Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Challenging Biblical Inerrancy

Earlier today I spoke at our local Ministers' fraternal, which meets at the Old Baptist Chapel, Bradford on Avon on the subject:
"Challenging Biblical Inerrancy – A response to A. T. B. McGowan’s proposals in
The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging evangelical perspectives".

The talk began life as a series of review posts on this blog - here. I've just published the text of my address, which is a reworking of the blog posts with 'many similar words added' as a Knol here. I've not published a Knol before so please let me know if you have problems accessing the document.
The talk was followed by a time of discussion during which various points were raised.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard J. Schnabel

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods,
by Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paperback 519pp, IVP/Apollos £16.99
Our God is a missionary God. The Father sent his Son to save the world. The Son poured out his Spirit upon the church and commissioned her to make disciples of all nations. Mission should therefore be at the heart of church life. But how may we “do mission” in a way that is faithful to the gospel, effective in reaching the lost for Christ and that leads to new believers being gathering into churches? This major and authoritative study of the Paul the Missionary helps to answer such questions.

The author divides his treatment into six main sections. He begins with a consideration of ‘The Missionary Work of the Apostle Paul’ describing the apostle’s many missionary journeys from the time of his conversion until he was finally imprisoned and then martyred in Rome. It is often suggested that Paul underwent four missionary journeys. Schnabel challenges the traditional view, identifying fifteen distinct periods of mission. Then we come to ‘The Missionary Task According to Paul’s Letters’, where the author surveys Paul’s own understanding of the task of mission, giving careful and detailed attention his epistles. In ‘The Missionary Message of the Apostle Paul’ the writer skilfully unpacks the content of Paul’s gospel preaching, which focused on confronting Jew and Gentile alike with the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Consideration is given to ‘The Missionary Goals of the Apostle Paul’. Paul aimed at preaching the gospel so that sinners would be saved and gathered into class-defying, multi-ethnic churches, where they might be nurtured in the faith and trained for mission. The question of how the apostle went about doing all this is faced in ‘The Missionary Methods of the Apostle Paul’. The writer discusses how Paul decided which areas to evangelise, the types of building he used for mission and his manner of public speaking. Paul’s preaching centered on the sacrificial death and mighty resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles found his message deeply offensive and objectionable. The only explanation for Paul’s missionary success is the convincing power of the Holy Spirit upon his preaching.

In the last prophetic section Schnabel seeks to apply the lessons of Paul the Missionary to ‘The Task of Missionary Work in the Twenty-First Century’. He argues that the trend towards targeting of homogeneous people groups is a contradiction of the New Testament vision of the church as God's multi-ethnic community of people united to Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. Drawing on the work of David Wells (here), he also critiques “Seeker Sensitive” and “Purpose Driven” approaches to mission, which rely too much on technique and water down the gospel for the sake of “cultural relevance”. Schnabel's prescription is that we need to return to the gospel centred, Spirit empowered approach of Paul,

‘The missionaries, teachers and preachers of the church are and remain sinners saved by God’s grace and whose “success” – evaluated from the eternal perspective of God’s Day of Judgement – is the result of the power of the Spirit of God, who honours their faithfulness to the truth of the gospel of the crucified Jesus Christ.” (p. 418).

The book is packed with a wealth of fascinating information on Paul’s missionary travels and gives an acute analysis of his theology. Indeed what is so impressive about this volume is Schnabel's commitment to the primacy of theology over and against the "can do" pragmatism that so often characterizes evangelical approaches to mission. It also struck me that while the writer takes account of the women who helped Paul in his evangelistic work, the leading figures in New Testament mission were men. The main method of mission was primarily the preaching of the gospel to all who would listen, which is a male task according to the New Testament. While women have done (and are doing) sterling work on the mission field, we need to pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up suitably gifted men to take the good news of Jesus to the nations.
Paul the Missionary should help to set the agenda for mission in the twenty-first century. It is a must for all who are involved in training people for the mission field, for would-be missionaries and for those already in the field. Pastors should read it too and be challenged by the writer's description of Paul's vision for church-based, Christ exalting evangelism and mission. Indeed all who want to get to grips with life and teaching of the great “apostle to the Gentiles” will benefit from this most helpful work.
* An edited version of this review will appear in Protestant Truth

