Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A week in my life Day 4

On Wednesday mornings, I usually prepare a sermon for Sunday morning. I wouldn't want to prepare weeks or even months in advance as Jay Adams suggests we should. To me, that would rob preaching of its immediacy. But I couldn't leave preparation until Saturday evening either. My brain would melt under the pressure. I'm preaching through John's Gospel on Sunday mornings and I hope to preach on 6:37-47 this Sunday. I tend to work out a rough outline that arises from my own reflection on the text and then consult the commentaries. Don Carson's is the most helpful, followed by Leon Morris. Hendriksen is worth a look as of course is John Calvin, especially on this passage. I find that consulting more than 4 commentaries for sermon prep does my head in anyway. That done, I develop the outline until I have about A4 pages of handwritten notes. That's the sermon on paper. But how it will work out in the pulpit, I can never tell. I preach extemporary, but writing the basic sermon helps me to think through the meaning and application of the text & hopefully gives the message some structure. Sermon prep until lunch.
After lunch my friend Tim Serjeant of the Door to Door Mission pops in for a chat & time of prayer. He's been doing outreach with our churches a day a month for around a year. He is usually accompanied by a deacon from Ebenezer in the morning and Penknap in the afternoon. Some promising contacts have been made. But spiritual apathy is widespread.
Visit unwell Church member. She's on the mend. Nice time of fellowship. Home. Finish preparation for tonight's Prayer Meeting. Write a letter to accompany three month prayer diary. Printer plays up. Oh dear!
Prayer meeting at Ebenezer. Focus on mission. We had several encouraging updates from societies and organisations we support: Barnabas Fund, Grace Baptist Mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators, London City Mission etc. Good to hear of what the Lord is doing in the UK and overseas. Some good feedback from today's door-to-door outreach. A few people seemed really open to the gospel. Had e-mail from a chap who edits a local newsletter & received our literature this morning. Wants to put info about Ebenezer in the paper. Nice to have some encouragements like that. Oh that our area would be really captivated by the gospel!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A week in my life Day 3

We use the Robert Murray M'Cheyne's calendar for daily Bible readings. This scheme enables us to read the whole of the Bible once a year, Psalms and New Testament twice (see here). Four daily chapters are divided for use morning and evening in private and family devotions. The scheme is flexible enough to allow a little chopping and changing of which chapters are read at different times of worship. I think that it is good to spend the early part of the morning in prayer and meditation before the rush for breakfast and getting the kids to school. This morning I read Esther 7. Oh the irony that wicked Haman was hanged on the gallows that he built for Mordecai. Esther is so well written. God's name is not mentioned, but his guiding hand is everywhere. For family worship we are reading through Genesis. I usually read the chapter and comment or respond to questions from the children, then we commit the day to the Lord in prayer.

I work part time for the Protestant Truth Society and I'll be taking some of meetings for them in the next few weeks. Most of my time today was spent working on an address entitled, Is Protestantism History? Also finished Gaffin's excellent Resurection and Redemption. I cannot recomment this little book too highly (155 pages - P&R, 1987 reprint). Now I really need to get stated on Noll and Nystrom's Is the Reformation Over? The book is an evangelical assessment of contemporary Roman Catholicism. Noll is involved in the Evangelicals and Catholics together movement. I need to get to grips with this book for my forthcoming PTS meetings.

For Christmas I was given Byron Rogers' biography of R.S. Thomas, The Man Who Went into the West (Aurum, 2006). The tragicomic life of the Welsh poet makes for a diverting post-lunch read. I'll probably post a review when I'm done.

Began preparation for our Wednesday's Bible Study/Prayer meeting. We'll be reflecting on Psalm 130. Helpful comments in Kidner, Leopold & Spurgeon. Wish I had time to read John Owen, but his exposition is over 300 pages! Do we only want our sins forgiven (vs. 4) or do we really long for the Lord himself as the watchman longs for the morning (vs. 5 & 6)?

In the evenings, I'm reading C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle to the children. We are nearing the end of the book. Lewis is a very descriptive writer and I enjoy reading him out loud. I try to make up distinctive voices for each character. The children can often spot Lewis' allusions to the life and work of Christ in the Chronicles of Narnia. The way Aslan judges the Narnians and divides them to his right hand and left is redolent of Matthew 25. We're hoping to read The Hobbit next. Story time is followed by Bible reading, discussion and prayer.

A quiet, relaxing evening with Sarah watching film of John Grisham's Runaway Jury that we taped from the TV the other week. I read Grisham's The Testament during the summer hols & I'm reading his latest King of Torts in fits and starts.

Read Mark 2 as part of evening devotions before bed. What words from Jesus! "Your sins are forgiven", "Follow me" "I came to call sinners", "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath".

