20180719

Our late brother and our late sister


`... get me to the church on time ...' is an old musical song. It is not only brides or even bridegrooms who get to the church late. Every Sunday it is a problem for some.

There are different types of latecomer
Habitual
Such people have been late so often it is now the norm. They are hardly embarrassed at turning up ten or fifteen minutes late and more. It is their regular pattern.
Occasional
Others are quite embarrassed when they arrive late. Once every six weeks, six or seven times a year, it happens. The norm is to be on time but sometimes not.
We all have our days
Perhaps there is no-one reading this who has never been late. Maybe it was not your fault or may be it was. We all need to consider the subject. Most of us could arrive earlier than we do. 

People are late for various reasons
Bad Planning
Most arrive late because of bad organisation. God is a God of order. We are in his image and he expects us to be orderly too. Some mistakes are common. People fail to allow for:
Travelling
No matter how near or far from the church you live you need to allow time to travel there. This is why so often the nearer people live to the building the more likely they are to arrive late. Those far away allow plenty of travelling time but those who live near forget this factor.
Preparation
This is equally obvious but often forgotten. This is one reason why it is more difficult for a family to arrive on time than for an individual. Children also have to be got ready.
The unexpected
Oversleeping, a little accident at the breakfast table, an unexpected telephone call, a traffic jam. All sorts of unexpected things can cause delay. Your routine must make allowance for such things.

Bad Habits
Trying to do other things before church
Sunday School lesson preparation, a chapter of a book, a telephone call. Whatever it is, if it is allowed to interfere with the routine of getting ready for church a late arrival is likely.
Getting up late
If you want to be in church on a Lord's Day morning, the time you rise is crucial. Use your alarm clock. Many like a little lie-in on Sundays but evidence points to the benefits of rising at the same hour every day of the week. If you love the Lord's Day you will want to be up earlier, not later, anyway.
Going to bed too late the night before
One reason some are slow to rise on Sunday morning is a late Saturday night. 'No work tomorrow', they think, so stay up late, then wake up late and arrive at church late. 

Deeper Problems
A disorganised lifestyle
Some are not just late for church but for everything else. Such a lifestyle is a pain to others and dishonouring to God. It must be dealt with.
A low view of the importance of order and punctuality
Further back is a failure to see lack of order and a lack of punctuality as sin against God, a failure to reflect his image.
A low view of the Lord's Day
Another problem is a low view of the Lord's Day and corporate worship. Christians disagree about aspects of the Lord's Day but all agree it is a special day. The last thing it should be is a day for lying in bed. Like our Lord we should be up early and doing on his Day. When we have agreed to meet with fellow believers we should be especially prompt to fulfil our duty and enjoy our privilege. 
There are other problems. In multi-cultural churches sometimes it seems that those of certain cultures are more likely to arrive late. This may be deceptive as, where some say 'Better late than never', others say 'There on time or not at all'. In my experience stereo-types are often proved wrong. Whatever our culture we must not be bound by it but in Christ rise above it. Another matter worth considering, where families are concerned, is the matter of harmony and team work. Without this such families are likely often to be late.

Late arrival at worship meetings is a bad thing because of the effect it has on -
Yourself
You miss out on parts of the worship
The minister has carefully prepared each part of the meeting. If you arrive late you inevitably miss out on some of that.
You come in unprepared
At the start of a meeting, allowance will be made for the fact we often come with cold hearts but if you are late, and come in at a point when it is hoped hearts are warmed, you may find worship difficult.
Others
No matter how careful you are you almost inevitably disturb others in their worship
The last thing one needs is distractions but if you are late you give the devil one more opportunity.
You are likely to discourage and disorientate the preacher
In most assemblies the minister will know if you are late. It may encourage him to know you are there but it cannot encourage him to know you are late. It may disorientate him for a moment as he takes into account your presence.
Your bad example
encourages others to be slack and gives the impression that God does not matter. This may not be your intention but it is likely that this is how others will react.

Practically
Get a right perspective
It is clear from what we have said that a high view of the Lord's Day, of corporate worship and of orderliness as part of a holy life will do a great deal to deliver from the sin of lateness. A careful study of our Lord's lifestyle could do wonders to our thinking by God's grace.
Get organised
A little preparation on Saturday night can make a big difference. Cleaning shoes, choosing clothes, peeling potatoes. All can save precious minutes. Do not go to bed late either and remember to set the alarm for your usual rising time. Plan a routine, remembering to allow for the unexpected and not attempting too much before church. Above all get into the habit of arriving in good time. You will enjoy it.

This article originally appeared in Grace Magazine

20180712

The Great Ejection of 1662

This year (2012) sees the 350th anniversary of what is known as the Great Ejection, when about two thousand ministers and others in the pay of the national church in England and Wales were silenced or ejected from their livings for failing to conform to what the Church of England required. 
Most of the names of the men who were ejected and their wives who suffered with them are unfamiliar to us, though names such as Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson and John Howe should mean something to you. Though some few good men did remain in the national church, Gerald Bray is right to say that almost all of the ejected “were Puritans, and so the Act may be said to represent the expulsion of Puritanism from the national Church.” 
It is right, therefore, that those who claim admire the Puritans should know something of this history. However, discovering good material on the subject is not easy and in an attempt to remedy this I have established an internet blog (www.greatejection.blogspot.com) and a short book that Evangelical Press hope to publish this year. We have also arranged a one day study conference at the Evangelical Library in London on March 27. 
Back in 1962, speaking at the Evangelical Library, Dr Lloyd-Jones said that practically all that is good in evangelicalism finds its roots in the Puritanism so fiercely persecuted then. He also declared that “the very greatness of the men themselves as men of God demands our attention”. That testimony ought to be heeded. 

