‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

Review – ‘If God is so good why are things so bad?’ by Melvin Tinker

This is the second book I’ve read by Melvin Tinker. It’s published by EP Books and dated 2019 so it’s a recent book. I like the way he writes. That is just a personal preference. The book is laid out nicely with easy to read type with headings throughout each one of its 8 chapters. At 156 pages it’s not a long book, and that includes several pages of end notes (I prefer footnotes), a foreword (by Tim Chester) and a preface. It isn’t a cheap book for its size with a retail price of £8.99 (what I paid), but you’ll probably find it for less.

Tim Chester describes the book as an invite ‘to walk with Job through the confusion suffering creates (p. 10).’ The author writes that ‘What follows iis a series of expositions which attempt to walk the way of wisdom with Job so that we might learn to think and speak of God aright when hard times come our way (p.15).’ As it says on the cover it’s a discussion of the problem of suffering. I have personally found the book of Job to be a great help. Suffering in some shape, mental or physical, will come upon us all and so books that deal with suffering will continue to be produced. Dealing with the problem and dealing with the suffering might be two separate but connected issues. This book does what it says on the tin and deals more with the problem. But it also deals with the suffering in the sense that it equips us to help others rather than batter them as Job’s friends did

One more minor gripe (the other is end notes – worth reading) is that he sometimes, for whatever reason, doesn’t given a reference. On page 49 & 50 he gives a lengthy quote from John Owen and I really wanted to see where it was from – alas, it was not given. He does this in another book as well as I recall. Maybe it’s just me.

Does he answer the question of the book title? You’ll have to answer that. I think he does, but whether you’re satisfied with his answer is another thing. In the Preface Melvin Tinker compares two men, Primo Levi and Victor Frankl, both prisoners in Auschwitz, who survive with two different views. He quotes Frankl saying, ‘The truth is that amongst those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those whose religious life was deepened – in spite, not to say because of this experience – by far exceeds those who gave up their belief (p. 14).’ That is quite telling. To use modern parlance then, Job is a survivor. And we should listen to what his book has to say. As Jesus said ‘He that has an ear let him hear (Mat 11:15).’

Chapter one introduces us to Job where we see that his ‘religious and moral credentials are established as impeccable from the very beginning (p. 22).’ On page 24 Melvin asks ‘What could possibly go wrong?‘ Job is afflicted as we may know. Satan is given permission to attack Job in the most horrendous manner. And so ‘Here was a man suffering alright, suffering which was heightened, not lessoned, by his faith in God (p. 28).’ Job is set up as one of the good people so ‘how is one to go about explaining what is happening to Job who is one of the good people (p. 28)?’ This is what faces us in the book of Job and what Melvin Tinker seeks to explain in his book.

Chapter two introduces us to Job’s three friends. I believe what Melvin says of them is correct that ‘no matter how crass, misleading and insensitive’ they ‘prove to be, their intentions were nonetheless sincere.’ And then we read ‘In their own way they represent a certain type of Christian today (p.35).’ We may have met that Christian, maybe we are or have been that Christian! The longest section in this chapter has the heading ‘How not to be a ‘comforter’ (p. 43).

Chapter three is a more detailed exposition of Job 9. Here, two profound questions have to be faced. The first question revolves around God’s power and sovereignty and whether he is good? ‘That is the question found lingering on Job’s lips (p. 52).’ The second question is found in Job 9:24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it? That is an incredibly powerful question for anyone to ask. If some form of disaster comes into your life ‘if it is not he, who then is it?‘ Melvin discusses this very helpfully, I think, through the rest of the chapter. The materialist really has to face the consequences of how they answer this.

Chapter four sees Elihu step up, Job’s three friends having finished their speeches. Elihu brings a different perspective, suggesting, writes Melvin, ‘that it might be more helpful to look forward to try and identify a purpose in suffering (p. 70).’ it doesn’t mean Elihu hasn’t bought into the retributive principle (p.37), as most people have, but that ‘… it is too narrow a view to think of all suffering as retribution… (p. 70).’

