What follows is a fairly lengthy quote, but I hope you will be blessed by it. I tried to type it ‘as is’ but I’m sure there are some typos for which I will take responsibility.
“10 Truly this great work supremely befitted the goodness of God. For if a king constructed a house or a city, and it is attacked by bandits because of the carelessness of its inhabitants, he in no way abandons it, but avenges and saves it as his own work, having regard not for the carelessness of the inhabitants but for his own
On The Incarnation, St Athanasius. St Vladimir’s Press. Popular Patristics Series, Number 44b. Pp, 59 & 60.
Page 60 is as far as I have read.
Now I have visited Ireland (RoI and NI) I wanted to read about Patrick (Circa 390-Circa 460 AD). So I decided to read Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael A. G. Haykin. For such a small book there is an awful lot packed into it yet avoids being a dense read. Probably too short at 102 pages (total) for an index but each of the chapters has easy to follow headings. There are quite extensive footnotes throughout each chapter, mainly references to other works with the occasional helpful comment. The text is small but not difficult to read. There are a few pages at the end of the book with recommended further reading with helpful summaries of each work should you wish to research further into the life and times of Patrick.
The book is easy to read and not overly concerned about the historical difficulties: although at first, I thought it might overshadow Patrick Himself. However, Dr Haykin doesn’t shy away from the problems so the book isn’t a hagiography. The two primary sources are his ‘Confession’ and ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.’
The explanatory boxes throughout the book, I thought, are a nice touch and help the context. For example: ‘The fall of the Roman Empire’, ‘On The Teaching of Arius’ and ‘Celtic Paganism.’ Not all the pages are so full of page notes (see example below) but if notes are not your thing you can easily read through without referencing them. Unfortunately, I like to read them so it can break the flow a bit. Very helpful if I wanted to look into the life of Patrick in more detail. His Confession and Letter are referenced throughout.
After being captured by a party of Irish raiders Patrick is taken to Ireland. Patrick interprets this as a judgment for ignoring the Word of God. After coming to know Christ he escapes back to Britain and some 20 years later (after theological training) returns full of missionary zeal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the very same people who kidnapped him!
There are quotes from his Confession and Letter throughout – all referenced. Embedded in the test the words of Patrick really brings the man alive. There were huge controversies in Patrick’s day, not the least of these was the Trinity. What comes over very clearly is a man committed theologically to The Triune God, The Gospel of Christ and a fearless missionary burden to bring the Gospel to the unreached no matter what the cost to himself. Patrick’s life challenges us in these areas: Theological commitment, Love for Christ and the Gospel and Missionary Zeal.
After a brief chronology and preface there are five chapters:
- ‘I Am Patrick’: The Life and Historical Context of Patrick.
- ‘One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name’: The divine foundation of Patrick’s theology
- ‘I am bound by the Spirit’: Patrick and his Irish Mission
- ‘God has spoken’: Word and Spirit in Patrick’s piety
- An Evangelical reflects on Patrick – Very brief
This a great introduction to Patrick. It gives a flavour of the man and his time. I enjoyed it very much and thoroughly recommend it. I bought it for a £1.00 with another book plus postage on 10 of Those (still £1). It normally sells for £7.99. Buy it anyway, you won’t be disappointed.
The Ligonier State of Theology Survey is now available.
‘What do Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity? Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey helps uncover the answers. Every two years, we take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship. Read some of our key findings from 2018 below and explore the data for yourself.’
Thanks for the information and the invitation to explore the data. There are some worrying results. The two that immediately stands out is the question on the Trinity and the follow-up question on who Christ is. These are for Evangelicals – so called.
The question on the Trinity is stated thus: ‘There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’ The response is overwhelmingly orthodox with 94% agreeing Strongly. Excellent you might think. But the next survey question is this: ‘Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.’ The response is quite startling. 73% Strongly agree! The survey of 2016 was 64% Strongly agree. But the total agreement with that Heretical Statement finds this:
2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree. 2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree.
It’s figures like that that give strength to Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Muslims. I’m sure these groups will find the survey quite encouraging.
It’s just extraordinary that on the one hand there’s such a high percentage agreeing with a Trinitarian statement and the contradictory finding on the person of Christ. It’s actually worse this year!! What would a survey here (UK) reveal? Honestly, I dread to think!