Joseph Alleine 
Take as just one example of such men, Joseph Alleine 1634-1668, the author of the posthumous bestseller Alarm to the unconverted ejected from his living in 1662 and imprisoned in Ilchester the following year. His older brother Edward had been a minister but had died aged only 26, prompting him also to go into the ministry. He worked in Taunton alongside George Newton 1602-1681, “a plain, profitable and successful preacher, eminent for meekness and prudence”, also ejected in 1662. In 1655 Alleine married his cousin, Theodosia Alleine fl 1654-1677, whose father Richard Alleine 1610-1681, and uncle William Alleine 1613/14–1677, were also ejected. Theodosia subsequently wrote of her husband that 
He would be much troubled if he heard smiths or shoemakers,or such tradesmen, at work at their trades, before he was in his duties with God: saying to me often, “O how this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?” 
She also tells how they were at home one Saturday evening in 1663 when 
my husband was seized on by an officer of our town, who would rather have been otherwise employed, as he hath often said, but that he was forced to a speedy execution of the warrant by a justice’s clerk, who was sent on purpose with it to see it executed, because he feared that none of the town would have done it. 
The warrant required Alleine to appear at the house of a justice about two miles out of town. He asked if he could eat with his family first. This was initially denied but a prominent man in the town agreed to guarantee his speedy appearance after that. Theodosia continues “His supper being prepared, he sat down, eating very heartily, and was very cheerful, but full of holy and gracious expressions, suitable to his and our present state”. 
After supper, having prayed with the family, he went with the officer and some friends to the justice’s house, where he was accused of breaking the law by preaching, which he denied. He was accused of “being at a riotous assembly” though involved in nothing but preaching and prayer.
Then he was much abused with many scorns and scoffs from the justices and their associates, and even the ladies as well as the gentlemen often called him rogue, and told him that he deserved to be hanged, ... with many such like scurrilous passages,which my husband receiving with patience, and his serene countenance showing that he did slight the threatenings, made them the more enraged. They then urged him much to accuse himself, but in vain. 
Despite a lack of evidence, after keeping him until twelve with their abuse and mocking, they made out an arrest warrant committing him to gaol the following Monday. It was about two in the morning by the time he was home so he lay on his bed still dressed to sleep for a few hours before rising to pray at about eight o’clock, by which time several friends had arrived. He was not allowed to preach but was free to speak with the various groups that flocked in from the town and nearby villages and to pray with them. Theodosia continues 
He was exceeding cheerful in his spirit, full of admiration of the mercies of God, and encouraging all that came to be bold, and venture all for the Gospel and their souls, notwithstanding what was come upon him for their sakes. For, as he told them, he was not at all moved at it, nor did not in the least repent of anything he had done, but accounted himself happy under that promise Christ makes ... that he should be doubly and trebly blessed now he was to suffer for his sake; and was very earnest with his brethren in the ministry that came to see him, that they would not in the least desist when he was gone, that there might not be one sermon the less in Taunton; and with the people, to attend the ministry with greater ardency, diligence, and courage than before; assuring them how sweet and comfortable it was to him to consider what he had done for God in the months past; and that he was going to prison full of joy, being confident that all these things would turn to the furtherance of the Gospel, and the glory of God. 
Not wanting to leave his people without some final words, he met with them in the small hours of the following morning. Several hundred gathered to hear him preach and pray for about three hours. 
At about nine, again with friends accompanying him, he set out for Ilchester. The streets were lined with people on either side. Many followed him out of the town for several miles, earnestly lamenting their loss. Alleine was very moved by all this but did his best to look cheerful and say something to encouraging. He carried his arrest warrant himself, and had no officer with him. When he came to the prison the gaoler was not there so he took opportunity to preach one final time before entering, which he was later vilified for. When the gaoler came, he delivered his warrant and “was clapped up in the Bridewell chamber, which is over the common gaol”. 
On arriving, Alleine found there his friend John Norman 1622-1669 from Bridgwater, imprisoned a few days before. Norman's great fear was ending up as an indentured labourer on one of the plantations of the West Indies, a realistic fear for a nonconformist at that time. 
Alleine spent the next four months in this hole. At that time the gaol held 50 Quakers, 17 Baptists and about 12 others who, like Alleine, had been arrested for preaching and praying. Through the summer months, the heat inside the low ceilinged prison was quite unbearable. There was little privacy and nowhere to eat. Night and day they could hear the singing, the cursing and the clanking chains of the criminals in the cells below. The professed Quakers could be a nuisance too. 
Alleine and his companions took it in turns to preach and pray publicly once or twice a day. There were usually crowds from the villages around listening at the bars of the prison. The rest of the day was spent speaking to those who thronged to him for counsel and instruction. He would spend much of the night studying and in prayer. He was allowed to curtain off a corner of the room big enough for his bed, where he could pray in private. Theodosia bravely chose to share imprisonment with him. After some weeks he was allowed to walk in the countryside, if the gaoler was willing. Friends supplied him with food and money and he stayed healthy in body and mind. 
On 14 July he was taken to court in Taunton and indicted for preaching. Despite a lack of evidence he was returned to prison where he and his companions would soon have to face the cold of winter, every bit as trying as the heat of summer. It was a whole twelve months before he was released. He kept busy writing books including an exposition of the Shorter Catechism. There were also weekly letters to his people, a number of which were later collected and published. He also sent out catechisms for distribution among poor families. When the gaol chaplain fell ill, he dared to take his place, and, until prohibited, preached to the criminals in the gaol and helped them in other ways. He was much in prayer throughout his time in prison. 
Once free again Alleine set about his work with alacrity but some three years on he was re-arrested, along with his wife, her aged father, seven other ministers and 40 others. Alleine was not well when he entered prison this second time and it greatly weakened him so that after returning to Taunton in February, 1668, his health broke down completely. Nine months later, at the age of only 34, weary from hard work and suffering, he died. 
How such a story should stir us up to zeal for serving the Lord in our generation. This is only one example among hundreds of such faithfulness. As Spurgeon once said, these were men 
who counted nothing their own. They were driven out from their benefices, because they could not conform to the Established Church, and they gave up all they had willingly to the Lord. They were hunted from place to place ... they wandered here and there to preach the gospel to a few poor sheep, being fully given up to their Lord. Those were foul times; but they promised they would walk the road fair or foul, and they did walk it knee-deep in mud; and they would have walked it if it had been knee-deep in blood too. 
The events that lay behind all this 
What led up to Alleine's ejection, imprisonment and eventual death was a series of far reaching events in the political sphere. Firstly, in May 1660, the monarchy was restored. Charles II, heir to Charles I, who had been executed in January 1649, was recalled. Although many good men were keen to see the monarchy re-established they did not realise what it would lead to. For a while things were moderately bearable for the Puritans but a series of acts were passed against them between 1661 and 1665, acts that since the 19th century have together been known as the Clarendon Code, after the Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, the first Lord Clarendon. 

