Friday, April 30, 2010

Boldness in the Day of Judgment

"There is a great day coming, often spoken of in the Bible, the day of judgement, the day when "God will judge the secrets of men's hearts by Jesus Christ".

The Christless will not be able to stand in that day. "The ungodly shall not stand in the judgement." At present, sinners have much boldness; their neck is an iron sinew, and their brow brass. Many of them cannot blush when they are caught in sin. Amongst ourselves, is it not amazing how bold sinners are in forsaking ordinances? With what a brazen face will some men swear! How bold some ungodly men are in coming to the Lord's table! But it will not be so in a little while. When Christ shall appear,-the Holy Jesus, in all His glory,-then brazen faced sinners will begin to blush. Those that never prayed will begin to wail. Sinners, whose limbs carried them stoutly to sin and to the Lord's table last Sabbath, will find their knees knocking against one another. "Who shall abide in the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appears?" When the books are opened,-the one the book of God's remembrance, the other the Bible,-then the dead will be judged out of those things written in the books. Then the heart of the ungodly will die within them ; then will begin their "shame and everlasting contempt". Many wicked persons comfort themselves with this, that their sin is not known-that no eye sees them; but in that day the most secret sins will be all brought out to the light, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgement." How would you tremble and blush, O wicked man, if I was to go over now the secret sins you have committed this past week,-all your secret fraud and cheating, your secret uncleanness, your secret malice and envy,-how would you blush and be confounded! How much more in that day, when the secrets of your whole life shall be made manifest before an assembled world! What eternal confusion will sink down your soul in that day! You will be quite chop-fallen; all your pride and blustering will be God.

All in Christ will have boldness because Christ shall judge. What abundant peace will it give you in that day, believer, when you see Christ as Judge, he that shed His blood for you, He that is your surety, your shepherd, your all. It will take away all fear. You will be able to say, Who shall condemn? For whom Christ hath died. In the very hands that opens the books you will see the marks of the wounds made by your sins. Christ will be the same to you in the judgement that He is now because the Father Himself loveth you. Christ and the Father are one. The Father sees no sin in you; because as Christ is, so are you in the world. You are judged by God according to what the Surety is; so that God's love will be with you in that day. You will feel the smile of the Father, and you will hear the voice of Jesus saying, "Come, ye blessed of My Father."

- Robert Murray M'Cheyne

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Life's Shortness and Vanity

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment--but the righteous to eternal life!" Matthew 25:46

In this present world, our good and evil are blended. Our happiness has some bitter ingredients, and our miseries have some agreeable mitigations.

But in the eternal world, good and evil shall be entirely and forever separated! All will be pure, unmingled happiness or pure, unmingled misery!

But what gives infinite importance to these joys and sorrows is that they are enjoyed or suffered in the eternal world, and they are themselves eternal. Eternal joys! Eternal pains! Joys and pains that will last as long as the King eternal and immortal will live to distribute them! As long as our immortal spirits will live to feel them! Oh what joys and pains are these!

And these eternal joys or pains, my friends, are awaiting every one of us! These pleasures or these pains are felt this moment by all our friends and acquaintances who have died before us! And in a little while, you and I must feel them!

Alas! What then, have we to do with time and earth? Are the pleasures and pains of this world worthy to be compared with eternal pleasures and pains? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" The enjoyments and sufferings, the labors and pursuits, the laughter and tears of the present state, are all nothing in comparison. What is the loss of an estate, or of a dear relative, compared to the loss of a blissful immortality?

And if our heavenly inheritance is secure, what does it matter, even if we should be reduced into Job's forlorn situation? What does it matter, even if we are poor, sickly, racked with pains, and submerged in every human misery? Heaven will more than make amends for all!

But if we have no evidences of a title to heaven, the sense of these transitory distresses may be swallowed up in the fear of the horrible miseries of eternity!

Alas! What does it avail that we play away a few years in mirth and gaiety, in grandeur and pleasure, if when these few years have fled, we lift up our eyes in hell, tormented in eternal flames!

Oh what are all these transitory things to a candidate for eternity! An heir of everlasting happiness or everlasting misery!

If we spend our immortality in eternal misery, what sorry comfort will it be that we laughed, and played, and frolicked away our few years upon earth!

As Christians, we are to be nobly indifferent to all the little amusements and pleasures of so short an earthly life.

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life!" Matthew 25:46

- Samuel Davies

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jesus Is not a Heavenly Bell Hop

Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.

In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person—only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And he feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change in what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same; you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; you just have a new bellhop.

That’s not what the new birth is. It’s not having all the same desires that you had as an unregenerate person, and just getting them from a new source. The new birth changes the bottom, the root, the foundation of what makes us happy. Self at the bottom is replaced by Jesus, GodHimself.

What makes the born-again person glad is not at bottom that they have God’s gifts, but that they have God. This is what I am more concerned about than genuine Christians who are truly on their way to heaven, and don’t feel loved by God. And my shorthand way of trying to awaken people to the dangers of feeling loved by God while being unregenerate is to ask: Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because, at great cost to his Son, he frees you to enjoy knowing him, treasure him and make much of him?

