On Monday, December 5, 2022, Patrick Christys stood in for Mark Steyn on GB News.

It is amazing that Christys has so much energy, since he also presents his afternoon show on current affairs with a variety of guests and topics.

His opening editorial explored the lies we are being told every day:

His editorial, excerpted below, hit the nail on the head (emphases mine):

You are not mentally ill. You are not insane. I just thought I’d make that very clear because all too often these days our government, the global establishment are telling you that you cannot believe what you can clearly see with your own eyes.

The Channel migrant crisis. We were told these were all women and children fleeing war.

Have a look at those boats – fighting age males, many coming from Albania, a safe country.

We are told they’re fleeing conflict, that they’re not economic migrants. And yet we can see with our own eyes that thousands of Albanians are coming here to work in the illegal drugs trade and send money home to their village, which is perfectly safe.

We are being asked to believe that these people are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery – despite the fact that WE KNOW they pay people smugglers tens of thousands of pounds to transport them willingly across an entire continent, sometimes two continents, to come and join their friends and family who have already made the journey over here. We’re being asked to believe that these people were brought here against their will, despite the fact they don’t want to go home when we offer them the chance to do so.

We are being asked to accept that the British taxpayer can not only afford, but also has a moral duty, to pay for people who are clearly not genuine asylum seekers to stay in four star hotels.

We’re being asked to believe that we can afford that…but at the same time we’re being asked to believe that we all have suffer a cost of living crisis, there isn’t any way we can house military veterans or subsidise the elderly with their heating bills.

We are told that there are no public health and safety concerns when it comes to these illegal immigrants – despite the fact that both the Parsons Green bomber and the Liverpool maternity hospital bomber were asylum seekers and now we’re seeing increases in the cases of diphtheria.

And it emerged over the weekend that we now have an open-door migrant system with two the world’s largest terrorist hotspots, Afghanistan and Syria, as 98% of asylum applicants are granted asylum with reduced security checks. But that’s fine.

And if you don’t think it’s fine, then you’re a racist.

Talking of racism…we are being asked to accept that mass-multiculturalism and extreme levels of racial diversity are completely enriching. That it is by definition, great. And yet, with our own eyes, we can see that not enough houses are being built, there are not enough school places, there are not enough doctors or nurses to look after everyone. And that we’re making no attempt to do anything about that. With our own lives we can see that our police forces are not tackling grooming gangs because they don’t want to enrage the British Pakistani male population.

With our own eyes we can see that there is growing tensions between Hindu and Muslim populations in places like Leicester. Foreign violent drama on the streets of Britain. We can see that.

But we are not just being asked to ignore that, we are being asked to accept that the opposite is true that places like Leicester are a multicultural paradise – despite the fact that there has just been race riots.

When it came to Coronavirus we were asked to believe that a virus had jumped from a bat to a human at a wet market in China, in the exact same area as a virology laboratory that had been testing bat-related coronaviruses. We were asked to believe that a vaccine created in a matter of months and still in the trial phase was 100% safe. We were asked to believe that locking down to protect ourselves from Covid would be worth it in the long run.

And yet we could all see that covid came from a Chinese lab, that the reality of it was being covered up, that Chris Whitty and Dr Fauci were complicit in that cover-up, that the vaccine can be largely ineffective and can kill people, that locking down will absolutely ruin our economy and lead to more deaths than people who would ever have died from coronavirus. But you’re a whacky, kooky conspiracy theorist if you think all of those things. And now it’s all coming true.

We were asked to believe that Twitter was not censoring people with views that its liberal, rainbow flag waving, polyamorous vegans didn’t approve of. We could see it happening, but we weren’t allowed to believe it. We, paradoxically, were asked to believe that Russia hacked Brexit and Trump’s election win – everybody’s favourite journalist Carole Cadwalladr kept banging on about it and Netflix did a documentary on it – but the reality is that the opposite is true. They suppressed Hunter Biden’s laptop, and his dad, who is obviously senile, was helped by Twitter to win the election …

There’s more at the link.

He concluded:

If you feel as though you are being asked to believe in things that you know aren’t true, that’s because you are. You are being asked to live in a virtual reality. We are being lied to about pretty much every major issue, by every major player. If you believe that what’s happening in the Channel is wrong, that women are women and men are men, that Covid was made in a lab you are not a racist, transphobic conspiracy theorist. You, my friend, are actually most people.

His show focused on those news stories.

Christys interviewed Red Wall MP Jonathan Gullis, representing one of the Stoke-on-Trent constituencies. They talked about the endless Channel crossings. Gullis was unhappy that hundreds of illegal migrants were ending up in the city’s hotels and putting a strain on the local infrastructure (also see the video here):

Christys went on to cover the pandemic with Dominique Samuels, a libertarian and frequent GB News contributor. They talked about how everything the contrarians said in March 2020 ended up becoming true. Conspiracy theorists became conspiracy factualists:

Next came the first of Elon Musk’s revelations about Twitter, including the suppression of news about Hunter Biden’s laptop, the 2020 election’s October surprise. Twitter also suspended the New York Post‘s account for having broken the story.

It turns out there was active collusion between the Democrats and Twitter to suppress the story. Democrat activists sent in links to objectionable tweets and Twitter ‘fixed’ them. A number of Twitter users lost their accounts.

A Dutch lawyer, Eva Vlaardingerbroek, said there would be more revelations to come:

I was surprised neither Christys nor Vlaardingerbroek had heard of the suppression before now, but, as they say, no major media outlets covered the story at the time.

Christys’s hour ended with an interview with Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a hereditary peer. Labour’s Keir Starmer, possibly our next Prime Minister, said that he wants to remake Britain. One of his objectives is to abolish the House of Lords. Monckton doubts whether this will happen. After all, the chamber is 1,000 years old and, yes, it was abolished at one point (Cromwell). It was revived and has survived this long with gentle reforms, so it is likely to keep going for many more years:

Monckton said that what Starmer — and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown — want to do is to ‘precisely’ adopt fascist leader Sir Oswald Moseley’s manifesto of 1936 regarding the Lords!

