Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The ministry of the word is [only] an ‘and’…

Last week I was at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, organised by the Proclamation Trust and hosted by St Helens’, Bishopsgate.

In the past, the suggestion has been made that, for all its excellencies, the PT may be a little unbalanced.  In particular, that it may effectively downplay the work of the Spirit, and the need of the Spirit in powerful (that is, effective) preaching. 

If that’s ever been the case, every effort was made this year to correct it.  I hope to blog on it later this week – but it’s only a hope: having been away three full days last week, there’s a fair bit to catch up on this week.  And after this week, a report on the EMA will be less relevant.

One innovation (new to me, but I haven’t been for a few years, so it may not be new this year) was a booklet called ‘Resource Guide’ that had a number of helpful articles in it – including one by Stuart Olyott called ‘The ministry of the word is an and’; this is an extract from that.  If I can get permission, I’ll post the whole article.  Meanwhile, here’s the flavour.

The apostles were as dependent on prayer as any other preachers.  They understood that it is better to default on every other responsibility than it is to neglect prayer.  It even takes precedence over the ministry of the Word.  Compared with prayer, preaching is only an ‘and’.  It must never take first place.  Prayer recognises God as God, and depends on Him to do what He would not do without prayer.  Prayer, and prayer alone, is the way by which the Lord’s armies call Him onto the field.

True prayer stirs itself up to lay hold on God (Isaiah 64:7).  This takes time, energy, faith and perseverance.  It is easy to allow other things to slip in and get in the way.  It is not only sinful or questionable things that provide such hindrances, but also things that are right and necessary which have been given a wrong priority.  The servant of God gets sidetracked.  The door to the secret place is not shut (Matt. 6:6).  The preacher gets caught up in his exegesis and preparation, his administration, his commitments, the needs around him, or in the actual act of preaching.  He no longer knows what it is to wrestle with God and to prevail (Gen 32:28).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Andrea Bocelli and Ruth Rogers

Bocelli needs no introduction; Ruth Rogers probably does.  She's the relatively new co-leader of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and a very fine violinist.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Music - Juliet

Back to 1964, when I'd barely heard of Elvis.  This is the Four Pennies; the song is romantic, slushy in fact, and even a bit pretentious.  And puzzling, too - the line 'things you do, reminiscent of you' - well, they would be, wouldn't they?

Still - the memories; I persuaded Mum and Dad to drive all over trying to find this record.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Go the ant, thou Snoopy....


Thursday, June 17, 2010

A new blog

You may have seen yesterday's blog entry - a long one.  A whole sermon, in fact.  Not mine, but Spurgeon's - the Prince of Preachers.

Well, I don't want to clog up this blog with Spurgeon.  But I do want to try and supplement Phil Johnson's famous Spurgeon Archive, adding in sermons that are not yet on that archive.  So, I've begun, today, The Other Spurgeon Archive - and begun with the same sermon as the one below.  More to follow - let me know if you find it helpful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spurgeon's OTHER archive #1

From time to time, as time permits, I hope to include sermons on here, in the order in which they were preached, that haven't yet found their way on to Phil Johnson's famous 'Spurgeon Archives' site.  Here's the first - it will be found in Volume 6 of Spurgeon's sermons. Further editing will follow.

NO. 308

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER — “And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: a sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as
soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” —
Luke 8:4-8

IN OUR country, when a sower goes forth to his work, he generally enters into an enclosed field, and scatters the seed from his basket along every ridge and furrow; but in the East, the corn-growing country, hard by a
small town, is usually an open area. It is divided into different properties, but there are no visible divisions, except the ancient landmarks, or perhaps ridges of stones. Through these open lands there are footpaths, the most frequented being called the highways. You must not imagine these highways to be like our macadamized roads; they are merely paths, trodden tolerably hard. Here and there you notice bye-ways, along which travelers who wish to avoid the public road may journey with a little more safety when the main road is infested with robbers: hasty travelers also strike out short cuts for themselves, and so open fresh tracks for others. When the sower goes forth to sow he finds a plot of round scratched over with the primitive Eastern plough; he aims at scattering his seed there most plentifully; but a path runs through the center of his field, and unless he is willing to leave a broad headland, he must throw a handful upon it. Yonder, a rock crops out in the midst of the ploughed land, and the seed falls on its shallow soil. Here is a corner full of the roots of nettles and thistles, and he flings a little here; the corn and the nettles come up together, and the thorns being the stronger soon choke the seed, so that it brings forth no fruit unto perfection. The recollection that the Bible was written in the East, and that its metaphors and allusions must be explained to us by Eastern travelers, will often help us to understand a passage far better than if we think of English customs.

