Sunday, 22 December 2013


The church of Jesus Christ is presented in Scripture as God's new society in the world. She is described as that body of people who form a new humanity, distinct from the old humanity, yet having its origin in it. The Christian Church is the ’ecclesia,’ the 'called-out ones'; they are those who have been separated from the world, that is, from life
organised apart from any consideration of God or His Word of truth, to be a peculiar people chosen by the Sovereign God. As such,these 'called-out' people are different from those who have not been ’called-out’ from the world. They have a different outlook in life, observe different principles, serve a different Master, and are going to a different destiny. They are the people of God, the elect.

Now since it is impossible, in this life,to detect exactly who the elect of God are, our Lord teaches us that it is "by their fruits" that they are to be known,(Mt.7:16,20). What they are on the inside will be revealed by what they do outwardly. It may take a long time, even a life-time, for this to appear, but appear it assuredly will. But until that time comes, it is almost impossible to tell among those who make a public  profession of faith just who are the true children of God, and who are not. So great care has to be taken so that mistaken judgments are not made before the time, (1 Cor.4:5a; cf.Mt.13:30a).

It seems to be here that the problem of conflict occurs. There are those who claim to be Christians, who believe and say the right things, go to the right places and meetings, and associate with the right people, but who may not be Christians at all. They have all the appearances of being true believers, but alas they are from a different family altogether. And within the church of Christ, these people are accepted as members on a profession of faith. In the church, the wheat and the weeds grow and develop together until harvest, (Mt.13:25); within her bounds, the children of the flesh and those of the Spirit co-habitate, (Gal.4:22,23,29,30).

Further, there is the fact that in the world, there are those who are not God's people just as there are those who are. They share the same planet together, work in the same places, travel on the same roads, live on the same streets, attend the same churches, and do so together. These two distinct groups of people belong to different kingdoms whose rulers are utterly opposed to each other. Therefore the respective members of these kingdoms are automatically involved in a spiritual battle, or conflict, with those who serve the other master. There is a given-ness about this state of affairs that cannot be gainsaid. This is the true situation in which the Christian believer finds himself. God and Satan are at war; and their respective followers are called into and are actively engaged in the battle as well.

Given this scenario, it is but inevitable, though surprising, that conflict should arise within the body of Christ on earth. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon," (Mt.6:24). The sheer impossibility of this ever happening is denied categorically by our Lord. Any man can but serve one master at any one time. The Christian Church is set apart for the exclusive service of the Living God; but when there are those within the church who even hold positions of authority and leadership over God's people, yet who are in the service of another master, conflict will inevitably arise.

Conflict, then, within the church as visible must be recognised as normal, and not in anyway abnormal or strange. There should be great concern in the hearts of all true believers when the church is at peace with God's enemy. Christians should engage in deep and thorough examination of their hearts when they can get on well with those who hate their Saviour, and blaspheme His holy name. That is not to say that Christians ought to go out looking for trouble and conflict, for they ought to live at peace with all men, as much as it depends upon them, (Rom.12:18).

However, that being said, Christians often compromise their own testimony when they refuse to take their stand for Christ, when He is being ridiculed. And in so doing, they display a disregard for their Lord's honour in the world that is nothing short of disgraceful.

In trying to serve two mutually exclusive masters, they end up serving only the one, Satan. When a survey of the teaching of the entire Old and New Testaments is carried out, it will be observed that the first record of conflict is found in Gen.3, where the serpent confronts the woman, Eve, and makes suggestions to her of the harshness of God in not allowing her and her husband free scope in the Garden of Eden, and then,having gained her ear, proceeds to deny outright the doctrine of divine judgement which was pronounced by God upon Adam in the event of his disobeying His Word. This having been done, enmity was established between God and humankind, Gen.3:8, 13,16, and between God and the devil, Gen.3:14, 15. This conflict between heaven and earth had its ramifications between men, for in Gen.4:1,8, the account of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain is given in a simple,unadorned and factual manner. Separation of man from God resulted in separation between people in the one family, a separation that was evidenced in death, the basic meaning of which is 'separation, not termination.' The remainder of the Old Testament is full of the same sin which manifested itself in various ways.

When the New Testament is studied, the motif of conflict introduces the Gospel record. When the Christ-child's birth is announced by the angels of God, the enmity of men's heart was brought out in a terrible manner, with the decision of the government to kill all baby boys two years old and younger to ensure that the rival King to Herod might also be destroyed, Mt.2:1 -18. The entrance of the Messiah into the world which He came to redeem was bathed in conflict that issued in blood.

The earthly ministry of the Lord exhibits the same conflict principle. First with the religious leaders of His day, then with the political leaders, Jesus Christ found Himself regularly in confrontational situations which sought to compromise Him in some way or other. Traps were laid for Him by the lawyers, by Pharisees, by Sadducees, and by Scribes. Often the trouble arose because of the very presence of Jesus with them; what He said and did stirred up an unbelievable level of opposition against Him. No legitimate reason can be given to justify such opposition against the Son of God. It could not be said that His attitude towards those with whom He differed was sinful. Nor could it be argued that He set out deliberately to get people's backs up against Him and His cause and kingdom. Nor could it be alleged that He treated people badly, cared nothing for their feelings, forgot that they were people made in God's image, or simply tried to discourage them for the sheer sake of it. Who and what He was, was sufficient to guarantee a hostile reception from those who saw Him as a threat to their lives and religion. The pure and sinless Son of God coming into a wicked world that had already proved the depth of it's opposition to any intrusion into its affairs by the mal-treatment and killing of God's servants the prophets, was designed to provoke a strong uprising in men's hearts. And it did just that! When perfect holiness meets guilty sinfulness, something must give; and it won't be God's perfect holiness!

Throughout His earthly ministry, every step that God's Son took was contested strongly both by His enemies and by those called to be His disciples. Even they did not understand as they should the reason for His coming into the world. They imagined that He too would follow the ways of the world in order to establish His Kingdom in the world; that He too would attract followers by doing sensational dramatics, like being a 'temple-jumper,' Mt.4:5-7. But His Kingdom was not of this world, nor were His methods of establishing it. This lesson had to be learnt by His closest followers.