I tried to sit and think about it for a while as I’m sure many reading the results will have done. And with a great deal of soul-searching and dismay, I shouldn’t wonder. What is going on?
Churches that I have been a member of teach unreservedly that The Lord Jesus Christ is exactly that, LORD. That is, Jesus is God. He is the second person of The Trinity and is co-equal with God The Holy Spirit and God the Father. Read The Athanasian Creed for a fuller statement. I’m thankful for these Churches.
And yet, to my knowledge, these doctrines have never been taught in a systematic way. There is so much high-quality material available that we really have no excuse at all. Much of it coming from America – the same America of these results! History plays a major role in this. Why do I say that? The battle over the person of Christ was hammered out centuries ago. Yet the writing of those men is not only relevant to today but vital. Dr Nick Needham has edited a wonderful book of Daily Readings from The Church Fathers. The persons of the Trinity take centre stage. And rightly so. I have heard it said that what the Church needs is an understanding of the humanity of Christ. And I understand that. But it cannot be to the detriment of His Deity.
It occurred to me that there is a mighty gulf between being regularly and even passionately told these truths from the pulpit, and being systematically taught these same truths – not necessarily from the pulpit. Do Ministers and Pastors, and Elders know what their people are reading? I’m not advocating an Evangelical version of the Thought Police but the Ligonier Survey is shouting out that ‘Something is not working.’
You are in a Church where good teaching takes place. Thank God for it. Friends, especially those brought up in even a good Church, have had to ask themselves if they believe what they believe because that’s what they are told or because that’s what they believe for themselves. Believing these fundamental truths needs the operation of The Holy Spirit. There’s no denying this. But on the other hand, to believe them for oneself needs the opportunity to engage with those truths. What better way to engage than through Church History or The Reformed Confessions. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I. Yes, it’s a hobby-horse that I ride occasionally but the results, I think, of this survey, justify a good gallop!
I’ll leave it to others to analyse the data but it isn’t good.
How would you answer? You can take the survey.
I thought it might be a good idea to read Augustine’s ‘The City of God’. A good idea until it arrived! It is a massive great thick tome. I decided to get help ‘if’ and it’s a big ‘if’ I decide to read the thing. There were some old Westminster Conference papers going cheap and in 2005 a paper was given by Dr Michael A. G. Haykin on Augustine’s work with the title ‘”The most Glorious City of God”: Augustine of Hippo and The City of God.’ I don’t know if the paper is available online.
Reading Michael’s paper it was a surprise to find that Christians had attached themselves to The Roman Empire to such an extent they were at such a loss over its fall.
‘Many Christians were equally stunned and shocked by the horrors that had overtaken the city of Rome. Jerome, for instance, was absolutely overwhelmed by reports that he heard and for a while could do little else but weep.’ Later Jerome lamented “The whole world is sinking into ruin” (Haykin, Page 39, Westminster Papers, 2005).’ On page 40 we read ‘… many other Christians of his (Jerome) day, seems to have been utterly unable to conceive of a Romeless world.’
Not so Augustine. Eusebius, sometimes called the father of Church History, viewed history through the lens of The Roman Empire. So that in ‘Eusebius’ hands the Roman state has become a sacred realm. (page 42).’ This is the beauty of Augustine’s work, it doesn’t rely on particular Empires but is a Biblical view of history that works for all ages. It was great to discover this because it is exactly what I was hoping for. Many Empires have come and gone.
I was left asking if the European Union is an Empire? Is it? I believe it is. It has a President and a Parliament with Vassal States just like any other Empire. And it will come to an end just like the rest. I find it astonishing some are so Anti-Western Colonialism or Imperialism. Don’t they realise there were a great many Eastern Empires? Western Colonialism will go just like the rest. The British Empire has gone. The Ottoman Empire has gone. The Egyptian Empire has gone. The Persian Empire has gone and so forth.
It seems to me that (some) Christians are unable to conceive of a world where The UK is not part of The European Union. So, one reason for reading Augustine’s weighty tome is to come to a better understanding, not only of history, but the flow of history, and of the European Union as an Empire. And, as an Empire that will not last.
Dr Haykin sets the context and then very helpfully gives an overview of the book which I won’t detail here. When I do finally get round to reading the book it will be good to have an overview to hand. Maybe I’ll write some more at another time.