The Corporation Act 
The first of the four acts was the Corporation Act of December 1661. It required three things from all municipal officials - mayors, aldermen, councillors, borough officials. These were an oath of allegiance to the throne, a formal rejection of the Solemn League and Covenant and the taking of communion in the parish church within a year of taking office. Its effect was to exclude nonconformists from public office and some conscientious dissenters lost important posts. Further, some unscrupulous corporations took advantage of the situation and voted such men into office then fined them when they declined to serve! 

The Act of Uniformity 
Obviously with the ascent of a new ruler a new Act of Conformity was expected. Once Charles's new Parliament was in place they brought in such a bill. The bill was so strict that it was almost impossible for even the least dogmatic of the Puritans to accept it with a clear conscience. The act received royal assent on 29 July, 1662. It gave all ministers of the Church of England, university fellows, school teachers and private tutors too, until 24 August, St Bartholomew’s Day, to conform to its demands or be ejected. 
Ministers were expected to affirm the supremacy of the monarch in all things ecclesiastical and spiritual and to signify ‘unfeigned assent’ to everything in the forthcoming Book of Common Prayer. Most were unable to see this book in time, as it was not out until 6 August. Those who had not been ordained by a bishop were also expected to be re-ordained. Further, there was again the need to repudiate the hated Solemn League and Covenant and to acknowledge that the oath taken to maintain it involved no moral obligation. A declaration was further required that it was unlawful under any pretence whatever to take up arms against the King. 

The Great Ejection 
Estimates vary but it seems that, including those ejected before 1662 and some who jumped rather than waiting to be pushed, two thousand were silenced or ejected. There will always be some vagueness about the figure as some changed their minds. A G Matthews says some 210 later conformed. 
Edmund Calamy's Nonconformist Memorial deals with some 2,465 people altogether. Matthews and Michael Watts say that the number unwilling to conform in 1662 was 2029. Some 200 of these were university lecturers. Matthews points out that a further 129 were deprived at an uncertain date between 1660 and 1663 and with the ejections of 1660 as well, he gives a total of 1760 ministers (about 20% of the clergy) thrust out of the Church of England, silenced from preaching or teaching because they could no longer conform by law and so deprived of a livelihood. 
Many preached farewell sermons the week before their ejection and some of these are still in print. Robert Adkins, ejected from St John's, Exeter, spoke for many when he said in his farewell sermon 
Let him never be accounted a sound christian that doth not fear God and honour the king. I beg that you would not suffer our nonconformity, for which we patiently bear the loss of our places, to be an act of unpeaceableness and disloyalty. We will do anything for his majesty but sin. We will hazard anything for him but our souls. We hope we could die for him, only we dare not be damned for him. We make no question, however we may be accounted of here, we shall be found loyal and obedient subjects at our appearance before God's tribunal. 
Iain Murray has written of the day itself that the atmosphere “was electric and charged with emotion; the popular discontent was great and strong guards stood ready in London”. Of the sermons,however, he rightly says that they seem far removed from all that. 
There is a calmness, and unction and a lack of invective. Great though their sorrow was for their flocks and for their nation, they had a message to preach which was more than equal to the strain of the crisis. An eternal God, an Ever-Living Saviour and a glorious hope of heaven, carried them through this heaviest trial. 
Persecution 
The years 1660 to 1689 saw great variation in the levels of persecution and understandably things varied from place to place. The persecution launched against the ejected also swept into its net others already outside the national church. John Bunyan is the most famous example. He was imprisoned in 1660 and remained there for the best part of the next 12 years. His congregation had previously been meeting in the parish church in Bedford but that all came to an end with the Restoration. Their conscientious stand for the truth and their great courage and wisdom in the face of persecution give an example that ought to be known and emulated. 