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Banner Ministers' Conference

Late last week I received the brochure for the next Banner of Truth Leicester Ministers' Conference. Unsurprisingly a certain Mr. John Calvin looms large in the programme. Should be good. I also look forward to the annual gathering of the "Taffia", a much feared cartel of Welsh ministers. One of the speakers, Derek Thomas was interviewed here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

But what if there is?

Here in the UK a bunch of atheists have scraped together £140,000 to have this slogan plastered on the side of buses,
What spectacular timing. Oh, I see, we're in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis, unemployment is rising and no one knows quite what to do about it. But don't worry, God probably doesn't exist. We'll have to get through this one all on our own. Very reassuring!

But what if there is a God? What if that God has revealed himself to us in the world that he has made? According to the atheists behind the slogan, the universe is the product of random and impersonal forces. There is no grand meaning or significance to life on our little planet. But what if the heavens declare God's glory and the earth if full of his goodness? What if God has made us for a purpose, that we might know him and experience the reality of his presence in our lives? Yes, we mess things up, and often live as if God did not exist. But what if God loves human beings like us? What if he sent his Son, Jesus Christ into our world to bring us back to him?

Knowing this God as Father means that we don't have to worry. He knows our needs and has promised to provide for all who trust in him. Believing in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ doesn't suck all the enjoyment and pleasure out of life. Not at all. It is God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. In his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

I can think of a much better slogan,


Friday, January 16, 2009

Jonathan & Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union (Part 4)

An eternal union of love

The tomb of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards

The family removed to the frontier town of Stockbridge, where Jonathan served as a missionary to the Native Americans. He wrote some of his most important theological works in the wilderness of Stockbridge, including The Freedom of the Will and Original Sin. Sarah was kept busy in the home and was active in the community. The town was affected by the Indian wars. Stockbridge was a dangerous place to be. Yet many refugees fled there for shelter. Sarah put in a claim for providing 800 meals for needy displaced people.

If ever a marriage was ‘made in heaven’ it was that of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Sarah’s practical and caring disposition and wise management of family affairs allowed Jonathan to concentrate on his preaching and theological work. When Scottish friends dispatched some supplies and provisions to the Edwards, they sent them to Sarah, knowing that she would make more profitable use of the goods than her otherworldly husband. She was a living embodiment of the wise and godly woman described in Proverbs 31.

If anything, Sarah’s reputation for godliness exceeded that of her husband. Once Jonathan Edwards as booked to preach at the ordination of one Job Strong in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But a local man Samuel Moody had been asked act as substitute should Edwards have been delayed on the long journey. Much to the disappointment of the packed church, Edwards failed to arrive at the time when service was due to start. Moody began to lead the service and in the prayer before the sermon he lamented that ‘the eminent servant of God, the Rev. Mr. Edwards of Northampton’ was not with them. He began to extol Edwards’ virtues – his ‘uncommon piety, great excellence as a preacher’ and so on. Unknown to the poor preacher, Edwards had unobtrusively entered the church as Moody began to pray. He quietly made his way into the pulpit and as Moody finished praying and opened his eyes, there was the eminent Mr. Edwards standing next to him!

Recovering quickly from his shock, Moody shook the eminent preacher by the hand and greeted him with the words,

"Brother Edwards, we are all of us much rejoiced to see you here today, and nobody, probably as much as myself; but I wish that you might have got in a little sooner, or a little later, or else that I might have heard you when you came in, and known you were here. I didn’t intend to flatter you to your face; but there’s one thing I’ll tell you: They say that your wife is a-going to heaven by a shorter road than yourself."

