‘The dearest idol I have known’

It’s a funny thing how just one passing thought can change our perception. I can’t remember where it was (a Travelodge I think), but a few weeks ago I mused on the line of this well-know hymn:

O for a closer walk with God

and came to a different conclusion. Probably nothing new. And you might well wonder how come it took so long to see it.

In our better moments we do long for that closer walk. And we do lament having a ‘closer walk’ in times past but not so much now and so we also say with Cowper:

Where is the blessedness I knew

Unless you are a Christian, and have experienced that closer walk, you won’t have a clue what I’m on about. One of my favourite hymns expresses it as ‘one transient gleam of loveliness divine.’ (Anonymous; from Stockwell Gems)

A Christian can live for a very long time on ‘one transient gleam‘ such is the power of ‘loveliness divine.’

In verse five then of Cowper’s famous hymn we have these words:

The dearest idol I have known’
whate’er that idol be,
help me tear it from Thy throne,
and worship only Thee.

(William Cowper, 1731 – 1800)

Just the other day in our prayer meeting we heard of the various idols that even as Christians we have. I’ve always thought of it in that way. The many idols we have. But not anymore. Of course we do have idols a plenty, and Calvin, I think quite rightly, describes the heart as an ‘Idol factory.’ (See below) But if you think of a factory, someone is usually in charge. I’ve worked in factories (on the shop floor) making stuff so I know the production process.

I’ve no idea if Cowper had this in mind when he wrote that hymn, but I do think he could well have. What is the dearest idol? That is singular. Could it be a car, money in the bank, a career, health, or the many many other things in our lives? No, I don’t think so.

The dearest idol is me. I’m on the throne. And I need to get off it.

So the factory analogy: I’m in charge and I produce stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. My factory is very efficient. And there is lots of overtime available. But my factory has a new owner now. Remarkably, the new owner gives me a lot of flexibility. I get to make a lot of decisions. But it’s not my factory anymore and we make a different product now.

And Cowper is right, we need God’s help to tear it down. Not only can we not do it, we don’t want to do it either. We like being in charge. If you’ve not been a Christian very long I have to tell you the struggle to tear self from the throne is a lifelong struggle. It ebbs and flows. I’m not very good at it. Anyone who has been a Christian for a long time will tell you it is so. Telling you otherwise is a lie.

The overwhelming sense that I have as an ’employee’ of the new owner is of gratitude. Or it should be. And in my better moments it is. What a gracious and wonderful owner he is! Usually employees don’t get to visit where the owner lives and there’s a strict boss employee relationship. But not with this owner. This owner makes you part of his family and eventually you get to live in his house, with him – forever. Maybe I’m talking like a madman, but it wasn’t easy for the factory owner to make it so. His own Son had to die in order for me to be part of the owners family. And even though he knew I would still try and be in charge – he still did it. Why? No idea. But he did. It isn’t a boss employee relationship anymore – it’s family now.

The old owner was a tyrant and let me do whatever I wanted and made me think it was my factory. But it wasn’t. He was in charge all the time really. The old owners only real aim was destruction even if it seemed like all was well. It isn’t well if that’s you. As Paul puts it:

Tit 3:3  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray (AV has Deceived), slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Tit 3:4  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
Tit 3:5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
Tit 3:6  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Tit 3:7  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The Lord has diagnosed the problem:

Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

We know this to be true. And yet, ‘Christ died for the ungodly.’ (Rom 5:6) Will you not come to Him? (Matt 11:28)


Like many of you, perhaps, you’ve often heard the Calvin quote where he said the heart is an ‘Idol factory.’ Sometime ago I decided to find it. So here’s the quote:

Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.‘ In modern parlance, a factory.

If you’ve ever worked in a factory it’s a brilliant analogy. The mind is in constant production – it never stops. Just a little further down the same page Calvin says this:

‘The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth.’

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Henry Beveridge), Book 1, Chapter XI, Section 8. p.97, Volume 1, Wm B Eerdmans publishing, 1997.