Conventicle Act 
In 1664 a third act was passed banning religious gatherings of more than five people over the age of 16, apart from the family members, unless using Church of England rites. Penalties for breaking this law were very strict. A first offence merited three months in prison or a £5 fine. A second offence saw the penalty doubled, a third would meet with transportation to America for seven years or a fine of £100. 

Five Mile Act 
In 1665 a particularly cruel law was passed. Known as the five mile act, this act forbade the ejected from living within five miles of their former place of abode. The idea was to try and cut them off from their former congregations, who usually remained loyal. It is this act that now drove ministers into obscure and isolated places and that necessitated long, secret journeys in order to circumvent the law. This is when secret meetings began to take place and when tricks such as having the minister preach in one room while the congregation listened in another began to come in. The act expired on 1 March, 1669. Along with Clarendon's fall in 1667 this meant some relief for the dissenters. It was short lived, however, as in July 1669, prompted by Parliament, Charles made a proclamation urging magistrates to continue to use the outstanding laws against nonconformists. 

The Second Conventicle Act 
In 1670 a second conventicle act was passed. Famously described by Andrew Marvell as ‘the quintessence of arbitrary malice’, it reduced penalties for ordinary worshippers but fines for preachers and the owners of places where conventicles were found went up to £20 for a first offence, £40 for a second. The idea of distraint was also introduced, the seizure of a person’s property in order to obtain payment. If the minister could not pay, wealthier members of the congregation could lawfully be plundered. 

Indulgences and waves of persecution 
In 1672 and 1683 Charles then James decreed indulgences but, unsupported in Parliament by law, these did not last and the pattern of persecution continued in most places. The Broadmead Baptists wrote of some eight waves of persecution altogether and it is clear that, as is often the case to this day, persecution did come in waves. Typically again, it varied in form and intensity, from minor harassment to mass imprisonment. Various factors were involved such as one's willingness to adapt to the situation and the attitude of local magistrates. 
Matthews suggests that 12.4% of the ejected men, some 215 altogether, were imprisoned between 1662 and the death of Charles II in 1685. Most were in for short periods but others were in prison for lengthy terms. Some seven ministers actually died in prison. 

Providence 
There was a Bible taught confidence among dissenters that their sufferings were working for them “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. When Joseph Oddy was taunted by a Cambridge wit with the doggerel lines 

Good day, Mr Oddy, 
Pray how fares your body; 
Methinks you look damnably thin? 

He shot back with 

That sir's your mistake, 
'Tis for righteousness' sake; 
Damnation's the fruit of your sin. 

Dissenters were not slow to see in various providences God's hand encouraging them and dealing with their persecutors. What else could one make of the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the war with the Dutch, too, for that matter? “Nonconformist writings abound” says Michael Watts “in stories of disasters which befell individual persecutors”. 
Positively, Philip Henry, father of Matthew, observed in old age that though many of the ejected were brought very low, had many mouths to feed, were greatly harassed by persecution and their friends were generally poor and unable to support them, yet, in all his acquaintance, he never knew, nor could remember to have heard of any nonconformist minister being in prison for debt. 

Toleration 
Relief from direct persecution finally came for the nonconformists with the Toleration Act of 1689, when King William and Queen Mary came to the throne. In that year Particular Baptists finally felt free to publish their confession of faith, of course, the work having been completed back in 1677. Nonconformists continued to be treated as second class citizens, even then, being practically barred from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, for example, until as late as 1828. At least the worst of the persecution was over.

Self-examination 
Lloyd-Jones says of the men we have been considering that 
above all, they have left us this noble, glorious, wonderful example of holy living, patient endurance in suffering, and loyalty to the Word of God and its message, even at the cost of being “fools for Christ's sake” and being regarded as “the offscourings of all things”. 
A consideration of these men and the stand that they took should, at the very least, stir us to holiness, patience when we suffer and a strong commitment to being ruled by God's Word. 
Their example calls upon us to examine ourselves and to see where we stand. What is the state of the church? What about my own part in it? How can we expect God to bless us if we are not willing to ask ourselves serious questions about such things?