The preacher of the gospel is like the sower. He does not make his seed; it is given him by his divine Master. No man could create the smallest grain that ever grew upon the earth, much less the celestial seed of eternal life. The minister goes to his Master in secret, and asks him to teach him his gospel, and thus he fills his basket with the good seed of the kingdom. He then goes forth in his Master’s name and scatters precious truth. If he knew where the best soil was to be found, perhaps he might limit himself to that which had been prepared by the plough of conviction; but not knowing men’s hearts, it is his business to preach the gospel to every creature — to throw a handful on the hardened heart, and another on the mind which is overgrown with the cares and pleasures of the world. He has to leave the seed in the care of the Lord who gave it to him, for he is not responsible for the harvest, he is only accountable for the care and industry with which he does his work. If no single ear should ever make glad the reaper, the sower will be rewarded by His Master if he had planted the right seed with careful hand. If it were not for this fact with what despairing agony should we utter the cry of Esaias, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Our duty is not measured by the character of our hearers, but by the command of our God. We are bound to preach
the gospel, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear. It is ours to sow beside all waters. Let men’s hearts be what they may the minister must preach the gospel to them; he must sow the seed on the rock as well as in the furrow, on the highway as well as in the ploughed field. I shall now address myself to the four classes of hearers mentioned in our Lord’s parable. We have, first of all, those who are represented by the way-side, those who are “hearers only”; then those represented by the stony-ground; these are transiently impressed, but the word produces no lasting fruit; then, those among thorns, on whom a good impression is produced, but the cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of the world choke the seed; and lastly, that small class — God be pleased to multiply it exceedingly — that small class of good-ground hearers, in whom the Word brings forth abundant fruit.

I. First of all, I address myself to those hearts which are like the WAY-SIDE

— “Some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.” Many of you do not go to the place of worship desiring a blessing. You do not intend to worship God, or to be affected by
anything that you hear. You are like the highway, which was never intended to be a cornfield. If a single grain of truth should fall into your heart and grow it would be as great a wonder as for corn to grow up in the street. If the seed shall be dexterously scattered, some of it will fall upon you, and rest for a while upon your  thoughts. ‘Tis true you will not understand it; but, nevertheless, if it be placed before you in an interesting style, you will talk about it till some more congenial entertainment shall attract you. Even this slender benefit is brief, for in a little season you will forget all that you have heard. Would to God we could hope that our words would tarry with you, but we cannot hope it, for the soil of your heart is so hard beaten by continual traffic, that there is no hope of the seed finding a living root-hold. Satan is constantly passing over your heart with
his company of blasphemies, lusts, lies, and vanities. The chariots of pride roll along it, and the feet of greedy mammon tread it till it is hard as adamant. Alas! For the good seed, it finds not a moment’s respite; crowds
pass and repass; in fact, your soul is an exchange, across which continually hurry the busy feet of those who make merchandise of the souls of men. 

You are buying and selling, but you little think that you are selling the truth, and that you are buying your soul’s destruction. You have no time, you say, to think of religion. No, the road of your heart is such a crowded
thoroughfare, that there is no room for the wheat to spring up. If it did begin to germinate, some rough foot would crush the green blade ere it could come to perfection. The seed has occasionally lain long enough to
begin to sprout, but just then a new place of amusement has been opened, and you have entered there, and as with an iron heel, the germ of life that was in the seed was crushed out. Corn could not grow in Cornhill or
Cheapside, however excellent the seed might be: your heart is just like those crowded thoroughfares; for so many cares and sins throng it, and so many proud, vain, evil, rebellious thoughts against God pass through it,
that the seed of truth cannot grow. We have looked at this hard road-side, let us now describe what becomes of the good word, when it falls upon such a heart. It would have grown if it had fallen on right soil, but it has
dropped into the wrong place, and it remains as dry as when it fell from the sower’s hand. The word of the gospel lies upon the surface of such a heart, but never enters it. Like the snow, which sometimes falls upon our streets, drops upon the wet pavement, melts, and is gone at once, so is it with this man. The word has not time to quicken in his soul: it lies there an instant, but it never strikes root, or takes the slightest effect. Why do men come to hear if the word never enters their hearts? That has often puzzled us. Some hearers would not be absent on the Sunday on any account; they are delighted to come up with us to worship, but yet the tear never trickles down their cheek, their soul never mounts up to heaven on the wings of praise, nor do they truly join in our confessions of sin. They do not think of the wrath to come, nor of the future state of their souls. Their heart is as iron; the minister might as well speak to a heap of stones as preach to them. What brings these senseless sinners here? Surely we are as hopeful of converting lions and leopards as these untamed, insensible hearts. Oh feeling! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason! Do these people come to our assemblies because it is respectable to attend a place of worship? Or is it that their coming helps to make them comfortable in their sins? If they stopped away conscience would prick them; but they come hither that they may flatter themselves with the notion that they are religious. Oh! My hearers, your case is one that might make an angel weep! How sad to have the sun of the gospel shining on your faces, and yet to have blind eyes that never see the light. The music of heaven is lost upon you, for you have no ears to hear. You can catch the turn of a phrase, you can appreciate the poetry of an illustration, but the hidden meaning, the divine life you do not perceive. You sit at the marriage-feast, but you eat not of the dainties; the bells of heaven ring with joy over ransomed spirits, but you live unransomed, without God, and without Christ. Though we plead with you, and pray for you, and weep over you, you still remain as hardened, as careless, and as thoughtless as ever you were. May God have mercy on you, and break up your hard hearts, that his word may abide in you. 