Monday, January 29, 2007

A week in my life Day 2

Get up, brekkie, family worship, Genesis 25 & prayer. Son leaves for school. Check blog & BBC News website. I later walk daughter to school & buy paper - The Independent. Give Sarah a lift to Penknap Chapel for our toddler group, The Good News Club. Get home and prepare for this evening's Know the Truth, a basic Christian Theology course that takes place once a month at our house. This evening I'll be speaking about the resurrection of Jesus. I know that Christ's resurrection does not usually figure much in the standard works of Systematic Theology - but it should! (See here).
After preparation for KtT, did some admin work & had lunch. Then off to West Lavingon to visit a member of the congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church who has just come out of hospital. I'm in the unusual position for an Evangelical Nonconformist in the UK of pastoring two neighbouring churches. I preach for two consecutive Sundays (am & pm) at Penknap Providence Church, then for one Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church. We alternate between venues for Wednesday Bible Study/Prayer Meetings. The joint-pastorate arrangement enables two small churches to pool their resources for gospel ministry. This arrangement had been in place for some years before I came along in 2003.
Get home after visit and read some more of Richard Gaffin's Resurrection and Redemption. I wish that I'd read this book before I did my thesis in the resurrection. How did I miss it? I came to broadly similar conclusions to RG on the significance of Jesus' resurrection, but his work is so full of helpful insights and stimulating exegesis. His interpretation of Romans 1: 3 & 4 is outstanding. Gaffin follows Gerhadus Vos, who questioned traditional reformed exegesis of these verse. He taught that Paul's flesh / Son of God with power contrast refers to the pre and post resurrection stages of Christ's incarnate life rather than his human and divine natures considered in the abstract (see here). What I hadn't realised until reading Gaffin is that George Smeaton got there first in his The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
At Know the Truth we considered the resurrection of Christ under three main headings:
I. The resurrection of Jesus as an historical event, II. What Jesus' resurrection meant for him (Son of God with power, Lord, Last Adam, resurrection & Trinity) & III. What Jesus' resurrection means for you (union with Christ, new life, justification, holiness, future resurrection hope). The meeting takes an interactive format with questions and discussion, followed by tea & biccies.
That's all for today.

Best contemporary theology result

Patrik Hagman has now announed the top 15 most important recent theology books, as suggested by bloggers. See the result here. Sadly, Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine was joint 16th, so he didn't make the list.

See label below for my review series.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A week in my life Day 1

I don't know how this will work out, I'm going to use my blog as a kind of online diary for a week. The experiment begins today.
Got up. Breakfast. Prepared for Sunday morning service. Preaching all day at Penknap Providence Church. I led the service & preached on John 6:22-36. My headings were: I. Do not work for the food that perishes, II. Work for the food that endures to everlasting life, III. Jesus said "I am the bread of life". The main emphasis of the message was that only Jesus, the bread of life can satisfy our deepest longings. Service was followed by a nice after church fellowship.
Had lunch. Visited church member who has been unwell. Relieved to find her feeling much better. Prepared for 6.00pm meeting, had tea. Led the service and preached on Hebrews 12:3-11. Headings: I. Running the race requires discipline, II. Discipline is a mark of sonship, III. The purpose of discipline. The burden of the message was that God disciplines us to run the race of faith via trials and afflictions that we may partake of his holiness.
Came home, played Uno with family, followed by family worship, reading from Genesis 24. We all prayed. Kids to bed. Blogged. Now I'm off downstairs to read Lloyd-Jones on Romans 9 & have a cup of tea.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ice Skating

After a rather intense week pastorally, it was good to have a nice family day out at Bristol Ice Rink. I haven't ice skated for more than twenty years. Much to my surprise, I didn't fall over once, which proves that cessationists are wrong!

Bristol Ice Rink

Torville & Dean? No!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Practical ecology


Following on from a couple of posts on Evangelicals and ecology (here and here), what practical measures can we take to help create a better world? How can we be more environmentally friendly? We don't have to be hair-shirted ascetics to make a difference. Here are some simple suggestions:
1. Replace high energy light bulbs with low wattage lamps in your home. For example, energy savers give the equivalent of 75 watts of light for only 16 watts of power. How cool is that?
2. Recycle. All kinds of stuff can be recycled these days: paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass, vegetable peelings, apple cores, garden waste etc. In the UK, many local authorities will collect recyclable waste from your doorstep. Even if they don't, you will probably find a recycling centre nearby. Assert you dominion over creation in a caring way.
3. Refuse plastic shopping bags whenever possible. Do you really need one to carry home your daily newspaper? So what if it's raining, stick the paper up your coat!
4. Walk or cycle instead of drive whenever possible.
5. Consider moving an environmentally friendly domestic fuel supplier. Some of the main UK Gas and Electricity companies offer a green energy option. Why not switch?
6. What do you suggest?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Green Challenge

Evangelicals have been slow to respond to the challenge of the environment. Francis Shaeffer and others endeavoured to point the movement in the right direction in the 1970's (see here). But we still have long way to go. Evangelicals tend to campaign on issues like homosexuality and abortion. This is understandable in the current moral climate. But we need to broaden our concerns. The Bible has something to say about all areas of life, including the environment. If we did more to address issues such as poverty and ecology, it would be more difficult for our critics to paint us as "right wing" Christians.
I was encouraged to see Frederick Leahy address the green challenge in his final book, The Hand of God, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006 (see here).
How sensitive is the average Christian to the reckless mishandling of the earth? Why should it be left to 'green' parties, 'Friends of the Earth' and 'New Agers' to protest at man's plundering of the earth with insatiable greed, and to endeavour to conserve what they see as 'mother earth'?
This is God's earth, and man is not free to pillage and contaminate it to his heart's content. It is true that this earth is under a curse because of sin (Gen 3:17) and that now we see 'thorns and thistles', a 'groaning', convulsed earth (Rom 8:22), a hostile environment, bacteria, viruses and such like. However, all this does not mean that God no longer cares for the earth, or that man has been relieved of his stewardship.
Clearly man is accountable to God for the manner in which he treats this earth and its multiform life. God's wrath must be great as he views the current pollution of his earth. Yet it needs to be remembered that although man's stewardship is still binding, the Bible's focus is not on conservation but transformation - a glorious transformation that will take place at Christ's return. Even the 'groaning' of the earth is represented as being 'in the pains of childbirth' (Rom 8:22). There is hope in such pangs. (p. 8 & 9)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Revelation and the Gospel