Paradise PD – A slightly different Christian perspective

There is outrage, again, over the Netflix production ‘Paradise PD’ that blasphemes the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it blasphemous? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. Do I like it? I haven’t seen it, but probably not. Will I watch it? Unlikely. Though I might if I had to. By the way, I didn’t even realise this was a series and in its 4th season. I’m guessing the series have a pop at everyone – hmmm, maybe not everyone (you know).

I accept the moral outrage by Christians but I’d like to come at the episode, what I know of it anyway, from a different perspective. Let me just say, because it probably needs saying, I’m not endorsing it in any way shape or form, just looking at it from a slightly different perspective. 

Remember the old ‘The end is nigh’ sandwich boards of the past. They ridiculed it, but you know, the end really is nigh. It’s a true statement. Messiah-Nara might be meant to ridicule and be funny, but actually it’s a statement of truth. It will be the end for His enemies.

What ought to be fascinating is the fact that Jesus just won’t go away. The usual tactic then is to ridicule him. They tried that in the New Testament so doing it this way is nothing new. We ought to be encouraged because they are still doing it. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Here’s a few things about this episode that I know from the criticisms. Like I say, I haven’t seen it, so what I say here isn’t personally verified. I wonder if the writers of this episode know more than they are letting on. My speculation is that they could be, or at least have first hand knowledge of evangelicalism. They’ve been influenced by self-righteous controlling church leaders. Maybe in a bizarre way this episode is a cry for help. Here are a few points then not in any particular order.

Free Speech

I need to say this. I believe in free speech. If they want to produce this episode that is their right to do so. However blasphemous it might be. I don’t have to like it to allow them the right to produce it but free speech also gives the right to protest against it. I rarely sign petitions. There is a petition to take it down, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll be signing it. There are many petitions out there wanting to ban Christian stuff as well. I don’t see too many petitions against heavily polititicised LGBTQ stuff which is far more insidious that this film. I think the petition in this case will just make more people want to see it. In a way it’s self defeating. But I understand the outrage.

The Cross

The picture shows Jesus breaking the cross and the nails turning into Uzi’s (Probably 9mm). Of course there is a mixture of fact and fiction but nevertheless it shows Jesus victoriously breaking the cross and wreaking judgment on his enemies. Jesus could have come off the cross, but then there would be no salvation. So that didn’t happen. But think about how Aslan in the Narnia story after the White Witch and all her host had done their worst and killed Aslan, what happened? Aslan breaks the stone table and is victorious. The story is playing out the reality of Jesus’ victory. The Bible tells us that he triumphed over his enemies through the cross.

The greatest possible symbol of weakness becomes the greatest symbol of victory and of power. So that he has put to shame all powers through the cross. We might not like the picture but actually, intended or not, we see a triumphant Messiah.

A Fallen World

Because we live in a fallen world we should expect to see this sort of stuff. It’s everywhere really. This show is a bit more in your face but it just proves the truth that we are rebellious against our creator. It’s a form of imprisonment, they can’t help themselves. We can’t help ourselves. Which is exactly why we need a Saviour. And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus dying on a cross. So in an unintended way the film demonstrates our own fallenness and of our need for a Saviour.

Final Judgement

Jesus is crucified as the Lamb. But in revelation we read about ‘the day of his wrath.’ The Lamb is mighty. And all his enemies will be dealt with. Being slaughtered using a pair of Uzi 9mm’s will seem a mercy when considering the awful reality of an eternal lake of fire. People will be laughing, I’m sure, but it’s not a laughing matter. The enemies of The Lord and His anointed one (Messiah) will be destroyed.

True Knowledge

The film shows an underlying knowledge that not only is there a real Jesus, but also a real knowledge that there is a judgment to come. This episode, and those like it, demonstrate how the truth is actively being suppressed as the bible teaches. Not only does the bible teach it but we know it to be true. Our consciences tell us it’s true. The conscience of the series tell them it’s true as well. Try as they might, Jesus is not going away. He can’t be got rid of so he must be mocked.