Dr Haykin’s last quote (Westminster, page 54) from Augustine is powerful and relevant. Augustine writes:
‘Look, my brothers and sisters, do you wish that unto you should belong that peace which God utters? Turn your heart unto him: not unto me, or unto any man. For whatever man would turn unto himself the hearts of men, he falls with them. … Our joy, our peace, our rest, the end of all troubles, is none but God: blessed are they that turn their hearts unto him.’
If your hope is in the State (The City of Man) you are going to be hugely disappointed and will ultimately fall with it like ancient Babylon. But if you are looking for another city, namely, The City of God, then you will also share in its final triumph when the King in all His Glory comes to take residence.
Dr Nick Needham will be coming to Aberystwyth Saturday 23rd June to give two lectures on The Synod of Dort.
If you are in Aberystwyth do come along. The lectures will take place at Alfred Place Baptist Church. Coffee at 10:30.
Lecture 1 (11:00). What on Earth was The Synod of Dort?
Lecture 2 (14:30). Why Should I Care?
Dr Needham is the author of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power‘ currently in Four Volumes.
Volume 1. The Age of the Early Church Fathers
Volume 2. The Middle Ages
Volume 3. Renaissance and Reformation
Volume 4. The Age of Religious Conflict
(Nick has an overview of the Synod of Dort in Volume 4 of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power’ Chapter 2, Section 2, p 127 – 142.)
My bunch of keys sometimes get quite tangled. Maybe you have a set that does the same. The other day they got into such a tangle that it seemed like the only way to sort them out was to take the whole bunch apart. I didn’t have time just then so I put them in my coat pocket to sort another time.
The next day I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bunch of keys and you guessed it, they were completely untangled. I was so stunned by it – they were really tangled – that it got me thinking how this could be. Did the molecules of that bunch of keys just happen to perfectly align as they were before – untangled? I have absolutely no idea.
Was it luck then? Some would call it that. It certainly saved me some time, frustration and maybe a broken nail or two. To some, that explanation makes perfect sense. Not luck you say, that’s just how it is. We simply live in an uncaring impersonal world and my bunch of keys just untangled themselves. Who cares about your keys! But think for a moment and apply the same principle to a cancer diagnosis. It’s still an impersonal uncaring world and the molecules just happened to align into a death sentence or months of treatment. Suddenly it matters. Or what if the molecules uncaringly aligned in the shape of a car and ran you over. Suddenly it’s personal and your impersonal uncaring world is important. The way you see the world changed. It’s personal and it matters.
It’s funny and ‘hip’ (perhaps as a student) to have a poster that says ‘Shit Happens’ Except no one lives like that. Not really. Posters like that are a distraction at best and at worst a terrible lie. But your attitude to something simple like an untangled set of keys or similar ‘unimportant’ event will speak volumes. One of my sociology lecturers would say, and did say when I briefly discussed ‘meaning’ with him – ‘but what if it doesn’t matter and there is no meaning’. Which is what he seemed to think. Well, what if it doesn’t matter. It’s ok (it isn’t really) to think like that in an academic high tower: but if I had randomly decided to smash his kneecap with a hammer I’m guessing that would matter an awful lot! If nothing else, the pain would communicate meaning.
But instead of it being luck, or a random favourable – or unfavourable – alignment of molecules; what if it were an intervention of God. What we call a Providence of God – good and bad. If we put it down to God that introduces meaning and purpose into even the most unimportant things like my set of keys. It changes everything. No ‘random’ lining up of molecules here.
Just to be clear I am uninterested in suggesting some random deity to hang every occurrence on, good or bad, but rather the Christian God, the God of The Bible, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Years ago a man I used to work with said ‘The trouble with you Christians is that if anything good happens you put it down to God but if anything bad happens you conveniently blame the devil’. As if God needs excusing. That may be a popular misconception and if it is it could be our fault as Christians for miscommunicating. But I had to explain that both good and bad come from God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the book of Job you might recall the following exchange;
Job 2:9 Then his (Job’s) wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s wife foolishly urges him to curse God because of the disaster that had happened. And let’s not call it something it isn’t. When things like this happen it is disastrous. Plastic Christian smiles will do no good in the face of tragedy. We need something substantial. I have observed, as you must have, that wishing someone ‘Good luck’ or ‘All the best’ or even ‘We’re thinking of you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s good that people wish us well and it may lift our spirits momentarily. And, it might be you will breeze through life without a care in the world and tragedy and heartache will pass you by. It happens. But eventually, there is a God to face. You know this. Which is why I’m linking to a message that lays out the Gospel of Christ briefly but simply and truthfully. Follow this link to a message ‘Why I am a Christian’ by James White.