If we follow the path provided by the gospel, we see that knowing God, his person and his plans comes from faith in the word of God. The gospel is a word that centres on Jesus Christ and proclaims that he is Lord. The word of the gospel itself reveals that God has always sought to rule his people by the word of his covenant. The Christian revelation also reasserts his rule over a wayward and rebellious people. It is not a religious experience, although to receive the gospel by faith is to experience entering a new relationship. The revelation is verbal; it announces the word of God, centred on Jesus Christ but multifaceted in its expression. It is coterminous with Scripture, and it functions to re-establish God's rule by creating and nourishing faith. God's central revelation of himself therefore, is evangelical at heart, covenantal by nature and scriptural in form.
From The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen, IVP, 2002, p. 93-94.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Problem Planet

I'm something of a news junkie. After the BBC News at Ten, I will often switch channels to watch either Newsnight on BBC2 or the ITV News at 10.30. This week, BBC news has been running daily features on the most polluted places on the planet. Linfen in China was the worst culprit. The town was slowly choking to death on the toxic fog generated by coal burning steel works and other factories. China's economy is booming, but the environmental costs of rapid industrialisation are very high.

Over at ITV, the news has featured "The Big Melt". Newscaster Mark Austen and Science Editor Lawrence McGinty reported daily from Antarctica on the problem of global warming. We cannot keep on polluting our world and expect that nothing will happen. On Wednesday 17th January, scientists moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. The clock was originally set up to chart the danger of all-out nuclear war. But scientists now think that environmental catastrophe is the next big threat to life on our planet.

It seems that something is badly wrong with our world. Has the Christian faith any answers? The first thing to say is that God created our planet and declared it "very good". We can see the goodness and wisdom of God in the order and beauty of the earth. But that is not the whole story. Human beings were made in God's image that they might enjoy fellowship with him. They were charged with looking after the earth. But we chose to rebel against our Maker and go our own way. This had catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet. Sin always results in decay and ultimately, death.

Human greed leads to more and more consumption. This leads to pollution which leads, in turn to environmental problems. We should not take the earth and its God-given resources for granted. But what can we do about all this? The Christian faith emphasises personal responsibility. We can all do our bit to cut down on consumption, recycle waste and try to make our homes more environmentally friendly. Yes, governments have a role to play on an international and national level, but that does not let us off the hook. Our Maker will hold us accountable for the way in which we have treated his world.

The Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer wrote Pollution and the Death of Man in 1970, long before environmental issues were fashionable. In this groundbreaking work, the philosopher/theologian rejected the Green Movement's often pantheistic thinking and argued for a thoroughgoing Biblical approach to ecological issues. He drew upon the doctrine of creation to remind us that we are not autonomous beings who can treat the earth how we like, "What God has made, I, who am also a creature, must not despise." (p. 36). God has affirmed the goodness of the created world in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Because of this, Christians should work for a substantial healing of creation,

Surely then, Christians, who have returned, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, to fellowship with God and have a proper place of reference to the God who us there should demonstrate a proper use of nature. We are to have dominion over it, but we are not going to use it as fallen man uses it. We are not going to act as though it were nothing in itself, or as though we will do to nature everything we can do. (p. 41)
In a beautifully written passage, Schaeffer reflects on his relationship to the buttercup:
There are things before me which I now face, not as a cow would face a buttercup - merely the mechanical situation - but facing it by choice. I look at the buttercup, and I treat the buttercup the way it should be treated. The buttercup and I are both created by God; but beyond this, I can treat it properly by personal choice. I act personally, I am a person! Psychologically I begin to breathe and live. Psychologically I am now dealing on a personal level, not only with men and women, but also with the things in nature that God has made which are less than personal in themselves, and the old hang-ups begin to crumble. My humanness grows, and the modern technological pit and pendulum is no longer closing in on me.
When we have learned this - the Christian view of nature - then there can be a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the world will cease to be turned into a desert. Because it is right, on the basis of the whole Christian system - which is strong enough to stand it all because it is true - as I face the buttercup, I say: "Fellow-creature, fellow-creature, I won't walk on you, We are both creatures together". (p. 54-55)
God is concerned for this planet. He sent his Son Jesus not only to save us from our personal sin, but to rescue the world. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the pledge of a new creation. God will act to renovate the earth, banishing all the effects of sin and death. This is the great Christian hope. What is your hope for the world as the Doomsday Clock continues to tick?
All Schaeffer quotes from:
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: Volume 5, A Christian View of the West.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Best contemporary theology, the final vote!

A blogger-inspired list of the best theological works of the last 25 years, has been finalised by Patrik. Now the voting begins. My proposed titles are numbers 16, 62 & 102. They are amongst the few Evangelical and Reformed books on the list, so get voting!