True Forgiveness

I was thinking how outraged we can get. Then I wondered how The Lord Jesus reacted to His own crucifixion. We get all pious and outraged but Jesus said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I can think of things I said about Him before God had mercy on me. The foul blasphemies that poured out against the Lord Jesus from my unrighteous lips! But He had mercy on me. Someone prayed for me. Someone told me the Gospel. Jesus saved me. The amazing good news is that Jesus saves all who will call on Him. Will you call on Him?

A Mighty Christ (Messiah)

I’ll just end with this. Maybe you watch the series, and you’ve seen the episode about Jesus and the Cross. I’d ask you to consider the points I’ve tried to make. This Jesus who just won’t go away is going to return to judge the world, to judge you. Then, the choices we have made about The Lord Jesus will have eternal consequences. So I ask you to consider Him.

‘Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

Mighty Christ from time eternal,
Mighty, he man’s nature takes,
Mighty, when on Calv’ry dying,
Mighty, death itself He breaks.
See His might,
Infinite,
King of Heaven and earth by right!

Mighty was He in heaven’s purpose,
Mighty, in the pledge to save,
Mighty, from His birth to Calv’ry,
Mighty, bursting from the grave.
Still will He
Mighty be When things hidden now we see.

Great my Jesus in His Person.
Great as God and man is He,
Great His comeliness and beauty,
White and ruddy, fair to see,
Great that sight,
Sovereign Might,
Throned secure on heaven’s height!

vv. 1 & 3 Titus Lewis, 1773 – 1811;
v. 2, Anonymous;
tr. Graham Stuart Harrison 1935 – 2013 (No. 117 Christian Hymns, E.M.W)

Behavioural Science (in the UK) & The Gospel Invitation

These ideas have been knocking around in my mind for a while now, but I heard recently on talkRADIO someone mention, for the first time anywhere, The Behavioural Science Unit. I was beginning to think I was the only one that had ever heard about this. It’s also called ‘Nudging.’ There is a unit (in government) that is actively engaged, using these techniques, in manipulating the behaviour of the population. That’s us. So I have stood back and observed, over the past year or so, our behaviour being manipulated. There is active coercion happening.

Many of you might not know what ‘Nudging’ is. Some time ago The BBC had a program on ‘The Power of Nudge‘, and it was quite astonishing. The reason I know about this is because I listened to it at the time of its first broadcast. Quote: ‘What really changes people’s minds (about the idea of nudging) is because it works.’ This was part of a series on ‘The Pursuit of Power’ in case you think I’ve gone crazy. This was a part of a Behavioural Science unit in No 10 when David Cameron was PM. (This unit is now independent and is called ‘The Behavioural Insights Team’ or ‘Nudge Unit’ –  https://www.bi.team/bit10/  They still use Nudging) The original unit had a sunset clause attached to it, set at 2 years in case it didn’t work. But it did and does work. The UK (and other countries) are now (as I see it) a huge experimental ‘Petri Dish’ of behavioural management and control. I’m sure there are other such Units. Is it a conspiracy then, if it’s happening.

Incidentally, Dr John Lee (Professor of Pathology) in his video (HERE) (dated 1st May 2021) mentions The Behavioural Insight Team (from 30m) that uses FEAR to manipulate the population. I watched this on 4th May 2021. Again, this is clear evidence that we are being manipulated (as if we didn’t already know). This is not something to cast off as something only a few conspiracy nutcases believe – because it’s really happening.
I wonder if advertisers used these techniques whether they’d be legal. Subliminal advertising is illegal, even though the jury is out on its actual effectiveness. Nudging really does work though.

