God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

The Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Another translation says the heart is not only deceitful but wicked.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (KJV)

In today’s reading (29th April) from ‘Voices From The Past‘ (Banner of Truth, Edited by Richard Rushing) we are treated to the writing of Thomas Manton (Works, 1:138-144) on the deceitful heart. I’ll probably post more from this book because it’s really excellent. Thanks to The Banner of Truth and Richard Rushing for editing it. There is a ‘Voices From The Past’ Volume 2 but that will have to wait.

If you are someone who isn’t a Christian then read this (below) and understand the dire predicament you are in. If God doesn’t do the work of Conversion in your heart you are without hope (Eph 2:12). The Lord Jesus Christ has said ‘… whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37). If you want to know what’s really wrong with the world then look no further than your own heart. Yes, systems and governments and laws limit its wicked out working to some extent but as Manton says ‘What a miserable, wretched creature man is!’. Even the Apostle Paul cried out ‘O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) But Paul was then able to exclaim from where deliverance comes:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) Can You?

 

The Prayer Meeting

It’s probably true – though I can’t prove it – that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every Minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the Ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried; all have failed.

Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too, attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local Church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from Ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.

This is my rambling take on the problem, if it is a problem, and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and Minister.

Audible & Silent Prayer

We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be. But isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent Amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.

I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never ever ever pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest Biblical conviction they should remain silent. I’m thinking especially of some elderly Godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience I believe is unhelpful. There are then differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest after looking into this there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.

Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether. And I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying.  If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. Strong arm tactics I don’t believe are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is also not effective. But there may be a case for the Minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.

The ‘Awkward Silence’

The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray, aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the ‘problem’. But maybe it would take the pressure off and more would pray.

The Vicissitudes of Life & Warfare

The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a Bible study. No hobby horses. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the Majesty of God and His Grace to us His people. Preach His Kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let The Spirit of God do the work that only He can do.

‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine’ (Augustus Toplady)

And,

‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray’ (John Newton)

There’s’ no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand

‘…. Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’

And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of The Lord with us – of course it is – but we can so easily come to wrong conclusions. The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray engagement in warfare is going to be tough going.

Priorities in the Prayer Meeting

In our prayer meetings we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort to not do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude – this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. But cultivate the attitude we must.

What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank Him for or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we had a list in our Bibles (perhaps inside the Church Bible as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting.

Here are a few suggestions:

To thank God for His being. Who He is. He is entirely self-sufficient in need of nothing and creator of all that exists..

The person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ. His Cross, His Blood, His resurrection, His intercession.

The person of The Holy Spirit. Pray that He would reveal The Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.

To thank Him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.

To know God’s will.

His providence’s and the grace to persevere.

That the Triune God would be glorified in our church

Thank God that He has purchased a Church and those in it. Thank Him for our Salvation and that He keeps us by His Grace.

Thank Him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification and Glory.

To pray for the Pastor, Elders, Deacons. Pray they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.

To pray for the Word as it is proclaimed. That it might have the unction of God upon it.

To pray for the advance of the Gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation and world. Pray the Lord Jesus would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Pray for our persecuted brethren around the world.

Many many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our Bibles I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. But keep these to a minimum. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the Throne of Grace. If there’s a need you know about. Pray about it.

Be Challenged & Encouraged

I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested. It also challenges me to put what I can into practice.

I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our Ministers will be encouraged. God is with us! Christ is our Advocate! We are indwelt by His Spirit!

Come Down LORD!

Isa 64:1  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

I’m reminded often of a passage in ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way his prayer began to have life. As he then continued others were moved and The Spirit of God fell upon them – and Revival broke out.’

If I find the book I’ll correct it, but that’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. But may it be so for His Glory – AMEN!

 

Series on Ecclesiastes – A Reccomendation

IMG_2896This series on the Book of Ecclesiastes is by Pr Jeremy Rhode. Pr Rhode is a Lutheran minister of Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, California. I am not a Lutheran but am finding this series to not only be extremely helpful and challenging but actually quite enthralling. He’s a good speaker. The series are made up of teaching sessions to his church. He says this book is about Solomon – via the Holy Spirit – gripping us by the neck and forcing us to look into the Abyss. You may remember the famous courtroom scene in ‘A Few Good Men’ where Tom Cruise asks for the truth and Jack Nicholson shouts back at him – ‘You can’t handle The Truth’. Well, can you? Christian, you would benefit from hearing this. And if you aren’t a Christian you really really need to hear this!