In Chapter five God speaks. The chapter opens with the comment by C. S. Lewis about God being in the dock. Because the book of Job is an ancient courtroom setting Melvin quotes G. K. Chesterton that ‘He [God] is quite willing to be prosecuted (p. 86).’ But ‘God’s defence wasn’t quite as Job had anticipated (p.90).’ The courtroom setting makes sense, and in that context Job’s eventual response fits in with ancient customs. ‘Job finally realised his mistake, which is often ours, namely, to think we are privy to all the facts, when we are not (p. 92).’ Like previous chapters there are helpful testimonies here about how God and His word are known in ways that would have been impossible but for the suffering.

Chapter six explains the Behemoth as death and the Leviathan as the Satan and we are therefore introduced to the reality of death and of supernatural evil. There’s opposition to God and all his works. There’s a war on in the heavenly realm, and we (Christians) are in it.

In Chapter seven I appreciated Melvin’s comment on Job’s end. I mean, it’s a fairy tale ending isn’t it (p. 121, also endnote 3 p. 155). This isn’t a Disney film. Apart from the great loss he sustained materially, all his children were killed. I don’t think it ended with a plastic Christian smile on his face. Why ever do we think it did. There is restoration, but I believe Job’s heart continued for the rest of his life to ache for his dead children. The end is that he meets with God. ‘Job had his hearts desire fulfilled, he met with God. That encounter changed everything, his blessings and his trials, in a new light because he saw God (p. 128).’

In the final Chapter eight Melvin writes, ‘We have been following the trials of one who is ‘victim and hero’; subject to ‘the worst horrors of pain and humiliation,’ the man Job (p. 133).’ We are then taken typologically (and powerfully) from Job to Jesus. As I was reading the book I had confirmed, I think, that the answer to the why of evil has to be found in God himself. I haven’t quite thought all this through but it seems to me that it’s in Christ that we see the why of evil. For me then, the book has been extremely helpful. And the final chapter in particular. At one point I did wonder if I could in all honesty recommend it, but this chapter sold it to me. Here, we are taken to the cross of Christ. This, is where we must all come.

The book is sprinkled throughout with ‘testimonies’ of the suffering that have both rejected God, and those that have found him to be their all in all. I think it would be helpful if you were to read the book (this book, and Job) but most probably will not do that. The question that cannot be avoided though, is where do you find yourself? As the rejector of God? Or the one who finds God in Christ to be their all in all?

This a very helpful book and Christians will find much benefit in reading it. I’m not sure it will answer some of the deeper questions non-Christians might have or even of some Christians (although see above on Ch 8). Some answers will never be found in a book but only in an encounter with God himself. Let’s not forget, that is what happened to Job in the end. His questions – if I can put it that way – weren’t answered by his three friends, nor Elihu, or even Job but by God himself. Books are good, but they aren’t a substitute for meeting with God. There is only one book where God meets us, and that’s his own word The Bible. The book of Job, in the end is in the Bible for that very reason – so we can meet with the living God.

 

’12 Years a Slave’ A few notes.

The other evening I watched ‘12 Years a Slave’ for the first time. It’s a film I have wanted to watch since it was released in 2013. But somehow never got round to watching it.

The film was released before BLM came on the scene but watching it now seemed in some ways a better time to see it. I note the Director is Steve McQueen. Not that Steve McQueen. It’s a fantastic film. A beautiful film. A believable film. But it’s a deeply harrowing and distressing film, as it ought to be.

The first thing I noticed was the year. The film starts and is set in 1841. There’s no back-story of how Solomon Northup achieved the high standing he obviously has. He’s treated well as a man of money and of influence. He is married with two children with a very nice house. He’s doing well.

They obviously wanted us to note it, but I noted the date because I thought the slave trade had already been abolished in Britain by 1808 (1807 in the US). By 1841 the British navy was engaged in preventing slavery. That is, they were boarding ships and literally freeing slaves. Or so I thought. On reading a Guardian article yesterday it turns out we (Britain) weren’t engaged in abolishing it after all but merely trying to put its abolition off. We must be careful we don’t re-write history to fit our own ideology (that cuts both ways of course). It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. The way some people write it’s as if we haven’t moved forward at all. I don’t have any books on the slave trade (maybe I should), but I did check my dates in America: A Narrative History, 4th Ed, Tindall & Shi, W. W. Norton, 1997, pp. 248, 394-95, 437-43. ‘In 1841 the British prime minister asserted the right to patrol off the coast of Africa and search vessels flying the American flag to see if they carried slaves (p. 394).’ (It’s worth watching this lecture by Simon Schama.)