The death of the Messiah by crucifixion was the epitome of the wickedness of the human heart. At Calvary, the iniquity came to the fore for all to see. What men did to God's innocent Son was and is inexcusable, and is punishable by eternal death. Yet it was in precisely this way that God would redeem His people, and bring them into fellowship with Himself by reconciling them to God; for ”without the shedding of blood” there could be no forgiveness of sin for anyone. Christ was tortured, He suffered, and eventually died on that Roman gibbet.

Yet that was not the end of the matter, for on the third day, God wrought the greatest miracle that could ever be wrought when He raised His Son from death. The risen Christ appeared to the Eleven, to the wider group of followers, and last of all to Saul on the Damascus road, (1 Cor.15:1-8).

The fact of the resurrection of Christ, attested by many reliable witnesses, became a focal point in the kerugma of the early church. On occasions, the apostles were forbidden to preach in the Name of the risen Christ. Their message was a ridiculous one in the extreme; yet it was the crowning event of God's mighty acts. This event provided the proof that God had accepted the sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross for sin, thus opening up the way for the salvation or the world. When the early church commenced preaching this message, again conflict was provoked, and the disciples and apostles bore the brunt of it. The church was persecuted, scattered far and wide, and left as dead. But the believers of the Diaspora did not cease to be Christians when this happened, but saw this as God's mysterious way of sending out His people with the message of the Gospel that would enlighten men's natural darkness. One would have imagined that such a message would be welcome to men in sin, but such was not the case. Persecution intensified against the infant church, and this went on for many centuries until the life of the church was almost snuffed out.

Conflict commenced in time at a very early stage of man's existence in this world, and will continue unabated throughout history to the end of time, and this too will be marked by conflict. The forces of light and darkness will confront each other at the end, but the outcome will be in no more doubt then than it ever was during the years of history. God's truth, Kingdom, cause, and people will be vindicated publicly, and God's great eternal purpose which He wrought out in time through His despised servants, against all odds, will be seen for the glorious purpose that it is.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Happy Christmas Possible Only In Christ

May I be permitted to share a brief word or two at this time of year when traditionally we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into the world to be its Saviour? I want you to hear the words of a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit and who rejoiced in the birth of the Saviour. His name is Zacharias (Lk.1:67), the father of John the Baptist and whose wife, Elizabeth, was the cousin of Jesus' mother, Mary. Zacharias was struck dumb because of his refusal to believe the words that Gabriel had spoken (vvs.19, 20). His mouth was opened and he began to praise God; and in his worship of the living God, he prophesied and said, "Blessed is the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed His people..." (Lk.1:68).

Allowing for the fact that Zacharias was a Jew, a Hebrew, his prayer related to the Lord's chosen and ancient people, Israel, (v.68). He thanks God that He has visited and redeemed His people - the Jews. Whilst he ought to have known that God demanded that Israel show mercy to the outsider, the Gentiles or non-Jews, quite clearly he had forgotten this fact. Yet God accepted his worship and had it recorded for posterity in the pages of Scripture.
But did God visit and redeem His people Israel only? Clearly that is not the case. Yes, He visited them in the Person of His Son at that time, and through His death on Calvary He purchased their redemption. But He has also visited and redeemed us. How? Well, in addition to what happened in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago, when the Gospel is preached in our hearing, God is visiting us. Oh, how careful we ought to be when we hear the Gospel? This is God visiting us with a personal message of salvation. You have heard Him and so have I. But what have you done about it? Have you opened your heart and received it? Or, have you gone on rejecting it?
God has visited His people. But He has also redeemed the world through the death of Christ. Redemption for all has been purchased by the blood of Christ. God has shown His marvellous grace to a guilty human race in providing redemption for it. Does the world deserve redemption? Not at all. It deserves the very opposite. Does the God Who purchased that redemption at such colossal cost want all men everywhere to receive the benefits of that redemption? Yes, and a million times yes. He now reaches out His hand of grace to draw into His family and fold all who receive His Son, Jesus Christ. Have you? There is no need for you to perish forever for God has provided the only way of escape - and it becomes yours through trusting in the blood of God's only Son, "Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of mankind," to quote Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones as he finished a sermon I heard him preach in Leeds in 1973.
Is Christmas about cards and gifts and trees and turkey and trifle and tinsel? Not a bit. It is what was necessary for the Saviour of the lost to die on Calvary. When you commemorate the Saviour's birth this year, remember why it was that He came all those years ago. He came so that He could visit and redeem you for Himself. He has visited you in the Gospel and through those godly lives that have come into contact with you and through that Gospel tract that you've received - and you know it! On Calvary He has redeemed you, but do you know that? Have you bowed the knee and received this glorious salvation, this redemption, that cost God His Son and the Son His life? And if you are to receive its benefits, it is going to cost you as well - it will cost you your sin. Are you prepared to give up what you cannot keep in order to have what you cannot lose? Think on these things.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


It is often wrongly assumed that conflict is aroused when someone says or does something that irritates another. Either he is abrupt or otherwise nasty, or he behaves in a particularly unacceptable manner. In each case, the other person is offended, and conflict is provoked. This is not true in principle, however. In practice, it often is the case, given the fallenness of human nature. Yet, care must be taken when applying this principle to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the accounts of the incarnation of Jesus Christ are examined in Matthew, Luke and John, a recurring trend may be discerned. At the time of His birth in Bethlehem of Judea, a tremendous uproar was created in neighbouring Jerusalem when King Herod heard of the arrival of a new "King". The royal Baby had just been born, had neither said nor done anything, yet His very presence in the nation caused intense opposition against Him. Herod knew that a new King being born in his jurisdiction heralded the end of his own sinful reign over the Jews. This amounted to nothing less than a massive threat to his throne and to his personal sovereignty. His security had now been undermined and his position of leadership on the verge of toppling. The king's wicked lifestyle was challenged by the arrival this Child's presence in Bethlehem. And what made matters worse was the fact that King Herod had not even known of the birth, nor that such a birth was to have taken place! The very secrecy of the birth of God's Son threw him into mental turmoil and anguish. What was happening? Matthew makes it abundantly clear that Herod's nerves were seriously frayed,(2:13).