If there was ever a book needed for our time – the Book of Ecclesiastes is it. It is hard-hitting and does not shy away from telling us how it really is. Ultimately life without Christ is meaningless. Disagree? You need to hear him out.

Some listeners may balk at some of his doctrinal emphases. And you may wish he phrased things a little differently or in the way he makes some of his points. But that aside, I commend this series to anyone that has the courage to face up to reality. There’s a challenge for you! At the time of writing, I am at Lesson 9 of 24.

Follow This Link and see the feeds at the top of the page or download individual lectures.

HT. I came across this series via a recommendation from Chris Roseborough of Fighting for the Faith. Check his stuff out as well. Chris is also a Lutheran minister.

Bildad is Alive & Well

Job's_Comforters_Butts_setThis passage stood out from Job chapter 8.

Job 8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
Job 8:2 “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Job 8:3 Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Job 8:4 If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
Job 8:5 If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.
Job 8:7 And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.

Then this passage from Zophar:

Job 11:2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?
Job 11:3 Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
Job 11:4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
Job 11:5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you,
Job 11:6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves‘.

Bildad and his two friends Zophar & Eliphaz are as much in the dark as poor Job but they make the assumption that it is because Job has sinned that calamity has fallen upon him. Of course, everything we do and all we are falls short of the Glory of God, so in that sense, we have all sinned. But here, there was no particular sin that brought judgement upon the head of Job. On the contrary, we are introduced in the very first verse of the book to Job as a man that ‘… was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil‘. We further read in chapter 1 ‘And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. That is the testimony of God about His servant Job. Apart from the book of his name Job is only mentioned in three other places in the Bible, twice in Ezekiel and once in James. Here they are.

Eze 14:14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness (patience AV, endurance NASB) of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The three verses testify to the character of Job. On fast forwarding to the last chapter, we read the following.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

That is pretty serious stuff to have God say his anger burns towards the three friends. Why? Because they have not spoken what is right, unlike Job. Job is told to pray for his friends. Were the three friends included in verse 11 of the final chapter? I think so. The two things they had sought to do when silent are mentioned again at the end – to show sympathy and to comfort. Job still has to live with the death of his children even though blessed with further children. There is restoration but he still needs sympathy and comfort. Maybe Bildad and his friends learnt something as well. And Job had to pray for the ones that had cut him down with words. Something for us to learn.

Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

So, returning to the passage in Job 8: 1-7, I thought, ‘I know this man’. Anyone sitting under a graceless and judgmental ministry, that batters instead of builds, that pours judgement instead of the Balm of Gilead will know him too. Bildad (and his friends) is alive and well.

It’s very simple, and simplistic, to think because this, that. Job’s friends were doing the best for him when they wept and sat with him in silence because they could see his suffering was very great. I’m sure Job was grateful that his friends sat with him. Until they opened their mouths that is. Here’s how they are introduced:

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

If only they had kept quiet. Instead, they add to his suffering by getting it all wrong. Job is a righteous man. He has Gospel Righteousness. And by that I mean he had a righteousness that wasn’t his own. It is from another, given, gifted to Job through faith. Even though Job is a righteous man he says some dumb things like we all do and repents in dust and ashes before God.

May we learn to weep with those that weep. I am reminded again of the ministry of Andrew Davies some years ago at the Aberystwyth Conference. He preached four sessions through the book of Job. Now there was a lot of good things said. But a point Andrew made was this; ‘Don’t beat people with the truth!‘ Not only did they beat Job with the truth, they were wrong. Let us not be like that. Let us, so far as we are able, pour in the Balm of Gilead – the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Let us not batter our brothers and sisters in Christ with the law but pour in the oil and the wine of forgiveness and mercy, truth and love, the covenant mercy of a gracious God!

The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin – Foreword by Michael Reeves

IMG_0593The other day I was given a copy of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, from the Puritan Paperback series from Banner of Truth.

The foreword by Michael Reeves was so moving I wanted to share it. The full title is: The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.


How can Thomas Goodwin be so forgotten? Once ranked as a theologian alongside Augustine and Athanasius, even hailed as ‘the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived’, he should be a household name. His writings, while not easy, always pay back the reader, for in Goodwin a simply awesome theological intellect was wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.