But Jonathan Edwards was to arrive in heaven before his wife. He was called from the backwater of Stockbridge to become Principal of the newly formed Princeton College. An outbreak of smallpox hit the town and fatalities were high. Jonathan had himself inoculated, but the jab was botched. Tragically Edwards died shortly after taking office. The dying Principal sent a message to his wife via Lucy, their youngest daughter,

"Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest regards to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue for ever. And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a Father who will never fail you."

Shortly after this Edwards looked about and said, "Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?" Then, on March 22 1758, he went to be with the God of his salvation. Sarah responded to this heavy and unexpected blow with great grace,

"What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be."

Sarah was soon to join her Jonathan in glory. She died of dysentery on October 2nd 1758 and was buried in her husband’s grave in Princeton. Theirs was indeed an “an uncommon union”. Michael Haykin puts his finger on what made the Edwards’ marriage such a happy one,

"Their benevolent love for God and his world – truly uncommon in this selfish, sinful world – had bonded them together during their married lives. It was a ‘spiritual’ love. As McClendon puts it, they were ‘two who have breathed together the breath of the same Spirit.’ And as such, it was eternal for it joined them to the triune God."

In the concluding point of his expositions of 1 Corinthians 13, Charity and its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards said,

"If you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love - of love to God and love to men. All of us hope to have a part in the world of love hereafter, and therefore we should cherish the spirit of love, and live a life of holy love here on earth. This is the way to be like the inhabitants of heaven, who are now confirmed in love for ever... Thus also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven."


Memoir of Jonathan Edwards by Sereneo E. Dwight, Chapter XI. See online version here - from p. 106 of pdf document.

Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain Murray, Banner of Truth Trust. Especially see chapter entitled 'Personal Portraits'.

Jonathan Edwards, The Holy Spirit in revival, by Michael Haykin, Evangelical Press. Chapter 7, 'The Comforter is come: Sarah Edwards and the vision of God'. Reviewed here.

George Whitefield: The life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century, Volume 1, by Arnold Dallimore, Banner of Truth. Chapter 32, 'The Fall Tour - New England', especially p. 537-538.

* Notes of a talk given at our Penknap Ladies' Meeting.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jonathan & Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union (Part 3)

The Great Awakening
Sarah Edwards

The second outpouring of the Spirit in Northampton during Edwards' ministry began in early 1742. In late January that year, Jonathan Edwards left home on another one of his preaching tours, leaving Samuel Buell to occupy his pulpit. In Edwards’ absence, the church felt the full impact of the Great Awakening. But earlier that month, all had not been well with Sarah’s soul,

"On Tuesday night, Jan. 19, 1742, Mrs. Edwards observed, 'I felt very uneasy and unhappy, at my being so low in grace. I thought I very much needed help from God, and found a spirit of earnestness to seek help of him, that I might have more holiness. When I had for a time been earnestly wrestling with God for it, I felt within myself great quietness of spirit, unusual submission to God, and willingness to wait upon him, with respect to the time and manner in which he should help me, and wished that he should take his own time, and his own way, to do it.

The next morning I found a degree of uneasiness in my mind, at Mr. Edwards’s suggesting, that he thought I had failed in some measure in point of prudence, in some conversation I had with Mr. Williams, of Hadley, the day before. I found, that it seemed to bereave me of the quietness and calm of my mind, in any respect not to have the good opinion of my husband. This, I much disliked in myself, as arguing a want of a sufficient rest in God, and felt a disposition to fight against it, and look to God for his help, that I might have a more full and entire rest in him, independent of all other things. I continued in this frame, from early in the morning until about 10 o’clock, at which time the Rev. Mr. Reynolds went to prayer in the family.'"