- John Piper

Robert M'Cheyne and Revival at his Church

In 1839, pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne was away from his church in Dundee, Scotland, for eight months. M’Cheyne went on a mission trip to Israel at the beginning of April 1839. Before he left he wrote,
I sometimes think, that a great blessing may come to my people in my absence. Often God does not bless us when we are in the midst of our labours, lest we shall say, “My hand and my eloquence have done it.” He removes us into silence, and then pours “down a blessing so that there is not room to receive it;” so that all that see it cry out, “It is the Lord!”
Amazingly, this is what happened. Mr. William C. Burns, the son of the minister at Kilsyth, filled the pulpit at St. Peter’s while M’Cheyne was away. M’Cheyne wrote to him,
I hope you may be a thousand times more blessed among them than I ever was. Perhaps there are many souls that would never have been saved under my ministry, who may be touched under yours; and God has taken this method of bringing you into my place. His name is Wonderful.
In August of 1839, it happened. M’Cheyne was seriously ill in Bouja, near Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). He would die just four years later at the age of 29. But for now he was praying earnestly for revival in his home church in Dundee. Andrew Bonar, M’Cheyne’s biographer writes,
"It was during the time of Mr. M’Cheyne’s sore sickness that his flock in Dundee were receiving blessing from the opened windows of heaven. Their pastor was lying at the gate of death, in utter helplessness. But the Lord had done this on very purpose; for He meant to show that He needed not the help of any: He could send forth new labourers and work by new instruments when it pleased Him."
The revival began in Kilsyth and then spread to Dundee on August 8, 1839. M'Cheyne:
"Two days after, the Spirit began to work in St. Peter’s, at the time of the prayer-meeting in the church, in a way similar to Kilsyth. Day after day the people met for prayer and hearing the word; and the time of the apostles seemed returned, when “the Lord added to the Church daily of such as should be saved.”
Would there be jealousy or envy that the Lord had given the great harvest under a substitute preacher? No. Bonar writes,
"Mr. M’Cheyne had received from the Lord a holy disinterestedness that suppressed every feeling of envy. Many wondered at the single-heartedness he was enabled to exhibit. He could sincerely say, “I have no desire but the salvation of my people, by whatever instrument.”

- John Piper

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Love of God

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."
- John 3:16

The love here celebrated, we must remember, is the love of God--of the Lord God Almighty, and it is love toward a world which altogether "lies in the evil one." It is a love which is great, powerful, and all-conquering, which attains its end, and will not stand helpless before any obstacle. It is the precise purpose of this passage to teach us this, to raise our hearts to some apprehension of the inconceivable gretness of the love of God, set as it is upon saving this wicked world.

You must not think, then, that God sits helplessly by, while the world which He created for Himself, hurdles hopelessly on to destruction, and that He is able only to snatch with difficulty here and there a brand from the universal burning. Through all the years of history, an increasing purpose of the Lord runs--one increasing purpose: the kingdoms of the earth are becoming ever more and more the kingdom of our God and His Christ.

- B.B. Warfield

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Come Quickly Lord Jesus

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and while you tarry
Keep us free from the sin of this world;
O, make our little lives count for the glory of Your Name
And for the fame of Your Father.

Rivet our attention on Your cross,
And fuse our affections to Yourself;
Waken our compassions for all who suffer,
Especially for those who are rushing toward
Everlasting misery because of unbelief.

So open our mouths and open our hands
And open our wallets while we have breath,
And make us the most radically loving people on earth,
For the joy of all people and the renown of Your name.

- Kent McElroy (1953-2010)

written July 31, 2009, three months after his cancer treatment began and nine months before his passing

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Martyn Lloyd-Jones Prepared for Death

It is the utmost moral and spiritual insanity to be living, but never preparing to die, never preparing for death in any way. To neglect preparation for death is like nearing a certain planned date of a long-awaited international trip, only to find that when the day and hour of departure arrives, both you and those around you realize that you have not packed anything for the trip--nothing at all. Going on such a journey without even one piece of luggage, no credit card, no cash, no traveler's checks, nothing, not even a change of underwear or socks. Who would do it? Many people do it every single day.

People begin a journey of dying and then death for which they have not at all prepared for. Coming to the end of this life and then dying IS that journey. The most foolish thing imaginable in this life is to come to the time ill-prepared or totally unprepared.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed this deeply and he often preached about it. But it is one thing to preach about it and another thing altogether to practice it. Lloyd-Jones not only preached it, but practiced it as well, as the record shows. It was at the end of his life, when battling cancer, that he knew it was time to give his remaining time, not to further books or writing, but to prepare to die.

Iain Murray, Dr. Lloyd-Jones' biographer, visited with MLJ a year before he died, in March, 1980, and an autobiography was discussed. But Lloyd-Jones decided against it for a primary reason. "It had to do with his final assessment of the right use of such time as remained to him. . . . it came home to him with much conviction that time to prepare for death was very important; he needed such time and believed that its right use was now his chief work as a Christian. What was uppermost in his thoughts did not lie in the past at all. The big thing before him was that all Christians need a pause from the activities of life in order to prepare for heaven."