The thing I noticed (Unless I missed it) was that Solomon (the main character) never or rarely engages in attacks of bitterness towards the white folks. He defends himself for sure, but all the time he seeks to have good relationships with the white folks. He doesn’t give up on that as we eventually get to see.

As I watch I make comparisons with The Holocaust. A couple of weeks ago I watched a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his opposition to the Nazis. He made that comparison after visiting America where he ministered in a Black church. Bonhoeffer was executed just before the end of the war. At least the black man had some value.

I’m only going to comment on the white characters ((Someone else can comment on the black folk). They are a mixed bunch caught in that time in history. But it’s exactly what we find now. We’re a mixed bunch. It starts with a shop keeper. He respects Solomon’s money for sure and there seems to be a good relationship. Then there’s the two wicked deceivers that sell him for money. Then several appalling characters until the plantation owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He wants to do right but is trapped (imprisoned in the system?) and ends up continuing to condone slavery. Several evil men and women follow. Then we meet the man played by Brad Pitt. He ended up being Solomon’s deliverer. Notice Solomon builds a relationship with Pitt’s character. But also notice, he (Pitt) realises that he’s putting himself in danger for Solomon by going against the system he’s living with (sound familiar?). But he does it anyway. Notice it’s a white man that Solomon sends for. Why? Because he knows he will come for him – probably at great risk I might add. What relief as it soon follows that Solomon’s nightmare ends and he’s reunited with his family, including a son-in-law and grandson. It’s incredibly moving. We shouldn’t forget emancipation for thousands never came.

I find these films stir within me a deep sense of justice that rises up. I can get quite wound up. I want justice to be done and wrongs righted. Reading the notes at the end of the film Justice is not done. It’s a travesty. I know that. Some, most, injustices in this world will never be righted. There is a day coming though when justice will be seen to be done. A righteous judgement will take place when the Righteous Judge of all the earth will bring this corrupt sinful world to an end.

I know he was in a privileged position in the film but don’t you think we should all follow the example of Solomon in the film. We are not in 1841. Yes there is still improvements to be made. But things have moved forward a lot.

Zoom foreword to 2020. The conclusion I come to after watching the film is that the Black Lives Matter organisation could not care twopence for an improvement in relations between ethnicities. They are only interested in maintaining conflict and in reality (may) put any improvements made back 30 years or more. They just want to engage in blame (and have their own agenda by the way).

Those are a few of my thoughts after eventually watching the film.

 

‘Of One Blood’

‘And he made from one man (‘One blood’ in the AV) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (Acts 17:26).’

In this verse we see ‘racism’ or the idea of different races refuted in the Bible. The Apostle Paul here is clearly referring to the Creation of man (that is: Mankind. Humans) back at the beginning. From Adam the Lord also creates Eve (Mother of the living). So from this couple we all descend (Genesis 1 & 2). ‘One blood’ suggests we all bleed the same. The Bible also speaks of the life being in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). There are differences, but not different races, there is only one humanity. One blood.

‘One blood. That is, of one man’s blood; the Vulgate Latin version reads, “of one”; and the Arabic version of De Dieu reads, “of one man”; of Adam, the first parent of all mankind, and who had the blood of all men in his veins: .’

‘And it is a certain truth that follows upon this, that no man has any reason to vaunt over another, and boast of his blood and family; and as little reason have any to have any dependence upon their being the children of believers, or to distinguish themselves from others, and reject them as the children of unbelievers, when all belong to one family, and are of one man’s blood, whether Adam or Noah: of whom there ‘is only one humanity’ (all nations of men, AV)(John Gill, 23 November 1697 – 14 October 1771. Baptist Bible commentator)

The verse also tells us that not only has God decreed that we (that’s all of us) should live on all the face of the earth (Genesis 9:1) but also how long we should be here. Psalm 90:10 gives a rough estimate of ‘three score years and ten.’ (Or should that be three score years and Then!) It’s at this point the Bible teaching starts to get (more) uncomfortable. This is starting to sound like we aren’t in control. If you are starting to feel the pinch a little, it gets even more specific. He (God) has also ‘determined …. the boundaries of their (me & you) dwelling place.’ The fact is we had no control over where or when we were born. We had no control over our parents either. So even where we are born (or live) falls under the supervision of God.