But not only was Herod, and no doubt his political advisers, greatly alarmed at the news of the Saviour's birth, so also was all Jerusalem,(v.3). The entire city was thrown into turmoil at the news. The inhabitants of Jerusalem was in the main Jewish, and of all people they ought to have rejoiced at the word of the Messiah's birth. But they did not! They too were disturbed, very upset, troubled. The verb, ϵταραχθη, is aorist, and is in the passive voice, indicating that this was something that had happened to them. The root verb, ταρασσω, is a Homeric term, means that "to shake something out of inertia and throw it into confusion, i.e, to disturb, to upset, to confound, to agitate.[1] The Old Testament (LXX) on the whole uses this word in the usual Greek sense. The word is used in the New Testament of troubling the waters, (Jn.5:4,7), and in the passive sense, is always used negatively, connoting emotional disturbance: to become terrified, afraid, overawed. The Synoptics use the infinitive, ταρασσομαι, only five times, always with this meaning, and that two of the five are found in the nativity narratives, (Mt.2:3; 14:26; Mk.6:50; Lk.1:12; 24:38).In every case the reference is to an emotional shock which is brought about not by human action, but by the action of God. This is important, because the birth of the Messiah was nothing if not divine action, divine intervention. Herod's heart, and the heart's of the people of Jerusalem experienced the reality of internal commotion when God became flesh in the Person of His Son. And when a person is churned up inside, there arises a bitterness that issues in the desire for revenge, leading in turn in the lust for murder; thus conflict is born.

In Herod's case, the conflict came about because his own sinfulness was being exposed by the presence of God's holy Son. His was primarily an inner conflict. He was not at peace with himself, therefore he could not be at peace with others, especially rivals. The absence of inner peace and the disunity of heart that he experienced are explicable only in terms of his being a rebel against Almighty God. His own personal history, coupled as it necessarily was with that of his forebears, did not make for pleasant thinking. His guilt stared him in the face. Sin was alive and well in Herod's life.

Here we can draw the conclusion that our Lord did not have to say or do anything to have a far–reaching effect upon those around him. His presence alone stirred up conflict. He was different to those around him, and this difference exerted its own influence upon their thinking. His presence in Bethlehem was a mighty challenge to all who lived there, and to everything they did. Most of all, perhaps, it launched the greatest challenge to the religion which they had embraced, or had not embraced as the case may be. The Jewish religion spoke of the coming of the Messiah, God's Anointed One, to Bethlehem in Judea. That entire religious system was a pointer to its fulfilment in the Person of the promised Messiah. Consequently, the Jews ought to have been awaiting the Messiah, and to have expected His arrival amongst them at any time. But alas, they themselves did not know the time of His appearing, nor receive Him when He did in fact come, Jn.1:11,12. He was rejected by His own people. And where there is rejection of God's Son and Gospel, there necessarily will be conflict.

[1]   NIDNTT, Ed. Colin Brown, Exeter, 1978, Vol.3, p.709. The noun, ταραχος, connotes agitation, confusion, tumult.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Marriage and Society and the Church's Failure

The well-being of society is bound up with the holding in honour of the marriage bond.  The context of this is the marriage ceremony where one man and one woman are united before God in matrimony.  Mr Ford's stance, as a Presbyterian elder, is calculated to further society's ills, and to promote that which is offensive to a holy God, namely, the establishment of sodomy on equal terms with the biblical understanding of marriage. 

I am interested in ascertaining what PCI's position now is on marriage, and if it has changed when that change occurred and who initiated it.  If it has not changed, what actions does it propose to take against a publicly offending church elder and also against those who are in membership of that denomination and who voted against marriage as understood in the Scriptures.

Mr Ford's denial of Christian marriage had been discussed at a Templepatrick Presbytery meeting in November 2012, and it decided to follow the Biblical mandate and also the church's Code as an initial stage in the disciplinary process.  Consequently, the Moderator and Clerk of the Presbytery, along with a former Moderator of the church's General Assembly, were to meet with a view to ascertaining the facts of the case, and also to discover what the offending elder's position is on Christian marriage.

Now, while this is the correct biblical follow, two things strike me as odd.  First, why wasn't Mr Ford suspended as a ruling elder while investigations were proceeding, thus allowing him, in theory, to influence young adults to his way of thinking as a ruling elder within his church in good and regular standing? Second, had the Presbyters kept abreast of the situation, they would see that the facts are perfectly clear: Mr Ford voted in favour of same-sex marriages for Northern Ireland, and based this opinion, not on the teaching of the Scriptures as would be expected of a Christian church elder, but on European law and equality legislation.  Mr Ford, by his public stance, has set himself against the plain teaching of Scripture, therefore ought to have been suspended immediately, pending investigations.  

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Over the past months, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has been silent and inactive over its virtual acceptance by default of same sex marriages.  Indeed, what has been even sadder is the fact that evangelical ministers within that denomination have been deafeningly silent about this situation.  It is also of concern that the only men who have taken up this issue with PCI were from outside that denomination; which raises very serious questions about where PCI ministers stand on this important matter.  It is of utter irrelevance for ministers to say that they still hold to the traditional biblical meaning of marriage while they are ministers in a connexional church that tolerates an opposite viewpoint.  They cannot 'wash their hands' off this situation Pilate-like, and while they remain silent on this denial of a Christian truth, they are complicit in this sin.

In the Stormont Assembly, Mr Ford, who is also Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said, ""Alliance [the political party which he leads] believes that, in terms of equality, it is correct to extend the provisions of civil marriage to same sex couples. At present civil partnerships are not equal to marriage. For instance, those in a civil partnership currently have to declare their sexual orientation on official forms."

Mr Ford's policies are not driven by Scriptural principle but by liberal legislation passed in godless parliaments.  His concern is for "equality," regardless of what equality is being discussed or legislated for.  What the Bible teaches - and it is very clear on marriage and the closely related issue of sodomy - Mr Ford deems to be irrelevant so far as the government of the land is concerned.  Equality issues drive this man, not faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel.  At his ordination to the ruling eldership, Mr Ford would have agreed to be governed by the Word of God and not by acts of parliament.  Obviously he has forgotten his ordination vows, or as is usually the case with liberals, they take them with their proverbial fingers crossed behind their backs.

He continues, "This is obviously still a highly sensitive issue for many people across Northern Ireland. I respect the deeply held personal opinions of those who are opposed to same sex marriage."  Rather than merely respecting the views of those who differ with him on who should be married, Mr Ford, as a church elder, should be heading up all opposition to the institution of marriage and from every quarter.  He ought to have been in the vanguard of resistance to such an immoral thing.

