Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers

I was especially struck by the reading today. Christians in other lands know the reality of which we know next to nothing in our country. St Cyprian of Carthage (200 – 258) knew what he was talking about. Rome was at the height of its power. Just a couple of sentences from the brief Bio given at the start of the month.

He proved a wise, moderate, spiritually-minded leader of the mainstream Church amid fierce persecution, and crowned his life as a martyr. When the death sentence was passed on him, Cyprian’s response was simply, “Thanks be to God”.

Very challenging to us. What a bunch of pansies we are. Pray for our persecuted Brethren.

Thanks to Dr Nick Needham for editing the readings. (Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers, Edited by Nick Needham, Christian Heritage)

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

What Is Reformation Day? | 5 Minutes in Church History

What is Reformation Day? In this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols explains the significance of October 31, 1517 and why Christians

Source: What Is Reformation Day? | 5 Minutes in Church History

A great thing about Reformation Day is that it is NOT an alternative to Halloween. An excellent 5 minutes of your time.

 

A Helpful Resource for New Christians

All things newWhen someone becomes a Christian there’s a tendency to overload them with a pile of reading material. And usually well-meaning people will have different book recommendations, be coming from different theological positions and will probably just confuse the new believer and they will start out with a bunch of books they may never read. But, one book I found extremely helpful is by Peter Jeffery. And still in print. I sat down to skim through it the other day with new Christians in mind. It’s ‘All Things New‘. It was a great help at the time – 1979 – and I can see why it will still be helpful today.

1. It’s very brief. Just 28 pages. Each page deals with either a doctrine or a practice. For example: Page 1. ‘You are now a Christian’. Page 2. ‘You were a lost sinner’. Page 10 ‘You have been Justified’. Page 15 ‘Belonging to a Church’. There are pages on Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Bible Study, Prayer and many other important doctrines and practices.

2. Each page has several Scripture references to teach the doctrine. Obviously it’s very brief, but it gets the reader into the Bible and shows how the doctrine and practice is taught in the Bible.

3. Many of the pages will have a quotation or two, thus introducing preachers, theologians and documents from Church history. Names like John Murray, John Calvin, C H Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Martin Luther and several others. The Shorter Catechism is also helpfully quoted.

4. Finally, there is a page of Recommended further reading. And a page recommendation to follow a Bible reading plan.

Hard to believe all that is packed into a few pages. But it works really well. This a very very helpful little book and will get new believers into the Bible and introduce them to Church history and theology.

I still have the copy Peter gave me all those years ago.

Andrew Davies – George Whitefield & the Evangelical Revival

The next lecture in our Church History Lectures will be Andrew Davies on

George Whitefield & the Evangelical Revival

Date: 23rd Mar 2015
Time: 7.30
Place: Bulkington Congregational Church, Bulkington.

If you can make it, it would be great to see you. Andrew lectured for many years on Church History at London Theological Seminary. He has Pastored several Churches here in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Though retired, he now has a much appreciated itinerant ministry.

Andrew Davies – Sermons
Evangelical Movement of Wales
Sermon Audio

Geoff Thomas – The Legacy of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I’ve been a bit slow in posting this but Geoff’s lecture is available from the website at Bulkington Congregational website and eventually at my own website.

The lecture was given by Geoff in his own unique way – warm and homely, yet packed full with lessons and exhortations to the church of our own day. There were a number of people at the lecture that attended Westminster Chapel and went to the Friday bible studies. And one friend that did attend Westminster testifies ‘that God was in that place’. And by that he means in a way that is not apparent today.

A service of worship isn’t like anywhere else and it shouldn’t be like anything else. There should be a sobriety when gathering to meet with God yet with deep thankfulness at the privilege of being able to worship this awesome God. This is the God, the true and living God, that sent into this world of sin His only Son to die and rise for sinners.

Listen to the lecture. Go HERE. You know what to do.

Spurgeon Documentary – Free to watch online

There’s a Free to Watch (Streamed) documentary on C. H. Spurgeon, the great 19th Century preacher. Here’s the Blurb from the website.

The lives of millions of Christians around the world have been changed through the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But how much do those of us who esteem him so highly really know about Charles Spurgeon, the man?