Good grief!

We’re going to need a miracle to survive what’s coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few weeks ago, a fellow Anglican and I were chatting about the peculiar archbishops in the Church of England (CofE).

‘They’re rather political, aren’t they?’ the woman asked.

I agreed and said, ‘Their job is to save souls.’

She looked at me, wide-eyed, as if this were some sort of revelation.

Apparently, it is a revelation as the results of the 2021 census show that the last time there have been so few Christians in Britain was during … the Dark Ages:

In just ten years, the percentage of British Christians has decreased from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011 to 46.2% (27.5 million) in 2021:

Proportionally, Wales on its own has a higher percentage of unbelievers than England:

This is an interesting video about religion in London:

Some people will rejoice at the news. However, the online editor of The Critic, Sebastian Milbank, warns of what happens in secular societies:

On Saturday, December 3, 2022, the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, wrote about the census for The Telegraph: ‘Christianity is not in terminal decline in Britain, whatever the census might say’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He writes:

Some commentators have responded to the census data about religious affiliation released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) by predicting the terminal decline of Christianity in our nation or declaring this as a statistical watershed moment …

Though the most common response to the voluntary question of religious affiliation remains “Christian,” there was a 13.1 percentage decrease from 2011 to 2021.

The ONS clarifies that these figures are about “the religion with which [respondents] connect or identify, rather than their beliefs or active religious practice.”

I do not find the trend in the responses to this particular question surprising: we have left behind the time when many people almost automatically identified as Christian.

Cottrell says that some British churches are very successful:

There are fewer people in the pews on a typical Sunday morning than a few decades ago but, at the same time, some of our churches – of all traditions and styles – are growing significantly …

It’s hard to know what churches he speaks of, but I would assume Evangelical ones that have nothing to do with the established church, the CofE. After all, the CofE rolled out local church growth programmes this year.

He posits that people are doing Christianity differently:

These apparently contrasting statistical snapshots inform a more complicated, though incomplete story, which is not one of terminal decline for religious faith nor Christianity, but more about how individuals in our ever-changing nation and culture choose to express their identity.

Hmm. I’m not so sure. In any case, that is a characteristically watery and woolly excuse, so prominent among today’s Anglican hierarchy.

He says:

the story that defines our identity has never been one of overwhelming numerical growth nor fear of extinction. Amid the complexities of identity, values and nation, Christians strive to live by the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ – a story notable for the absence of success by the world’s usual standards.

Yes, but, all the same, the CofE archbishops — York and Canterbury — are presiding over a diminishing church.

The Right Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, went to Ukraine last week. While many Anglican priests applauded his trip there …

… I wonder why he isn’t putting the same energy into getting those living in England back to church:

Personally, I think Welby went because it was a political mission for him.

Cottrell recounts the Christmas story, which also involves a census:

A watershed moment in that story happened when “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The events that then unfolded will be shared by millions of people in the UK this Christmas.

They will hear the baby Jesus described as a light that shines in the darkness. His story is not a tale of linear success, but about how that light shines through the difficult realities of our lives and finally overcomes all darkness.

A baby is born helpless in a stable to a very young mother in an occupied country. The family is threatened with murder and flees as refugees.

As he grows, Jesus will reject worldly power and wealth. He will feast and celebrate. He will weep and mourn. He will sit with the lonely. He will sit with his enemies. He will be loved and hated, cherished and betrayed.

He will suffer injustice and die a criminal’s death. And – as Christians believe – he will rise on Easter Sunday, and secure light rather than darkness as the very final word.

That’s the fundamental story that shapes Christian identity.

And it is why I am full of hope …

That hope started with a census.

Hmm.

For me, the Christmas story starts with the Annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, telling her that she would bear a child whose name would be Jesus.

Mary then visited her ageing cousin Elizabeth, also with child. Her son was John the Baptist, the prophet who heralded Jesus and His ministry. Mary’s words to Elizabeth are known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which begins as follows:

1    My soul doth magnify the Lord :

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

2    For he hath regarded :

the lowliness of his handmaiden.

3    For behold, from henceforth :

all generations shall call me blessed.

4    For he that is mighty hath magnified me :

and holy is his Name.

5    And his mercy is on them that fear him :

throughout all generations.

Cottrell ends by expressing Christianity in a very secular manner, although as with any wonky way of expressing it, there is always a germ of truth. Christians are the mainstay of combining practical and spiritual support:

… right now, across our nation Christians are offering practical help and spiritual support to anyone in need.

This winter, perhaps more than ever before, food and warmth and companionship are being made available by Christians.

We offer this to all – entirely irrespective of any census answers they may have given. And this dedication and service will continue, whatever the statistical trend.

Christians in our nation are part of a global faith: the largest movement on Earth, which is its greatest hope for a peaceful, sustainable future.

I can’t say that Cottrell’s article was particularly compelling. If I were an unbeliever, I certainly wouldn’t feel moved to attend church because of it.

As the Revd Marcus Walker, the rector of St Bartholomew The Great in the City of London, asks how we got here. As is so often the case, the laity offer informed answers, i.e. blaming the hierarchy:

This woman is right in saying that Anglican churches must return to focusing on God:

Advent is a great time for Anglican churches to attract converts. Most have choral concerts and quite a few offer Evensong:

For some attending, music goes straight to parts of the soul that liturgy or a sermon cannot reach:

I like Marcus Walker a lot and am glad that he is in charge of London’s oldest church that is still operating. St Bartholomew the Great was founded in 1123.