His position on marriage as re-defined by people like him, accepted by PCI's deafening silence, will be supported by his church and he will be retained as a church elder in good and regular standing.  Further, he will be allowed to 'rule' within that church, and as an elder, provide leadership and spiritual guidance not just within the congregation but within the wider church.  Imagine a situation where two men or two women want to marry in the church. Mr Ford, as a ruling elder, will have to object to such a ceremony being conducted on church premises, and also to his minister conducting such a service. But Mr Ford, as Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, will have to insist that the law of the land be upheld, despite it being a godless and God-defying law.

At the time this was very much in the public domain, I wrote to the then Moderator of the General assembly of PCI, Dr Roy Patten, and put it to him, "In light of the recent vote in the Stormont Assembly in which members of your church and also a church official voted against the institution [of marriage] as understood biblically and in favour of same sex marriage, what is the current position of your church on marriage...?" I considered this to be a reasonable question and concern and one that most decent people would like to have an answer to.  He told me in an email that PCI's position on marriage has not changed.  He said, "church position has not changed."  That is a most welcome response, because theologically liberal denominations are quite capable of doing anything, including the most bizarre things.  What position is precisely is, he did not explain.

However, actions speaks louder than mere words, and whether or not this is the case will be seen in what action the church will take against the offending official. Mr Ford has now voluntarily stepped down from the duties of a ruling elder, but he is still an elder in good and regular standing within the church.

On the matter of any potential discipline that the church will or will not take, I asked Moderator Patten, "What steps do you  propose to take against those within your membership who have voted to undermine and even deny Christian marriage?"  He said, "if people wish there is process people can use." So unless someone feels strongly enough about official to marriage as understood biblically, the church will accept this deviant understanding of marriage and it correlative practice.

This was a response that one would expect from a theological liberal, not from someone who professes to be an evangelical, which is what Dr Patten was when I knew him some 24 years ago.  He made no comment one way or the other, thus raising the question as to what he actually believed about this critically important moral and societal issue. It is truly amazing the dumbing down effect a liberal denomination can have on even its best ministers!

Sadly I am no better informed about what that church actually believes about marriage than I was before I contacted the Moderator.  His evasiveness suggests that perhaps I do not know what that church now believes about marriage.

The silence of evangelicals is palpable.  The Christian members of that denomination have no one to stand up for the sanctity of Christian marriage as understood in the Bible.  They feel badly let down and undermined by their church because they have tried to teach their children that marriage is an honourable estate and most commendable.  Now the church's guilty silence has been a proverbial 'slap in the face' for good Christian members who have sought to teach their children the right way.

Mr Ford continued, "Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives solid protection on the grounds of religious freedom, so I do not believe that faith groups have any reason for concern that they could be forced to carry out same sex marriages, any more than they can be forced to marry those previously divorced."

So for him, the supreme guarantee of religious freedom is the European Convention on Human Rights, not Scripture, an inconsistent position for a church elder to hold.  What he therefore believes is of little value, since Scripture is not his final and sole court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice.  His 'belief' that ministers will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages is very thin and does not accord with the facts.  Why are Christian B&B owners being taken to court for not allowing same-sex or even unmarried couples to rent a room for the night?  Why are Christians being prosecuted for wearing Christian symbols at work?  Why can advertising people be prosecuted for refusing to accept advertising from the LGBT community?  If Mr Ford believes that church ministers, and especially Gospel ministers, will be protected from prosecution for sexual discrimination or homophobia, then he is clearly not living in the real world. Indeed, Gospel ministers are not even protected from  persecution within and by the church herself.

The Urge to Pray

Praying is a difficult task for many believers, due to the weakness of the flesh and the sinfulness of our hearts.  

But what a re-assurance it is to know that many others having been ‘holding the ropes’ of prayer for us. It is in this way that we battle successfully against the powers of darkness and their evil onslaughts against us.  That's why, and for many genuine believers, praying is so difficult, a struggle.  

Yet, the truly amazing thing is that God, by His Spirit, gives us the urge to pray at different times, and when this happens, we must follow this urge and come before the Throne of Grace in prayer.  At such times, I have found myself having greater liberty in prayer. When you feel the urge to pray, then pray; for this is God’s Spirit at work prompting you to bring whatever is in your heart to Him.

Never postpone the urge to pray when God sends it.  Who knows just what God is intending to do through His servants and children when He urges them to pray. When the urge comes, whatever else you may be doing, pray. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY - and especially when our loving Father urges us to do so.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Does the Church Need Confessions and Creeds?

Why does the church need confessions and creeds? Isn’t the Scripture sufficient on its own? Is there a deficiency in the Scriptures that necessitates them being supplemented by man-made confessions?
And if the church needs confessions, etc, ought these to be clearly "founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God"? One thing is clear: confessions that exhibit a partisan orientation cannot be definition be "founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God." One good criterion on which to assess any confession of faith is to look at what it teaches regarding the very heart of the Christian Gospel – the Atonement. If God’s provision for the salvation of mankind is denied, either explicitly or implicitly, then it is not true to God’s revealed will in Scripture. Sadly, the Westminster Confession of Faith and its offspring fall into this category, whereas the Three Forms of Unity, The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt, do not. Therefore these are to be preferred as confessions of one’s belief and of the belief of the churches to those documents that deny Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the world.[1] If a confession is in error here, then the teaching of its (usual) first chapter On Scripture has been undermined. What follows such an opening chapter must be demonstrably true to its statements, and any questionable doctrines must either be removed from the confession or emended in line with Scripture.

[1]   Jn.1:29; 3:16; 1 Jn.2:2.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Remember, Remember, Remember.

Well, did you remember the Reformation, or did you dabble with halloween?
And will you remember the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November?

Surely, none of us will forget 'Poppy Day' on 11 November.


1. Roman Catholic apostasy, idolatry and superstition made the Protestant Reformation necessary (click on the first YouTube link).

2. Guido Fawkes and his fellow-catholic terrorists planned to blow our Protestant Establishment to smithereens in 1605. But God had mercy upon us.

3. The Vatican was a major culprit in World War One and in the build-up to WW2 (click on the second YouTube link). It still beavers away to dominate Europe and the world.

4. Through the increasingly-popular ALPHA course, gullible evangelicals have been seduced into welcoming the Roman Catholic anti-Christian deception.

REMEMBRANCE - who, what & why?


Because, as a pastor of the Reformed Faith, I take my calling seriously (see 2 Timothy 4: 1-8, re-read this morning). 