In expressing this to Mr. Murray, Lloyd-Jones, referring to words of Thomas Chalmers, spoke about his condition:

"I am grateful to God that I have been given this time [the time to face death and prepare for it]. I agree with Chalmers absolutely. We do not give enough time to death and to our going on. It is a very strange thing--this one certainty [death]-- yet we do not think about it. We are too busy. We allow life and its circumstances to so occupy us that we do not stop and think . . . .people say about sudden death, 'It is a wonderful way to go'. I have come to the conclusion that it is quite wrong. It think the way we go out of this world is very important and this is my great desire now, that I may perhaps be enabled to bear a greater testimony than ever before.

"We need to fight to realize our individuality and how limited we are. The world is too much with us. We hold on to life so tenaciously--that is so wrong, so different from the New Testament. Even until last November [1979] I wasn't conscious of my age. I felt it was ridiculous to talk about it. When we feel well and active, it is difficult to realize the end. . . . Chalmers' emphasis on preparation for death is right."

Lloyd-Jones said, "The hope of a sudden death is based upon the fear of death. But death is not something to slip by. It should be victorious. All of my ministry I have used the words, 'this short uncertain earthly life and pilgrimage'." He went on to recall that he had often preached that death is a tremendous thing--to go out of this world and to leave behind all that one has ever known; his ministry, he confessed, had not been without instances of the power of that message. 'But', he added with much feeling, 'I can see that it should have been even more emphasized. What is this brief span [this earthly life] in the context of eternity!' Murray, commenting on his words, says, 'Yet it was not said with an air of sadness nor with the slightest degree of just resignation to the inevitable; the negative and the morbid were entirely absent. His whole attitude was one of thankfulness and expectation, looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God', and that this is something that belongs to all Christians.'

Murray says, 'In the course of our conversation, I spoke of the glorious death of a Christian known to me who had been like Bunyan's 'Mr. Fearing' during his lifetime, but passed away with unspeakable joy. I added the comment, 'How wonderful it would have been if he had lived like that.' Dr. Lloyd-Jones responded at once and with a definite element of disapproval. 'But don't underestimate dying! Death (he said it with great emphasis), death is the last enemy. Men may live well who do not die victoriously.'

Murray concluded his experience about that visit: 'In his prayer before we parted, MLJ asked for more of what he already knew, 'that we might rejoice in hope of the glory of God'. As I left him at the front door, and it closed behind me, his smiling face remained silhouetted through the glass in the sunshine until I was out of sight. It was no more than the usual way in which he parted with friends, but as I returned to Scotland, it seemed very possible that this would be my last view of him.'

Lloyd-Jones got many things right. But the view of taking time to actually prepare for death was one of the most important of all. To not avoid death, but to think about it, face it, prepare for it as much as God enables us, is as wise a thing as a person can do.

We are all heading there. It is ever right in front of us, ever a hill, a mountain, a valley, a reality looming before us on our road. And it grows closer and larger the longer we live. For the Christian, this certainty doesn't have to be dreaded or feared; the Christian who prepares can have a growing expectation, a sense of anticipation, a sense of, "Look! There is my destination, where I am going forever, a real place, with real Christians who have gone before, there now with the Saviour who is awaiting me. To die will be gain because I will be with Him."

So let us prepare. We are wise if we do and foolish if we do not.

- Mack Tomlinson

(All included references can be found in volume two of Iain Murray's biography, D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Fight of Faith, chapter 35, Dying He Worshipped)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Encouragement of Election

"I have many people in this city." - Acts 18:10

This should be a great encouragement in proclaiming the Gospel, since among the people in our communities---the disinterested, the rebellious, the careless---God has an elect people who must be saved. When you take the Word to them, you do so because God has ordained you to be the messenger of life to their souls, and they must receive it, for so the decree of predestination runs. They are as much redeemed by blood as the saints before the eternal throne. They are Christ's property, and yet perhaps they are lovers of selfish pleasures and haters of holiness; but if Jesus Christ purchased them, He will have them. God is not unfaithful to forget the price that His Son has paid. He will not suffer His substitution to be in any case an ineffectual, dead thing. Tens of thousands of redeemed ones are not regenerated yet, but regenerated they must be; and this is our comfort when we go to them with the quickening Word of God.

- Charles Spurgeon

A Safe Arrival in Heaven

God is gathering a people for Himself. He finds them in Satan’s kingdom and calls them effectually by the Holy Spirit in His infinite grace. He convinces them of sin and makes them willing and able to believe in Christ and to follow Him along the narrow way which leads to everlasting life.

But will they continue on the way? Will they arrive safely in heaven? Or will they wander back to the broad way and end in everlasting destruction? After all, many seem to begin well; they are full of zeal and very earnest in their new-found religion. But they do not continue; they give up prayer, Bible reading and church attendance; they return to the world and its ways of sin with more enthusiasm than ever. It is no new thing; Peter had probably seen it many a time before he wrote: 'It is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire' (2 Pet. 2:22).

Yet the promises of God stand sure and they guarantee that all who have been effectually called – who therefore are among the people, the sheep, of Christ, having believed sincerely in Him – will never fall away. The Scriptures assure us that 'the Lord will not cast off His people' (Psa. 94:14). They are not only perfectly secure in this life, but they will be absolutely safe throughout eternity. We may notice five reasons why this is so.