There are at least three things then we should realise from this verse.

1. We all share a common ancestry. In that sense we are all brothers and sisters.

2. We are all allotted a time to live. There’s nothing fatalistic about this. There’s a plan in place.

3. When and where we were born, and where we live, is no accident.

Once we realise that we have no say where or when we are born and have no say in the day of our death and that it’s not us in control the following verse becomes clear. What is it?

That we should seek God (Acts 17:27).

Again, here’s John Gill:

‘That they should seek the Lord,…. Or “God”, as the Alexandrian copy and others, and the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions read; their Creator, and kind Benefactor, and who has appointed their time of life, and their habitations for them; and this should engage them to seek to know him, who has done all this for them, and to fear and serve him, and to glorify his name:’

Frankly, I see little seeking after God. But then I cannot see the heart. There is a lot of activity. But is there a seeking after God. Are you seeking God? Or does this describe you:

‘no one understands; no one seeks for God (Rom 3:11).’

But then verse 27 gives an encouragement to seek after God. How come? They might ‘feel their way towards him and find him.’ This is what happened in ancient Nineveh. The prophet Jonah was sent to preach to the people there. He preached a message of coming judgement. The King said Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9).’ And that’s what happened. Here’s more from the book of Jonah:

‘When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).’

We live in days of upheaval and perhaps this is God’s judgement upon us. In all of what’s happening right now please take notice of what the writer of Ecclesiastes says ‘Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near…. (Ecc 12:1).’ What does it mean to remember? What does it mean to turn from an evil way?

When the Apostle preached to the people in Thessalonica he described their response like this:

‘For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (1 Thes 1:9). The same word is used as we saw in Jonah. The people turned. God saw that they turned. They turned TO God FROM Idols. That is an about turn. Their lives were going one way, with one end. They turned and went the exact opposite way, with a different end.

What about you? With all the upheaval and uncertainty will you turn to God from your idols?

In all the upheaval then, in all the injustice and sadness in the world, and even in your own life, will you hear the call of The Lord Jesus Christ:

Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

‘the heart of the problem’ by Alun Ebenezer

‘the heart of the problem’ Alun Ebenezer, EP Books, 2019. The author is Headmaster at a school in London. The book is primarily an evangelistic book. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t fancy. And it isn’t long at just 58 pages. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. I enjoyed reading it. This book is written in a style that doesn’t mince words. The one aim of the book is to encourage and persuade you to go to the doctor (The Lord Jesus Christ). He is passionate about the task in hand. ‘Don’t mince your words doctor. Tell me the truth.’ This is what Alun does. You are in good hands. Rarely does an evangelistic book come along that I can unreservedly recommend. This is one of them. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men‘ says the Apostle Paul. This is written in that spirit.

It’s a good book to give away. It might not suit everyone. But if you want to know what the problem is, and the answer, this book does that. Ten of Those are selling it for £1.99.

There are five chapters:

1. The Problem: In just 2 pages he lays out the problem in no uncertain terms saying ‘…. the one thing we can all agree on is that something is wrong with the world we live in (p.1.).’

2. The Diagnosis: When you have a problem with your health you go to the doctor. Why? You want to know what’s wrong. So what’s wrong:

‘To get a diagnosis, …. we need a reliable understanding of our deepest problem. The Bible provides that level of understanding because it is God’s Word …. the problem is not ‘out there’ but rather in us; …. The fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, bad circumstances, corrupt politicians or a broken society. The fundamental problem is we all have a bad heart. (p.3.).’

He then. goes on to demonstrate this under eight brief headings, culminating in a Verdict on page 14:

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are around us and the diagnosis is that we are sinners, every one of us (Romans 3:23).

3. The Prognosis: ‘…. where does this condition I have lead? What will happen if it carries on?’ ‘…. the Bible goes on to show us the prognosis, which tells us just how serious things are and why the diagnosis cannot be ignored (p. 15.).’

Just now people are scared they will catch the CoronaVirus because they know it can lead to death. Although some might brush it off thinking it only applies to people with underlying conditions. This isn’t something we can brush off because all of us have the underlying condition (the diagnosis) of a sinful nature. The author goes on to briefly show what that means under three heads: Death, The Judgement, and Hell. He says this:

‘All the things we enjoy on earth will be gone forever. It is impossible to imagine how awful it will be…. The anger of God hanging over you forever. There is no escape, no emergency exit, no prospect of getting out (p. 20).’