May God bless you!

Dr Alan C. Clifford

Friday, 1 November 2013

Time Commitment To Sermon Preparation

One of the essential qualifications of expository preachers is surely toughness of hide to take the persistent criticism of not spending enough time with the congregation. His whole week seems to be taken up with study. But the preacher must be well-disciplined so that he can take such criticism graciously, and go on with the ministry to which God has called him. If Christians want good preaching, they must be prepared to give their minister time and freedom to study so that he can feed their hungry hearts. Only when the preacher himself receives from God can he give to his people. If he does not take the time to feed his own soul, he will have nothing worthwhile to give to others. If he does not labour to prepare a good meal for his guests on Sundays,he cannot complain if they have no appetite for what he has for them! A well-prepared dish is most appetising; but an ill prepared one, even though its all the necessary ingredients, will turn them off! Preachers must pay the price for their preaching. They must keep themselves fresh. 

Preparation for preaching is the most laborious thing the minister will do, therefore, it is so important that both people and pastor have a  right grasp of what preaching is all about. Only then will they be able to submit themselves to the rigorous demands of that preaching.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Do Theological Seminaries and Colleges Destroy Preaching?

Dr Henry Drummond thinks that seminaries are doing an inadequate job in the training of preachers because, firstly, teachers have so given themselves to the historico-critical method that it has suddenly undermined the authority of the Word of God. Preachers now do not have confidence in the Scriptures, therefore they do not believe that the unfolding of the Word of God is where the power of preaching really is. Secondly, the homiletical departments of seminaries and colleges have generally failed to emphasise expository preaching. Since Fosdick, life-situation preaching has been emphasised. The climate in many congregations today is such that it dictates a low priority of preaching, where preaching is not seen as significant in ministry at all. So often, Christians prefer to sit in judgment on the preaching, and even say such things as this: "if a man cannot say what he has to say in15-20 minutes, he shouldn't be a preacher." Today, preaching must be ultra-brief and go over us and hit our neighbour. This anti-preaching climate has a destructive effect on the preacher himself, for his very call is under question, his raison d’tre is challenged. And if such a climate tends to destroy the preacher, then the congregation has little or no chance of surviving. What many congregations want today is, not a preacher of the Word of God, but an office manager, (Ravenhill).

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Cause Of The Downward Spiral In Preaching

Dr C. A. Criswell says, "Preaching is increasingly looked upon disparagingly; they
(ie, church members) just 'put up with it.' "What has caused this situation to develop?

Criswell thinks that the preacher himself has caused it.  Instead of preaching the Gospel, instead of expounding the Word, instead of saying, 'Thus saith the Lord,' the preacher began preaching psychology, and sociology, economic and civic amelioration. The time was when preachers proclaimed the Gospel; but now they preach sociological life situation sermons that have left the church anaemic. 

Criswell sees the training of preachers in modern seminaries as being at fault in this very thing. I fear that within evangelical circles, there has been a serious move away from the systematic exposition of whole chunks of the Bible, and preachers have adopted a method of textual preaching instead. Now I would be the last to deny that such methodology has been greatly used of God in the past. One just has to mention the name of C. H. Spurgeon to prove the point. Yet I think that the practice of Spurgeon has had a detrimental effect upon the pulpits of the Church, as men have tried to emulate the Prince of Preachers, and have failed. Textual preaching, coupled with the desire to draw the crowds, has enticed men to reduce to a respectable minimum the Biblical and doctrinal content of their sermons, and have compromised their whole ministries thereby. Thus preaching has been degraded by preachers!

It is true that textual sermons can and must be expository. But very often, all you have is a few pious thoughts on some of the words of the text instead of grappling with what the text in its context is actually saying. This has given the clear impression that preaching is something that anyone can do. That's why "anyones" are doing it! And the inevitable result? Preaching has been disparaged in the modern mind.

And worse; church attendees cannot now concentrate long enough to benefit from sustained expository preaching. So the preacher is timed to a 15 minutes sermon, and a 60 minute service. The whole thing has become devalued. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Preaching - The Major Issue In Ministry

Preaching must be THE issue for the minister. 

"The whole basis of our spiritual life and our church life is that we respond to what God has done. The essence of preaching is the proclamation of what God has done; therefore if we are to have experience with God, both individually and corporately, it is going to be the basis of responding to the knowledge of what God has done, which in one form or another, must come from proclamation. Preaching is, therefore, fundamental in the church life and therefore should have a high priority in the life of the pastor," Dr S. Briscoe. 

All of the spiritual life is simply a response to God, who has revealed Himself through His Word and through His messenger, the preacher.

Therefore proclamation is of vital importance and an essential ingredient in the worship of God. Praising God and preaching His Word are essential to true worship. Through God-owned preaching, sinners and saints alike meet with the living God. In the 
Word, believer's experience fellowship with their Lord and with each other. Take away the proclaimed Word, and little else remains. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God states,

Preaching of the Word, being the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel, should be so performed, that the workman need not be ashamed, but may save himself, and those that hear him.

In the Presbyterian Church, the sermon is the climax of our church's worship services. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Preaching Is Not A Profession.

"Preaching is not a profession; it is an obsession, and a passion. And if it isn't, a man should not preach," says Dr Leonard Ravenhill. It is the key to any church and to any pastorate. Where the preaching fails, all else fails; but where the preaching is raised to its proper place and priority in the mind of both minister and congregation, everything else is raised thereby. It is the central aspect of the church's life and mission. 

Minister's must never think of preaching as a mere adjunct,a duty that has to be performed, a part of their professional responsibility. It should be their very life, their obsession, their passion. To preach the Gospel should be the one thing they live to do above all else! He must burn to do it week in and week out. He must preach, or his heart will burst. Jeremiah speaks with deep feeling when he talks about God's Word in his heart like a burning fire, shut up in his bones, (Jer.20:9). He says that he is weary of holding it in, indeed he cannot! He must preach the Word, or burn up. His burning prophetic vocation compelled him to testify concerning covenant spirituality, despite all opposition from his beloved fellow countrymen, (R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah, Tyndale Press, 1973:113). Jeremiah did not regard himself as a professional prophet. To him, preaching was a categorical imperative. He must preach or die! His attempts not to do so merely wearied him out.

The true preacher knows that his work is an obsession and a passion; with Paul he can say, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel," (1Cor.9:16).