Another priest I like is the Revd Giles Fraser, who used to be the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. He is now the vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Giles Fraser rightly objects to the CofE hierarchy telling churches not to hold their carol services on the day of the World Cup final this month:

An even worse CofE idea is to show the final in church instead. Horrible:

Fraser says that we are called to be faithful, not successful:

It does not sound as if he is big on the church growth strategy:

In an UnHerd article, Fraser gave his suggestions on how Christianity can flourish again in the UK:

Excerpts from ‘Secularisation is leading Britain astray’ follow:

The results of the 2021 census, announced this week, tell us that we are a minority Christian country, with just 46% self-defining as Christian. The humanists are gleeful. And the treasurer tells me we are again set to lose tens of thousands of pounds next year. Churches in poorer areas may not survive the coming storm. Ones set in the leafy suburbs may be able to reinvent themselves as fancy conference venues — but both will be subject to a kind of death.

Of course, the universal church isn’t in this situation. It remains the largest movement on earth, despite a little local difficulty in this part of the world. It just goes to highlight the woeful parochialism of so much of our media coverage. The narrative of secularisation, and of its inevitability, is linked to that dodgy old Enlightenment idea of progress — which is as much a matter of wilful faith as anything said from the pulpit. Numerically speaking, the 20th century was the Church’s best since its creation

Despite the success of the church worldwide, we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful. The central image of the Christian faith is of a man being strung up on a cross, mocked for his claims to royal authority. Whatever the outcome of this cosmic interruption, whatever its meaning, triumphalism has little place amongst the detritus of spears and spit that attended His gruesome end. For Christians, victory is claimed in the manner of His failing. A smaller church is not a failed church any more than a satsuma is a failed orange, as one bishop rightly put it.

He points out where the CofE has gone wrong over the decades:

Generally speaking, however, the leadership of the Church of England is still gripped by the debilitating fear of numerical decline. It nervously responds at every turn with cheesy new initiatives bent on making us relevant and popular. These often have the very opposite of their intended consequences: cathedrals … turning themselves into fun parks of crazy golf or helter skelters. “Please like us,” they plead, desperately, with all the panache (and success rate) of spotty teenagers dousing themselves in cheap aftershave in a bid to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex.

Fraser rightly thinks that people want spiritual gravitas in their lives, something that only the Church can provide:

In part, we have to meet people where they are. But nevertheless, our core mission is responding to a deeper seriousness in people. And chumminess with the divine is not the answer. Where the church is failing its parishioners is how thin our offer can so often be. People don’t want weak jokes from the pulpit — they want fire. And too often we have been short-changing people by simply reflecting back to them an undemanding slate of soft-Left progressive values that they already have.

That is true. Many agnostics have told me that.

These are Fraser’s suggestions to CofE bishops:

There are three things the church leadership needs to hear: the uppermost among them is to stop being so afraid. “Fear not,” is the message of the Christmas angel. If God is in charge then, ultimately, we cannot fail ... We will not be saved by better management, or by a more compelling social media strategy: we will be saved by God or not at all. To say this is not to give us an alibi for inaction or laziness or lack of creativity — simply, to insist that we live or die by our theology.

You’d think we’d have learnt by now that relevance is an unappealing evangelistic strategy. We should be doing the very opposite of proclaiming our faith through the lens of popular culture. A minority church has the freedom to be defiantly culturally different, more learned even. It can be unapologetically serious about those things secular culture shies away from, like death and our need for salvation. We do not need to speak to God as if he were our mate. And we shouldn’t be so scared of people sometimes being a little bored in church: the silence of the monastic cloister is terrifying to a generation weaned on the internet and video games, but it is here that something deeper can be mined. The Church has to stop trying to satisfy every fidgety urge of its visitors.

Finally, we must fight to reclaim that particular strand of English Christianity — associated especially with the Church of England — that regards belonging as preceding believing. Going to church is a little like going to the pub. People speak of “my pub” or “my local” in the way they used to talk about “my church” — or at least they used to. This is a place where you expect to feel at home, where you belong. Here you are welcome whoever you are.

He says there will always be times when the Church waxes and wanes:

… as with all churches that concede to a market model, it is forever subject to the logic of boom and bust. As the Parable of the Sower has it, some seed falls on stony ground and springs up quickly but soon withers because there is no depth of soil.

The latest census has triggered a great deal of doom-mongering. I am merely adding to this, of course. Bishops do an impossible job and mostly do it pretty well, despite all the brickbats they receive. And the church will, of course, survive despite its diminished circumstances.

Fraser concludes by saying that we have much more to fear from a Godless society:

Ironically, I think the secular imagination has far more challenges in store. For once it has finished piggybacking on the inherited deposit of faith, it will have to work out what it believes and why. Not believing in anything, which is the fastest growing position, has nothing to offer as a foundation for many of our moral concerns. As Tom Holland has observed, human rights, for instance, borrow substantially from a Christian worldview. When that worldview disappears from sight, secular culture will be walking on little but thin air. Without a meaningful moral story to underpin it, might will be right and power supreme.

I could not agree more. People will not like what’s coming down the pike in the years ahead.

Marcus Walker was the guest preacher for Evensong at Fraser’s church on Sunday, December 4:

The two priests shared dinner afterwards:

In closing, here is the 2022 welcome to attend an Anglican church this Christmas season. It traces a woman’s Christian journey throughout her life. Fictitious though it is, I am glad the CofE were honest enough to show full pews when she was a little girl and empty seats once she entered widowhood:

The message is that church members will support each other through each stage of life.

I guess it will do.

The Queen’s funeral on September 19 made a much more powerful statement, the closest glimpse of heaven that we will see here on earth. Fortunately, more than 4 billion people around the world watched it.

I hope that the music, the readings and the liturgy bring some of those billions to the light and truth of Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker[a] in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labour would be in vain.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s yearning to see the Thessalonians again to check on their spiritual health; he said that Satan — through the persecuting Jews — prevented him from doing so.

The first verse of this chapter picks up where 1 Thessalonians 2 left off:

20 For you are our glory and joy.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone …

Paul was so consumed with love and concern for the new congregation in Thessalonica that he was willing to be left alone in Athens (verse 1).