We have not, however, completed the picture. The passage tells us that the fowls of the air devoured the seed. Is there here a way-side hearer? Perhaps he did not mean to hear this sermon, and when he has heard it he will be asked by one of the wicked to come into company. He will go with the tempter, and the good seed will be devoured by the fowls of the air. Plenty of evil ones are ready to take away the gospel from the heart. The devil himself, that prince of the air, is eager  at any time to snatch away a good thought. And then the devil is not alone — he has legions of helpers. He can set a man’s wife, children, friends, enemies, customers, or creditors, to eat up the good seed, and they will do it effectually. Oh, sorrow upon sorrow, that heavenly seed should become devil’s meat; that God’s corn should feed foul birds! O my hearers, if you have heard the gospel from your youth, what wagon-loads of sermons have been wasted on you! In your younger days, you heard old Dr. So-and-so, and the dear old man was wont to pray for his hearers till his eyes were red with tears! Do you recollect those many Sundays when you said to yourself, “Let me go to my chamber and fall on my knees and pray”? But you did not: the fowls of the air ate up the seed, and you went on to sin as you had sinned before. Since then, by some strange impulse, you are very rarely absent from God’s house; but now the seed of the gospel falls into your soul as if it dropped upon an iron floor, and nothing comes of it. The law may be thundered at you; you do not sneer at it, but it never affects you. Jesus Christ may be lifted up; his dear wounds may be exhibited; his streaming blood may flow before your very eyes, and you may be bidden
with all earnestness to look to him and live; but it is as if one should sow the sea-shore. 

What shall I do for you? Shall I stand here and rain tears upon this hard highway? Alas! My tears will not break it up; it is trodden too hard for that. Shall I bring the gospel plough? Alas! The ploughshare will not enter ground so solid. What shall we do? O God, thou knowest how to melt the hardest heart with the precious blood of Jesus. Do it now, we beseech thee, and thus magnify thy grace, by causing the good seed to live, and to produce a heavenly harvest.

II. I shall now turn to the second class of hearers:
 — “And some fell upon a ROCK; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.” 

You can easily picture to yourselves that piece of rock in the midst of the field thinly veiled with soil; and of course the seed falls there as it does everywhere else. It springs up, it hastens to grow, it withers, it dies. None but those who love the souls of men can tell what hopes, what joys, and what bitter disappointments these stony places have caused us. We have a class of hearers whose hearts are hard, and yet they are apparently the softest and most impressible of men. While other men see nothing in the sermon, these men weep. Whether you preach the terrors of the law or the love of Calvary, they are alike stirred in their souls, and the liveliest impressions are apparently produced. Such may be listening now. They have resolved, but they have procrastinated. They are not the sturdy enemies of God who clothe themselves in steel, but they seem to bare their breasts, and lay them open to the minister. Rejoiced in heart, we shoot our arrows there, and they appear to penetrate; but, alas, a secret armour blunts every dart, and no wound is felt. The parable speaks of this character thus — “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth.” Or as another passage explains it: “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.” 