As it is, Goodwin needs a little re-introduction. He was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at the time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.

Then in 1620 – having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall – he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards – not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone – only then was he free. ‘I am come to this pass now,’ he said, ‘that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all.’

Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’ – and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.

All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly. ‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.

If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration. And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once.

First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.

The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years old, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,

‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion… My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God… Now I shall be ever with the Lord’.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was, almost immediately, Goodwin’s most popular work. It is also exemplary of his overall Christ-centredness and his mix of theological rigour and pastoral concern. Published in 1651 alongside Christ Set Forth, the two were written for reasons dear to Goodwin: that is, he felt that many Christians (like himself once) ‘have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself’. Indeed, he wrote, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.”’ Goodwin wanted us ‘first to look wholly out of our selves unto Christ’, and believed that the reason we don’t is, quite simply, because of the ‘barrenness’ of our knowledge of him. Thus Goodwin would set forth Christ to draw our gaze to him.

Of the two pieces, Christ Set Forth and The Heart of Christ in Heaven, the latter was the cream, he believed, for through it he would present to the church the heart of her great Husband, thus wooing her afresh. His specific aim in this essay is to show through Scripture that in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them. And knowing this, he said, may

‘hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them’.

Goodwin starts with Christ on earth and the beautiful assurances he gave his disciples. In John 13, for example, knowing that he was shortly to return to his Father, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a token of how he would always be towards them; he told them of how he would go like a loving bridegroom to prepare a place for his bride; after the resurrection, the first thing he calls them is ‘my brothers’; and the last thing they see as he ascends to heaven is his hands raised in blessing.

It is as if he had said, The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it… Poor sinners, who are full of the thoughts of their own sins, know not how they shall be able at the latter day to look Christ in the face when they shall first meet with him. But they may relieve their spirits against their care and fear, by Christ’s carriage now towards his disciples, who had so sinned against him. Be not afraid, ‘your sins will he remember no more.’ … And doth he talk thus lovingly of us? Whose heart would not this overcome?

It is moving stuff, and it is strong stuff. In fact, Goodwin presents the kindness and compassion of Christ so strikingly that, when reading him, I find myself continually asking ‘Is Goodwin serious? Can this really be true?’ He argues, for example, that in Christ’s resurrection appearances, because he had dealt with the sin of his disciples on the cross, ‘No sin of theirs troubled him but their unbelief.’ And yet Goodwin is so carefully scriptural that one is forced to conclude that Christ really is more tender and loving than we would otherwise dare to imagine.

Then Goodwin takes us to the heart of his argument: his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, which

‘doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven’.

Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and – almost unbelievably – our sins.

Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection and sorrow, ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ Christ in heaven empathises with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. And more: he has compassion on those who are ‘out of the way’ (that is, sinning; Hebrews 5:2). Indeed, says Goodwin,

‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’

The focus is upon Christ, but Goodwin was ardently Trinitarian and could not abide the thought of his readers imagining a compassionate Christ appeasing a heartless Father. No, he said, ‘Christ adds not one drop of love to God’s heart’.11 All Christ’s tenderness comes in fact from the Spirit, who stirs him with the very love of the Father. The heart of Christ in heaven is the express image of the heart of his Father.

How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ. If preachers today could change like Goodwin to preach like Goodwin, who knows what might happen? Surely many more would then say as he said ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do’.

Michael Reeves
Oxford
August 2011

Source

So Sorry for Your Loss – Some Thoughts

‘Sorry for your loss’ the Funeral guy said, as he shook my hand on the way out of the house to take Sue to the Funeral home (is that what they call it?). I couldn’t watch them take her. When he said that to me, I thought ‘is that it?’. It made me think of the typical ‘Cop Show’ or in a film where they have to tell the bereaved ‘sorry for your loss’. I don’t want to be cynical, really I don’t. I couldn’t see into the man’s heart so I just accept his sincere condolences – in a kind of numbed way. I suppose it’s an inoffensive phrase that no-one will object to. As a professional he has to say something. He’s at the cutting edge when people are most vulnerable to hurt and upset. It’s a short phrase that doesn’t prolong the visit. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to engage in a long conversation. I certainly didn’t want one. So I guess it did the job. ‘Sorry for your loss’ – Short and inoffensive. Then I’m back to feeling just numbed.