1. God’s eternal purpose. All that happens in this world takes place according to what God has decreed will happen. In particular, He has decreed to call into His kingdom sinners who were wandering along the broad way towards eternal destruction; He has decreed to make them His people. Paul speaks of them (in Rom. 8:29) as those whom God 'foreknew' – which Charles Hodge explains as God 'looking on the fallen mass of men and fixing on some whom He predestines to salvation'.

And that is a sure salvation, for Paul continues: 'Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.' Thus God’s original choice in predestinating some to salvation will be followed through in effectual calling – they will all be drawn by the power of the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God. And those who are thus effectually called will be justified; for Christ’s sake all their sins will be forgiven and God will accept them as righteous.

But, and this is the main point for us at present, those who are effectually called and justified according to God’s eternal purpose – those who are born again and, believing, set out on the narrow way – will actually be glorified. They will persevere to the end; they will be brought at last to heaven. For God will not cast them away; He will not forsake them; He will keep them to the end. He has begun, in their effectual calling, to demonstrate His purpose to save them and, the Bible tells them: 'He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 1:6) – until He will return for them at the end of time.

2. The effectiveness of Christ’s work. Each of those who believe is saved because Christ died for them as individuals. Their guilt was imputed to Him, and He bore that guilt 'in His own body on the tree'. He paid the price for their redemption, and He therefore has a right to them; they are His people. When He sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate them, that work will be effective; they become new creatures in Christ Jesus. And the Holy Spirit continues His work in their hearts, still for the sake of Christ – it is all the result of His redemptive work in this world and the fruit of His continuing, and effective, intercession at the right hand of His Father in heaven. God will never forsake His people; He will never give up his own work; for Christ’s sake He will bring it to a complete conclusion. Thus believers will never perish; they will persevere on the way to heaven.

3. God’s power. There are many obstacles in the way of the believer’s progress towards heaven. There is Satan, going about as a roaring lion 'seeking whom he may devour'. But Satan, powerful as he is – and let us not underestimate either his power or his subtlety – is limited, while God is unlimited in every way. And He will use His infinite power on behalf of His people, against Satan. He will either protect them from Satan’s temptations or, if He allows Satan to set snares for them, He will use His power to prevent them from becoming entangled in these snares, at least permanently so.

The world also is a source of serious danger, not least in a generation as wicked as ours. But however serious these dangers are, God is able to protect His children, and they are to commit themselves to His care. No one, Christ promised, will 'pluck them out of My hand' (John 10:28).

Perhaps most insidious is the danger that comes from their own corrupt hearts – hearts which are but partially sanctified. Yet the 'good work' of sanctification has begun, and it will be continued through the infinite power of the Holy Spirit until God’s people are made absolutely perfect.

4. God’s love. Perhaps the clearest evidence of His love is His adoption of believers into His family; He has made them His children. Every loving father in this world will do his best to care for His children, to protect them from all danger and provide for them until they are able to look after themselves. How much more will God’s love for His children lead Him to watch over them! Their Father in heaven can never cast them off. He has loved them with an everlasting love; so that love can never change. And it never will; He will bring them into a better world. As He watches over them in His love, they will continue in the narrow way that leads to everlasting life.

5. God’s honour. Samuel assured Israel: 'The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake' (1 Sam. 12:22). He had revealed Himself by mighty signs and wonders when He brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt; He had preserved them through the wilderness and brought them victorious into the promised land. He had entered into covenant with them; so He could not cast them away without dishonouring His name – the revelation He had given of Himself in His Word and providence. Samuel’s statement refers particularly to God’s dealings with Israel as a nation; how much more closely is His honour associated with spiritual Israel, His own people! He has redeemed them; He has entered into covenant with them; He has begun a work of grace in their hearts; He has adopted them into His family. His honour is therefore bound up, not only with the beginnings of their salvation in the past, but with its completion in the future. So their arrival in heaven is absolutely sure – not least because the honour of God’s name is bound up with it.

In the light of these five points, God’s people have every reason for confidence as they make their way to the eternal world – confidence in Him, not in themselves. Yet those who believe they are God’s children must beware of presumption. They are directed: 'Give diligence to make your calling and election sure' (2 Pet. 1:10). Nor may even God’s true children presume on His power to deliver them if they wander carelessly into sin. Christ directs them: 'Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation' (Matt. 26:41). And Paul, inspired by the Spirit, gives the corresponding direction: 'If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth' (Col. 3:1). After all, the narrow way which leads to eternal life is 'the way of holiness'. Walking in that way, God’s children may enjoy the confidence of a safe arrival in a better world. Asaph, for instance, could sing in confident faith: 'Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory' (Psa. 73:24). May we get grace to follow him!

- Kenneth Macleod

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It is Not Death to Die

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who found their home with God.

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears,
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from my fear.

O Jesus, conquering the grave,
Your precious blood has vowed to save;
Those who trust in You will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die.

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just.

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door;
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You ever more.