My "top three"

1. The Drama of Doctrine by Kevil Vanhoozer
2. The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham
3. The Gagging of God by D. A. Carson

See here for the full list and to cast your vote.



Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those who are Christ's at his coming. >>jjjkkkjj>>(1 Corinthians 15: 22 & 23)

The word [firstfruits] is not simply an indication of temporal priority. Rather, it brings into view Christ's resurrection as the "firstfruits" of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. In the context, Paul's "thesis" over and against his opponents is that the resurrection of Jesus has the bodily resurrection of "those that sleep" as its necessary consequence. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events but as two episodes of the same event.
From Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology by Richard B. Gaffin Jnr, (2nd Editon, 1987, P&R, p. 34 & 35)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Above All Earthly Pow'rs by David F. Wells

Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in A Postmodern World
by David F. Wells, Eerdmans/IVP, 2005

This book is the conclusion of a series of works in which Wells dissects the relationship between Evangelicalism and Western culture. The other titles are No Place for Truth (1993), God in the Wasteland (1994) and Losing our Virtue (1998). We need volumes like this to force us to reflect on our place in the world at this particular point in history. Without a penetrating, Biblical analysis of Western culture, the Church faces two main dangers. She may loose her distinctive witness by unwittingly becoming absorbed into the culture. Or the Church may retreat into its own little sub-culture, and find itself increasingly out-of-touch and bewildered by a fast changing world.

In the first two chapters, Wells charts the decline of the modern world and the emergence of postmodernism. The modern world was shaped by the twin forces of Enlightenment rationalism and technological advance. Western culture did not become "modern" simply because the thinking of the philosophers gradually permeated the rest of society. Wells shows how the Industrial Revolution radically transformed Western culture. What intellectuals were saying about the power of human potential was seemingly reinforced by abundant economic growth and rapid technological improvement. This gave birth to a mechanised, capitalist world in which happiness was measured by consumer choice. In this brave new society, God was banished to the margins of life and human beings were placed at the centre. But the turn from God to humanity debased rather than enhanced the true value of human life. We have been reduced to mere consumers, there to be manipulated by the advertising industry, or to victims in need of the latest self-help programme. But the modern consensus, reinforced as it was by the convergence of philosophy and technology is now falling apart. Modernism is so last century. Welcome to postmodernism.

Postmodernism is a reaction against the hubris of modernism. Where modern people were confident of man's ability to discover universal truth, postmoderns dismiss universal truth as a proud fiction. Just like modernism, postmodernism is the product of a new intellectual climate and shifts in society. Jacques Derrida's view that there is no truth, only subjective interpretations of reality is given credence by the shape of contemporary society. In a world of bewildering consumer choice, who is to say that only one worldview is right? Wells also analyses the effect of immigration on societies like America and the UK. As immigration accelerated during the mid-twentieth century, Western people found themselves mixing with adherents of other religions and cultures. The Judeo-Christian consensus was shattered on the rocks of multiculturalism. Such influences lead to a widespread rejection of traditional organised religion and the adoption of pastiche spirituality, where the consumer chooses those bits of religion that he likes best.
The postmodern world is void of deep meaning and significance. But the void is filled with a mixture of rampant consumerism and vague spirituality. Against this background, Wells discusses Christ in a Meaningless World. He helpfully differentiates between postmodern Eros spirituality that is centred on the self and Biblical Agape spirituality that is all about God reaching down to sinners in majestic saving grace. The Bible explains why postmodern life feels so empty and futile. Life without God is meaningless. But God has acted in Christ to save sinners from the judgement they deserve. Wells focuses on eschatology- the inbreaking of "the age to come" (here), christology - the doctrine of Christ, and justification by faith as the core truths that the Church needs to reassert in our postmodern society. In a decentered world, we must boldly proclaim the centrality of Christ.
Thus it is that we have two diametrically opposed visions of life. In the one, there is no centre; in the other there is and it is Christ. In the one, life is but a succession of random events; in the other, life is lived out under the sovereign rule of Christ. (p. 262)
The Church has not always responded wisely to the challenges of postmodernism. Wells critiques Open Theism. This view divests God of his sovereignty in the name of human freedom. Clark Pinnock, a leading advocate of this position says that Open Theism is an attempt to "make peace with the culture of modernity". (p. 247). But has the Church been called to make peace with the world at the expense of the freedom and sovereignty of God? The God of Open Theism may be culturally acceptable, but is he the glorious triune God who has revealed himself in Scripture?
Wells turns his attention to the "seeker sensitive" Megachurches as an example of what happens when the Church accommodates the postmodern world. This new way of doing Church tends to focus on one particular segment of society - usually young, white and middle class. The true multiethnicity of the Church is thus undermined. Church life is built around the felt needs of these spiritual consumers. Culturally awkward aspects of the gospel such as sin and judgement are downplayed. The demanding aspects of the gospel such as repentance, godliness and discipleship are not emphasised. The Megachurches are pragmatic in their approach and are geared towards success. But we have not been called to peddle the gospel, to win as many consumers as possible. Our task is to confront people with the claims of Christ and call them to repentance and faith.
There is a challenge here for the Church in the West. We must not be culturally indistinguishable from the world. We must dare to be different as God's holy people, his new humanity. Our only hope of reaching postmodern people is that we live authentically as the Church of God and remain faithful to the Biblical gospel. This important book helps us to understand our own times and calls us to Christ-centred authenticity. The Christ we serve and proclaim is indeed 'Above all earthly pow'rs'. He has triumphed over the forces of sin and evil. It is as we humbly rely on him that we will see the gospel triumph in our postmodern world.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Best contemporary theology meme

Patrik Hagman of God in a Shrinking Universe is trying to create a comprehensive list of the most important theological works published in the last 25 years (1981-2006). He is asking people to name their top three choices.