There’s a Vaccine advert that has been running (ad nauseam) quite regularly on talkRADIO and is, I think, a typical use of nudging. Remember, nudging works. That’s why they do it. In the advert we are told to ‘Join the millions already vaccinated…. Every vaccination gives us hope.‘ There are other Ads, but the point is to move us, or nudge us, into action. To manipulate our behaviour. And you can’t miss all the signs everywhere to reinforce the behaviour (social distancing & masks). By the way, I’m not making any comment on taking the vaccine, or not. Merely that ‘Nudging’ works. I didn’t catch who it was and only caught the last part of an interview (some weeks ago now) on talkRADIO but I think it was an MP that said he was ‘surprised at how easily people gave up their liberties.’

It’s inconceivable there is only one of these businesses operating. The Big Tech companies are doing it all the time. Sometimes by withholding information, at other times by using targeted information, at other times by taking down information that doesn’t fit the narrative. Did you see the film ‘The Social Dilemma’? Maybe you thought it was an exaggeration. Perhaps, to some degree. But the point is it’s happening. Whatever your view of President Trump is or was, it comes to something when Tech Companies can pretty much silence the President of the US.

As we appear to have some sort of end (to the pandemic, not the aftermath) to this madness what’s the point in saying all this now? The point is this: don’t think the behavioural insight team, and other such teams, will be clearing their desks and closing down the office as the crisis comes to an end. I think that would be unbelievably naive. No, the ‘insights’ gained through this will be used in other ways (I’ll leave those other ways to your imagination) to manipulate the population into other behaviours (or beliefs). The trick is, of course, to do it a) without us realising it and/or b) by making us actually want it – so we become complicit in our own change of behaviour. Talk about 1984 (‘I love you Big Brother’).

How does this affect the Church?

Apart from my concern as a citizen about losing my freedoms, the other (more important) reason I’m interested in all this is because this is the sort of manipulation that when presenting the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God we DON’T do. We don’t manipulate people into becoming Christians. We don’t ‘Nudge’ people into the Kingdom! Even if it works, and it does – we don’t do it. This is one reason why I’m not in favour of big organised evangelistic campaigns or what is called ‘the Invitation System.’ We should run a mile from any such methods. As the Bible says: ‘… we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2).

But there’s also a dark side to all this. The church is engaged in a war. Not a physical war. But a spiritual one. ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). And as Paul tells us in another place ‘… the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor 10:4).’ ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Cor 10:5).’

And it’s quite interesting at his point how the Apostle Paul speaks of taking every thought captive…. I’m not sure we can so quickly dismiss some of this stuff as ‘conspiratorial’ as many Christians seem to do. How is it all affecting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Bible says ‘we are not ignorant of his (Satan) designs (2 Cor 2:11). Perhaps we are ignorant of Satan’s schemes in this area? I’m all for the plain teaching of the Gospel. We shouldn’t employ any subterfuge in presenting the Gospel or any ‘bait & switch’ techniques. But that doesn’t mean, as we have read, we shouldn’t be unaware of Satans devices. Love not the world nor the things of the world (1 John 2:15). Manipulating and coercing people is a worldly activity. It’s what the systems of the world do. We don’t manipulate and coerce people into the Kingdom of God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is He that makes his people willing in the day of his power (Psalm 110:3). We don’t use worldly methods. And we don’t need to either. The Spirit of God doesn’t ‘influence’ people, rather, he makes them alive (Eph 2:5)!

It’s important for us, therefore, to know there is someone that speaks the truth. The Lord Jesus many times used the phrase ‘I tell you the truth’ (verily, verily) and that is exactly what he did, and does. He didn’t use methods of coercion or manipulation. He speaks the truth, even when we don’t like it. So when he invites us to himself, as he does right now, promising rest for our souls, we can be assured that he is speaking the truth. In other words, we can trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

Come to me (Says Jesus), all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.(Mat 11:28 & 29).’