4. The Cure: The condition we have can’t be more serious. But ‘…. God doesn’t tell us about hell because he is nasty and horrible and wants to frighten us and spoil our enjoyment; rather, out of love and kindness, he warns us about it so that we don’t end up there (p. 21).’ A serious condition then, needs a serious cure. Not the prospect of a cure. Not a ‘What are my odds Doctor’ kind of cure. But a certain cure. Millions of people through the ages have received this cure. The author goes on to explain what that involves.

Remarkably, the cure doesn’t involve something we have to do. Some cures are quite radical and involve a great deal of effort by the patient. Not this cure. All the effort, all the hard work, is done for us by another. Such is our condition the cure cannot come from within. Neither our effort, nor our resolve will do it. Alun, throughout what is the longest chapter, explains what it is the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

Trying to grasp what Christ suffered for sinners on the cross is difficult to comprehend. Alun explained the suffering of The Lord Jesus on the cross in a way I’d not heard, or at least not quite appreciated before. He explained it by referring to the way time changed in the Narnia books. So while Christ was on the cross for those three hours he somehow entered another (eternal?) dimension where his suffering was of such a nature that here on earth we only get to see a fraction of what Salvation actually cost.

‘On earth it was hours but as Christ went into the darkness he left time and entered eternity and suffered an eternal hell (p. 34.).’

You might think all this is far-fetched, but seeing the things in the world and maybe your own experience convinces you that something is radically wrong. The Bible explains what’s wrong, and gives an answer. Jesus said to his disciples at one stage, ‘Will you also leave me? They said there’s nowhere else we can go, you alone have the words of eternal life (John 6: 66-69).’

Indeed, there’s nowhere else to go. And so to the final chapter.

5. The Doctor: Not convinced? It’s amazing that people, even with a serious condition, will not go to the doctor. There are a few reasons given why they just will not avail themselves of the cure. We are then given some of these are why they are no reason not to come. He gives five reasons and ends with this final heading: ‘Come to the doctor!.’

‘Just come to the doctor! The way you come to him is in repentance and faith (p. 54).’

In the penultimate paragraph he encapsulates the whole book when he writes:

‘The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are serious. The diagnosis spot on. The prognosis is terrifying. The cure sublime. And the doctor is ready and willing to see you… Come to him now! (p. 58.).’

Just in case you missed it, the doctor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord Jesus that said ‘Only the sick need a doctor (Mark 2:17).’ Have you seen that you are sick. Not everyone does. Some see it, but do nothing. They don’t come. Don’t be like them. Especially when the Lord Jesus says:

‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).’

 

The Lord Christ sets His Face as Flint.

Luke 9:51 ‘….he (that is, the Lord Jesus) steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem;’
Says John Gill ‘or “strengthened his face”, as the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions; set his face like a flint, as in Isa 1:7 denoting not impudence, as hardening of the face is used in Pro 21:29 but boldness, courage, constancy and firmness of mind: or “he prepared his face”, as the Syriac; or “turned his face”, as the Arabic, he looked that way, and set forward; or as the Persic version renders it, “he made a firm purpose”, he resolved upon it, and was determined to go to Jerusalem, his time being up in Galilee; and though he knew what he was to meet with and endure; that he should bear the sins of his people, the curse of the law, and wrath of God; that he should have many enemies, men and devils to grapple with, and undergo a painful, shameful, and accursed death; yet none of these things moved him, he was resolutely bent on going thither, and accordingly prepared for his journey;’
Source: From the Luke 9:51 verse comments in John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.

This is the Finger of God – J. C. Ryle

By J.C. Ryle, written during the Great Cattle Plague of England, 1865-1867.

Follow the Source link below to read the full text. Believe me, it’s worth reading!!

‘Can anyone give a better account of the cattle plague? If he can, let him speak out like a man, and tell us why it has come. To say that it originated in another land; that it is not a new but an old plague; that it has done great harm in days gone by — all this is evading the question. I ask to be told why it has come upon us now? How and in what way can the outbreak be accounted for at this particular period? What possible causes can be assigned for it that have not existed for hundreds of years? I believe these questions cannot be answered. I believe that the only cause that we must come to as last is, the finger of God!’