Here are mine:

1. The Drama of Doctrine by Kevil Vanhoozer
2. The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham
3. The Gagging of God by D. A. Carson
To contribute, entitle your post Best contemporary theology meme, and name your three choices. The deadline is Monday evening, after which Patrik will set up a poll to determine the most important theological work of the last quarter of a century.
See here for the list so far.

Christmas Evans - A biographical stetch (Part 3)

Christmas Evans "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"
His struggles in the Christian life

As we noted earlier, Christmas Evans struggled to find assurance of salvation. The other great struggle in his Christian pilgrimage was caused by his adoption of Sandemanian doctrine while ministering on Anglesey. This teaching, takes its name from Robert Sandeman of the Church of Scotland. He and his followers taught that faith is mere intellectual assent. To Sandemanians, feelings and emotions do not matter – assent to orthodox doctrinal propositions is the thing. William Williams the hymn writer accurately described this tendency, “it sets naked faith as the chief thing, believing without power, making little of conviction and of a broken heart.”

Sandemanianism is the enemy of vital godliness, “True religion is more than a notion/ something must be known and felt”. Evans’ ministry was adversely affected by his new-found Sandemanian teaching,

The Sandemanian heresy affected me so far as to quench the spirit of prayer for the conversion of sinners, and it induced in my mind a greater regard for the smaller things of the kingdom of heaven than for the greater. I lost the strength which clothed my mind with zeal, confidence and earnestness in the pulpit for the conversion of souls to Christ. My heart retrograded in a manner and I could not realise the testimony of a good conscience. On Sabbath nights after having been in the day exposing and vilifying with all bitterness the errors that prevailed, my conscience felt displeased and reproached me that I had lost nearness to, and walking with God. It had disastrous results among the churches. I lost in Anglesey nearly all my old hearers and we thus almost entirely took down what had taken fifteen years to raise.

This is what happens when we downplay the importance of religious affections and feelings. The Spirit is quenched and the Christian life becomes cold and mechanical.

Evans read Andrew Fuller, the Baptist pastor-theologian’s critique of Sandemanianism. This made him think. Then he heard a sermon by Thomas Jones, who preached against the heresy. On his way home from this service, Evans had a remarkable experience of God that got Sandemanianism out of his system for ever. He relates the story himself,

I was weary of a cold heart towards Christ and his sacrifice and the work of his Spirit; of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret and in the study. For fifteen years previously I had felt my heart burning within as if going to Emmaus with Jesus. On a day ever to be remembered by me, as I was going from Dolgellau to Machynlleth, climbing up towards Cader Idris, l considered it to be incumbent upon me to pray, however hard I felt in my heart and however worldly the frame of my spirit was. Having begun in the name of Jesus, I soon felt as it were, the fetters loosening and the old hardness of heart softening, and, as I thought, mountains of frost and snow dissolving and melting within me. This engendered confidence in my soul in the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole mind relieved from some great bondage. Tears flowed copiously and I was constrained to cry out for the gracious visits of God, by restoring to my soul the joys of his salvation and to visit the churches in Anglesey that were under my care. I embraced in my supplications all the churches of the saints and nearly all the ministries in the principality by their names. This struggle lasted for three hours. It rose again and again, like one wave after another, or a high, flowing tide driven by a strong wind, till my nature became faint by weeping and crying. I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labours, every hour of every day that remained for me and all my cares I committed to Christ. The road was mountainous and lonely and I was wholly alone and suffered no interruption in my wrestling with God.

Evans old pulpit power returned to him again. A new spirit of prayer came upon the believers in Anglesey and within two years, six hundred people were added to the Churches.

Are we sometimes so afraid of the emotional excesses and disorder in some Churches that we fail to feel anything at all? When was the last time that you were really moved by the great truths of the gospel?

Reflecting on Christmas Evans’ barren Sandemanian period, Lloyd-Jones challenges us,

This is our only hope, ‘All coldness from my heart remove’. What do we know of warmth of spirit, warmth of heart, warmth in prayer, warmth in preaching, to be moved to the depth of our being and feel the love of God flowing into us and flowing back out of us to him? Is Sandemanianism merely a matter of antiquarian or historical interest or is it our major problem today?

His final sermon and departure to be with Christ

Christmas Evans preached his last sermon at Mount Pleasant chapel, Swansea on Monday 16th July, 1838, He spoke on “Beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He felt weak, but the message is typical of Evans’ dramatic gospel preaching,

‘At Jerusalem, Lord?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why, Lord these are the men who crucified Thee; we are not to preach it to them?’ ‘Yes, preach it to all’… ‘Suppose we meet the very man that nailed Thy hands and feet to the cross, the very man that pierced Thy side, that spat in Thy face?’ ‘Preach the gospel to them all: tell them all that I am the Saviour; I am the same Lord over all who is rich unto all that call upon Me.’