As the preacher prayed, Sarah longed that he would call God, “Father”. Suddenly she was given a deep and overwhelming sense that God was her Father and that all her sins were forgiven. She began to weep and withdrew to her chamber where she could be alone with God and enjoy uninterrupted communion with him. She said,

"The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of any thing else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness, and mildness, and gentleness, and their great and immutable love to me. I seemed to be taken under the care and charge of my God and Saviour, in an inexpressibly endearing manner; and Christ appeared to me as a mighty Saviour, under the character of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, taking my heart, with all its corruptions, under his care, and putting it at his feet. In all things, which concerned me, I felt myself safe under the protection of the Father and the Saviour; who appeared with supreme kindness to keep a record of every thing that I did, and of every thing that was done to me, purely for my good. The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible."

As her husband left Northampton on his preaching tour, Sarah was given further extraordinary experiences of God and the church was gripped by a powerful outpouring of the Sprit. Sarah testified,

"This lively sense of the beauty and excellency of divine things continued during the morning [of Friday 28th Jan], accompanied with peculiar sweetness and delight. To my own imagination, my soul seemed to be gone out of me to God and Christ in heaven, and to have very little relation to my body. God and Christ were so present to me, and so near me, that I seemed removed from myself. The spiritual beauty of the Father and the Saviour, seemed to engross my whole mind; and it was the instinctive feeling of my heart, ‘Thou art; and there is none be-side thee.’ I never felt such an entire emptiness of self-love, or any regard to any private, selfish interest of my own. It seemed to me, that I had entirely done with myself. I felt that the opinions of the world concerning me were nothing, and that I had no more to do with any outward interest of my own, than with that of a person whom I never saw. The glory of God seemed to be all, and in all, and to swallow up every wish and desire of my heart."

After this Sarah no longer cared about the opinions of men. She was also given to rejoice that the Lord has chosen to use another than her beloved husband as an instrument in the revival. She could say,

"I felt more perfectly subdued and weaned from the world and more fully resigned to God that I had ever been conscious of before. I felt entire indifference to the opinions, and representations, and conduct of mankind concerning me; and a perfect willingness that God should employ some other instrument than Mr Edwards in advancing the work of grace in Northampton. I was entirely swallowed up in God, as my only portion, and his honour and glory was the object of my supreme desire and delight. At the same time, I felt a far greater love to the children of God then ever before."

Jonathan Edwards was overjoyed to return home to find his church in the grip of a powerful awakening. His deep theological understanding and penetrating discernment made him a shrewd judge of spiritual experiences. What he looked for was not unusual effects on the body or impressions on the mind, but the renewal of the heart. In his great book on revival and Christian experience, The Religious Affections, he argued that the proof of a genuine experience of God is seen in its lasting fruit. Those who have encountered God in Christ by the power of the Spirit will be filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory. As God is love, those who enjoy the deepest communion with him will be filled with love for God and his people. They will have a profound yearning after holiness. Edwards carefully analysed his wife's experiences and concluded that her raptures were of God. He was especially struck by his wife’s intense spirit of love and benevolence.

"At night, [said Sarah] my soul seemed to be filled with an inexpressibly sweet and pure love to God, and to the children of God; with a refreshing consolation and solace of soul, which made me willing to lie on the earth, at the feet of the servants of God, to declare his gracious dealings with me, and breathe forth before them my love, and gratitude, and praise.

However, despite such blessings, tensions arose between Edwards and the Northampton Church. Tensions that would lead to his dismissal in 1750. The pastor asked for a rise in his stipend due to rising prices, but the church would only consent after investigating the Edwards' material affairs. Some were outraged that their extravagant minister had two wigs and two teapots! I assure you ladies that your pastor does not posess even have one wig, although we may have several teapots!