Friday, 18 October 2013

Preaching Helps With Counselling

Preaching is by far the most important of the minister's public duties. More will be done for more people in that concentrated preaching session that at any other moment. Patterson says, "If preaching is do one properly, it will alleviate the need for a large percent of counselling necessities."Lloyd-Jones, drawing on his vast medical and pastoral experience, argues that the task of the church is not to alleviate the symptoms of a man's spiritual condition until the cause of those symptoms has been isolated and dealt with properly. Counselling generally sees to help people who have problems of various kinds, and this is good so far as it goes; but sometimes the 'successful' counsellor is seen to be the one who can make people feel 'good' after a session. But this is nothing short of criminal, because it removes the only indicator that something is wrong.

But when the word is truly and pastorally preached, needy people will find their problems being sorted out as they attend to that word. Sometimes the charge can be levelled against preacher's, especially in the Reformed Church, that their preaching is too cerebral at times, and not experiential enough. I think there is truth in this charge. The result is that people are driven to look for someone, possibly even their minister, who will help them sort out their difficulties. This is very time consuming, and in itself is not guaranteed to be successful. Well prepared and faithfully proclaimed sermons will do more to counsel people than is often imagined. Preaching is still God's chief way of sharing His Word with His people.                                                                               

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Institutional Maintenance

The 'firm's men' are not interested in truth or in the Gospel; all they are interested in is "institutional maintenance," to use the unforgettable term used by Dr Jonathan Lamb at a convention in July 2013 in Northern Ireland. This is all they know and this is all they do. And anyone who stands in the way of "institutional maintenance," is to be removed by whatever means, moral or otherwise.

Do such men care about preaching the Gospel with conviction and passion? Do they want to see sinners saved and brought into the Kingdom of God? No. Do they want to see their church live on for many years? Of course they do. Do they want anything else? Yes. They want to see the money flowing in, for it is from the hard-earned money of church members that they hold their well-paid jobs. What else do they want? They want the removal of all those, whoever they might be, from the church because they might make their church an endangered species.

But there whole aim to "institutional maintenance." How pathetic! Why maintain an institution that is no longer (to use civil service speak) "fit for purpose"? If the churches today are not preaching the everlasting Gospel of redeeming grace, they are surplus to requirements. They are promoting the eternal damnation of those who sit and listen to them speaking utter irrelevancies. God is offended by their very existence. Remember what He said to and about Israel in Amos' day? “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings." (Amos 5:21, 22). That is serious talk, is it not? For the Almighty God to utter such damning words is fearful.

Yet for the institutional maintainers, this is what the LORD is saying. May He have mercy on us for our unfaithfulness to Him.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Firm's Men.

Why is it that the 'firm's men' within the churches do not want to face up to the challenge of reforming the church to which they belong? One answer: their church is so perfect that it does not need further reformation, or reforming. A perfect church does not need to be brought into line with Christ and His will for His people, because such a church is already there.

One question to ask the 'firm's men' within your denomination is this: what must be done to conform our church to the likeness of Christ? What changes does she need to make? Are they fundamental changes, or are they peripheral? Does your church base its activities, beliefs and practices around your preferences, or are they biblically based? If they are biblically-based, why do so many other sound evangelicals believe and practice differently?

Is your church the kind of church that you could, with confidence, bring an unsaved friend along to and be sure he would hear the Gospel being preached by the preacher? Does your man preach the Gospel clearly and with passion? Can you sense that he is heart and soul committed to what he is telling you? Or is it just a lecture, a 'glorified bible study,' as Dr Lloyd-Jones describes such performances? When you listen to him praying, reading the Scripture and preaching, do you get a sense of God, an awareness that God is in the midst?

These are the questions that Christians within the churches need to ask their leadership and address with urgency. Too many professing Christians seem content to be part of a denomination that opposes and rejects the Gospel and that has a clear alliance with theological liberalism. They don't mind evangelicals and liberals cooperating and exchanging pulpits and sharing 'fellowship.' They, by their actions (or inactions) are sending out a very clear message that liberalism is not wrong, that it has an understanding of the Gospel that differs from theirs, but it is not that bad at all because we believe that if God wants a sinner saved, He will do it anyway. Now thank God that He is sovereign in salvation as in all other matters; but how wicked a thing it is to use this precious doctrine to excuse the error and falsehood of liberalism and also to excuse their refusal to deal with this evil and to remove it from their midst!

Do evangelicals in theologically corrupt denominations not realise that liberalism is as different from Christianity as Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism are from Christianity? Now here's the irony: evangelicals in these denominations would be up in arms if they were to join with these other world religions, but seem to be blissfully ignorant of the strange bed-fellows they are sharing with right now. To accept error as just another and different way of understanding the Scriptures is to damn countless souls in hell and to love what God hates.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

God So Far Away.

There are times when Christians feel that the Lord is far away from them, times when He seems so distant, times when your prayers do not seem to get beyond the ceiling.  You’ve had that experience, as we have.  Maybe you’re having it at the present time.

I came across this very challenging statement from Ravi Zacharias: "I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”

If you cannot find God, where did you last leave Him?  When you were last with Him, where did you put Him?  Don’t take these too seriously, but they do have a point, do they not?  If God seems far away from us, it’s not His fault.  Like the fallen axe head in 2 Kgs.6:1-7, to find the Lord you have to return to where you ‘lost’ Him, and you’ll probably find that He’s there waiting for you. 

There's another way of looking at this situation. If God seems far away from you, who moved? You or God? Has God changed His commitment to you? Or have you changed your commitment to Him? These are very challenging questions, are they not?

I think we need to pause and stay with this point for a while.  We tend to read over points like this without stopping and meditating on what they imply for us as Christians.  Stay with this for a moment, and examine your own heart in the light of this truth.  Allow the truth to impact your own soul, and stay before it until it does.  This is called ‘doing business with the Lord.’

Re-Gaining Perspective on Life.

Trying to re-gain perspective on life amidst challenging circumstances is essential when you are trying at the same time to come to terms with serious illness.  It is all too easy to lose perspective altogether, even as a Christian, and start to think in purely worldly ways.  Being able, by God’s grace, to see that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom.8:28) is a great consolation when realised, but at times it can be a struggle to come to that realisation.  So much passes through your mind, much of it negative, that getting your head around your situation presents a major test. 
However, the struggle is well worth it not least because it restores peace to your heart.  It enables you to see the Lord in all circumstances, good and not so good.  But above all else, it helps you, as a Christian, to see that in God’s gracious and sovereign hands, it will work for ultimate good.  This is what we must keep in mind always.  God is at work in us and through us, working for our good and for His greater glory.  In our cooler moments we can see that God’s glory is what we desire to see accomplished through our suffering; but in the heat of suffering, frustration, disappointments and low moods, seeing this ultimate plan is much more difficult.  