John MacArthur gives us the chronological background. Recall that the three had been driven out of Thessalonica and, shortly afterwards, Paul from Berea (emphases mine):

Paul and Silas and Timothy had come to Thessalonica in Acts 17. They had preached there in the synagogue for three Sabbaths and then done some work among the Gentiles and established a churchPaul, Silas, Timothy then left Thessalonica. They left.  Paul then left Silas and Timothy at Berea, left them there to carry on a work. And in Acts 17 it says he went to Athens by himself.  So Paul went to Athens all alone.  Later it is obvious that Silas and Timothy came back and rejoined Paul at Athens because Paul here says he was left at Athens alone because he sent Timothy away.  And as I noted for you, Silas also was sent to MacedoniaSo they were left in Berea for a time.  Paul was alone in Athens for a while. Then they came and joined him in Athens.  Not long after that — we don’t have any time frame on this — according to verse 2, Timothy was then sent to Thessalonica, according to Acts 18:5, Silas was sent to Philippi, and Paul was again alone in Athens.

Now when he’s writing this he’s in Corinth He stayed in Athens for a while. Then he went to Corinth.  When he got to Corinth, Timothy came back to him and Silas came back to him.  So they were all rejoined in Corinth and it was after Timothy had come back there that he wrote this letter because now he had the information he wanted and he could write back and say how thankful he was about the good report from Timothy and he could also record some of these things about the integrity of his life, what he did, what he said, what he was, and what he felt, for the record.  But as he writes in chapter 3, he reminds them of the time when he was in Athens and sent Timothy to them and was left alone.

Coming to the second verse, note the different wording in the ESVUK above and those versions of our two commentators.

This is what Matthew Henry’s Bible version says:

2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:

This is John MacArthur’s:

2 And we sent Timothy, our brother, and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith

Paul is referring to himself once again in the first person plural. He did this in his other letters. It seems he viewed using the first person singular — ‘I’ — as being vulgar. He did not want to make his letters all about himself. Today, we would view what we call the ‘Royal we’ as being pompous, but it was not so centuries ago.

Timothy, as students of Paul’s letters know, was much younger than Paul. Yet, the Apostle viewed him as being spiritually one with him. In some letters, he refers to Timothy as ‘a son’. Here he refers to him as ‘our brother’. In all cases, he normally attributes a description, as he does here as ‘minister of God’ or ‘God’s fellow worker’ or ‘God’s co-worker’. Paul was willing to dispense with his help in order to go check in on the Thessalonians’ spiritual development, to establish — confirm — and exhort — encourage and comfort — them in their faith (verse 2).

Henry’s commentary explains Paul’s selflessness in sending Timothy:

We sent Timotheus, our brother. Elsewhere he calls him his son; here he calls him brother. Timothy was Paul’s junior in age, his inferior in gifts and graces, and of a lower rank in the ministry: for Paul was an apostle, and Timothy but an evangelist; yet Paul calls him brother. This was an instance of the apostle’s humility, and showed his desire to put honour upon Timothy and to recommend him to the esteem of the churches. He calls him also a minister of God. Note, Ministers of the gospel of Christ are ministers of God, to promote the kingdom of God among men. He calls him also his fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ. Note, Ministers of the gospel must look upon themselves as labourers in the Lord’s vineyard; they have an honourable office and hard work, yet a good work. This is a true saying, If any man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work, 1 Tim 3 1. And ministers should look upon one another, and strengthen one another’s hands, not strive and contend one with another (which will hinder their work), but strive together to carry on the great work they are engaged in, namely, to preach and publish the gospel of Christ, and to persuade people to embrace and entertain it and live suitably thereto.

The end and design why Paul sent Timothy: To establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith, v. 2. Paul had converted them to the Christian faith, and now he was desirous that they might be confirmed and comforted, that they might confirmed in the choice they had made of the Christian religion, and comforted in the profession and practice of it. Note, The more we are comforted, the more we shall be confirmed, because, when we find pleasure in the ways of God, we shall thereby be engaged to continue and persevere therein. The apostle’s design was to establish and comfort the Thessalonians concerning their faith,—concerning the object of their faith, namely, the truths of the gospel, and particularly that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world, and so wise and good, so powerful and faithful, that they might rely upon him,—concerning the recompence of faith, which was more than sufficient to balance all their losses and reward all their labours.

MacArthur recaps the times Paul sent Timothy to other churches:

It wasn’t easy for him to be dispossessed of his precious friends. But that kind of sacrifice marks the pastor’s heart. For the sake of someone else, he would gladly give up the best that he has. In this case it was Timothy. First Corinthians chapter 4, he was so concerned about the Corinthian church he said, “I’m going to send you Timothy. I’m going to send him to you.” To the Philippian church, chapter 2 he says in verse 19, “I hope to send Timothy to you.” In verse 20 he says, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” He dispatched Timothy a lot of places. It wasn’t easy to let him go, but it was necessary, and Timothy was his best and he gave his best. That’s what sacrifice is all about, it’s all about giving your best.

Paul didn’t have any worthy goods. He didn’t have anything worth value in terms of economics, monetary value. What he did have and what was so precious to him were his friends. I can understand that life would be extremely lonely and threatening for him. And the presence of friends was the best that he had. And when he gave it, he showed you the unselfishness of his heart.