O, Jesus, conquering the grave,
Your precious blood has vowed to save;
Those who trust in You will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Knowing Christ's Humanity

We must know Jesus as once tabernacling in the flesh, and dwelling among men as man, hallowing earthly spots with His presence, entering the dwellings of men, sitting with them at their tables and blessing their children, mingling in the scenes of domestic life, smiling upon our loves, sanctioning our marriages, healing our diseases, pitying our infirmities, weeping at our tombs, and consecrating our loneliness and solitude.

In a word, unvailing a bosom that is the perfect reflection of our own in all but its sinfulness. Oh, it is this fact of our Lord's personality that brings Him so near to us, bends Him so closely with our individual history and which imparts to His presence and sympathy a reality and preciousness so inexpressibly great and endearing.

- Octavius Winslow

Resurrection Day Report from Wales

So Easter Twenty-Ten has come and gone. Good Friday was good on all sorts of levels. It started at 7 a.m. with nine of us meeting to pray for God to send his Spirit on us as the word of the risen Christ would be preached in our churches. Then we drove Rhodri and Sibyl across town to the Welsh Evangelical Church for our bi-lingual service at 9.50 at which I did nothing but sit next to Iola and sing and pray and hear Derrick preaching on the Lord Jesus becoming the guarantor of the new covenant.

Off we drove to north Liverpool, Iola and I, three hours away, to preach in Aughton at the Evangelical church at 3.30 and 6 p.m. The people kept coming in. They asked the congregation if they could squeeze up to one another and then they brought in extra chairs. They filled the aisle with chairs until there was no more room.

The pastor there is a dear friend, Billy McCurry. His father was killed in the early seventies by the IRA and this hatred resulted in him in his late teens full of hatred doing something terrible for which he was caught and sentenced to many years in jail in the Maze Prison. After five years a wee old lady, a prison visitor, talked to him and left him with a Bible and told him to read Luke 23 which he dutifully did, was convicted and became a Christian. It was an ordinary conversion. He served 11 years, left the prison, and studied in a seminary, where through the conversations and enthusiasm of other students he encountered the doctrines of grace and had the Geneva blessing . . .He also met Bobbie there, married, graduated and became a prison worker for a few years. Then this church in Aughton called him 11 years ago and loves him deeply. He will continue there in his ministry. They have five children who were in the services including a seven year old afterthought, Elijah, who recently asked his Daddy how he could straighten his mass of curly hair. Billy is off in two weeks to the Isle of Harris to speak at the Hebridean Islands annual theology conference. We will meet up at the Banner of Truth conference in Leicester the following week.

On Good Friday we began by singing ‘Come let us join our cheerful songs with angels round the throne.’ I don’t like the fake spirituality that would have us pretend that Jesus is still on the cross. I preached on determining not to know anything save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Then a sumptuous tea. It was not like the north Indian celebrations of a century of gospel work originating with Welsh missionaries. This took place last month at which another friend Gareth Edwards preached. They served 42,000 meals in a football stadium, killing 26 cows, 34 sheep and a dozen goats. With all their poverty they have ‘cable’ and so all the surrounding villages watched it live on TV. Gareth told me all this last week. But in Aughton all of us had more than enough. The salmon sandwiches on brown bread quickly disappeared as the favourite. I talked to older men for the hour or two between the services and then preached again to a smaller congregation at 6 p.m. and we drove off back to Aber. stopping in an Indian restaurant for a lamb curry on our way.

Easter Sunday we were a small group but some folk from Aberystwyth turned up in the morning service and were talked to and welcomed for which they expressed appreciation. If they return what a delight that will be. God’s kindness to us. I preached two new resurrection sermons with some fresh insights, none was of the basic, ‘proofs of the resurrection’ type but more on knowing the power of the resurrection in our own lives because of the reality of this resurrection of our Lord. I used an incident from Christopher Hitchens’ tour of the USA. He is the author of one of those the bestselling atheist books that flooded the market in the past few years, God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. Since the book’s publication in 2007, Hitchens has toured the USA debating a series of religious leaders, including some well-known evangelicals, but in Portland, Oregon he was interviewed by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. The following exchange took place near the start of the interview:

Marilyn Sewell said, “The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?” Christopher Hitchens replied, “I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian. Sewell wanted no part of that so her next words were, “Let me go on to something else.” Yup. No resurrection. No Christianity.

He is risen and has become the first fruits of them that sleep.

- Geoff Thomas

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus I no longer see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me.

The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in Him,
December’s as pleasant as May.

His Name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music His voice;
His presence disperses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice.

I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal as happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.

Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned;
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind.

While blessed with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
All prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.

Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine,
If Thou art my sun and my song;
Say, why do I languish and pine?
And why are my winters so long?

O, drive these dark clouds from the sky,
Thy soul-cheering presence restore;
Or take me to Thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.

- John Newton

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Essential Things Daily at Work

I knew two things that were essential. I knew I had to have an anointing, a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit every morning, so that through my very life my fellow-workers would be convicted of their sin of Christ rejection. Then I knew I had to breathe the fragrance of Christ wherever I went in that plant. So I arose every morning from my bed around six o'clock to have an hour and one-half hour alone with God. I prayed for grace never to lose my temper and that I might keep sweet in every possible circumstance. You see, you can't afford to talk about the Lord Jesus and then lose your temper when they provoke you. You can't retaliate; you've got to keep smiling. So I prayed for grace.