In addition, Edwards argued that only those with a credible profession of faith should take the Lord's Supper. This brought into question the "Halfway Covenant" policy of Solomon Stoddard which allowed the unbelieving children of church members take the Lord's Supper. Vested interests mobilised against Edwards. The issue of the Lord’s Supper was complicated by the fact that members of the town council had to be communicants of the Congregational Church. Spending thirteen hours each day locked away in his study hardly helped him gain his people’s support in this time of crisis. He also handled a matter of church discipline in a rather unwise and high handed way. In the end it all got too much and Edwards was voted out.
* Notes of a talk given at our Penknap Ladies' Meeting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jonathan & Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union (Part 2)

Life in the Edwards' Manse
Northampton Meeting House
Samuel Hopkins arrived at the Edwards' manse one winter’s day in December 1741. He hoped to complete his studies for the ministry under Jonathan Edwards. But he was off on one of his preaching tours. Sarah took him in and Hopkins was able to witness life in the Edwards’ household. He was not yet converted at that point. But he was labouring under deep conviction of sin. Sarah noticed this and was able to give him valuable spiritual counsel. When Jonathan Edwards did eventually arrive home, Hopkins’s found that his fears that his tutor was a somewhat remote and austere figure were misplaced. Although Edwards was no garrulous “people person”, he was kind, affable and unreserved with those who got to know him.

Hopkins noted that Edwards was a hard worker, who would spend thirteen hours a day in his study. But this does not mean that he neglected his wife and family. He and Sarah would go horse riding together for an hour each afternoon. The ministerial student was impressed with the closeness of the Edwards’ marriage saying, “No person of discernment could be conversant with the family without admiring the great harmony and mutual love and esteem that subsisted between them.” Jonathan would preach against husbands who treated their wives like servants.

Regular times of family worship were observed in the Edwards household. Everyone was expected to keep to the same timetable, with bed at nine in the evening. Even when the daughters were old enough to have admirers and suitors and be on heir own were left on their own with a room and a fire, it was lights out at nine. Nothing was allowed that might ‘intrude on the religion and order of the family.’

Studious pastor as he was, Jonathan Edwards was careful to spend an hour every evening with his children, taking an interest in their lives and engaging them in playful conversation. He entrusted the running of his household affairs to his resourceful wife. She guided their home firmly, yet with a cheerful and winsome spirit. Parental discipline of children in the 18th century was often rather harsh compared with what would be acceptable today. But according to Hopkins, Jonathan Edwards was a kindly father, who corrected his children “with the greatest calmness, commonly without striking blow.” Of Sarah he wrote she,

"knew how to make [her children] regard and obey her cheerfully, without loud angry words, much less with heavy blows. She seldom struck her children, and in speaking to them adopted mild, gentle and pleasant terms."

Those modern day Evangelicals who seem to give the impression that "spare the rod spoil the child" is the be-all-and-end-all of biblical-style parenting would be wise to note the Edwards' approach. Such was the success of Jonathan and Sarah's parenting skills that Hopkins remarked, “Quarrelling and contention, which too frequently take place among children were not known among them.” Maybe the young house guest was painting a little too idealised picture. A house full of children and never a cross word between them? I don’t think so. By all accounts Jershua may have been mild and Esther obedient. But what about Sarah, the eldest daughter? When Elihu Parsons asked Jonathan Edwards for her hand in marriage, he plainly disclosed the unpleasant temper of his daughter. ‘But she has grace, I trust?’ asked Parsons, to which Edwards replied sardonically, ‘I hope she has, but grace can live where you cannot’.

George Whitefield visited Northampton in October 1740, during the Great Awakening. He preached to Edwards’ Northampton congregation, noting in his journal entry for Sunday October 19,

"Preached this morning, and good Mr Edwards wept during the whole time of exercise. The people were equally affected, and in the afternoon the power increased yet more…Oh, that my should be refreshed with joyful news, that Northampton people have recovered their first love; that the Lord has revived his work in their souls and caused them to do their fist works."