Have we not thousands of hearers who receive the word with joy? They have no deep convictions, but they leap into Christ on a sudden, and profess an instantaneous faith in him, and that faith has all the appearance of being genuine. When we look at it, the seed has really sprouted. There is a kind of life in it, there is apparently a green blade. We thank God that a sinner is brought back, a soul is born to God. But our joy is premature: they sprang up on a sudden, and received the word with joy, because they had no depth of earth, and the self-same cause which hastened their reception of the seed also causes them, when the sun is risen with his fervent heat, to wither away. These men we see every day in the week. They come to join the church; they tell us a story of how they heard us preach on such-and-such an occasion, and, oh, the word was so blessed to them, they never felt so happy in their lives! “Oh sir, I thought I must leap from my seat when I heard about a precious Christ, and I believed on him there and then; I am sure I did.” We question them as to whether they were ever convinced of sin. They think they were; but one thing they know, they feel a great pleasure in religion. We put it to them, “Do you think you will hold on?” They are confident that they shall. They hate the things they once loved, they are sure they do. Everything has become new to them. And all this is on a sudden. We enquire when the good work began. We find it began when it ended, that is to say, there was no previous work, no ploughing of the soil, but on a sudden they sprang from death to life, as if a field should
be covered with wheat by magic. Perhaps we receive them into the church; but in a week or two they are not so regular as they used to be. We gently reprove them, and they explain that they meet with such opposition in
religion, that they are obliged to yield a little. Another month and we lose them altogether. The reason is that they have been laughed at or exposed to a little opposition, and they have gone back. And what, think you, are the feelings of the minister? He is like the husbandman, who sees his field all green and flourishing, but at night a frost nips every shoot, and his hoped-for gains are gone. The minister goes to his chamber, and casts
himself on his face before God, and cries, “I have been deceived; my converts are fickle, their religion has withered as the green herb.” In the ancient story Orpheus is said to have had such skill upon the lyre, that he
made the oaks and stones to dance around him. It is a poetical fiction, and yet hath it sometimes happened to the minister, that not only have the godly rejoiced, but men, like oaks and stones, have danced from their
places. Alas! They have been oaks and stones still. Hushed is the lyre. The oak returns to its rooting-place, and the stone casts itself heavily to the earth. The sinner, who, like Saul, was among the prophets, goes back to plan mischief against the Most High. If it is bad to be a wayside hearer, I cannot think it is much better to be like the rock. This second class of hearers certainly gives us more joy than the first. A certain company always comes round a new minister; and I have often thought it is an act of God’s kindness that he allows these people to gather at the first, while the minister is young, and has but few to stand by him: these persons are easily moved, and if the minister preaches earnestly they feel it, and they love him, and rally round him, much to his comfort. But time, that proves all things, proves them. They seemed to be made of true metal; but when they are put into the fire to be tested, they are consumed in the furnace. Some of the shallow kind are here now. I have looked at you when I have been preaching, and I have often thought, “That man one of these days will come out from the world, I am sure he will.” I have thanked God for him. Alas, he is the same as ever. Years and years have we sowed him in vain, and it is to be feared it will be so to the end, for he is without depth, and without the moisture of the Spirit. Shall it be so? Must I stand over the mouth of your open sepulcher, and thin, “Here lies a shoot which never became an ear, a man in whom grace struggled but never reigned, who gave some hopeful spasms of life and then subsided into eternal death”? God save you! Oh! May the Spirit deal with you effectually, and may you, even you, yet bring forth fruit unto God, that Jesus may have a reward for his sufferings.

III. I shall briefly treat of the third class, 
and may the Spirit of God assist me to deal faithfully with you.

 “And some fell among THORNS; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.” Now, this was good soil. The two first characters were bad: the wayside was not the proper place, the rock was not a congenial  situation for the growth of any plant; but this is good soil, for it grows thorns. Wherever a thistle will spring up and flourish, there would wheat flourish too. This was fat, fertile soil; it was no marvel therefore that the husbandman dealt largely there, and threw handful after handful upon that corner of the field. See how happy he is when in a month or two he visits the spot. The seed has sprung up. True, there’s a suspicious little plant down there of about the same size as the wheat. “Oh!” he thinks, “that’s not much, the corn will out-grow that. When it is stronger it will choke these few thistles that have unfortunately mixed with it.” 

Ay, Mr. Husbandman, you do not understand the force of evil, or you would not thus dream! He comes again, and the seed has grown, there is even the corn in the ear; but the thistles, the thorns, and the briars have
become intertwisted with one another, and the poor wheat can hardly get a ray of sunshine. It is so choked with thorns every way, that it looks quite yellow: the plant is starved. Still it perseveres in growing, and it does seem as if it would bring forth a little fruit. Alas, it never comes to anything. With it the reaper never fills his arm. We have this class very largely among us. These hear the word and understand what they hear. They take the truth home; they think it over; they even go the length of making a profession of religion. The wheat seems to spring and ear; it will soon come to perfection. Be in no hurry, these men and women have a great
deal to see after; they have the cares of a large concern; their establishment employs so many hundred hands; do not be deceived as to their godliness — they have no time for it. They will tell you that they must live; that they cannot neglect this world; that they must anyhow look out for the present, and as for the future, they will render it all due attention by-and-by. They continue to attend gospel-preaching, and the poor little stunted blade of religion keeps on growing after a fashion. Meanwhile they have grown rich, they come to the place of worship in a carriage, they have all that heart can wish. Ah! Now the seed will grow, will it not? No, no. They have no cares now; the shop is given up, they live in the country; they have not to ask, “Where shall the money come from to meet the next bill?” or “how shall they be able to provide for an increasing family.” Now they have too much instead of too little, for they have riches, and they are too wealthy to be gracious. 