As he descended the pulpit steps, the old preacher was heard to murmur, “This is my last sermon!” And so it was. On the Friday of that week, Christmas Evans said to those who surrounded his death bed,

I am leaving you. I have laboured in the sanctuary for fifty-three years, and this is my comfort, that I have never laboured without blood in the basin [a reference to Christ as the Passover Lamb]. Preach Christ to the people, brethren. Look at me. In myself I am nothing but ruin, but in Christ I am heaven and salvation.

“Then” writes his biographer, “as if done with earth, he waved his hand, and exclaimed, “GOODBYE! DRIVE ON!” Was he again, in his thoughts, travelling alone with his faithful pony over the lonely mountains?”

“Goodbye! Drive on!” But now Christmas Evans embarked on his final another journey - from earth to heaven. Aged seventy three, the one-eyed preacher passed into the presence of his Lord and Saviour.

The life of Christmas Evans reminds us that God can take seemingly unpromising people and use them mightily in his kingdom. We should make full use of all our gifts and energy in the service of the Master. Evans was not perfect. He knew periods of spiritual bareness. But the Lord broke into his life, melted him and shed his love abroad in his heart. The revival blessing that Evans experienced makes us long that the Lord will rend the heavens and come down in our day too.
Based on a talk on the life of "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"

Bibliography:
Christmas Evans by B.A. Ramsbottom, Bunyan Press, 1984
Sermons and Memoirs of Christmas Evans, Kregel Publications, 1986
Christmas Evans by Robert Oliver here
On Sandemanianism see The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors by D. M. Lloyd-Jones, 'Sandemanisnism', Banner of Truth Trust, 1987

Click on the label below for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Christmas Evans - A biographical stetch (Part 2)

Christmas Evans - "The One-Eyed Bunyan of Wales"

His call to preach

On the night that he lost an eye, Evans had a vivid dream of judgement day. This gave him a deep concern to preach the Word of God. He first attempted to preach in a Cottage meeting, while still a member of the Presbyterian Church. It is fair to say that his sermon did not go down too well. In fact, it was not even his sermon. He had borrowed it from Bishop Beveridge’s Thesaurus Theologicus. His ruse was spotted by a farmer in the congregation, who just happened to own that very book! Nevertheless, the farmer expressed the hope that Evans had some potential as a preacher, because his ‘prayer was as good as the sermon’. Unbeknown to the farmer, the prayer was not exactly Evans’ own either – it was lifted from a collection of prayers by Griffith Jones of Llanddowror! I can’t be too hard on Christmas Evans at this point. My first attempt at preaching was more than a little reliant on a message that I had just read by Martyn Lloyd-Jones! I even used to begin my early messages with, “Now I would like to draw your attention….”, just like the great man himself.

If we can “fast-forward” about ten years, we can see how God was able to make a powerful preacher of this unpromising young man. The year is 1794. A vast open-air congregation has gathered at Felinfoel near Llanelly. It is the event of the season – the Association meeting. But to everyone’s embarrassment, the preacher for the occasion had not turned up. Various ministers were approached, but all shrank from preaching to thousands at a moment’s notice. Timothy Thomas, the man who baptised Christmas Evans was urged to preach, but he too declined saying, “Ask that one-eyed lad from the north!” (By this time Evans was ministering in Anglesey). As a last resort, the unknown, lanky, badly dressed and disfigured Christmas Evans was pressed into service. The people who saw him ascend to the platform wondered if a mistake had been made. Here was no “big name” preacher, worthy of addressing the great Association.

Some in the congregation even began to wander away, seeking refreshments. Others stayed on, hoping that the preacher would not detain them long. Evans announced his text:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— (Colossians 1:21 & 22).

He began a little awkwardly, but soon warmed to his theme as the preacher eloquently proclaimed the gospel of reconciliation. Wanderers returned to the congregation and the people were gripped by the one-eyed preacher’s powerful message. Many were moved to tears and some cried out, “Gogoniant!” ­(Glory!) and “Bendigedig!” (Blessed!). They wondered “Who is this preacher?” “Where is he from?”

Christmas Evans had developed a unique imaginative preaching style. His sermons were so full of pictures that he was nick-named “The Bunyan of Wales”. Let me give you one or two excerpts from his sermons,

Here he is preaching on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus,

Saul of Tarsus was once a thriving merchant and an extensive ship owner. He had seven vessels of his own, the names of which were, (1) circumcised the eighth day. (2) of the stock of Israel. (3) of the tribe of Benjamin. (4) a Hebrew of the Hebrews. (5) as touching the law, a Pharisee. (6) concerning zeal, persecuting the church. The seventh was a man of war, with which he once set out from the port of Jerusalem, wel1 supplied with ammunition from the arsenal of the chief priests, with a view to destroy a small port at Damascus. He was wonderfully confident, and breathed out threatenings and slaughter. But he had not got far from port before the Gospel Ship, with Jesus himself as commander on board, hove in sight, and threw such a shell among the merchant fleet that all his ships were instantly on fire. The commotion was tremendous and there was such a volume of smoke that Paul could not see the sun at noon. While the ships were fast sinking, the Gospel commander gave orders that the merchant should be taken on board. 'Saul, Saul, what has become of all thy ships?' 'They are all on fire.' 'What will you do now?' 'Oh, that I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.'