MacArthur looks at the wording of the verse, explaining some of the Greek manuscript:

he calls him “God’s fellow worker.” Many manuscripts say, “God’s servant.”  It’s almost a toss-up, very hard to make a decision.  God’s servant, diakonos, would mean God’s servant, God’s minister, and surely he was that.  The word here in some manuscripts is sunergon, God’s fellow worker, God’s fellow doer.  He was both God’s minister or God’s servant and God’s fellow worker.  And so he commends Timothy not only for his relationship to himself as his brother but for his relationship to God as God’s fellow worker, God’s servant, if you will, either one.  During their 20-year relationship the apostle had discipled Timothy and all during that 20-year relationship, that young man, Timothy, was the man to whom Paul would give his mantle.  And from the very beginning Paul trusted him. This, by the way, was Paul’s missionary trip, still in progress, the first trip Timothy ever took with himHe’s brand new.  He joined Paul in Acts 16. In Acts 17 they’re in Thessalonica.  So Timothy is pretty new.  Yet the deep trust had developed, a deep confidence, a settled confidence.  Paul really believed in this young man and he sent him to the very difficult places.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s deep friendship with Timothy:

During those years of relationship he never lost that trust.  And as Timothy was floundering a little bit at the end, he had to write 1 and 2 Timothy to really strengthen him just before his own death so Timothy would carry on the work. But from the start he trusted him and he respected him.  And he said, “He’s our brother and God’s fellow worker,” I love this, “in the gospel of Christ.”  He’s involved in extending the gospel.  He’s involved in the salvation message.  Three times in chapter 2 the gospel is called the gospel of God; now it’s called the gospel of Christ, same gospel.  God is source, Christ is subject, right?  God is source, Christ is subject, same gospel, the good news of salvation provided by God in Christ.

So he sent Timothy, the best, the very best, gave his best gift, his dearest friend, his companion, though it meant hardship, personal loneliness, and exposure for him Truly a good reminder, good lesson for me.  You spend your time discipling men and some day you think maybe you’ll pass the mantle onto them, but God begins to move and all of a sudden you have to let them go. Somewhere else calls and you have to send your best.  We’ve been doing that for many years.  It’s hard to do that, to let some of the best men go.  It’s wonderful that God lets you keep some but you have to send some where they’re needed and you can’t be selfish. You have to be unselfish.

MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s deep desire to see the Thessalonians strengthened, encouraged and comforted in their faith:

Compassion for the people, compassion for his people. This flows out of that affection and that unselfishness. And when I say compassion I’m not using that word in a very general sense but in a rather specific sense. It means to suffer with. And that’s exactly the sense in which I mean it.

The pastor’s heart feels the heart of his people. We find that in verse 2. Let’s look at it. Timothy was sent, and here’s the reason, “To strengthen and encourage you as to your faith,” to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith. Now the Thessalonian Christians were good. In fact, chapter 1 outlines how really noble they were. We went through that in great detail. They had heard the Word, and applied it. They had become imitators of the apostle and his companions and the Lord. They had endured some persecution. They had turned to God from idols. They were waiting for the Second Coming. They were really a noble bunch. But they were still a baby church. They were still young in the faith. They still needed nurturing and growth. And he says, “I’m sending Timothy for the express purpose of strengthening and encouraging you as to your faith …

This was Timothy’s task. And certainly he had seen it modeled by Paul. You notice those two words “strengthen and encourage.” Very simply let me tell you what they mean. The word “strengthen” means to support or establish, it’s the idea of buttressing something, to support it. In other words, I want your faith in God to be strong, to be established, to be firm, to be solid, to be unwavering. And then I want to encourage you to apply what you know. I want to strengthen the foundation of your faith and I want to encourage you to apply it.

Now he’s not saying, “I want to strengthen and encourage you in any other specific” than in your faith. You say, “Well why does he sort of reduce it to that?” Because listen, folks, it’s very simple. If you are strong in your faith in God and Christ, then you have a foundation by which you can live your life. If you are weak in that, it’s hard to apply it. But once that foundation is strong and you’re firm, you can be encouraged to apply what you know.

Let me say it another way. What you believe about God and what you believe about Christ are the key to how you live. The stronger my knowledge of God and Christ, the stronger my trust in them, right? The more I know about God through His revelation, the more I know about Christ, the more that is deeply imbedded in my heart, the stronger, more resolute and unwavering my confidence in Him will be. And then I can be encouraged to make application of those things I know. But if I don’t know too much about God, then I don’t know enough to trust Him in every issue. If I don’t know that much about Christ, then I can get knocked all over the place when somebody attacks me because I…I don’t know that much, my faith is vacillating.

Paul is saying, “I want Timothy to come and increase your capacity for trusting God and therefore encouraging you to apply God’s truth.” If I don’t trust God, I’m going to worry about everything. And if I don’t know all I need to know about God and about Christ, I don’t have enough information to make application. So he says I’m going to have Timothy come.

Paul says he is sending Timothy so that none of them will be ‘moved’ — discouraged — by their afflictions, because believers are destined for ‘this’, meaning a challenge to one’s faith by false teachers, who were already in Thessalonica, as well as persecution (verse 3).

Henry says:

There was danger, [1.] By reason of affliction and persecution for the sake of the gospel, v. 3. These Thessalonians could not but perceive what afflictions the apostles and preachers of the gospel met with, and this might possibly stumble them; and also those who made profession of the gospel were persecuted, and without doubt these Thessalonians themselves were afflicted.

MacArthur says that Paul was worried about the Thessalonians, so new to the faith, being lured away from it or vaccilating in it because of false teachers and/or persecution:

That is a very interesting verb, sainō. It means to wag and it was used of a dog wagging his tail.  I don’t want any of you going through this, being…going back and forth, back and forth.  In fact, it had a kind of an interesting possible meaning as well, it came to mean to allure, to fascinate, flatter or beguile.  You say, “How does that connect with a dog wagging his tail?”   Well, because when a dog comes up and wags his tail it is usually trying to draw attention to itself because it wants something.  And the word sort of went through an etymology and finally meant to allure, to fascinate, to flatter, to beguile.  I don’t want anybody either to knock you around and I don’t want anybody to fascinate, beguile, or allure you away from the truth.  So either meaning could have been in Paul’s mind. It’s difficult to know which.

Now what’s going to cause that? What’s going to cause them to waver or to be [lured] away from truth? He says, “These afflictions,” these pressures, these tests of faith. They can do that. I don’t want that to happen. So I’ve got to get Timothy there to get you strong. And he says, “I…I know they’re coming, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” How did they know? “For indeed when we were with you we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction and so it came to pass, as you know.” It was inevitable that it was going to come, we told you it was going to come, but when it comes I don’t want you to start moving around and being beguiled. I want you to stay strong and firm and true so I’m sending Timothy to do that. And he was already feeling their pain and their pressure and their tribulation and identifying with it.