- James A. Stewart

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tell Me the Old Old Story

I recently sang the famous hymn Tell me the old, old story written by the Clapham Sect poetess Arabella Katherine Hankey (1836-1911) and it struck me that what she says there ought to be in the mind of every faithful preacher as he preaches.

1. Stick to the main thing
Tell me the old, old story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love
We want it to be fresh and relevant but not new and not earthbound - just the good old gospel and how to get to heaven. Tell them about Jesus - that's what they need to hear.

2. Keep it simple, stupid
Tell me the story simply,
as to a little child,
for I am weak and weary
and helpless and defiled.
Don't try to be clever or expect too much. You're dealing with weak and weary and wanderers who need help.

3. Easy does it
Tell me the story slowly,
that I may take it in,
that wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin.
Don't be in a rush and don't assume things. Patiently explain it all - the whole plan of redemption and how sinners are saved.

4. Let's go through that again
Tell me the story often
for I forget so soon;
the early dew of morning
has passed away at noon.
Be subtle but don't be afraid of repetition. You'd be surprised how quickly people forget things. And don't be afraid of repetition. It's amazing how quickly people forget things!

5. This is serious
Tell me the story softly,
with earnest tones and grave;
remember I’m the sinner
whom Jesus came to save.
Don't be flippant or uncaring. There is seldom need to shout. Seek to be filled with compassion. Be earnest. Love them. Take it seriously.

6. What they really need
Tell me the story always,
if you would really be,
in any time of trouble,
a comforter to me.
Never forget that what they need more than anything else is not your pop psychology or the latest cliches, but the gospel. Whatever their particular trouble, the answer is found ultimately in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

7. The ministry of warning
Tell me the old, old story
when you have cause to fear
that this world’s empty glory
is costing me too dear.
A warning note needs to be sounded for some. A gospel call implies a call to leave the world and its supposed charms. Don't be afraid to be negative where necessary.

8. With an eye on the goal ahead
Yes, and when that world’s glory
is dawning on my soul,
tell me the old, old story:
'Christ Jesus makes thee whole.'
Death is a fearful thing even for the Christian, and the people you are speaking to will all have to face it one day, some sooner than others. In death, as much as in life, what they really need to face the final enemy is the same gospel that they needed in life. Preach conscious of that fact.

- Gary Brady, Pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Our Sovereign God

Our Father is Lord of heaven and earth, of all things above and below, of the flight of angels and the trajectory of a sparrow. He orders all things everywhere according to the good pleasure of his will. He is never arbitrary, never unjust, never tyrannical, and yet he is absolute and uncontrolled. No one slaps his hand and says, 'Don’t!'. He is the sovereign Lord. There is not one maverick molecule in the universe that exists independent of him. If it did, then he could not be Lord of all. I would fly to the heights of heaven and, standing on a star, would declare that he is the absolute sovereign of everything that lies beneath those heights. He can do with them and in them and for them all he determines to do, and none can prevent him or challenge him. He can be trusted as he exercises his absolute sovereignty because his is an infinite love. I am saying to you that when Christ was filled with the spirit of joy then he ascribed that joy to this confidence, that his Father was the Lord of heaven and earth.

This is not a mere honorary title like the ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ or ‘Lord Snowdon’; God is the absolute owner and ultimate disposer of all that he has made. Being lord of heaven and earth is not referring to some general influence that he has in heaven and earth but he actually rules in them both. What he says goes both above and below. He is Lord of heaven, that is, over an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Every single one in heaven does his will so that we often pray, 'thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' When the angels gather before him each day to receive their instruction then all of them without exception delight to do whatsoever he says. But also on this fallen planet he is working out his purpose. Far sooner the sun stand still than God be hindered in his purposes for our world. The demons are chained in their intention to destroy us. Evil men can do their worst only with his permission. The chief priests and Pilate could not have crucified his dear Son without God allowing it to happen. Paul’s beatings and stonings and lashes were all permitted by God or they wouldn’t have occurred. God was not responsible for them – no way! God can do no evil. Men freely did such wickedness, but God put a restraint on how Paul was tortured until Paul’s work was over. God is in charge of our world. The winds are his messengers; the flaming fire is his servant; no natural occurrence is independent of him; prosperity is his gift; if calamity comes upon a man then it is the Lord who has done it. He raises up and he casts down; he opens the heart and hardens it.

He is the Lord of heaven and earth, with a universal and absolute sovereignty, but it is not a sovereignty of blind power. It is coupled to infinite wisdom, holiness and love. So here we have our Lord, full of joy through the Holy Spirit and Jesus is rejoicing from the reality that he shares with every child of God that, 'Our God reigns!' Our Lord knew God was in charge and had delight in it. If evil men were planning his crucifixion then God was still in charge. Jesus could rejoice that the devil had not pushed God off his throne and that he was torturing Jesus, No. Who would not rejoice in the reality of our lives being under the control of a loving heavenly Father? No one rejoices in fate. It is impersonal and you accept it. Who would not prefer to have all his or her affairs in the hands of a personal God of infinite power, wisdom, holiness and love? Too wise to be mistaken; too good to be unkind. That is what I’ve asked from him; 'Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.' Then I take what he gives me and I love him still. If you reject my dear sovereign Lord then who is in charge of what enters your life? The pride and presumption of man? The hatred of the devil? The roll of a dice? The bouncing of balls in some cosmic lottery, one ball of which has ‘cancer’ written on it, and another ‘road accident,’ and another ‘stillborn’, and another ‘Alzheimer’s disease’? Is it all mere luck in this world – this world of order and design and purpose? You exclude God and the alternative is bleak fatalism.