During his brief stay at Northampton, Whitefield was deeply impressed with Edwards, writing, “Mr Edwards is a solid, excellent Christian… I think I have not seen his like in all New England.” Of Jonathan, Sarah and their family he wrote, “A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were not dressed in silks and satins, but plain, as becomes the children of those who, in all things, ought to be examples of Christian simplicity. Mrs Edwards is adorned with a meek and quiet spirit…”

The domestic bliss he witnessed at the manse made Whitefield renew his prayers for a godly wife. Other visitors were impressed by the happy piety of the Edwards household. But Sarah sometimes suffered periods of melancholy, or depression, largely brought on by the stinging criticism of Jonathan and herself by some members of the Northampton church.

The church however experienced two seasons of revival blessing during Edwards' pastorate. There was a localised, but powerful awakening in 1735. This was the inspiration for the preacher's early work on revival, A Faithful Narrative of a Surprising Work of God. And in the 1740's the Great Awakening came to Northampton.
* Notes of a talk given at our Penknap Ladies' Meeting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jonathan & Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union (Part 1)

Jonathan Edwards was a great man of God who was mightily used by the Lord in the Great Awakening of the 18th century. He was a mighty pastor-theologian whose words are still read with profit today. But as the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a good woman”. This was certainly the case with the New England preacher. In this series of posts, I want to give readers a glimpse into the “uncommon union” between Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan was born in 1703, eighty years after the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America. In Edwards’ time the English speaking population were subject to attack from Native Americans. The great European powers England and France fought for control of the New World. Jonathan Edwards was the son of a Congregationalist minister. He was converted in 1721, being given a “sense of new things” on reading 1 Timothy 1:17,

"From about that that time, I began to have new apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time meditation on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his Pearson, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him."

Edwards first met his wife to be, Sarah Pierrpont when studying at Yale College. He probably spotted the attractive young girl sitting next to her widowed mother in the congregation of First Church, New Haven. Sarah was only thirteen at the time, but the twenty year old Edwards was deeply impressed by what he had heard about her deep piety,

"They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for any thing, except to mediate upon him - that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured the he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight for ever."

Like Jonathan, Sarah was a child of the manse. She was the daughter of James Pierrpont, who was minister at New Haven from 1685 until his death in 1714. He was remembered as ‘clear, lively and impressive’ preacher who was ‘eminent in the gift of prayer.’ Pierrpont was a leading man in Connecticut. He played a prominent role in establishing Yale College. Sarah’s mother, Mary was the grand-daughter of the great Puritan divine, Thomas Hooker.

They married in 1727. Sarah was 17 and Jonathan 23. According to Samuel Miller, “Perhaps no event of Mr. Edwards’ life had a more close connexion with his subsequent comfort and usefulness than this marriage.” Soon Edwards was settled at the assistant pastor to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard in Northampton. Stoddard had served the congregation for 60 eventful years. Edwards became sole pastor on Stoddard's death. Northampton was to be the scene of the some of the greatest triumphs and tragedies in the lives of Jonathan and Sarah. Together they had eleven children, ten girls and one boy.
* Notes of a talk given at our Penknap Ladies' Meeting.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Who can stand before his cold?

Been a bit chilly in these parts lately. Earlier today I stopped to take some photos of a rather icy pond here in Westbury. The scene called to mind the words of Psalm 147:15-18

He sends out His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes;
He casts out His hail like morsels;
Who can stand before His cold?
He sends out His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in revival by Michael A. G. Haykin

Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in revival, by Michael A. G. Haykin,
Evangelical Press, 2005, 227pp.
I've been reading this book on Sunday evenings over the last couple of months and very good it is too. After a chapter discussing the life and legacy of Jonathan Edwards Haykin gets straight into an exposition of Edwards' teaching on the Holy Spirit and revival. For the New England preacher-theologian, the gift of the Spirit was purchased for believers by the atoning work of Christ. The Holy Spirit himself is the chief benefit bestowed upon the people of God. The threefold task of the Spirit is firstly to convict people of their sin and need of a Saviour, secondly to empower the church to preach the gospel and thirdly to make the gospel preaching effective in the salvation of sinners. In the light of this Edwards urges us to pray for the Spirit!
When it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit, Edwards was no theoretical theologian. He witnessed several outpourings of the Spirit in revival power during his ministry. Haykin describes these periods of revival and gives attention to Edwards' writings on the subject of revival. Edwards recognised the Great Awakening of the 1740's as a genuine work of the Spirit. But there were excesses, notably associated with the wild fanaticism of James Davenport. This caused some, such as Charles Chauncy to cast doubt on the genuineness of the revival. Edwards brought his clear biblical understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and gifts of spiritual discernment to bear on the task of analysing and defending the revival. This he did in three major works, A Faithful Narrative, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God and The Religious Affections. Haykin admirably summarises the burden of Edwards' teaching. His great thesis was that a true experience of the Holy Spirit will lead to a Christ-exalting, God-centred life of holiness and love. Edwards was keen to promote prayer for revival and his Humble Attempt was used by God to awaken interest in prayer for an extraordinary work of the Spirit on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 19th century.
Jonathan Edwards is such a valuable writer on the subject of revival because he was a mighty theologian whose heart blazed with love for Christ. His positive view of the importance of spiritual emotions or "religious affections" reminds us that, "True religion is more than a notion/something must be known and felt". The aim of preaching must be to stir the heart, not just inform the mind. We need Edwards' emphasis on experimental Calvinism, which is the product of the life-transforming power of the Spirit. But we also need his caution and discernment when it comes to assessing recent phenomenon like the "Toronto blessing" and other outbreaks of Charismatic excess. The preacher warned his people against confusing subjective impressions on the mind and strange effects on the body with the genuine work of the Spirit. It's a great pity that the church in the 20th century neglected the New England theologian's contribution to our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in revival. Hopefully Haykin's study will help the church of the 21st century to avoid making the same mistake.
It seems to me that Edwards' teaching on revival is needed now more than ever. The witness of the church in the West has been badly weakened by worldliness. Preaching lacks power and effectiveness. Conversions are few. Vital godliness is a rare thing. Isn't it time that the cry went up once more, "Revive your work, O Lord in the midst of the years!"?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy New Year!

On Saturday travelled down to Exeter, Devon together with a minibus full of our people to witness the induction of Jonathan Munday to the pastorate of Exeter Independent Evangelical Church. It is a relatively new work and Jonathan is their very first minister. It was an encouraging service, with contributions from Brian Higham (under whose preahcing Jonathan was converted) reading the Scriptures and praying and Dewi Higham preaching. He spoke from Matthew 6:33, urging us all to put God first in all things. Jonathan, who was the pastor of Maryport Street Baptist Church, Devizes spoke movingly of how he felt the Lord calling him to the Exeter. While Jonathan was seeking a new pastorate, the Mundays worshipped with us at Ebenezer Baptist Church, West Lavington. It was good to have them in the congregation for almost a year. We miss them, but it was nice to see them settled in their new situation. (The Munday family are pictured above).
We had a good family Christmas and saw in the new year in Wales, where we stayed a few days with my mum. Probably the most popular Christmas present was a Wii fit board. It is really cool and fun, although it does tend to nag on a bit about loosing weight and going to bed early. I've become something of an expert at slalom skiing, which is saying something, as I've never done any real skiing.
We had some visitors in the congregation over Christmas, which was encouraging. Yesterday I preached on 2 Thessalonians 3:1 for Penknap Providence Church's "motto" text for the year. This text will be printed on each monthly prayer diary. How we need God's help as we seek to make the gospel known in the next year!
I've had a bit of a break from reading over the Christmas period, but it was good to get back into things this morning, taking up Paul the Missionary, by Eckhard J. Schnabel, IVP/Apollos, 2008. I'm 143 pages in to this 518 page book and the review deadline is looming.