“But,” says one, “they might spend their riches for God.” Certainly they might, but they do not, for riches are deceitful. They have to entertain much company, and chime in with the world, and so Christ and his church are left in the lurch. Yes, but they begin to spend their riches, and they have surely got over that difficulty, for they give largely to the cause of Christ, and they are munificent in charity; the little blade will grow, will it not? No, for now behold the thorns of pleasure. Their liberality to others involves liberality to themselves; their pleasures, amusements, and vanities choke the wheat of true religion: the good grains of gospel truth cannot grow because they have to attend that musical party, that ball, and that soiree, and so they cannot think of the things of God. I know several specimens of this class. I knew one, high in court circles, who has confessed to me that he wished he were poor, for then he might enter the kingdom of heaven. He has said to me, “Ah! Sir, these politics, these politics, I wish I were rid of them, they are eating the life out of my heart; I cannot serve God as I would.” I know of another, overloaded with riches, who has said to me, “Ah! Sir, it is an awful thing to be rich; one cannot keep close to the Saviour with all this earth about him.” Ah! My dear readers, I will not ask for you that God may lay you on a bed of sickness, that he may strip you of all your wealth, and bring you to beggary; but, oh, if he were to do it, and you were to save your souls, it would be the best bargain you could ever make. 

If those mighty ones who now complain that the thorns choke the seed could give up all their riches and pleasures, if they that fare sumptuously every day could take the place of Lazarus at the gate, it were a happy change for them if their souls might be saved. A man may be honorable and rich, and yet go to heaven; but it will be hard work, for “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” God does make some rich men enter the kingdom of heaven, but hard is their struggle. Steady, young man, steady! Hurry not to climb to wealth! It is a place where many heads are turned. Do not ask God to make you popular; they that have popularity are wearied by it. Cry with Agur — “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” God give me to tread the golden mean, and may I ever have in my heart
that good seed, which shall bring forth fruit a hundredfold to his own glory.

IV. I now close with the last character, namely, the GOOD GROUND

Of the good soil, as you will mark, we have but one in four. Will one in four of our hearers, with well-prepared heart, receive the Word? The ground is described as “good”: not that it was good by nature, but it had been made good by grace. God had ploughed it; he had stirred it up with the plough of conviction, and there it lay in ridge and furrow as it should lie. When the gospel was preached, the heart received it, for the man said, “That is just the blessing I want. Mercy is what a needy sinner requires.” So that the preaching of the gospel was THE thing to give comfort to this disturbed and ploughed soil. Down fell the seed to take good root. In some cases it produced fervency of love, largeness of heart, devotedness of purpose of a noble kind, like seed which produces a hundredfold. The man became a mighty servant for God, he spent himself and was spent. He took his place in the vanguard of Christ’s army, stood in the hottest of the battle, and did
deeds of daring which few could accomplish — the seed produced a hundredfold. It fell into another heart of like character; — the man could not do the most, but still he did much. He gave himself to God, and in his
business he had a word to say for his Lord; in his daily walk he quietly adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour, — he brought forth sixty-fold. 

Then it fell on another, whose abilities and talents were but small; he could not be a star, but he would be a glow-worm; he could not do as the greatest, but he was content to do something, however humble. The seed
had brought forth in him tenfold, perhaps twentyfold. How many are there of this sort here? Is there one who prays within himself, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? The seed has fallen in the right spot. Soul, thy prayer shall be heard. God never sets a man longing for mercy without intending to give it. 

Does another whisper, “Oh that I might be saved”? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou, even thou, shalt be saved. Hast thou been the chief of sinners? Trust Christ, and thy enormous sins shall vanish as the
millstone sinks beneath the flood. 

Is there no one here that will trust the Saviour? Can it be possible that the Spirit is entirely absent? That he is not moving in one soul? Not begetting life in one spirit? We will pray that he may now descend, that the word may not be in vain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dissing Dispies?  #2: Hermeneutics

In my first look at Dan Phillips ‘Twenty-five stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism’   I tried to show how Dan begins the process of softening us up to believe that Dispensationalists have got it right by using an ‘ad hominem’ argument: the Reformed, and especially one Reformed Great, have been really unkind to Dispensationalists in general and Dan in particular; have a look – I’m not going to repeat myself.