Robert Oliver comments dryly, “As a preacher Evans was unique. It would be wrong to imitate his method, although some tried to do so and made themselves look foolish”.

His labours in the ministry

Now I’ll take my finger off the “fast-forward” button, rewind the story to 1790 and consider the beginnings of Christmas Evans’ work in the ministry.

At the tender age of twenty-three, he was urged by several ministers go to the Llyn peninsula as a missionary among the Baptist churches. Off he went to begin his work as a minister of the gospel. But at this point, he was still struggling with doubts about his own spiritual condition. He felt too that something was missing in his preaching. But in the early 1790’s the Lord met with Evans and brought him to full assurance of salvation. He testified,

I then felt that I died to the law, abandoned all hope of preparing myself to apply to the Redeemer, and realised the life of faith and dependence on the righteousness of Christ for my justification.

He began to preach with new power so that in his first year, many people were converted and fifty were baptised. In the second year, eighty converts sought church membership. The theme of his preaching was the mighty, sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners. He could say of his preaching,

The eternal power is here, and with one hand it conceals me in the shadow of redeeming mercy, and with the other it points out the glory of the great and wondrous truth that God is once a just God and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus

It was in Llyn that Evans was to find a wife – Catherine Jones. She was, by all accounts a
godly and resourceful woman - and she needed to be, to get by on her husband’s meagre stipend. Evans’ biographer remarks, “it is astonishing what she contrived to make out of oatmeal, buttermilk and potatoes – their staple diet.”

Christmas Evans supervised five preaching places on the rugged peninsula. He would often travel twenty miles on foot on a Sunday and preach in five services. Evans nearly wore himself out with his constant labours. But this did not stop him attempting an arduous preaching tour, walking from Llyn to South Wales. He preached with unusual power in the towns and villages on the way and large crowds would gather to hear him.

Anglesey

In 1792, Evans received “a providential intimation” that he should leave the scene of his labours and move to the island of Anglesey. The Baptist Churches on the heathenish “Dark Isle”, promised him £17 a year for his services. Evans’ salary, which amounted to 33p a week, was never once increased in nearly 34 years of his ministry on the island.

He arrived on Anglesey on a frozen, snowy Christmas Day to take up lodgings in a dilapidated old cottage. The ten congregations he was to serve were in a very poor state. They were divided and demoralised. A previous minister had fallen into open disgrace. The Baptists consequently suffered from a very poor reputation among the islanders. Evans called for a day of prayer and fasting and the Lord began to bless the work. The new minister divided the island into four districts so he could preach regularly for each group of churches. Many were converted and in two years, the ten congregations had become twenty. To fund the building of chapels to house the new fellowships, Evans would undertake preaching tours in South Wales. He believed that the wealthier Churches in the South aught to support poor Christians in the North.

Christmas Evans closely supervised the Baptist work on Anglesey. Co-pastors were appointed to serve in the churches, but they were ultimately accountable to Evans as the senior minister. Some of the churches wanted more independence and a number began to resent Evans’ centralising tendencies. In 1823 his wife Catherine died. In the same year, he suffered from eye trouble and had to spend several months having medical treatment in Aberystwyth. With tensions mounting between Evans and the Baptist congregations, the preacher accepted a call to Caerphilly in South Wales.

Caerphilly Castle

In 1826, aged sixty Evans began a remarkable two-year pastorate in the small, castle-dominated village. Crowds flocked to hear the famous preacher and one hundred and forty members were added to the church. It is reckoned that some of his greatest sermons date from that revival period. But here too, Evans faced difficulties. Maybe the church deacons, who had been used to ruling the roost could not come to terms with their minister’s somewhat autocratic style? Not one to stay where he wasn’t wanted, the preacher accepted a call to Cardiff and spend four years there, accompanied by his second wife, until moving to his final pastorate in Caernarvon in 1838.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Christmas Evans - A biographical stetch (Part 1)

Christmas Evans – "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"

If you are sitting comfortably, dear reader, I would like to tell you the story of Christmas Evans. He was a man of lowly birth, and little education. But in the hands of God he became one of the most eloquent and powerful preachers in Wales from the late 18th to the early 19th century. Great crowds would gather to hear his vivid, imaginative sermons.

His early life

On the evening of 25th December 1766, Samuel and Johanna Evans welcomed their second child into the world. Because of the day on which he has born, they decided to call their son Christmas Evans. Christmas’ mother, it seems was a godly woman, who often urged her little boy to think of his eternal welfare. However, tragedy was soon to strike in the Evans household, as Christmas’ father died, plunging the family into terrible poverty. Johanna’s brother, a farmer from, Bwlchog, offered to take little Christmas under his wing. He promised the child food and board in exchange for help on the farm.

But Uncle James was a cruel man, given to drink and a harsh task-master. In the six years that Christmas spent with his uncle, he was starved of affection and deprived of even the most basic education. At the age of seventeen, the poor lad was illiterate.