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
new life the dead receive,
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

(O for a thousand tongues – Charles Wesley, 1708-88)

 

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

1 Most Serene Emperor, Illustrious Princes, Gracious Lords:

2 I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right. I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.

3 Two questions were yesterday put to me by his imperial majesty; the first, whether I was the author of the books whose titles were read; the second, whether I wished to revoke or defend the doctrine I have taught. I answered the first directly, and I adhere to that answer: that these books are mine and published by me, except so far as they may have been altered or interpolated by the craft or officiousness of opponents. As for the second question, I am now about to reply to it; and I must first entreat your Majesty and your Highnesses to deign to consider that I have composed writings on very different subjects. In some I have discussed Faith and Good Works, in a spirit at once so pure, clear, and Christian, that even my adversaries themselves, far from finding anything to censure, confess that these writings are profitable, and deserve to be perused by devout persons. The pope’s bull, violent as it is, acknowledges this. What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings? Wretched man! I alone, of all men living, should be abandoning truths approved by the unanimous voice of friends and enemies, and should be opposing doctrines that the whole world glories in confessing!

4 I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God? Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.

5 If I were to revoke what I have written on that subject, what should I do but strengthen this tyranny, and open a wider door to so many and flagrant impieties? Bearing down all resistance with fresh fury, we should behold these proud men swell, foam, and rage more than ever! And not merely would the yoke which now weighs down Christians be made more grinding by my retractation it would thereby become, so to speak, lawful, for, by my retractation, it would receive confirmation from your most serene majesty, and all the States of the Empire. Great God! I should thus be like to an infamous cloak, used to hide and cover over every kind of malice and tyranny.

6 In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith. I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books. Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.

Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side. Published in book authored by Bernhard Rogge.
Elisabeth, Kurfürstin von Brandenburg, nimmt heimlich das heilige Abendmahl in beiderlei Gestalt. Holzstich nach einem Gemälde von Adolph Treidler (1846–1905), erschienen in: Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 9 (1874) Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side. Published in book authored by Bernhard Rogge.

7 Yet, as I am a mere man, and not God, I will defend myself after the example of Jesus Christ, who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness against me; but if well, why doest thou strike me?” (John xviii:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that every one should bring forward what he can against my doctrine. Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames.8 What I have just said will, I think, clearly show that I have well considered and weighed, not only the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but also the parties and dissensions excited in the world by means of my doctrine, of which I was yesterday so gravely admonished. But far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement; for such is the character and destiny of God’s word. “I came not to send peace unto the earth, but a sword,” said Jesus Christ. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foees shall be those of his own household.” (Matthew x:34-36)

9 God is wonderful and terrible in His counsels. Let us have a care, lest in our endeavors to arrest discords, we be bound to fight against the holy word of God and bring down upon our heads a frightful deluge of inextricable dangers, present disaster, and everlasting desolations. Let us have a care that the reign of the young and noble prince, the Emperor Charles, on whom, next to God, we build so many hopes, should not only commence, but continue and terminate its course, under the most favorable auspices.

10 I might cite examples drawn from the oracles of God. I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings of Babylon, or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearances most prudent, they thought to establish their authority! God removeth the mountains and they know not (Job ix:5). In speaking thus, I do not suppose that such noble princes have need of my poor judgment; but I wish to acquit myself of a duty whose fulfillment my native Germany has a right to expect from her children. And so commending myself to your august majesty, and your most serene highnesses, I beseech you in all humility, not to permit the hatred of my enemies to rain upon me an indignation I have not deserved. I have done.

[Having delivered this speech in German, Luther was now asked to repeat it in Latin. After some hesitation, he did so. He was then reminded that he should answer a simple question: whether he would retract or not. Thus he continued:]

11 Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

(Source for the above.)

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (3)

This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here)  Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..

What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’

EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.

His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.

I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).

We all went with him into battle

I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.

It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (2)

This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.

This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?

‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20

The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:

EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.

But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.

I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?

Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.

Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.

‘Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!’

I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.

 

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (1)

I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.

I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:

THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?

EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.

I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’

 

Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice….?