20180702

The Danger of Foolish Commitments


Most evangelicals are wary of formal vows. Apart from marriage and baptism they make few. They know the warnings of Scripture,

If a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil - in any matter one might carelessly swear about -even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty. Leviticus 5:4 
When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfil it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5 

However, we can find ourselves promising to do things, making certain commitments, taking a stand on an issue in a way that is tantamount to making a vow. It is important to take a stand. However, we must take care where we stand. In Scripture, we have the example of Daniel. As a youth he committed himself to eat only vegetables. As an old man, he was committed to praying openly three times daily, regardless of consequences. Think of Paul and the stand he took refusing the circumcision of Titus.
On the other hand, there are examples of foolish vows: Esau to Jacob, Joshua to the Gibeonites, Jephthah, Herod .... There is also Saul in 1 Samuel 14 where he bound the people with an oath to fast as they pursued the Philistines. His son Jonathan did not know it and ate. If not for wiser men, Saul would have had Jonathan killed. His bad example warns us not to make foolish commitments or to take a stand on the wrong issue.
When we take a stand or make a commitment we should ask:

1 What is my motive? Why am I doing this? False motives can easily creep in. We cannot be sure why Saul bound the people with the oath he did. Some have suggested he wanted to save time. Possibly he was seeking honour for himself as, under God, Jonathan had already won the battle. Certainly there is an emphasis on self here. Saul was endeavouring to seem pious.
2 Will this cause unnecessary distress? Saul's command caused his men distress. The soldiers are to be commended for their conscientiousness but the truth is that there was no need for their distress. Pursuing an enemy is arduous enough without having to fast. Saul had not thought through what he was commanding. We must think long and hard about the effect on others of making a commitment or taking a stand.
3 Will it lead to unnecessary temptation and sacrifice? In the woods there was honey on the ground. Imagine the temptation it must have been seeing it oozing out. The soldiers were conscientious, yes, but there was no need for them to be put through this temptation or make this sacrifice. It was me rely Saul's whim. When making a commitment or taking a stand, I must think ahead. Where is this likely to lead ?
4 Will it promote unhelpful motives? We should note that the soldiers refused to eat not from any desire to please God but because they feared the Oath. Saul had pronounced a curse on anyone who ate.
5 Will it lead to unnecessary conflict? Saul had clearly forgotten all about Jonathan who had not heard that his father had bound the people with an oath and so ate from the honeycomb. Afterwards he was informed. Clearly when we make a commitment or take a stand we must think carefully about how it will affect others.
6 Will it lead to weakness and trouble? Of course, once Jonathan ate the honey his eyes brightened. He saw that the men were faint because of Saul's command. My father has made trouble for country he said ... How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today ... Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater? It is easy to get into the way of thinking that oaths and strong stands must be a help. They can be a hindrance too! Such things must be our servants not our masters.
7 Is it likely to lead to sin? Worse was to come, for after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. Come evening they were free from the oath and so pounced on the plunder ... and ate them, together with the blood. Of course this was against the Law. Here the warning is of how a foolish vow or commitment can lead to sin. Jephthah and Herod are other obvious examples of this.
To Saul's credit he dealt well with the problem at first but his opening statement You have broken faith shows his failure to see his fault. Matthew Henry says 'Those most indulgent to their own sins are most severe upon others; those who most disregard God's authority are most impatient when their own commands are slighted.'
8 Will it lead me into an untenable position? For some reason Saul next decides to pursue the Philistines further. Having deprived his men of food he wants now to deprive them of sleep. There is a certain relentlessness about Saul and people like him. They seek God's will and perceive something is wrong. Saul does not think of his own guilt but by means of prayer and lots seeks to discover who has transgressed his oath. He can think of nothing else. He then foolishly says that even if his son Jonathan is at fault he must die. It is a little like gambling - it is difficult to stop. Take care.
9 Might it lead to opposition to those who God most favours? The men knew who was guilty and eventually Jonathan is exposed. The procedure suggests that Saul at least had an idea it was him. And here we see the utter madness of this attitude. After Jonathan has confessed, Saul says May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan. He is willing to kill the very one who has brought victory under God. How unnatural to speak to his son like this. Thankfully the men prevent it. We also must take a stand against such things however mild and peaceable otherwise. We must support the innocent. We cannot go into why God allows the lot to fall on Jonathan. No doubt it directs us to the cross where the innocent Christ actually died.
Take your stand but take care where you take your stand. Make your commitments but think carefully first.

This article originally appeared in Grace magazine.

20180629

Prayer

Prayer is an obvious subject to tackle but one we have avoided until now. Why? Firstly, embarrassment. If you want to embarrass a preacher, ask him about his prayer life. Talk to him about his driving, his preaching, even his Christian witness maybe and, though aware of deficiencies, he will cope. But come to his prayer life and see how uncomfortable he gets! Even Spurgeon said 'I usually feel more dissatisfied with my prayers than with anything else I do'.
Then there is the question of whether there is anything worth saying. I knew a man who thought books on prayer a waste of time. 'If you can pray, you can pray. No book is going to put it in to you.' Certainly there is no magic formula for successful praying but surely good practical things can be said to help those willing to learn. So let's mention one or two things that might help those who want to give themselves to seeking God's face. 