There’s a second preliminary Dan gives us before he gets to the 25 of the title – the question of hermeneutics.  ‘…when I consistently apply the hermeneutic that God used to save me, I end up Reformed… and dispensationalist.’

What’s hermeneutics?  It’s the science, or art, (it’s both) of interpreting the Biblical text.  But isn’t it obvious what a text means?  Well, yes – usually – hence Dan’s principle
When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense. Therefore, take every word in its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental and axiomatic truths, clearly indicate otherwise.

 It’s called ‘grammatico-historical’ hermeneutics, or sometimes the historico-grammatical principle: you take into account the grammar, and the history.  In brief, a text means what it says, and especially what the first readers would have understand it to mean.

Dan’s right – it’s fundamental.  It saves us making blunders like Augustine’s, insisting that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the two coins were the sacraments, the inn was the church, the inn-keeper the Pope, etcetera.  

But it’s also a bit more complicated than that – for a slavish adherence to h/g won’t save us from Origen’s misunderstanding of Matthew 19:12 – it won’t stop us castrating ourselves.  And some of us are really keen not to go that way...

Let me illustrate by taking the matter of prayer.  Jesus says

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 16.23)

The ‘historico’ bit would have us ask: when will this promise be kept?  And the immediate context tells us – when the disciples see Jesus again, after his death.  That is – when he is risen.  What does the plain meaning of the text (the grammatico bit) tell us?  That in that day, Christians can have absolutely anything they ask for – or at least, the apostles can.  Winning the lottery?  Perfect health?  Therein, you see, is the Prosperity Gospel.  Dan knows this, of course, and makes the point by saying ‘in the light of related passages and fundamental and axiomatic truths.’

Once we look at other things the Bible says about prayer, for example James 4.3
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures...
…a restriction or qualification is there that isn’t in the first text.  So, to apply the h/g principle properly, the context of a text that has to be taken into account is the whole of Scripture.  And that, some of us think, is where dispies may be going wrong.

Dan – in another blog entry – references a speaker at this year's Shepherds' Conference  who said ‘you might be a dispensationalist if you think the primary meaning of an Old Testament text is found in the authorial intent of the OT writer as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics’.

True – but you might also be wrong.  Sometimes, at least, the true meaning of an Old Testament text is found in the New Testament.  Isaiah 7.14 springs to mind. 

It isn’t that our dispie friends aren’t aware of this – the same speaker says
You may believe that God, in the New Testament, may do more than what the OT author meant, or apply the OT passage in ways not seen by the OT author, but God will never do less or go contrary to the original meaning of the OT author. Thus, the meaning of OT passages is anchored in the OT passages themselves.

The question has to be:  is that the way the New Testament writers themselves see the Old Testament?  When the apostles on the Day of Pentecost are accused of drunkenness, they say ‘No, this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel’ and goes on to quote Joel 2:28-32.  According to Peter, Joel is prophesying Pentecost – but it doesn’t look like that in its original context.  In fact, Joel prophesies (and Peter quotes) ‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood’ as part of the same prophecy.  ‘This is that’?  Yes: but we know – because Acts tells us – that it isn’t the end of the world.

Similarly, the true meaning of Amos 9:11,12 is not the restoration of Israel to its nation, says Acts: rather, it foretells the ingathering of the Gentiles in the gospel age (Acts 15:16ff)

Hermeneutics is a difficult issue.  But DJP simply isn’t fair when he implies – and even says – that dispies are the ones ‘who still take all of the Bible seriously’.  That ain’t the way it is, Dan.

Monday, June 14, 2010


For more than 30 years this man has been my favourite violinist.  Here, he is playing Beethoven's 'Spring' Sonata.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

An Apple a day...

For a little while now, I've been wanting an Apple.  

An applemac, perhaps

Or maybe an iPhone

or even an iPad

Now, at last, I've got a good reason.  I'd be supporting morality.  Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, has made it known that he intends to do all he can to keep porn off Apple products.  As a result, many magazine publishers developing 'apps' for the iPad are having to self-censor.

Not everybody's happy; some see it as a limitation to their freedom. (Jobs, according to them, is not allowed freedom to decide what can be shown on a product he's designed.  It's the usual liberal garbage: 'you must tolerate my perversions but I'd rather be damned than tolerate your standards'.)

But good ol' Steve has an answer for them: 'Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data.  Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn.  Yep, freedom.'

He's even gone so far as to speak of his company's moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.  Good on you, Steve - may God give you success.