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1&2)

When reading verses like these it would be easy to make an application that our (various) governments should open the churches in order for normal services, or just services, to resume and to ‘let my people go.’ End the lockdown and get back to normal is what a lot of people are calling for. I think there’s a more important issue, or stage before that. Or to put it another way, there’s a much deeper issue with our government, and politicians in general, than ‘simply’ getting them to ‘open up the churches.’

The deeper issue is that our leaders, be they Prime Ministers or Presidents, ‘do not know the LORD.’ Pharaoh in the verse above actually confesses to the fact that he ‘does not know the Lord.’ And because of the truth of that confession says in direct response to the command of God – ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice….?’  And ‘I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’ Who is this LORD? I will not obey his voice. We don’t have to be living in ancient Egypt to see this played out. You could almost admire the honesty of Pharaoh if it wasn’t so foolish.

Church life is quite different now. And like you, I hope, I want to see our churches back open. I don’t say back to normal simply because we may have to use this opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘normal’ church life (and evangelism) is going to mean. But what if our governments suddenly said ‘OK, you can open up.’ We will still be under a government, that, by and large, says ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?’

There are many regimes round the world that act like Pharaoh. In the West it is cloaked with a superficiality of Christianity but underneath beats a heart that is as opposed to the will of God as any other godless regime. I don’t, nor should we, treat the mercies of God with contempt. Any gains or progress, or where policies are merely put on hold – we should thank God for. Here in the west things could be far far worse.

God, the same LORD Pharaoh refused to obey, brought upon Egypt the plagues, judgement upon Pharaoh and the destruction of his army. The people of God were’t allowed just to leave, they were driven out and ‘plundered the Egyptians’ of their goods in the process.

The point I am making is this: Jesus will build His church. He will continue to build it until He returns to judge the world. We, His people, must persevere for ‘deliverance is at hand.’ In the meantime we continue to ‘preach’ the Gospel of the grace of God as He gives opportunity. The Word of God cannot ultimately be silenced. It is impossible.

What is our message? ‘…. that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His (Jesus) name to all nations (Luke 24:47).’

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Cor 15: 1-4)

Not only that but we should pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1&2)

You’ve read this far. Great. But your heart is rebellious just like the heart of Pharaoh. It will do no good, as some do, to whine on about how bad the government is (Christians do this as well). Unless you repent you’ll be swallowed up in the judgment to come just like them. The only safe haven is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.

 

 

On The Incarnation by Saint (why not) Athanasius – Brief Review

This has sat in my ‘Drafts’ folder for too long. This a brief review/recommendation (with quotes) of On the Incarnation by (Saint) Athanasius (Born: 296 AD, Died: May 2, 373 AD). Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever it was I was expecting, this wasn’t it. The book is a total of 110 pages (starts at page 9) with the Preface, an essay by C. S. Lewis on reading older works. This is followed by an excellent, quite lengthy, introduction and explanation by the translator which needs to be read first.

‘On The Incarnation’ itself, is a bit over half the book at ‘only’ 61 pages. But what a half! The way it’s written appeals, I think, to the way my mind likes to work. That makes it a little easier for me to read. But it really isn’t a difficult read at all. In this edition footnotes are rare. There is no index (too short a book really) but there is a list of Suggested Further Reading (ps. 45-47).

Again (like Patrick), what we find here is a fully worked out and functioning Trinitarian theology. I don’t think we should tire of pointing this out given what Muslim friends might believe. Athanasius wrote this work some two hundred years before Mohammed was even born (571). Which means Mohammed did not check his sources and was simply wrong on The Trinity and especially on the deity of The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reading these older works is not a waste of time. We think we’re so sophisticated but forget, or are ignorant of the fact, that older writers have already addressed many of our problems.

Athanasius divides this work essentially into six sections. I don’t know what other editions look like, but in this edition, the work is in numbered sub-sections which is quite helpful. It isn’t endless pages of dense text. This book is Part 2 of his previous work Against the Gentiles, so it dives right in by saying ‘In what preceded we have sufficiently treated a few points from many…(p. 49.)’ The translator deals with Against the Gentiles in the introduction.