1. Expect prayer to be hard work
Christians are often surprised when they realise how reluctant they are to bow before the Lord in prayer. We love the Lord, we want to serve him, so how is it we are so often reluctant to pray? There are obviously various factors. Remaining sin; that prowling lion the Devil; the lure of the world. However, perhaps the main thing is that prayer is an expression of faith and helplessness. As Calvin says, 
'In prayer two things are necessary - faith and humility; by faith we rise up to God and by humility we lie prostrate on the ground'.
Humility does not come naturally and, as Thomas Watson says, the reason why so many prayers suffer shipwreck is that they split against the rock of unbelief. Trying to pray without faith is like shooting without bullets. Lack of faith combines with persistent pride to keep us from the throne of grace even though it is the very best place for us. While unbelief lurks and pride asserts itself prayer will continue to be difficult work indeed. They must be banished. 

2. Exercise Christian wisdom in order to overcome distractions
Once we have begun to overcome pride and unbelief we still have to struggle against distraction. It helps to remember certain things.
• Prayer demands self-denial. While you pray you will miss doing something else. It may be sleep or the newspaper or interesting conversation but you will have to forego something. Without self-denial you will never pray. Be like Mary and choose the better part.
• You may need to warm your heart to begin. We have a place of prayer but no heart to pray. That should not daunt us unnecessarily. This is one reason why it is good to combine Bible reading and prayer. Besides prayer itself, reading the Word is the best and most obvious way to stir yourself to prayer. For some time George Muller, the 19th century Bristol orphanage founder, began each day with prayer. However, he became dissatisfied with this and began to start instead with meditation on the Word, after a brief prayer. He would then pray on the basis of what he had read, interspersing meditation and prayer throughout the time. It transformed his prayer life. Many other men of God have done something similar.
• To overcome distraction there is much to be said for praying aloud. People tend not to, especially if they are conscious others might hear, although praying aloud is not the same as loud praying. It helps one not to wander in one's thoughts and encourages orderly prayer. It also gets the timid used to the sound of their own voice for praying in public.
• Kneeling is another thing that can help. In Scripture people pray in various postures. If we stand we may tire; lying in bed is not a helpful position. Kneel, if you can - it is a reverent position, ideal for prayer.
• Using a notebook is another practical thing. If we come to prayer, especially in the morning, and things that need to be done come to mind, things we have to remember, the best thing to do is to write them down, forget about them until later and give yourself to prayer.

3. Do not be too quick to assess how well you have done at prayer
One other thing is that our times of prayer will vary. Some days will be easy, on others we will feel we have hardly prayed at all. However, we are poor judges. It may well be that what we think of as our best efforts are spoilt by pride while those we think our most feeble are more valued by the Lord, who alone is the judge. Do not waste time on assessing how you have done. Self-consciousness is unhelpful anyway. As O Hallesby says in his classic, Prayer, answers to prayer are not dependent on our emotions or thoughts before, during or after prayer. 

4. Look for answers to prayer
If a man comes into a shop, chooses his goods, pays and then walks out without them something is wrong. Yet Christians come to God in prayer without expecting or looking for answers to those prayers. Sometimes the problem is that the prayers are so general it would be difficult to say whether or not they had been answered. However, even those who pray quite specifically can sometimes forget to look out for answers. It is sometimes suggested we write down our requests and then check off answers to prayer. I have not found this helpful as some things are time bound in character whereas others may not see answers for many years to come. What ever we do we should have the psalmist's attitude, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation (Psalm 5:3), `Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees'. How glad he is when believers refuse to kneel or rise when they have hardly begun. A Puritan, asked about how long he prayed, replied 'I pray until I have prayed'. That ought to be our attitude. What a difference it might make if God's people daily gave themselves to earnest prayer, praying until they had prayed. 

Originally published in Grace Magazine

20180628

40 Good Things to do on a Sunday Afternoon


This is a slightly expanded version of an article that originally appeared in Grace Magazine

The plot of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the madding crowd turns partly on an idle Sunday afternoon when the heroine Bathsheba Everdene, not knowing what to do with herself, engages in a foolish piece of teasing. There seems to be a number of good Christian people today who do not know what to do with themselves on the Lord’s Day. So here is a series of suggestions as to how to use such time wisely. Even if you are involved in meetings or you take a nap there will still be time to do one or two things. It would certainly be impossible to do all of them. Of course, they can be done on any day but for most of us, if they are not done on a Sunday they never will be done. If you have no time for any of them then perhaps you need to take a fresh look at how you organise your week. May they be a help to you, or at the very least set you thinking.