Since starting this article I bought a copy of Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centred Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. I’m not a mathematician, and there’s a lot of maths in the book! But there’s enough theology and plain sense for me to understand what I’ve read so far. The book is available free as an e-book here.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the book introduction:
THE ISSUE OF CHANCE
[He described an incident where his family escaped from a serious ‘accident’]
What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence? We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?
We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control? If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?
Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.
What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?
Thirty-Two years we were married and two years ago today my dear Sue passed peacefully into Eternal Glory and into the presence of her Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m thankful over these two years for the support of family and friends, and for the Church where I’m now a member.
The Lord has been very wonderful to me and by His marvellous Grace I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me’. Doctrine, and by that I mean theology, can often seem dry and aloof. As A. W. Tozer said ‘Doctrine is the highway that leads to God’. My experience, especially over these last two years, is that doctrine is not only alive and vibrant but does indeed lead to God. When I read a Confession of Faith it’s full of God and overflowing with His majesty and grace to sinners. I’ve also found that God brings us through trials in order for us to see that. I thought I knew stuff about God and The Lord Jesus but I realise now I was only scratching the surface.
Agnostics and atheists may well think we are delusional and might even feel a bit sorry for us Christians. The reality is they are the ones that are deluded. Often deluded into worshipping themselves and what could be more delusional than that! While all the time The Lord says ‘look unto me all the ends of the earth and be saved’. What an offer!! Only a fool would turn that down.
Holding someone’s hand while they slip away into eternity isn’t something to be taken lightly. But I knew exactly to where Sue gently slipped away. I don’t know the when or where or means by which I shall enter eternity. But enter it I will. And so will you. Sue entered eternity with a Saviour who is Mighty to Save, as will I, no matter the details. You will enter eternity, but will you die with a Saviour. Will Jesus, the only Saviour for sinners, be your Saviour. O I pray He will be.
I was told the Christian Bookshop (Michael Keen) had ordered several copies of a book on grieving by Al Martin, a well-known preacher in Reformed Baptist circles. Michael very kindly handed me a copy yesterday morning after the service. Opening the book on the way back to the car I began to read.
The very first paragraph is gripping and took me immediately to the bedside of Sue as she breathed her last. To say I began to hyperventilate is a slight exaggeration but it’s a moment I have relived over and over and over again. It’s not nice. After nearly 11 months the emotions still come back with great vividness and force. The agony and the grief that wells up in the depths of my being are there in that first paragraph of the book. It’s very obvious to me that Pastor Martin is reliving that moment. I know he has experienced this and I’m gripped, wanting to read what this man has to say.
As I walked racing through my mind was the thought to ‘isolate, isolate, isolate’. I felt the need to get away from people. The reality is this is not a good thing. Isolation is different from solitude. I like the solitude of staring out to sea. We all need solitude from time to time. It’s when our emotions run away from us like a freight train that we are to ‘take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ’. It isn’t easy when our emotions are SCREAMING to us one thing, but then seek to do the very opposite. Staying away from Church and people is understandable and sometimes can be helpful, but long-term is destructive and unhelpful. The thought of isolation needs to be brought into obedience. I often fail miserably.
Back to the book. I dipped into future chapters so I ‘might’ Blog through the book. There is one particular chapter in which he will deal with some very heavy theology that I too have had to work through. Pastor Martin wrote it for his own understanding and to help others. I’ll be blogging (if I do), as before, for the same reasons. So I trust even this brief post will have been helpful.
Just one further note. His book is for Christians when their loved ones have died ‘in Christ’. Like me, the loved one for Al Martin was his dear wife. However, should any non-believers come across the book they will be pointed to the God of all comfort and to The Lord Jesus Christ ‘whom to know is life eternal’. The Gospel is here.
I have only just started to read this book, but already, I have read enough to highly recommend it.
The 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’.