Friday, 11 October 2013

"Though ... Yet"

One of the distinctive things about the Christian faith is that in it (and in it alone), we have the God Whom we worship actually speaking to His children.   Now think on that for a moment!  Unlike every other God, our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the speaking God.  Do you hear Him?  What is He saying to you?  Have you heard Him speaking to your heart as you read the Scriptures?  When you sat in church listening to a sermon, have you heard God speak to you personally?  Our God is the speaking God. 

To sit and listen to the Lord talking right into our hearts is as strange as it is astonishing.  It’s not strange that God speaks, but it is somewhat strange that He should speak to the likes of us.  Yes, He speaks!  And every time He speaks to us, He accomplishes something significant in us – He either softens our hearts to love Him more – and that’s what we want; or, He hardens our hearts so that when we read His Word, we do not hear Him speaking to us – and that’s what we do not want!  It all depends upon our attitude when we approach Him in the Scriptures.

In His providence, He brought my mind to Habakkuk 3:17-18, and through these verses, He spoke to me.  Though the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation.” 

The prophet had to learn the lesson that despite our circumstances, even if we lose everything, we can still rejoice in the Lord.  Even if all things go against us, we can still rejoice in Him. We also need to learn that same lesson.  Yet, it’s a lesson we do not want to learn.  We are so desirous of our possessions and the things (and people) we hold dear that we want them more than we want the LORD.  Totally understandable, of course.  We do not even want to dare the Lord to take everything from us, in case He might take us at our word and grant us just that!  Yet once we learn this valuable lesson, we will be truly liberated, and enabled to rise above our circumstances, for that’s where Jesus actually is.  And we will “joy in the God of [my] salvation.” 

The KJV brings this out beautifully when it translates the first word as “Although” and the beginning of v.18 with “Yet.”  This highlights the “although” and the “yet” of Christian faith.  “Although” for one reason or another, we are currently going through tough times, “yet” we will rejoice in the Lord...  We must refuse to allow the ‘although’ of adversities to quench our faith or extinguish our living hope in Christ.

How wonderful are these words. If nothing in life flourishes and no fruit comes of our labours; and although the animals fail to produce, this is not the end of the world for us.  If we lose all that’s precious to us, our relationship with our precious Saviour is not one whit diminished.  If the worst happens, “yet” will I “rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Only the true Christian can say this from the heart.  Can you?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Christ's Gentleness With His People

One phrase stands out above all others in the email about a godly man’s passing into glory is “the Lord has been very gentle to us.”  How we need to see the Lord’s dealing with us in terms of His tenderness and gentleness towards us when we need that kind of ministry most.  When believers experience the tenderness of God in the midst of their personal suffering, what great confirmation that brings of their interest in Christ and His in them!  To feel his gentleness with us and towards us, like a nursing mother with her little baby (cf. 1Thes.2:7), is so comforting.  To see the Lord as the One Who cherishes His own children is mind-blowing.  To think of the Lord being our gentle Shepherd to lead and guide and nourish us is amazing.

And that is the kind of Lord Christians have! How He loves us and cherishes us and delights in us. What greater experience is there than to know that the Lord has that kind of interest in us as His children! To have His Spirit witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, is something altogether amazing. 

Do you know this? Is this your experience? Have you actually experienced the Lord's gentleness with you? Has this made you love Him more? 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Our Amazing Christian Faith

The Christian faith truly is amazing; and it is most practical.  The Christian faith ‘works’ when you need it most; the Lord is with us when we really need His presence.  And this faith ‘works’ because it’s true – it’s not true because it works. 

Let me relate to you a situation that will make the point.  It was in an email I received this morning from a very dear brother and ministerial colleague from Norwich, England, in which he wrote to tell me that his “dad died and entered into glory in the early hours of this morning.”  Now only a true Christian can say that.  This is the believer’s sure conviction, based, not on airy-fairy thinking or some kind of a false belief system, but on the truth of Holy Scripture.  That truth was made real in this Christian man’s life, hence the certainty of where the deceased now is.  Margaret and I had the privilege of knowing him for several years, and enjoyed the family’s warm hospitality on many occasions.

The family knew for a number of days that the end for father was drawing near.  His son continued, “We have our sadness but the Lord has been very gentle to us.  We have over a period of time been made ready for his departure.  By yesterday I think we were all ready. Indeed mum said that she prayed that the Lord would take him to himself last night and he heard her prayer.”

This is a reality that we have experienced over many months since Margaret’s illness, and we know what they are talking about.  The Lord really does answer His people’s prayers.  How kind He was to our friend, and especially to his dear wife and family, when He answered her prayer for her husband. 

“We have seen the Lord's hand marvellously at work over recent weeks.  We have experienced his providential care, we have been upheld by his strength and we have known his peace.”

This is normal Christian experience – knowing the hand of the Lord on us in every situation, especially the challenging ones.  We have seen Him intervene in ways that were barely noticeable, but after the event we saw so clearly His good hand upon us.  Knowing yourself being upheld by His strength is the most wonderful of experiences.  And it’s all normal Christian experience.

“Dad was clearly at peace when he died and was ready to leave to higher realms.  We have been greatly comforted by the scriptures and by the encouragement of the Lord's people.”

Drugs can give the impression that someone dies in peace, masking what is really going on as they are about to leave this life and stand before God the righteous “Judge of all the earth” (Gen.18:25). But having been with quite a number of Christians as they died, this is a wonderful experience because we can see the peace of God in their faces, a peace that is no different really from the peace of God they enjoyed in life.  Our brother died in that peace.

This wonderful message confirms our faith in a remarkable way.

What is it that guarantees that a sinner dies in the peace of God?  Only one answer: that they were at peace with God.  No one can have the ‘peace of God’ if he is not at ‘peace with God.’  And how does someone come to be at peace with God?  Again, only one way: by a personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, joined to genuine repentance toward God for a life of sinful rebellion against His holy Person and Law.  Our octogenarian friend was at ‘peace with God’ for the past two decades or so, hence he died in the ‘peace of God.