So, I’m in Church on a Sunday evening and a young man comes to me and says ‘so sorry for your loss’. He’s a Christian. I’m a bit taken aback. I remember when they came to collect Sue. I accept his condolences, as you do. Again, I accept the sincerity of it. He did come and speak to me and I appreciated that. So I’m not having a go at anyone. But it made me think: shouldn’t we as believers be able to say more than that. I include myself.  Is that the best we can do? I mentioned it to someone else and they said ‘it’s because they don’t know what to say’. I understand that. But surely if we really do have the Hope we say we have isn’t there something else we can say. Is saying to a fellow believer, no matter how sincere and well intentioned, ‘sorry for your loss’ even a Biblical thing to say?

It’s so easy to unintentionally give offence or cause upset. I confess, I’m hyper sensitive at the moment and no more so than when they came to collect Sue – just numbed would be more accurate. So we resort to these clichéd phrases that ‘do the job’ and ‘get us off the hook’. Phew, I said ‘something’.

Again, I’m in conversation with someone; they said when talking to a believer whose wife had just died – I cut in and said ‘I do hope you didn’t say ‘sorry for your loss’. They did. But with the comment that it’s only an opening gambit that leads to further conversation. Well, maybe. But the bereaved man said ‘I haven’t lost my wife, I know exactly where she is!’ Nice reply. And true.

On the other hand, if we are going to use the phrase, we ought to be aware of what it is we are saying. Even if the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’ isn’t used we still need to be aware that the bereaved believer has suffered a catastrophic loss. And so have those that were closest to them, not least of which is the children and very special friends. What is marriage but the complete intertwining of two lives. When the Bible says the two become one, it isn’t an exaggeration, it isn’t using hyperbole. It’s tangible, real, deep and profound. So deep in fact that Paul says ‘I am talking about Christ and the Church – deep indeed. I’ll have more to say on this another time. But I write this for now so we have an inkling of what it is we are saying if we choose to use the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’.

Having your wife, your best friend, die is about the worst thing that can happen to someone and it’s probably impossible to know what to say in each situation as we are all so very different. So, ‘Sorry for your loss’ gets round that. Rather than just be cynical or critical I’d like to offer some alternatives. We have a whole Bible to use plus 2000 years of Church history and so many wonderful hymns to draw from. My plea is that we can surely do better.

You might be able to tell, but most of this post has been in my ‘Draft’ folder for a few weeks now. But I recently read an article that confirms and supports my contention that we can do better when it comes to speaking to the bereaved believer. The article is ‘The fat lady is already singing‘ by Gary Brady and is available in the Evangelical Magazine on-line HERE. In case you read this Gary – thanks again.

Please be aware they will mostly just be completely numbed. Also remember that unless you have had a similar shattering providence you won’t understand – you are unlikely to understand. So don’t say you do because you most likely won’t. If you really don’t know what to say and the grieving believer is not that well-known to you, may I suggest two options:

  1. Simply send a card (or a text) and say ‘I/we are praying that you will know the consolations of the Gospel’. Put a good Gospel verse in the card. The bereaved believer can read it at their own convenience and will really appreciate the kindness. They may well come up to you and thank you for the card. They might not, but be assured it will have helped, especially if you do remember them in prayer.
  2. You don’t know what to say. Well, the bereaved believer often doesn’t know what to say back either. So it’s helpful to take the pressure off and say something like: ‘I don’t know what to say but I/we are praying that you will know the grace of God in upholding you’. Be brief and don’t expect or wait for a reply. Be thankful that they will appreciate your kindness – and especially your prayers. No need to make a commitment to them. But do pray for them at least once.

Of course you don’t have to say anything at all. You don’t have to send a card either. Your Amen at the prayer meeting or your Amen during the prayer on Sunday is equally precious. I hope and pray this post will get us thinking. It has made me think. What will I say to the bereaved spouse whose world has just collapsed. A number of cards sent to me do have ‘sorry for your loss’ in them with other helpful words. I have appreciated them all very much. It’s too painful at the moment but in time I hope to read through them again. All I’m saying is that with the Unsearchable Riches we have in Christ we can and should do much better.