It is important for true believers not to sugar-coat the Gospel, because our Lord Himself said that there would be trouble for new believers before there is inner peace:

That phrase, “You yourselves know that we have been destined for this,” boy, we ought to really camp on that today. You can say to someone when you’re leading them to Christ, “By the way, you’re not only destined for eternal glory, you’re destined for temporal trouble.” That’s right. There is no health, wealth, prosperity gospel being preached here. Paul is not saying Jesus is the answer to all of your problems. He is saying Jesus is the path to some new ones. When you give your life to Jesus Christ, you are promised eternal peace and temporal trouble. It’s guaranteed, it’s built in. “All that will live godly in this present age will suffer persecution.” Expect it, that’s how it is. We’re called to this. Peter says, “After you’ve suffered a while the Lord will make you perfect.” James says, “Count it all joy when you fall into these trials” because God is using them to perfect you. Paul says, “All these things that happen to you work together for good.” And he says, “No matter what comes against you, life, death, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, nothing is going to ultimately move you from the love of God.” But the other side of it is, get ready cause it’s all going to come. It’s all going to come. You are destined for trouble. Jesus said, “That they treated Me this way, do you think they’ll treat you any different?” “In this world you shall have (what?) tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In other words, you’re going to have temporal trouble, look ahead to eternal glory

Preaching a prosperity ‘gospel’ or telling a convert that Christianity means a trouble-free life are causing that person to stumble:

You preach that stuff to people that Jesus will make you trouble free and then they have trouble and they’re going to question whether Jesus can do anything. They’re going to question His power. They’re going to question their conversion. Confusion is endless, because whether they preach a prosperity gospel or not, people are going to have trouble. They can preach it all they want, it won’t change anything, it isn’t reality. People are going to have trouble. Now you might as well be told, folks, you come to Christ, you’re going to have trouble, lots of trouble, because you’re living in a fallen world and you’re a fallen person. And not only that, you have enough trouble just being fallen in a fallen world, now you’re going to have trouble from the other fallen people in the fallen world who don’t like what you claim in Christ. So you’re going to have a different kind of trouble, a new kind of trouble.

But be of good cheer because what you have that they don’t have is you know it’s temporary. 

Paul tells the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he said they would suffer affliction, which it had and they knew it (verse 4).

MacArthur says:

“When we were with you we kept telling you in advance.” We were predicting it, that you were going to suffer affliction, you were going to be put under pressure. You knew it, we told you. But even though we told you, I also know you’ve got to be strong to deal with it.

MacArthur looks at Paul’s words and, universally, what should be a good pastor’s heart in leading a congregation:

Sometimes I wonder what people think a pastor is supposed to do. Some people think he’s supposed to entertain them. What a pastor is supposed to do is help you to get your faith so strong that when you go through trouble you can be encouraged to apply your faith. That’s a pastor’s responsibility. That’s a pastor’s heart. And in order to do that, you have to care about that. And Paul had compassion. He felt their pain, he hurt when they hurt, he was weak when they were weak. When they sinned he felt the pain.

Trouble, that’s inevitable. That’s the way it is in this world. Jesus said it, didn’t He? Let’s go a step above Paul and look at an even better model, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when all men revile you, persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10, you can expect that the pupil will be like his teacher, the servant will be like his master. Implication, if they treat the master one way, they’ll treat the servant the same way. Expect it. Jesus gave us that pattern and He was so compassionate because He understood the trouble. Give me a pastor who expects that the Christian life is going to have pain and sorrow and difficulty and trouble, because then I’ll have the compassion that the pastor is supposed to have. Deliver me, Lord, from ever being under somebody who thinks life ought to be without trouble.

What is a pastor’s heart? The pastor’s heart is a heart that has affection for his people, the heart that is unselfish toward his people, a heart that has compassion for the trouble of his people. All that moved Paul to do what he did.

Paul then repeats some of the words he used in the first verse to impress upon the Thessalonians that, when he could bear his inner pain for them no longer, he sent Timothy to see how they were progressing in the faith; Paul did not want ‘the tempter’ — Satan — to cause them to vacillate in their faith, rendering his efforts useless (verse 5).

Paul faced trouble in Athens, but he sent Timothy to the Thessalonians anyway.

MacArthur reminds us:

… the work at Athens where he was when he sent Timothy was difficult.  He was facing cynical philosophers and speculators.  He was in a very anti-God, anti-Christ situation.  It would have been easy for him to say, “I wish I could send Timothy but I need him so much here, we’re trying to reach a whole city full of philosophers. We’re trying to reach a city on its way to hell.  I need his help.  I don’t want to be alone in trying to confront this cynical culture.”  But he said, “I couldn’t endure the separation, I couldn’t endure not knowing about you.  I couldn’t stand the lonely ignorance and so I thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone and sent Timothy.”  This is unselfishness.

MacArthur describes what the Thessalonians were experiencing:

They were being persecuted.  They were being attacked.  Satan was after them.  Demons were after them. Godless men and women were after them.  And again I submit to you that Jesus is the perfect model of compassion again, for it is He who is the sympathetic high priest who is touched the feelings of our infirmities, who is the perfect Shepherd, the true Shepherd, the great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who feels the pain of His wounded people.  Jesus, the true Shepherd, Paul the under-shepherd had a pastor’s heart marked by affection, unselfishness and compassion …

MacArthur explains the fifth verse:

For this reason, he says, when I could endure it no longer, so I sent to find out about your faith.  What’s the reason?  The fear that the tempter had tempted you and all our effort was for nothing.  I wanted to protect you from the tempter.  This is the real care of the pastor.  Paul had a great sense of watchfulness, a sense of protectiveness.  He was deeply concerned.  To be real honest with you, when he sent Timothy… Now remember, he was in Athens when he sent Timothy. Later on in Corinth, Timothy returned back and told him everything was well at Thessalonica, and that’s when he wrote this letter back.  So the commendation of this church in chapter 1 is based on Timothy going and bringing back the report But at the time when he sent Timothy, he had no such report.  He didn’t know if their faith would stand the test.  Consequently he didn’t know if it was real faith.