1 Have an extended time of family worship
2 Listen to a sermon or something similar on mp3, downloaded podcast, CD, etc, eg a Sunday sermon you have missed or an old one you have forgotten
3 Read the Bible, perhaps a whole book or section at one sitting
4 Go over (or catch up on) your weekday Bible readings or prepare for your daily Bible readings in the week ahead, eg reading introductory materials
5 Do some Scripture memory work, eg using Navigator aids
6 Compose a picture or a poem arising out of some biblical theme that is on your mind
7 Spend some time in prayer with others or alone. Concentrate on a particular area, eg mission or the family
8 Revise your prayer list
9 Sing some hymns with others, with your wn accompaniment, a CD/Youtube/Spotify or on your own
10 Learn a new hymn or teach one to others
11 Listen to some hymns on your Youtube/Spotify, etc
12 Have a Bible quiz or work through Bible puzzles with any children around
13 Read a good Christian biography or church history, eg one of the volumes in Nick Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power or Arnold Dallimore on George Whitefield
14 Read a good commentary or doctrinal book. Perhaps you could read through something like Matthew Henry’s Commentary or Grudem or Reymond’s Systematic Theology Sunday by Sunday. How about working through the 1689 Confession?
15 Read a Christian classic with others (use a children’s edition if youngsters are involved) eg Pilgrim s Progress
16 Read from a good Christian coffee-table book such as a book of maps and charts or a pictorial encyclopaedia
17 Read a good Christian magazine
18 Read something from a good Christian website downloaded earlier in the week
19 Talk about the things of God with other Christians indoors or out
20 Share your testimony with someone or listen to theirs - again or for the first time
21 Discuss the sermon you have heard or share it with someone who has not. How much can you remember?
22 With children, discuss the Sunday School lesson or children’s address. Help them with memory work or catechise them. Even work through one for yourself, eg The Shorter Catechism or the Baptist versions of Keach or Spurgeon. This can be done while out walking
23 Visit someone who is in hospital or sick at home
24 Check that all is well with your neighbour next door, especially if they are elderly
25 Show hospitality to someone - a stranger or someone who would otherwise be on their own
26 Engage formally in self-examination using questions for your soul, eg go through The Ten Commandments or The Beatitudes
27 Meditate on God’s goodness to you, especially in recent days. Keep a weekly diary of God’s providences
28 Write a journal entry concerning God’s dealings with you over the last week
29 Write a pithy sentence summing up some lesson you have learned in the last week
30 Write down one way in which you have related to God’s Word over the past week in an alphabetically arranged book. Soon you will have your own uninspired but personal Psalm 119
31 Write a letter or send an e-mail to a missionary
32 Write a letter or send an e-mail or telephone to encourage a fellow believer, someone recently bereaved perhaps
33 Write a letter or send an e-mail on behalf of a persecuted believer
34 Write a letter or send an e-mail to or telephone an unbeliever pointing them to Christ
35 Telephone or text someone who was absent from church and see how they are
36 If you know what the passage will be in the evening look over it in preparation
37 Telephone someone to invite them to the evening meeting
38 Go out evangelising with tracts, door to door or something similar
39 Did the minister suggest something in his morning sermon to look at or did something come to mind as he preached - a passage to look up, a subject to investigate? Start on it
40 Take a walk in the park or countryside and see how many things you see to give thanks for



20180627

Reasons to be cheerul


A national newspaper recently highlighted the moral failures of some of the 22 members of Tony Blair's cabinet. While several are good family men with nothing to blemish their records, it is not so simple with others. Of these, two are married to divorcees and one co-habits with his female partner. Four have remarried following divorce or the dissolution of their previous marriages. At least two of these have conducted extra-marital affairs that have eventually become public knowledge. One was recently revealed to have been an unmarried teenage mother. Two others had their marriages dissolved but have not remarried. In one of these cases the man's wife left him for another man now also a member of the cabinet. 
Ron Davies, whose resignation prompted this article, remarried six weeks after divorce from his first wife in 1981 and appears to be guilty of other forms of immorality. Four members have never married. Of these, one is openly homosexual and another has subsequently been `outed', to obvious embarrassment but not shame, as also being guilty of homosexual activity. A third has also been accused of such things. 
Clearly the present government, while realising that the promotion of family values is necessary for the nation's good, leaves something to be desired as far as their own family values are concerned. It was the same with the previous government which, while calling us back to basics, was repeatedly revealed to be deficient in this very area. 
With the apparent come-back of the immoral Baptist Bill Clinton, in America, it is all rather depressing for those who long to see biblical morality upheld. But is the situation new? Were the Emperors of Paul's day any better? In the history of this nation there have not been many upright monarchs or politicians. Many were notorious for immorality. The only difference today is that such knowledge is a little easier to come by. In the Scriptures Paul tells us (1 Timothy 5:24) The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 

Obvious good deeds
He goes on to say In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. As we come to the end of the century we inevitably look back over the years, especially the more recent ones, and reflect on progress made. As Reformed Baptists we have to be honest and say we have reasons to be disappointed but we also have reasons to be cheerful. It is slightly invidious, I recognise, but let me highlight examples of obvious good deeds. No doubt there are many more, hidden from most at present, but one day to be revealed. 

1. On a world-wide scale
Last month saw the official retirement of Philip Grist as Grace Baptist Mission literature co-ordinator. The idea of the work is to provide serious Christians, especially pastors and student pastors, with good solid teaching in a form they can easily understand even if their English (or other language) is limited. The idea had its origin with John Appleby when still in India and he pioneered this work following his return. Of course, there are many elements in such a project. There is the Banner of Truth which, with others, began to reprint good Reformed literature in the 1950s. There are those who simplify these texts or write the simple commentaries. There is Grace Publications Trust, an arm of Grace Assembly, and GBM who publish the books. There is Evangelical Press and the literature co-ordinators who distribute the books. There are missionaries and nationals who pass on the books. There are those who translate into other languages for those who have no English. What an impact these books are having. What an impact they will continue to have as we enter the new century. 