Source: This is the Finger of God

The Arrogance of Man & The Mercy of God.

The Coronavirus is upon us. I regularly monitor and to keep up to date with its progress via a statistics page. It’s a world event. Hardly a country is untouched. President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have made their pronouncements and promises to end the progress of the virus. I admit that that is eventually what will happen – perhaps. But it won’t be because man has conquered an unseen enemy. It certainly won’t be because of any world leader. The only reason the progress of the virus will be halted is down entirely to the grace of God. That’s right. The Grace of God. Searching for a Vaccine is right and helping to limit its progress is something we all need to do. That’s the responsible thing to do. And we all play our part, however small. There is no inconsistency with the sovereignty and power of God and our acting responsibly.

A friend emailed me the other day and suggested Boris call for the Nation to beseech God to stay his hand in judgment. Will that happen? Unlikely. In the event the virus is stopped, a vaccine found and lives are saved – does that mean people are no longer going to die? No. It simply means people will die by another means. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (the final judgment)…) The message is that we will all die by some means. We die because we are sinners. As sinners we live a fallen world. The Coronavirus shouts that reality to us. Are we listening?

Where did the virus originate? Many speculate the answer to that. I’ve no doubt many Christians will answer by saying the virus has been sent by God as judgment as my friend suggested. Maybe so.

‘There is no question in the Hebrew or NT mind that plagues are part of the judgment God sends to individuals, families, and nations. God himself threatens to send plagues to the Israelites in proportion to their sins (Lv 26:21) and takes full responsibility for the Egyptian plagues (Jos 24:5). The OT plagues demonstrated God’s control over the processes of nature just as do Christ’s miracles in the NT.’

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Plague. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1698–1699). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Is the Coronavirus a judgement from God then. It’s a question we should ask.

If it is a judgment, the Virus is also a mercy.

Psa 101:1 A Psalm of David. ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. (AV)’

Not only a judgment but a mercy. How can a virus that is killing thousands be a mercy?

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

The mercy is that it causes us to look up. That is to look to God for deliverance. Yet man in rebellion towards his creator will look anywhere rather than look to God for deliverance. The message to ancient Israel comes down the centuries to us in our modern technological proud arrogant age. That message is to repent and call upon The Lord for mercy and salvation.

Eze 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.

It was the message of The Lord Jesus. It’s still his message through his church:

Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Will you look up. Never mind what others will say. Will you call upon God for salvation through Christ? Will you receive the mercy offered by a Gracious God?

Christians are caught up in the present Coronavirus. We don’t get a free pass. But there’s a difference. Because the gospel ‘…. has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Ti 1:10)….’

Maybe the Virus will eventually disappear. But the concern you have for what will happen when you die will also disappear. But the fact of your own death will not. The abolition of death is only for those whose faith and trust is in The Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Christ? Will you repent and believe the Gospel?

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

Muslims are coming to faith in Christ (MERF).

Our Church had a visit on Tuesday by a representative of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). The Coronavirus made the meeting a little uncertain but it went ahead, albeit with a difference. There were about 5 people at the physical meeting but more of us ‘gathered’ to take part online. I thought it was a very encouraging meeting. Our Tech guy (Eifion) did a great job.

Even under what we regard as extremely difficult circumstances (they are) The Lord Jesus Christ is building his Church in The Middle East. The Church is growing. And by growing I mean Muslims are turning from Islam to Christ. We were able to watch a video of how Nadia came to faith in Christ. She came in contact with no Christians. Her testimony demonstrated three things we saw in one of the slides (Just as I was about to take a picture the slide disappeared). I was really struck by this. The three things:

  1. Islamic Extremism

Most Muslims are shocked by the extremism. (More Muslims are killed by Islamists than any other people.) This is one of the factors that are making Muslims question the Islamic faith. Let’s not assume that all Muslims are Extremists. They aren’t. Or that they support Extremism. They don’t.

2. Life of Mohammed

Once they start to read about Mohammed, Muslims wonder how this can be a man of God.

3. Social media

Muslims can read the Bible, and listen to sermons without risk of anyone knowing.

You might not agree with those three points, but when they (MERF) speak to Muslim converts and hear their testimonies these seem to be the three most common factors.

Pray for the Church in The Middle East.

Visit the MERF website for more info.