His conversion

Evans left the tender care of his uncle and sought work as a farm labourer. This was a lonely and difficult time in Christmas’ life. But God had plans for this young man. He began attending the Presbyterian chapel in Llwynrhydowan. The minister was David Davies. He was, a learned man and something of a poet, but his views on the Person of Christ were decidedly unorthodox. Around 1783, revival broke out in the area and many of the young people, including Christmas Evans were awakened. He later testified,

The fear of dying in an ungodly state especially affected me (even from childhood), and this apprehension clung to me till I was induced to rest on Christ. All this was accompanied by some little knowledge of the Redeemer, and now, in my seventieth year, I cannot deny that this concern was the dawn of the day of grace on my spirit, although mingled with much darkness and ignorance.

Evans separated himself from his old worldly companions and began learn to read, having just bought a copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Evans and few other young people from the church would meet together in a barn with candles and Bibles, for impromptu reading classes. They all had a real thirst for knowledge and understanding. Within a month, Evans was no longer illiterate. He could read his Welsh Bible and began to borrow books in English too. From and educational point of view, Evans was a late developer. But his conversion gave him a life-long love of study and learning. Intellectual gifts that had lain dormant were awakened. He later became proficient in Hebrew and Greek and was deeply familiar with the theological works of the Baptist John Gill and the great puritan divine, John Owen.

For Evans, there was no doubt that the Bible itself is the best book of all,

The Bible is the Book of books, a Book breathed out of heaven…I am very grateful for books written by man, but it is God’s Book that sheds the light of life everlasting on all other books.

Although his minister’s views were unorthodox, he was a kindly man, who encouraged Evan’s quest for learning. He arranged for him to study at his school for six months, free of charge. This was the only period of formal education in Christmas Evans’ life.

Evans’ former friends resented his sudden conversion experience. Six of them attacked him as he was walking home one evening. They beat him unmercifully and one of their number hit him in the eye with a stick. This resulted in the loss of the eye. Hence Christmas Evans would be known as “the one-eyed preacher from Wales”. One contemporary account of his appearance as a grown man puts it somewhat quaintly, “He had lost one of his eyes in his youth, but the other was large and bright enough for two.”

His baptism

As Christmas grew in understanding and discernment, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the preaching of his minister. He began to listen to preachers who taught sound doctrine with power and authority. One of his friends, named Amos had left the Presbyterian Church and joined the Calvinistic Baptists. At first, Evans criticised Amos' Baptist convictions. But his friend was not to be moved. This forced Evans to search the Scriptures to bolster his own infant Baptist views. But the result of his quest was not quite as he expected,

I went home and I therefore fully examined the Scriptures to mark down every passage that mentioned infant baptism, for I believed there were hundreds of such there. But after careful perusal I was terribly disappointed to find none of that character there. I met with about forty passages, all giving their suffrages in favour of baptism on a profession of repentance and faith.

It says something for his humility and honesty, that Evans renounced his former views and joined the Baptist Church. At the age of twenty he was baptised the river Duar by Timothy Thomas, the Calvinistic Baptist minister. This was a time of revival in the fellowship with scores of people being added to the Church. Evans benefited greatly from the warm, orthodox preaching of his new pastor. He became more and more established in the doctrines of sovereign grace.
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Monday, January 08, 2007

The mysterious luminosity of God

But while the deity is in one sense the most mysterious of all objects of knowledge, in another sense, he is the most luminous. No idea impresses universal man as the idea of God. Neither space nor time, neither matter or mind, neither life nor death, not sun, moon or stars, so influence the immediate consciousness of man in every clime and in all his generations, as does the "Presence" which, in Wordsworth's phrase, "is not to be put by". This idea of ideas overhangs human existence like the firmament, and though clouds and darkness obscure it in many zones, while in others it is crystalline and clear, all human beings must live beneath it, and cannot possible get from under its all-embracing arch. The very denial of the Divine Existence evinces by its eagerness and effort, the firmness with which the idea of God is entrenched in man's constitution. A chimera or a nonentity would never evoke such a passionate antagonism as is expressed in the reasonings of atheism.
From Dogmatic Theology by W. G. T. Shedd p. 57 (Klock & Klock 1979 reprint).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Happy New Year! (for reading)

Thanks to my wife, kids & Santa Claus, I had a few books for Christmas. Two are biographies of leading poets from the 17th and 20th Centuries respectively - John Stubbs on John Donne and Byron Rogers on R. S. Thomas. Thomas is sometimes described as a latter-day metaphysical poet, so the two books should make interesting comparative reading. I'll try to post reviews in the coming weeks.

The third is U2 by U2 a gigantic "coffee table" book, detailing the story of the band so far. This is a great book to dip into for fans of the band. I bought U2's first two albums, Boy and War on cassette, which shows how long I've been a fan. I saw them playing live during the Joshua Tree tour, at the old Cardiff Arms Park. The Edge, whose parents hailed from Llanelli, joked that his dad always wanted him to play in that great sporting arena. He then kicked a rugby ball into the crowd. (It's probably best that he stuck with guitar playing - he was no Gavin Henson).

I'm waiting for the local Calne (Wiltshire) Christian Bookshop's February sale before I order some more theological books. I've got my eye on Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and ‘New Perspectives’ on Paul by Cornelis P. Venema see here and Catholicism, East of Eden: Insights into Catholicism for the 21st Century by Richard Bennett see here.

Here's wishing my readers a very happy and blessed new year.