2. On a national level
I will take the work in Kenya as an example here because I know it best. The work of Brian Ellis in the Philippines is similar. Andrew Swanson's work in the Middle East would be a slightly different example. When Keith Underhill came to Aberystwyth University in the 1960s he was not a Christian. Through the witness of a room-mate he was converted and began to sit under the Reformed ministry of Geoff Thomas. He went first as a school teacher to Kenya, then after theological training in America, where he met his wife Priscilla, returned to plant a church in Nairobi. Some 20 and more years later membership of the church is still only 40 but what has happened is that a Reformed movement of an appreciable size is underway and each year increases in impact so that, without seeking it, a little Reformed Baptist `denomination' is forming around Trinity Baptist Church, Nairobi. The seminary, the pastors' conference, the work of associated pastors and fellow missionaries all combine to give great hope for the future. 

3. On a local level
To take one more example, consider the fact that 20 years ago the Soho area was as bad as ever it was but with no permanent evangelical testimony there. Now, though small and struggling, Immanuel Community Church is there, is known and is maintaining a regular witness to the residents and tourists in that needy area. It was Keith Davies, a former editor of Grace, and others who had the vision and it is especially through Michael Toogood's valiant efforts that not only was a church planted in Soho but another in Covent Garden, under Mike Mellor. It is hoped to begin a new work shortly in Holborn. 

These are no mean achievements. They stand as beacons. They assure us that where there are men of vision, men willing to work hard, men of Reformed conviction who look to God and an army of men and women who pray earnestly to the Lord, great things can be achieved. Let us take heart from these examples and play our part also for the sake of Christ's Kingdom.

This article first appeared in Grace Magazine

20180625

Redeeming Precious Time


It is said that the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards would often spend 13 hours a day in his study. Picture him, if you can, towards the close of 1734, there in the parsonage at Northampton, New England. He is 30 years old, the father of four little girls, one born the previous spring. Outside, no doubt, there is snow. It is at least very cold. Already there have been some touches of revival and word is spreading of the stirring preaching of the late Solomon Stoddard's grandson. 
The great preacher's thoughts are turned to the coming year. As ever, a pen is in his hand and he is committing his thoughts to paper. His text is Ephesians 5:16 on Redeeming the time. The resulting discourse eventually appeared under the heading The preciousness of time and the importance of redeeming it and is in the second volume of Edwards' works. It is a fitting subject for us to consider at the turn of yet another year over 260 years later. 

The discourse has five main sections with further subdivisions. 

1. He begins by noting how precious time must be, giving reasons why

• An eternity of happiness or misery rests on how we make use of time.
• Time is short. Life passes by so quickly. There is little time and a great deal to do if we are to be saved.
• We cannot be sure how much longer it will continue. We do not know how much time remains. We cannot guarantee the next breath. In the coming year many will die even though as yet they have no inkling of it.
• Once passed it cannot be recovered. You can replace or recover many things that are lost, but not time. Once time is lost, it is lost forever. When we die, all the time we will ever have is gone. With the loss of money, even if we are bankrupt, there is the possibility of making it up again but once time is gone, that is it. There is no further opportunity. 

2. In this light he calls on us to consider the past Already for many the sun is past its meridian. For some it is about to set. What precious moments, hours, days, years, have been wasted. How much could have been done - for God, for our souls, in the years gone by! Think of the leisure time wasted. Think how many Lord's Days have gone by unimproved. We have reason to feel guilty at our profligacy. 

3. He then targets particular sins associated with time wasting time

• Idleness. He is able to quote several Proverbs against this attitude and the New Testament exhortation to hard work in Ephesians 4:28. 
• Wickedness. An appropriate Scripture here, not quoted by Edwards, is the striking 1 Peter 4:3, For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do - living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.
• Worldly pursuits to the neglect of the soul. If we spend our days and hours thinking only of fame and fortune in this world we are neglecting our souls to our great detriment. 

4. He then exhorts us to make good use of what time we have left. Further considerations encourage this.

• You are accountable to God for the way you spend your time. In Thomas Brooks' words, 'Time is not yours to dispose of as you please; it is a glorious talent that men must be accountable for as any other talent.' Edwards reminds us of Matthew 12:36 and how the Lord holds us responsible for every idle word.
• You have wasted much time already. 1 Peter 4:3 is again relevant. A consideration of the time already spent reminds us that opportunities are now more limited, the workload greater than ever and the best of our lives already gone. Such thoughts should not lead to despair but redoubling of effort to make use of what time remains.
• How valuable some consider time when they come to the end of it. He does not mention Rousseau but it is well known that on his death bed he offered his doctor a fortune if his life could be preserved just six months longer.
• How much value those who are past its end put on time. He pictures those in hell who would dearly love to have even a few moments here on earth again. He recognises that experience is probably a better teacher here than he can hope to be but the problem is that when experience has taught its lesson, it is too late. 

5. He concludes with three positive pieces of advice

• Use the present time without delay. Like the psalmist (119:60) we must make haste to obey. There is no profit in delay.
• Use those parts of time that are most precious, especially. He distinguishes holy time from common time as more precious. We must especially make good use of the 52 Lord's Days of 1999 should God spare us. Young people must not let their youth slip by without making the best of their opportunities. He calls on all to Seek the Lord while he may be found and call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6). Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
• Use your leisure time. Do not waste the spare time you have in idle pursuits. Make the most of your opportunities to draw near to the Lord in this coming year and may God bless you in every way.

This new year article first appeared in Grace Magazine