Now, I'm just off to explain to Elaine why it's my Christian duty as a Pastor to buy as many Apple products as possible.  She'll probably think I mean cider...

Thanks to Mark Earley at Prison Fellowship/Breakpoint for this information)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who are you guys?

The observant among you will have noticed that I've installed 'Clustrmaps' (see left sidebar) which tells me something about where my visitors visit from.  Apparently since I installed it I've had 298 visits (not many, eh?).  And they've come from the UK, the US, Singapore, Canada, Egypt et al. 

Great.  You're welcome.  Feel free to put a note in the comments just to say 'hi' will you?

And - tell your friends.  Let's see - just for fun - if I can get a thousand visitors in June, and twenty countries.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Monday, Music, Martha

From time to time I plan to post exceptional music.  This is the now world-famous Martha Argerich at, I think, the Chopin Piano Competition in 1965.  No surprise, she won it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

David Laws

Inevitably, David Laws has been in the news a great deal.  Apparently, he paid £40000 of tax-payers' money to his partner, and it's against the rules.  Laws and his partner are gay, and he didn't want to 'blow his cover' by not claiming the rent back.  Hmm.  It came as no surprise that some politicians and media types immediately saw this as another sign of homophobia.  (Nonsense: if his partner had been female it would still have been against the rules, it would still have been theft and he would still have had to resign. )  It's no surprise that large parts of the chatterati think a completely different set of rules apply to homosexuals; they need to learn it isn't so.  Gays (at least some of them - see below) don't want the same rights as everyone else - they want more.  In particular, it seems, Laws didn't want his devout Catholic parents to know he was gay.  I'd guess they suspected!  But even if not, going into public life is not the way to keep anything secret.  Can you imagine what the uproar would have been if Laws had been - say - Evangelical?  And didn't want his devout Catholic parents to know?  And had pocketed £40000 to keep it from them?

What was a bit more of a surprise was that some of the gay community agreed, and said so (see here for an example).  They were shamed that Laws tried to use his sexuality to explain away his theft: rightly so. 

But what's truly appalling about this is that both Cameron and Clegg are reported as describing Laws as a man of 'complete integrity'.  Integrity means 'an integrated whole' - WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get).  It also means honest, moral, not deceitful.  'Uprightness, honesty, purity' (Chambers).  A man who's lying to his family about a fundamental part of his life is not 'an integrated whole'; he's not upright.  And a man who takes money he's not entitled to in order to keep that deceit going isn't 'upright, honest, pure'. 

But apparently Cameron and Clegg think otherwise.  So - if they're going to act with integrity - didn't we ought to ask what it is they mean by it?

Joan Bakewell
Dame Joan Bakewell is a 77  year-old journalist, former lover of Harold Pinter, once described as 'the thinking man's crumpet' and the lady who once told Lloyd-Jones that his views were old-fashioned.  She was also a vocal opponent of Mary Whitehouse, whose Christian convictions led her to head up a 'clean up tv' campaign in the sixties.  The Mail online reports:

     For decades the late Mrs Whitehouse was the self-appointed moral watchdog of Britain. She saw  television as the vanguard of the so-called 'permissive society' of the Sixties, bringing violence, sex and bad language into the living rooms of the nation.
    The puritanical campaigner warned of the de-sensitising effect of showing violence and gratuitous sex, saying it would create a more violent and sexualised society.
    But Dame Joan was part of the 1960s generation who thought the old guard were foolish prudes.

But now, in 'an astonishing u-turn' Dame Joan hates to admit it but now thinks Whitehouse was right.  Of course she was: and only time and eternity will show how many other things Christians have been right on.

And finally:

Fergie was drunk when she offered to sell access to Prince Andrew, she confessed in 'that interview' with Opray.  Oh, that's OK then - except that it isn't, surely?  Why should being guilty of two sins (mistakes, indiscretions, errors of judgement - whatever you want to call them) carry less disapproval than being guilty of just one?

The thought seems to be: well, you're not responsible for your behaviour when you're drunk.  Sorry - but yes, you are.  And you're responsible for getting drunk in the first place.

Do I sound a bit priggish today?  Sorry.  But...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Intellectual Laziness and the New Atheists

David Hart's article here is worth a read. Among other things,

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County.

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness.

But all the evidence suggests that Dawkins has never understood the point being made, and it is his unfortunate habit contemptuously to dismiss as meaningless concepts whose meanings elude him. Frankly, going solely on the record of his published work, it would be rash to assume that Dawkins has ever learned how to reason his way to the end of a simple syllogism.

