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival & the Reformed Tradition- A Review

Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition
Editors: Robert David Smart, Michael AG Haykin, Ian Hugh Clary

 “Biblically and historically speaking, the term revival represents the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in which there is recovered a new awareness of the holiness of God among His people. This heightened knowledge brings in a new season of the conviction of sin, which, in turn, leads to heartrending repentance. This lowly humility ushers in an awakened love for Christ. Believers begin to pursue personal holiness. Love for other believers intensifies. The gospel spreads like wildfire. Sinners are brought to faith in Christ, and the church is enlarged and empowered..” (p5)
This is how Stephen J Lawson defines revival in the foreword to Pentecostal Outpourings. It is a definition which would undoubtedly meet with the approval of the authors of this great work.
The book itself is divided into two sections:

Firstly- Revival in the British Isles. This half of the book is comprised of 4 essays overviewing revivals within reformed traditions in the UK; Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, Irish Dissenters, Calvinistic English Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians respectively. Each of these chapters are well written summaries, and each manage to cover some oft neglected revivals (I found the information on the Kirk O’ Shotts revival in Scotland particularly new to me- even although I live relatively nearby.) None of the summaries are simplistic, but the footnotes offer excellent guidance in finding further reading should anything be of particular interest.

The second part of the book looks at the history of revivals in America, starting with a very helpful chapter on Jonathan Edwards (I’ve read a lot by Edwards, and at least one biography but this essay really helped place him in the context of the 18th century American church).

Subsequent chapters are equally well written- Peter Beck examines the revival movements in the Congregationalists in the 18th-19th Century, Tom J Nettles looks at Baptist revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Joel Beeke covers revival and the Dutch Reformed Church in the 18th century.


"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands." (Psalm 143:5)

The revival accounts outlined in Pentecostal Outpourings should to encourage us as we remember and reflect on what the Lord has done in our land in the past. Iain D Campbell says of John MacDonald in chapter 4:

“The remembrance of the working of the Lord’s right hand, in these favoured places, often cheered him when his heart was fainting in the toil of later and less fruitful years.”(p154)

These accounts will, I'm sure, cheer many believers as they labour in difficult days and challenging contexts in the cause of Christ.

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

Any book on revival ought also to lead to prayer for more revivals. Robert Davis Smart says in the introduction:

“Subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word, are reviewed in this volume in order that we may seek God earnestly to revive His church once again soon…

Pentecostal Outpourings depicts these special seasons of mercy in such a way that readers will hope for revivals once more as well as learn from past revival leaders.”(p7,8)

This book achieves these goals, furthermore it is more balance, biblical and honest that many books on revival.

“Although the authors prize true revivals, we have taken special care to demonstrate that revivals are mixed with counterfeit Christianity and require wise leadership. Quality leadership in the midst of revivals requires discernment, as evil still seeks to ‘work us woe’.”(p8)

“Every work of God dealing with flawed human nature will be a mixed work: the wheat of genuine conversions will be mixed with the tares of artificial experiences.” (p35)

Pentecostal Outpourings is a real achievement and a very helpful resource, one that ought to be turned to again and again. Broad in scope, not shallow in depth, inspirational, honest and thoroughly biblical. A worthwhile addition to any reformed believer’s shelf.

This book was provided to me courtesy of Reformation Heritage Books and Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

Awaiting the breath of the Spirit

Kuyper’s famous Lectures on Calvinism were delivered at Princeton in 1898. The last lecture bore the title “Calvinism and the Future,” and its closing words were these:

‘The quickening of life comes not from men: it is the prerogative of God, and it is due to His sovereign will alone, whether or not the tide of religious life rise high in one century, and run to a low ebb in the next….
Now the period in which we are living at present, is surely at a low ebb religiously. Unless God send forth His Spirit, there will be no turn, and fearfully rapid will be the descent of the waters. But you remember the Aeolian Harp, which men were wont to place outside their casement, that the breeze might wake its music into life.

Until the wind blew, the harp remained silent, while, again, even though the wind arose, if the harp did not lie in readiness, a rustling of the breeze might be heard, but not a single note of ethereal music delighted the ear. Now, let Calvinism be nothing but such an Aeolian Harp,—absolutely powerless, as it is, without the quickening spirit of God—still we feel it our God-given duty to keep our harp, its strings tuned aright, ready in the window of God’s Holy Sion, awaiting the breath of the Spirit.’

Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Stone Lectures (New York: Fleming H. Revell, [1899]), 274–75.

(Quoted from Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition- Robert Davis Smart)

Friday, 11 March 2016

From the Pen of Pastor Paul- a Review

From the Pen of Pastor Paul is essentially a collection of 32 sermons (twenty on 1 Thessalonians, twelve on 2 Thessalonians) adapted to form a book. The author, Daniel R Hyde, is pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in California. Having turned down a call from another church, he re-committed himself to OURC and broke into his planned preaching program to lead the congregation through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

There are things an expositional commentary like this can’t do. Firstly, a preacher has to be selective. Unless your pastor is a modern-day Martyn-Lloyd Jones, he won’t be able to preach a series of sermons on every Scriptural sentence. This is a collection of 32 sermons on both Thessalonian letters, not everything will be covered in depth. Even some of Paul’s most famous Thessalonian exhortations, get little attention (like “give thanks in all circumstances” for example 1 Thes 5:18). Sometimes disappointing, but a preacher has to make decisions about what not to say too.