What were the events that shaped his life and made him the man who would be known as the Prince of Preachers? Through the Eyes of Spurgeon invites you to explore with us where and how Spurgeon lived, to follow his steps, to embrace the legacy he has left us.

Join us in seeing the world of Charles Spurgeon through his eyes.

You can watch the documentary HERE. Hat Tip to Jeremy Walker – one of the contributors.

Cultural Catch Up – Always Reforming

There’s an excellent article by Scott Clark over at The Heidelblog called ‘Always Abusing Semper Reformanda’. I didn’t realise the phrase Reformed, Always Reforming had such a recent history. To have the phrase quoted back at you kind of felt all wrong. To know what you mean, and have it twisted or mangled to mean something antithetical seemed like an own goal. But here’s for me maybe the main paragraph in the article:

“When Calvin and the other Reformed writers used the adjective reformed, they did not think that it was a thing that could never actually be accomplished. Late in his life, Calvin remarked to the other pastors in Geneva that things were fairly well constituted, and he exhorted them not to ruin them. He and the others thought and spoke of reformation of the church not as a goal never to be achieved in this life, but as something that either had been or could be achieved because they believed God’s Word to be sufficiently clear. That is, what must be known for the life of the church can be known and, with the help of God’s Spirit and by God’s grace alone, changes could be made (and were being made) to bring the doctrine, piety, and practice of the church into conformity with God’s will revealed in Scripture. That’s why they wrote church orders and adopted confessions—because they believed that reformation was a great but finite task.”

Note the phrase(s) in bold – that’s my emphasis BTW not Dr Clarke’s, though it’s certainly what he is saying. Like the article indicates it’s a common thing to have the phrase  ‘Always Reforming’ thrown in your face. In my own experience the ‘Always’ aspect of ‘Reforming’ is to do with modern forms of worship.

This brings us to the whole modernising enterprise. I should state that I absolutely love music – all kinds of music. I say because the assumption is that if there’s a problem with modern music in the church there’s a problem with music. This isn’t the case even though a false correlation is often assumed.

Hopefully, having cleared that up, there are styles of music that do not sit well with worshipping a Holy Sovereign God. I should also say I know a number of churches that employ a modern style of worship (choruses & upbeat songs – often but not always complicated to sing) and the Ministers of these churches are good men. However, my concern is for when these good men either move on to anther Pastorate, retire or die. The point should not be lost, made in Dr Clarke’s article, that Calvin was concerned that the gains made by the Reformation should not be ruined (see highlight above). That principle applies to our own day.

The Bible (and history) powerfully illustrates man’s propensity for DE-formation. Something I try to do is take a long-term view of what is happening now. Where will this take the Church in 10, 15, 20 or 30 years from now. One thing we know about De-formation is that it can happen quickly! Not only can it happen quickly but the long-term consequences can take generations before Reformation can take place. Clearly God is able to bring both about, De-formation as a judgement, or Reformation as a blessing. So I do not discount divine intervention – without it we are sunk. Even behind a (sometimes necessary) frowning providence…

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

The Church is always trying to innovate, often out of good motives. Behind this desire to innovate in ‘Reformed’ or Evangelical churches then, is the phrase Reformed, Always Reforming. One important question then, that deserves a longer answer perhaps in another post, is has God spoken clearly on the matter of worship or is it open to our innovations under the guise of ‘Always Reforming’.

So rather than play Cultural Catchup, let’s be content with forms of worship that do not make my foot tap or my body sway in some sort of hypnotic manner. The Church will never be Culturally Relevant. The Culture moves too fast and the Church finds itself just looking stupid. We have something the Culture does not want, but desperately needs – The Gospel of God’s Salvation. Let’s not bury it under a mish mash of outdated so-called cultural relevance. The Gospel of the Grace of God is Always relevant.

Free ITunes University Lecture: The Reformation by Carl Trueman | The Domain for Truth

luther posting his 95 theses in 1517
luther posting his 95 theses in 1517 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Reformation Day

Here’s a great Reformation Gift via Jim over at Domain for Truth. Enjoy!

Free ITunes University Lecture: The Reformation by Carl Trueman | The Domain for Truth.