There is a kind of response to the gospel that springs up for a little while.  Remember the rocky ground in Matthew 13?  And when the tribulation comes and the pressure and the persecution, it dies.  There is a kind of response that springs up for a little while, but it’s the weedy ground, and the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the allurements of the flesh choke it out and it dies, and only time will tell.  And when Paul sent Timothy, he didn’t have any word yet about their labor of love and their patience of hope He didn’t have any word about the fact that they were imitators of Paul and the others.  He didn’t have any word yet that the Word was sounding out from them.  He didn’t have any word yet that they had truly turned from idols to serve the living God and that they were waiting for Jesus Christ.  That’s what he wanted to know.  Was their faith real?  You can’t tell at the moment.  You may not be able to tell in the first few weeks.  But when the trials come and the testing comes, then you can tell

What does Satan want to do when the seed is sown?  Well if he can’t come along and pick it right off, he wants to destroy it with the heat of persecution.  He wants to choke it out with the enticing lusts of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life that are lured by the world and riches.

Henry says that Satan takes advantage of believers’ suffering and lures them away from faith:

The devil is a subtle and unwearied tempter, who seeks an opportunity to beguile and destroy us, and takes all advantages against us, both in a time of prosperity and adversity; and he has often been successful in his attacks upon persons under afflictions. He has often prejudiced the minds of men against religion on account of the sufferings its professors are exposed to. We have reason therefore to be jealous [protective] over ourselves and others, lest we be ensnared by him …

Note, It is the devil’s design to hinder the good fruit and effect of the preaching of the gospel. If he cannot hinder ministers from labouring in the word and doctrine, he will, if he be able, hinder them of the success of their labours. Note also, Faithful ministers are much concerned about the success of their labours. No one would willingly labour in vain; and ministers are loth to spend their strength, and pains, and time, for nought.

MacArthur explains Paul’s concern that his work in planting the Thessalonian church might have been in vain:

“Our fear would be that the tempter would come and tempt you and our labor should be in vain.”  What a statement.  That Satan would come and snatch the seed away.  Satan would come and bring the pressure and the plant would die, choke off, and it would all be for nothing.  Our labor, that word kopos, sweat, toil, would be for nothing, useless, empty, void, wasted, pointless.

And so he was a protector.  He didn’t want to work for nothing.  He didn’t want to come to the end of his life and realize that all the effort he made was absolutely empty and void.  And if their faith did fail, then it would have been for nothing.  If their faith failed then they weren’t real Christians at all.  Or if their faith failed, they had those initial longings toward believing but they were choked out, and even if their faith was real and they were true Christians and they fell into gross sin at some point, temptation, victims of those attacking them, it would have broken his heart and he would have felt like he failed.  So there’s a…there’s a protectiveness.

Jesus thought and prayed similarly:

As He prayed to His Father, the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, verse 15, He says, “I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”  He prayed a protective prayer, too.  He told Peter, “I’m going to protect you.  Satan’s going to sift you, he’s going to throw you in the air, turmoil, trouble, but I’m going to protect you.”

Today we learned more about the characteristics of a true pastor, a shepherd of the flock:

What marks the true shepherd’s heart?  Affection, unselfishness, compassion, protectiveness.  Let me give you a fifth, delight in his people

We’ll find out more about the fifth characteristic next week.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

The Second Sunday of Advent is on December 4, 2022.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 3:1-12

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long post, so grab yourself a cuppa and a snack.

To set the background for John the Baptist, it had been 400 years since God had sent the Jews a prophet.

Malachi was the last. This is Malachi 4, with which the Old Testament ends:

Judgment and Covenant Renewal

[a]“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming (verse 1) repentance, for the kingdom of heaven was near (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that both John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus were of humble families and led unremarkable childhoods, yet figured mightily in God’s plan:

Glorious things were spoken both of John and Jesus, at and before their births, which would have given occasion to expect some extraordinary appearances of a divine presence and power with them when they were very young; but it is quite otherwise. Except Christ’s disputing with the doctors at twelve years old, nothing appears remarkable concerning either of them, till they were about thirty years old. Nothing is recorded of their childhood and youth, but the greatest part of their life is tempos, adelonwrapt up in darkness and obscurity: these children differ little in outward appearance from other children, as the heir, while he is under age, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. And this was to show, 1. That even when God is acting as the God of Israel, the Saviour, yet verily he is a God that hideth himself (Isa 45 15). The Lord is in this place and I knew it not, Gen 28 16. Our beloved stands behind the wall long before he looks forth at the windows, Cant 2 9. 2. That our faith must principally have an eye to Christ in his office and undertaking, for there is the display of his power; but in his person is the hiding of his power. All this while, Christ was god-man; yet we are not told what he said or did, till he appeared as a prophet; and then, Hear ye him. 3. That young men, though well qualified, should not be forward to put forth themselves in public service, but be humble, and modest, and self-diffident, swift to hear, and slow to speak.

Matthew says nothing of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is largely related by St. Luke, but finds him at full age, as if dropt from the clouds to preach in the wilderness. For above three hundred years the church had been without prophets; those lights had been long put out, that he might be the more desired, who was to be the great prophet. After Malachi there was no prophet, nor any pretender to prophecy, till John the Baptist, to whom therefore the prophet Malachi points more directly than any of the Old Testament prophets had done (Mal 3 1); I send my messenger.