After a brief introduction (sub-section 1), we have the First Section: The Divine Dilemma regarding Life and Death (p. 50, sub-section 2). The next section is on page 60, sub-section 11: The Divine Dilemma regarding Knowledge and Ignorance.

Athanasius begins by showing that the world came into being by nothing other than that God willed it into existence without any pre-existing matter. He also shows how ‘human beings’ were also created by God. But then having sinned and fallen into a state of condemnation he shows how (us) ‘they became insatiable in sinning (p.54).’
On page 55 he then says ‘Therefore, since the rational creatures were being corrupted and such works were perishing, what should God, being good, do?’ Should God ‘Permit the corruption prevailing against them and death to seize them?’
It would have been weakness by God, rather than goodness if having created human beings only to leave them in their corruption. But God had already said to Adam if he were to eat of the forbidden tree they would die. God would be seen to be a liar had He not acted in judgment. So Athanasius writes ‘For it was absurd that God, the Father of truth, should appear a liar for our profit and preservation. (p.56)’ Is that the sort of God we want, a liar? I don’t think so. How could we then ever trust anything He says to us.

Here’s a few more from this sub-section. ‘What then had to happen in this case or what should God do? Demand repentance from human beings for their transgression? He puts it in the form of a dilemma for God. It’s put this way for our understanding. The Scripture never presents God as being in a dilemma. It’s a way of trying to understand the lengths that God will go to rescue human beings. ‘But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast in death….’

What is to be done?

‘Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being? For his it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruptibility and to save the superlative consistency of the Father. (p.56).
The first few sections I absolutely loved reading. It made me wonder afresh at the sheer undeserved magnificent grace of God in sending a Saviour. We must also equally emphasise, with His Deity, that Jesus was truly a man, not some kind of illusion or phantom, but a real flesh and blood man. And so:

‘For He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere. Not while He moved that [body] was the universe left void of His activity and providence. But, what is most marvellous, being the Word, He was not contained by anyone, but rather Himself contained everything.’ p. 66.
Athanasius also writes:
‘When then the theologians (Athanasius specifically means the writers of Scripture) in this matter say that he ate and drank and was born, know that the body, as body, was born and was nourished on appropriate food, but that he, the God Word, present in the body yet arranging all things, made known through the works wrought in the body that he was not himself a human being but the God Word. But these things are said of him, since the body which ate and was born and suffered, was no one else’s but the Lord’s, and as he became human, it is proper for these things to be said of him as human, that he might be shown possessing a real not illusory body.’ p. 68

And further:

‘You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God. Those acts are rightly said to be His acts, because the body which did them did indeed belong to Him and none other; moreover, it was right that they should be thus attributed to Him as Man, in order to show that His body was a real one and not merely an appearance.’ p.68.
One of his arguments for the crucifixion, from a human perspective, is at the time of Christ, the worst, the most horrendous death devised by wicked men was crucifixion. I’m paraphrasing but Athanasius says it had to be that way so no one could say ‘well, that was a pretty easy death.’ It was a terrible death! From a prophetic scriptural perspective, this is what was prophesied.

This is a lengthy quote but I think important. (To save typing it up the quote is from another translation – lazy I know. It’s not that different). I hope it whets your appetite to read Athanasius yourself:

“Well then,” some people may say, “if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honour than to endure so shameful a death.” But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Saviour did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger, because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself. p. 71 & 72 in my edition.

I’ll leave it at that. It really is the most amazing book!! I cannot recommend this important work enough. I need, I must, read it again. It’s available in many versions, several, I think on Kindle for a £1. I don’t have the expertise to know which is the best translation and I’m guessing there’s not THAT much difference anyway – I could be wrong. I’ll stick with this one. It was recommended to me by Nick Needham and that’s good enough for me. Thanks Nick.