Secondly, a preacher can’t devote huge amounts of time presenting scholarly debate on authorship, translation or historical context. Most of this exegetical work goes on in the behind the scenes, it sits under the surface of the sermon itself. There is no in depth discussion on Greek words, or contemporary theological debate.
I don’t think either of these things are problematic, but were I preparing a sermon series or Bible study on Thessalonians, this wouldn’t be the only modern commentary I’d turn to- a more detailed exegetical commentary would be a helpful companion.      

There are things a book like this can’t do, but there are certainly great strengths with this type of commentary too.

When done well, the commentary will do what good preaching does, it will move the heart as well as enlighten the mind, it will bring the intention of the 1st century author home to the modern day Christian with clarity and force.

This book ticks those boxes.

You can’t miss or doubt Hyde’s his love for Scripture and for the people to whom he preaches.

“The best commentaries on New Testament Epistles are often those that were born in the same way as the Epistles themselves: out of the womb of real pastoral concern and ministry.” Says Dr Conrad Mbewe in his commendation.

Hyde himself says in his foreword:

“I believe in 1 Thessalonians Paul opens his pastoral heart more than to any other congregation to which he wrote… John Stott said, Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence ‘reveals the authentic Paul… We hear his heart-beat and see his tears.’”
He goes on to say that the sermons which formed the basis of the book were the most personal, earnest, and applicatory that he had ever preached.  What believer would not benefit from a commentary like that?  

There were a number of traits which I grew to appreciate more and more as I worked my way through the book:

There is little in the way of illustrative stories and anecdotes- unfashionable, but Hyde’s style is more than engaging enough, and it makes the book accessible to those not as familiar with North American culture. He handles the text well, and he knows the hearts of his hearers. That makes for compelling reading all by itself.  

Secondly, Hyde leans on the wisdom of saints from past generations. When preaching through a biblical book he has ‘conversation partners’ from the Church Fathers, the medieval period, the Reformation, the Puritans as well as modern commentators. John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, James Ferguson, FF Bruce and John Stott were those conversation partners through Thessalonians. Every generation has its strengths and weaknesses and some of the insights from these forefathers in the faith were really insightful and penetrating.

Thirdly, the book is simple, but not simplistic. It ought to be accessible and beneficial to all believers whether young or old, theologically trained or totally new to reading Christian books.  

In his chapter on the opening words of 1 Thessalonians, Hyde says:

… As a persecuted pastor himself, Paul’s greatest pastoral desire in his first letter back to the persecuted Thessalonian Christians was that they would persevere in their faith, hope, and love… As with Paul, a pastor’s desire for his people is that they would continually rekindle their passion for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (p18,19) 

The greatest compliment I can pay to this commentary, is that as I read it, it did continually rekindle my passion for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I received this book for free from Evangelical Press in exchange for this honest review. I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Shining as stars in the sky


As a Christian there’s a lot I disagree with Stephen Fry about, but I was a bit saddened to hear he’d left Twitter. I keep an eye on what he writes not only because his words carry such weight in our world, but because he uses the English language beautifully. I often disagree with what he says, but there’s a lot to be learned from how he says it.

It was slightly surreal to see him attacked pretty mercilessly by people who hold to an almost identical worldview after his (ill-advised) BAFTA_joke.

Fry explains why he left Twitter by saying:

“let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know.

It doesn’t matter [who] they think they’re defending.... the ghastliness is absolutely the same. It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view....

I’ve heard people shriek their secularism in such a way as to make me want instantly to become an evangelical Christian."

(Full post here)

Yes, Stephen Fry seems to have left Twitter because of sanctimonious, self-righteous… secularists!

The world expects Christians to be harsh, unforgiving, judgemental and self-righteous, what a witness it would be if we were steadfast and uncompromising in holding to the truth, yet also gracious, gentle, forgiving and humble. Looking to build and to bless rather than tear-down and destroy. What a witness that would be.

“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

(1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV)

"Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
 Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky."

(Philippians 2:14-15)

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Octavious Winslow on the work of the Holy Spirit

Natural religion can never renew, sanctify, and save the soul… 

O no! Another and a diviner light must shine upon his soul; another and a more powerful hand must break the seals. That light, that hand, is God the Holy Ghost… 

O thou blessed and loving Spirit! This is thy work, and thine alone. Thine to empty, thine to fill. Thine to lay low, thine to exalt. Thine to wound, thine to heal. Thine to convince of sin, and thine to lead the soul, all sinful, guilty, and wretched as it is, to the precious blood of Jesus - “the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.” Thou shalt have the praise, and wear the crown!

Octavious Winslow

The Inquirer Directed to the Work of the Holy Spirit (1856), 31,32