On matters of simple historical and textual fact, moreover, Hitchens’ book is so extraordinarily crowded with errors that one soon gives up counting them. Just to skim a few off the surface: He speaks of the ethos of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “an admirable but nebulous humanism,” which is roughly on a par with saying that Gandhi was an apostle of the ruthless conquest and spoliation of weaker peoples. He conflates the histories of the first and fourth crusades. He repeats as fact the long discredited myth that Christians destroyed the works of Aristotle and Lucretius, or systematically burned the books of pagan antiquity, which is the very opposite of what did happen. He speaks of the traditional hostility of “religion” (whatever that may be) to medicine, despite the monastic origins of the modern hospital and the involvement of Christian missions in medical research and medical care from the fourth century to the present. He tells us that countless lives were lost in the early centuries of the Church over disputes regarding which gospels were legitimate (the actual number of lives lost is zero). He asserts that Myles Coverdale and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake, although both men died of natural causes. He knows that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are a late addition to the text, but he imagines this means that the entire account of the Resurrection is as well. He informs us that it is well known that Augustine was fond of the myth of the Wandering Jew, though Augustine died eight centuries before the legend was invented. And so on and so on (and so on)... In the end, though, all of this might be tolerated if Hitchens’ book exhibited some rough semblance of a rational argument.

The article is well worth a read. So, I imagine, is the book, which 'tackles such contentious moments in history as Galileo's trial and the witch hunts, explaining history and faith without resorting to popular misinformation or rhetoric' (from a review on site).

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Is the Reformation over?

A review in Evangelicals Now put me on to MIchael Reeves' book 'The Unquenchable Flame' - subtitled 'Introducing the Reformation.'

I haven't read it all yet, in spite of receiving it yesterday evening (I've been busy).  But I want to draw attention to it today because of its very helpful last chapter 'Is the Reformation over?' looking at issues raised by (among others) Noll and Nystrom, in their book of that title.

Noll and Nystrom argue that Rome and Evangelicals are now so close together that we may regard one another as fellow Christians - and that, in fact, we are close together on the issue of justification by faith. 

Reeves is able to show - in a non-technical way that even I could understand - that it is not so; the Joint Declaration of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Foundation (1999) does not indicate much progress since the Regensburg Statement of 1541, which Luther dismissed as a messy patchwork of theologies.

Further, Reeves even manages to show why we are so ready, today, to believe that the disputes are over.  I'm not saying it's exhaustive - but it's a fine chapter and worth the cost of the whole book.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A dreadful slur...

In today's Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn comments on the David Laws affair and says 'To be honest, I've always considered all Liberal MPs to be homosexuals unless furnished with concrete proof to the contrary,' and goes on toname names going back decades.

At least he didn't say 'I've always considered all gays to be Lib Dems unless furnished with concrete proof to the contrary.'  Now that would be a dreadful slur.
I'm sorry, but I don't understand... (#1)

So, Israel has been enforcing a blockade on Gaza for some years now.  Let's leave others to argue whether the blockade is legal, moral, or serving any purpose.  There it is.  And a number of (apparently) humanitarians  decide to breach it in six ships.

Now, what do those 'humanitarians' think Israel is going to do?  Stand aside and say 'Oh, well, if you insist'?  Of course not; they're going to enforce it.  So five of the six ships wisely turn aside into Ashdod to be searched by the Israelis.  One ship continues.

Now, what do those 'humanitarians' think Israel is going to do?  Stand aside and say, 'Oh, well, if you really insist'?  Of course not: they're going to enforce the blockade in the only way now open to them (short of sinking the ship) - they're going to board the ship.  And as they do so - as Israeli commandos descend onto the deck - they're attacked by the 'humanitarians' beneath them.  That's not propaganda - it can clearly be seen on video.

Now, what do those same 'humanitarians' think the commandos are going to do at this point?  Climb back off board and say 'Oh, well, we didn't know you felt that strongly about it!'?  Of course not; they're going to defend themselves.

And this is the Israelis, remember.  They're not famed for 'turning the other cheek'.  They're not famed for moderate responses.  They are famed for getting the job done.  So they defend themselves.  Tragically - but inevitably - a significant number of 'humanitarians' are killed or injured.

I don't understand: what did they expect?  Why is the world up in arms - which nation, enforcing a blockade, would allow it to be breached?  Or when its soldiers were attacked would expect them to curl up and die?

I'm sorry - I really don't understand.  Is 'humanitarian' a synonym for 'stupid'?  Or is Melanie Phillips right - that the whole thing was a terror ambush?

There are lots of things I don't understand...


Oh, look; the video  'appears to contradict the protesters' claims that they offered no violence to the special forces soldiers as they stormed the boat.'  Yes, it does, doesn't it?