Refreshing the Saints – Sermon by Geoff Thomas

Privileged to hear this sermon by Geoff Thomas this evening (17/01/2016). ‘Christians can weaken or strengthen the professing church‘. Very moved by this sermon. I commend it to you.

Sue’s Funeral – Order of Service

Here is the Order of Service for my beloved Sue. I have adapted it slightly to post it here. It’s quite close to how it was printed so you can read the wonderful hymns. The full service audio link is also at the end of this post.

Sue Iliff
25th November 1955 – 23rd November 2015

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Funeral Order of Service Led by Pastor Paul Watts

WELCOME AND OPENING PRAYER

HYMN
1. The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above,
ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love.
Almighty, great I Am!
by earth and heaven confessed,
I bow and bless the sacred name
forever blest.

2. The God of Abraham praise,
at whose supreme command
from earth I rise and seek the joys
at God’s right hand.
I all on earth forsake,
its wisdom, fame, and power,
the Lord my only portion make,
my shield and tower.

3. Though nature’s strength decay,
and earth and hell withstand,
to Canaan’s bounds I urge my way
at God’s command;
the watery deep I pass
with Jesus in my view,
and through the howling wilderness
my way pursue.

4. The goodly land I see,
with peace and plenty blest,
a land of sacred liberty
and endless rest;
there milk and honey flow,
and oil and wine abound,
and trees of life forever grow,
with mercy crowned.

5. There dwells the Lord our King,
the Lord our Righteousness;
triumphant o’er the world and sin,
the Prince of Peace
on Zion’s sacred height
God’s kingdom still maintains,
and glorious with the saints in light
forever reigns.

6. The whole triumphant host
give thanks to God on high;
“hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”
they ever cry.
Hail Abraham’s God, and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
all might and majesty are thine,
and endless praise.

TRIBUTE 1 Chris

TRIBUTE 2 Adrian

HYMN
1 IMMORTAL honours rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my Portion, and my Living Bread;
In him I live, upon him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.

2 He is my Refuge in each deep distress;
The Lord my strength & glorious righteousness;
Through floods and flames he leads me safely on,
And daily makes his sovereign goodness known.

3 My every need he richly will supply;
Nor will his mercy ever let me die;
In him there dwells a treasure all divine,
And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.

4 O that my soul could love and praise him more,
His beauties trace, his majesty adore;
Live near his heart, upon his bosom lean;
Obey his voice, and all his will esteem.

PRAYER – Pastor Geoff Thomas (Aberystwyth)

BIBLE READING – Trevor Thomas
Romans 8:18-39 (New King James Version; NKJV)
From Suffering to Glory
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the
earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the
sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation
itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious
liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation
groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only
that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves
groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption
of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen
is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we
hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know
what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession
for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He
who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because
He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love
God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom
He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His
Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover
whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He
also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
God’s Everlasting Love
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be
against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up
for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also
risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession
for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,
or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or
sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him
who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor
angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to
come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able
to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

HYMN
1. Come, let us join our friends above, who have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love to joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing with those to glory gone,
For all the servants of our King in earth and heaven are one.

2. One family we dwell in Him, one church above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream, the narrow stream of death;
One army of the living God, to His command we bow;
Part of His host have crossed the flood, and part are crossing now.

3. Ten thousand to their endless home this solemn moment fly,
And we are to the margin come, and we expect to die.
His militant embodied host, with wishful looks we stand,
And long to see that happy coast, and reach the heavenly land.

4. Our old companions in distress we haste again to see,
And eager long for our release, and full felicity:
Even now by faith we join our hands with those that went before;
And greet the blood besprinkled bands on the eternal shore.

5. Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned,
And shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound.
O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in Heaven.

MESSAGE – Paul Watts

HYMN
1. I saw a new vision of Jesus,
A view I’d not seen here before,
Beholding in glory so wondrous
With beauty I had to adore.
I stood on the shores of my weakness,
And gazed at the brink of such fear;
‘Twas then that I saw Him in newness,
Regarding Him fair and so dear.

2. My Saviour will never forsake me,
Unveiling His merciful face,
His presence and promise almighty,
Redeeming His loved ones by grace.
In shades of the valley’s dark terror,
Where hell and its horror hold sway,
My Jesus will reach out in power,
And save me by His only way.