Think of this: how will you die?  For one out of one dies.  Not a great statistic, is it?  How will you die?  In the ‘peace of God’ because you are at ‘peace with God’?  Or, will your death be one of infinite horror that has been masked by powerful drugs?  Will it be heaven, or will it be hell? 

Paul says, “Be reconciled with God” (2 Cor.5:20).  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Ac.16:31).  Jesus said, “You must be born again” (Jn 3:7).  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).

Thursday, 3 October 2013

"Follow No Divisive Course"

To the ordinary person, this sounds like very good counsel. Within Christian circles, we are to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Eph.4:3). We are to pursue "peace with all men,...." (Heb.12:14). The writers of these wise words knew full well that it is simply not possible to be in good terms with everyone because all do not hold to the historic Christian faith. So their own experiences and the experiences of fellow apostles and disciples of the Lord demonstrate that these words are not to be taken at their face value.

But some churches do just that! They counsel their ministers not to follow any divisive course. Now you know what that means in practice. They are never to take a decision that would tend to cause disharmony within the congregation even though the congregation is made up of the converted and the unconverted. They are to keep in with the unconverted members of the church, and do or say nothing that would cause them to be offended. As one former theological college principal told a young colleague, "Say what the people want you to say and do what they want you to do." This is what even the professedly purest reformed churches are doing in practice, the most theologically orthodox, the separatist churches.

When it comes to sacramental discipline, they are bound to accept as Christian members those covenant children and young people who are requesting church membership, provided their behaviour does not undermine their profession. The policy seems to be that if a potential church member's behaviour does not contradict their profession, the church presumes that they are regenerate, so admits them to full church membership. If it creates a mist on a mirror that is placed under its nostrils, and its parents are already members of the church, then baptise it - just to keep the peace. Whatever you do, do not ask about whether or not they are born again, or saved, or converted to Christ. Why? Because that is liable to cause division in the congregation.

But perhaps the worst manifestation of this is in the case where the Gospel is not preached with anything resembling clarity by the minister. Problems arise when the minister preaches a clear biblical Gospel. But problems ought to arise where the minister simply does not preach the Gospel clearly and biblically and to the consciences of the members. In fact, problems ought to be caused in any church that does not preach the Gospel. Elders have an awesome responsibility to God and to those who worship in the same church to ensure that the Gospel is preached with power and conviction, and that hearers are left in no doubt as to their spiritual condition and what God requires of them if they are to escape the wrath and curse of God due them for sin. How will they answer to the Lord when while on earth they knew the gospel is not being preached in their church, yet they took no decisive action to have this unacceptable situation rectified? Such elders have now come to accept that it is OK for the churches not to preach the everlasting Gospel. And what can be more divisive than a minister who does not preach the Gospel. What can be more spiritually dangerous than a man who claims and is accepted to be a Gospel minister in a 'Gospel' church refusing to preach the Gospel? That is massively divisive. But it is not deemed to be divisive because no one creates a stir about a non-Gospel preaching minister. And the church authorities are content to tolerate such a situation.

And all because their church requires of them not to follow a divisive course. What if Luther, who preached from the Bible as we are supposed to do, had have taken that approach to church life; would the reformation ever have taken place? Had Calvin been content to let things go on as they had done, would the reformation ever been organised? What if the Huguenots and Covenanters and Puritans had taken this advice and 'followed no divisive course,' where would the church have gone?

Ask yourself this: if every church member and elder was like me, how long would the Gospel survive in your church?

Pray On!

It’s amazing how much the Lord teaches us about Himself when we’re faced with an illness as serious as cancer.  He proves His faithfulness in every situation.  He demonstrates that however things appear to the contrary, we can still cast our burdens on Him (1 Pet.5:7), and not be disappointed.  In fact, we feel ourselves being carried along, upborne, and blessed.  He manifests Himself to us in various ways – in normal ways through the kindness and support of Christian people and also, as a testimony to God’s common grace, of non-Christian people.  He also demonstrates His love for us in much more personal ways, as when He draws really near to us by His Spirit and assures us that we are His children by new birth and also by adoption (we’re doubly His!).  During family devotions when He comes right into our room and leaves the unspeakable impression that we have been in the presence of the great King Who is our Father, we know we are His and He is ours (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3; 7:10).  How sweet are these precious lessons.  What He teaches us in the dark places and in the valleys of life cannot be learned out of a book or even by listening to sermons.

But it’s also amazing how much He teaches us about ourselves – and most of that is not always nice; but it’s needed.  One of the big lessons He has taught us is that head belief will certainly not get an individual through the challenge of a life-threatening illness.  Having all the right words and repeating them will just not ‘cut it’ when faced with the ultimate.  We need more than that.

What we need, however, are the right beliefs that have found their way into the heart, beliefs that have warmed the heart and melted the heart, and beliefs that have motivated the will to give our all to the Saviour.  It is the head that understands (and we need biblical understanding), but it is with the heart that we believe. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom.10:10).

Looked at from another angle, Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King.  True faith lays hold of a whole Christ.  So true faith is believing Christ as our Prophet, trusting Christ as our Priest and submitting to Christ as our King.  All three must be present otherwise we have ‘faith’ in only a partial Christ – which is no faith at all.  When all three are present, our head, our heart and our will are all engaged in our faith.  And remember, no one who has submitted to Christ the King will live in daily disobedience to Him.

This lesson was reinforced to us during this period of challenge.  How true it is.  And how necessary it is when we come to pray.  Praying with the mind only is not enough; nor is praying only with the heart, or with the will (however that may be done!).  That’s why we need that knowledge of God that comes only from the Bible.  But if our hearts are cold when we approach the Lord, then of what use are right words?  And if we are not motivated to surrender our all, our life, to Him, then the mind and heart roles are redundant.

Remember what old John Bunyan said: In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.  Make sure your prayer comes right from your heart.  Charles H. Spurgeon added: “Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused.”  So be deeply encouraged, and pray on.  Let us come as whole persons to a whole Christ and we’ll see even greater things happen.

               Are we weak and heavy laden,
               Cumbered with a load of care?
               Precious Saviour, still our refuge;
               Take it to the Lord in prayer.
               Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
               Take it to the Lord in prayer!
               In his arms he'll take and shield thee;

               Thou wilt find a solace there.