You know how the sovereign power of God is affirmed in the Bible, in Daniel 4:35; God 'does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"' On the lips of Jesus; 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth' (Matt 28:18). Paul, writing in Ephesians 1:22, 'And God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.' Job says, 'I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted' (Job 42:2). The psalmist cries with delight, 'Our God is in the heavens. He has done whatsoever he pleases (Psa. 115:3). Paul tells the Romans, 'But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Rom. 9:20, 21). The mighty rule of God is a theme of the Bible and the delight of its writers.

People often think of the Bible’s teaching about God’s sovereignty as a rather dark or depressing truth, and yet it fills the Son of God with joy. It is often presented in the context of psalms and praises and worship within the Scripture. When the angels sing 'Glory to God in the highest' they go on to bless God for those particular people on whom his favour rests. We find in Romans 9 to 11 that Paul expounds God’s sovereign purposes and the climax is an outburst of praise: 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen (Rom.11:33-36). Jesus rejoices that his Father is in comprehensive control of this world. In other words, that God does not look away for five minutes and in that moment your husband finds another woman more attractive, or in that moment you lose control of the car, or when God was not on guard a virus slipped through and struck down you or your loved ones. No. God is the continued Sovereign Ruler of the rolling spheres, moment by moment, and of all that occurs in them. What blessedness to know this.

- Geoff Thomas

Jesus the Joygiver

Too much has been made of the fact that Jesus is never said to have smiled or laughed. That fact has been linked to his description as ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ The picture is developed, making Jesus’ life joyless and stressful. That is a gross over-simplification. For one thing, a joyless life would have been a sinful life. Jesus would have been guilty of the worry he forbade in others. Again, he would have fallen short of his servant Paul’s attainment as someone who’d learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Aren’t we told to ‘rejoice always’ and wasn’t that Jesus’ obligation too? Could he have been filled with the Spirit and yet not have known the Spirit’s joy? Could he have given rest and relief to others while remaining depressed himself? Leonard Cohen has a line in his recent concerts when, between numbers, he casually tells the audience that he has studied the world’s great religions. Then he pauses and adds, 'but cheerfulness kept breaking through.' ‘All religions make you depressed,’ he’s saying, ‘but a band and pop music . . . the great antidote to despair.’ Get real, Cohen. We Christians are not the ones who’re having to imbibe drugs to get happy. That’s your scene, not ours. I’m no fan of religion. Man’s religions have been his greatest crimes. If I spent months studying religions then I’d certainly be depressed. To me, life is the person of the Lord Christ. The joy of grace through Jesus Christ delivers me from living an unhappy life. I live a real life and so it is a joyful life.

In Luke chapter 10 the Lord Jesus is described in the 21st verse as ‘full of joy’ (the verb used is to exult, to be ecstatically happy). In John 15:11 Jesus refers to his own joy: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. This clearly implies that the joy Jesus shares with his disciples is, in the first instance, his own personal joyfulness. That is based on his sense of the Father’s love and approval, and his obedience to the Father’s commands. So he had no guilt whatsoever; no sense of shame that we all know as a grievous counterpoise to our best joys. There is a similar reference to his joy in his great High Priestly prayer, 'I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13). Think of it, that in the Upper Room, after the first Lord’s Supper, and before his arrest and crucifixion, he is praying that his boys should be joyful people. Our joy as Christians is that important.

There can be little doubt that, apart from the brief and intense moment of dereliction on Calvary, Jesus was serene; Jesus was a contented man. He could rejoice in everything that his Father was; he meditated on God as an object of wonder and admiration:
He delighted in his Father’s love and constant help and presence. He marvelled at the beauties and glories of his Father’s creation. He rejoiced in doing his Father’s will and in promoting his glory. He rejoiced in saving his people and in the friendship, company and conversation of those the Father had given to be with him. What joy he had in anticipating his return to the glory he had with the Father 'before the world began' (John 17:5). And there was the joy set before him. Such joy was an indispensable element in the psychology of his obedience. He served not as a slave but as a Son (D. Macleod).
This is the Jesus of the gospels, and so this is the Jesus we meet with day by day and especially when we gather in his name, for he is the same today as he was yesterday – this joyful Jesus. Let me turn it this way: what is one of the most beautiful features that we told about him? We are told that he ‘went about doing good.’ There’s that satisfying delight in being a blessing to others. When our Lord had healed a lame man and that person jumped and leaped for joy didn’t our Lord rejoice with him? When the blind saw and their faces lit up at the sight of their loved ones, that couldn’t but have gladdened the heart of Jesus. He was no stoic. I will tell you the way to a happy future. It lies in doing good to others, serving others, not standing on a stage making sarcastic comments about happiness delivering you from becoming a Christian. So at the centre of the Christian faith is a perfectly blessed Lord. This is the one whom God anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. When we hear someone say, 'I am the happiest man in the world' then we must inwardly smile and say to ourselves, 'No. The Lord Jesus was and remains the happiest person in the universe today.' The incarnation of heavenly joy is seated in the midst of the throne. It is sin that makes us unhappy, but Jesus had none of that shame. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and full of heavenly joy. He was the most blessed man who has ever been or who ever will be.