3. For yonder a light shines eternal,
Which spreads through the valley of gloom;
Lord Jesus, resplendent and regal,
Drives fear far away from the tomb.
Our God is the end of the journey,
His pleasant and glorious domain;
For there are the children of mercy,
Who praise Him for Calvary’s pain.

CLOSING PRAYER

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 6 (The Burial & Funeral Service)

Follow this link to listen to the whole service. Funeral Service of Sue Iliff

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Maybe a couple more and then I’ll probably get back to the usual posts interspersed with things I’ve learned over the last year or so or a ‘kind of’ diary entry. Waking up today (Tuesday 8th December 2015) in many ways is far worse because I now have to think about life without Sue, and move on as they say. But I don’t want to ‘move on’. Although I’ve talked about ‘moving on’ I have no idea what that means without Sue. For now, I’ll walk through Sunday and the day of the Funeral – yesterday Monday 7th December 2015. The whole Service was recorded. And I think it was just such an amazing service. The church was pretty well full. The Gospel was clearly proclaimed. The singing was wonderful. Without a doubt, God was in that service! And to bless!

So on Sunday I stayed at home all day. I planned on going to the evening service but in the end just couldn’t face it. Instead I joined Robert and the folks at IBC in Sacramento for their morning service on-line. I seriously wondered how I would get through the Burial and the Service on Monday. I was dreading it. I even thought about not turning up. Monday came and I started the day by lying awake worrying if the burial would be in the right place and a number of other things I seemed to only just be thinking about. Didn’t people throw roses or something into the open grave? What an idiot – I just hadn’t thought it all through and now it was too late to do anything about it. I read my Bible and prayed. Then I got up.
It helped that the family were here. Ruth and Adrian were on their way with the kids. I was hoping my suit would fit. It was horrible not having Sue making sure I had dressed myself correctly. I came downstairs, saw myself in the mirror and just felt so sad that Sue wasn’t with me – we did everything together. Rhodri & Sybil also arrived and we gathered in the living room  because I wanted us to pray before leaving. Chris and Adrian prayed. As we stood to leave, I said, ‘remember, as Sue would have said, her body is there, but she isn’t’. We then got in the cars and made our way to the cemetery.

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived at the cemetery was that Ruth came with a bunch of single Roses. Dear Ruth. I wasn’t sure how many would be at the burial. But I soon realised there were a lot more than I expected. All waiting for us to approach. Everything was in place. The grave was where I had hoped it would be (but worried about). I felt calm and at peace. Julie from the Funeral Directors briefly explained what would happen and directed us to the right spot – right in front of the grave with the coffin ready to be lowered. Everyone gathered round. Paul (Pastor Paul Watts) spoke beautifully, movingly and with much conviction. As Christians we can speak with conviction the truths of the Gospel even when death is quite literally right before our eyes.

My dear, dear, darling Sue’s body is now in the ground waiting for the resurrection at the final day, when Jesus will be revealed in all those that have believed and those that have rejected Him will call upon the very rocks to cover them from the face of the Lamb of God who will now be their Judge.

One of the things that stood out as testimony was the diversity of people that came to the burial or the service or both. People she had worked with from 30 years before, others from more recent times, friends and even girls from where she had her hair done. She touched a lot of people, all sorts of people, not all from the church either, but couldn’t see it in herself as you will hear.

I needn’t say too much about the funeral as the whole service was recorded (link above & below). But once we were all there and seated Paul began to lead the service. (Our Son Chris and Ruth’s husband Adrian gave tributes. Our friend Trevor Thomas read from the Scripture and Chris’s Pastor Geoff Thomas prayed.) The church was well-nigh full. Sue endeared herself to a lot of people. I don’t know what I thought throughout really. But the Gospel was faithfully preached and very clearly. We pray for fruit. There were a couple of times my emotions nearly got the better of me but I hung in there. Afterwards it was a case of trying to meet and thank as many people as possible. Sharon the lady that first spoke to Sue about Jesus was there with her husband and ‘naughty boy’ Paul. My Best Man Mike was there. It was lovely to see so many. By the end of the service I was shattered. So many people at our church (Lower Ford Street Baptist Church, Coventry) helped make the day happen. I am so thankful to God for all the people there that have prayed and helped and supported. ‘See how they love one another’.

The day(s) after is another story. Now what do I do?

Follow this link to listen to the service. Funeral Service of Sue Iliff