However, my point now is how remarkable it is that our text should be the one and only recorded statement of Jesus being full of joy. The word used here is quite emphatic, as I’ve said. It signifies exuberant ecstasy, leaping for joy. It is the word that we find in his mother Mary’s song, 'My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.' In other words Jesus did not look like one of those Italian impressions of him, a lined heavy face, downcast eyes, gaunt, bearing the weight of the world. Jesus in agony, Jesus on the cross, Jesus with all the marks of physical torture, sweating the bloody sweat, crowned with thorns, pierced by nails, swollen with blows, broken in anguish; that time would come, but it was not here. He was always serious, of course, and what a grace that is, but it is quite possible to be serious and also to be rejoicing in God.

Here we are presented with a Jesus whose hearers would sigh to one another, 'I wish I had his joy and peace.' I cannot see how children would be attracted to him if he were a gloomy and brooding man. Would the mothers of children have taken them to some sourpuss? I talked to a preacher on Sunday and he said how much he rejoiced when he was a young teenager to hear that it was Derek Swann who was preaching in his church because he knew he wouldn’t be frightened by him. Again I ask, would Jesus have been continually invited to feasts and weddings if he were a wet blanket? Isn’t he positively contrasted with John the Baptist who lived in the deserts and ate locusts and honey and dressed in a rough cloak made out of camel’s hair? Jesus told his disciples that it was not appropriate for them while he was in their midst to be men who fasted. It would have been as unacceptable as you refusing to eat the fine food offered to you in a wedding breakfast, a snub to your host and a dampener on the delight of the happy pair who are getting married. 'Religion never was designed to make our pleasures less.'

Let me turn it this way, that if our Lord found heavenly fountains at which he was refreshed during his life, then shouldn’t we find them too? Aren’t there places where we can be revived and can sing? Bunyan tells us that there are wonderful views of glory to be obtained from the Delectable Mountains. Are there times when we can see the towers of the heavenly Jerusalem and long to be there? I am talking about moments of high assurance of faith. Jesus is the joy of our gatherings. His presence ministering to us lifts our spirits; mere men can’t do that. I can’t do it to you; no human engineering can achieve this, not our clever devices. It is the joy of heaven to earth come down that does it. It is Christ meeting with those who gather in his name. 'None can cheer the heart like Jesus by his presence all divine'; he revives us; his joy is our strength. This is expressed in one of my favourite hymns of John Newton:
How tedious and tasteless the hours,
When Jesus no longer I see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers
Have lost all their sweetness with me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim;
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in him
December’s as pleasant as May. - John Newton
Jesus Christ the joy giver. Also we are told that Jesus rejoiced in spirit Now the N.I.V. takes this to refer to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and it tells us that Jesus rejoiced through God the Spirit, but there is an ambiguity in the original Greek and I like such ambiguities to be present also in every translation. We are told simply that Jesus rejoiced in the spirit, and this could refer to the very centre of his being, that from his heart of hearts there were ripples of joy that filled every part of him, that there was nothing superficial and external about this joy. This was joy of the fullest, truest, deepest sort. This may be what we are being told here, or that the N.I.V. translation is right and that there was a special dimension of God the Holy Spirit about his joy on this occasion. If that is the meaning then it is so Trinitarian isn’t it? God the Son, by the encouragement of God the Spirit, rejoices in God the Father. I had great delight on Saturday last at the 40th birthday celebrations of my youngest son-in-law Ian. I would hesitate to say that that was joy in the Holy Ghost, though of course the Spirit of God was present with us. However, there are times when I have the privilege of magnifying Christ in this pulpit, or when I hear my brothers praying at the Lord’s Supper standing each side of me and we give out the bread and wine, and then the joy I may know on such occasions as those have a dimension of heaven and the Holy Ghost about it.

However, the ultimate fascination of these verses lies in this, that the actual theme that created such measureless joy in our Lord’s spirit is revealed to us. Why was he by the Holy Spirit filled with joy? 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (v.21). Jesus knew that God was his heavenly Father. His joy was rooted in his trust in God. He kept trusting in God through thick and thin. He had total peace about this reality, that he could look into the smiling face of the God of the universe and call him ‘Abba Father.’ He knew with confidence that he was God’s holy child, and we can know that too. 'I praise you;' I, so small and insignificant, with my brief life, who spring up in the morning, mature by noon and die by nightfall: God, measureless in power and grace, without rivals, without beginning or end of days, limited only by his own will to do anything, Creator and Sustainer of all we see (and vast recesses of the cosmos that we cannot see and struggle to imagine), all have been made by him. Yet I, a speck, can address the Almighty and call him my Father praising and rejoicing in him, and he hears me! He is pleased with my delight! That is the foundation of joy; no joy without that.

- Geoff Thomas