Henry describes this wilderness, sometimes called a desert, of Judea, which has biblical significance:

It was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not so thickly peopled, nor so much enclosed into fields and vineyards, as other parts were; it was such a wilderness as had six cities and their villages in it, which are named, Josh 15 61, 62. In these cities and villages John preached, for thereabouts he had hitherto lived, being born hard by, in Hebron; the scenes of his action began there, where he had long spent his time in contemplation; and even when he showed himself to Israel, he showed how well he loved retirement, as far as would consist with his business. The word of the Lord found John here in a wilderness. Note, No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of divine grace; nay, commonly the sweetest intercourse the saints have with Heaven, is when they are withdrawn furthest from the noise of this world. It was in this wilderness of Judah that David penned the 63d Psalm, which speaks so much of the sweet communion he then had with God, Hos 2 14. In a wilderness the law was given; and as the Old Testament, so the New Testament Israel was first found in the desert land, and there God led him about and instructed him, Deut 32 10. John Baptist was a priest of the order of Aaron, yet we find him preaching in a wilderness, and never officiating in the temple; but Christ, who was not a son of Aaron, is yet often found in the temple, and sitting there as one having authority; so it was foretold, Mal 3 1. The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple; not the messenger that was to prepare his way. This intimated that the priesthood of Christ was to thrust out that of Aaron, and drive it into a wilderness.

The beginning of the gospel in a wilderness, speaks comfort to the deserts of the Gentile world. Now must the prophecies be fulfilled, I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, Isa 41 18, 19. The wilderness shall be a fruitful field, Isa 32 15. And the desert shall rejoice, Isa 35 1, 2. The Septuagint reads, the deserts of Jordan, the very wilderness in which John preached.

As the prophets did before him, John the Baptist exhorted his audiences to repent, to turn their lives away from sin:

Those who are truly sorry for what they have done amiss, will be careful to do so no more. This repentance is a necessary duty, in obedience to the command of God (Acts 17 30); and a necessary preparative and qualification for the comforts of the gospel of Christ. If the heart of man had continued upright and unstained, divine consolations might have been received without this painful operation preceding; but, being sinful, it must be first pained before it can be laid at ease, must labour before it can be at rest.

John MacArthur looks at the Greek word for ‘proclaim’, or ‘preach’:

It says in verse 1, “He came preaching,” and the Greek word there is “to herald,” “to announce,” “to proclaim,” kerussoAlso, it’s interesting that it says, “In those days came John,” and the verb “came” there is literally used in the Greek to speak of the arrival of an official The arrival of an official.  John was an official herald announcing the arrival of a king; and you know his message in verse 2?  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And “at hand” means it’s imminent, it’s the next thing

Kerusso, the noun form is krux or krux, and it means “a herald.”  Literally, “one who with a loud voice announces the arrival of a king” – a herald.  And so he was heralding.  He was heralding, and what was he heralding?  “Repent!”  That was the message.  “This kind of King demands that you repent.”  In other words, He wants you to worship Him, but you can’t worship Him legitimately until you get sin out of the way You can’t come to Jesus Christ and just worship Him first.  First, you’ve gotta deal with your sin.  That’s what he was saying.

He was saying to Israel, “Look, you just can’t accept the King and begin to worship the King.  You’ve gotta get rid of your sin.”  In fact, it’s the identical message that Jesus preached when He came.  Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach.” And what did He say?  “Repent.”  Same sermon.  Jesus and John preached the same sermon.  The word “repent,” metanoeo, means more than just sorrow.  We think of repentance, and we say, “Oh, he’s so repentant.  He’s weepy, and he’s sorrowful.”  That isn’t what the word means in the Greek It means “to turn around.”  It means “to be converted.”  It means a change of opinion.  A change of purpose.  A change of direction.  A change of mind.  A change of will.  A change from sin to holiness.

Broadus, who has written a classic commentary on Matthew, says, “Wherever this Greek word is used in the New Testament, the reference is to changing the mind and the purpose from sin to holiness.  It implies sorrow for sin, but that’s not what it means.  It means to turn around.”  It is 2 Corinthians 7 that talks about godly repentance, godly sorrow, that turns you around, and that’s what John was saying He wasn’t just saying, “I want you to feel sorry for your sin.”  He was saying, “I want you to change from sin to holiness.  You will never have the kingdom.  You will never have the King until you turn around.”  The message really could be better translated, “Get converted.  Get converted.”

MacArthur discusses Matthew’s use of the words ‘the kingdom of heaven’:

The precise phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” is not found in the Old Testament; but it is an Old Testament concept.  This is why I say that.  Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, in Daniel 4:37, refers to God as “the king of heaven.”  Daniel 2:44 calls Him “the God of heaven”; and Daniel 4:25 says, “He will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed.”  Now, the God of heaven, the King of heaven, God and heaven are then associated.  The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God then are associated terms.

Now, Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven” 32 times; and he is the only gospel writer that ever uses it Mark doesn’t use it.  Luke doesn’t use it.  John doesn’t use it.  They use “the kingdom of God,” and there may be a special reason for that.  As I tried to point out from Daniel, and there are many other illustrations, heaven and God were thought of as synonymous.  God was the King of heaven; and the reason Matthew may use it is because Matthew’s gospel is a characteristically Jewish gospel; and one thing about Jews that you learn historically as you study Judaism is that a Jew would never say the name of God; and in deference to that, they would substitute frequently the term “heaven.”

MacArthur explains what the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is:

The kingdom of heaven has two aspects.  Two aspects – the outer and the inner, and sometimes, in the gospels, the outer is in view, and sometimes the inner is in view Let me show you what I mean.  In the broadest sense, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, includes – watch this – everybody who professes to acknowledge God.  Now, in Matthew 13 we’ll see that, that the kingdom of heaven’s got in it wheat and what?  Tares, right?  That the kingdom of heaven is like a great big bush with birds in it; and you’ve got the true and the false, the real and the non-real.

So in the outer sense, the kingdom of heaven is, is everybody that professes; but in the inner sense, it’s only the really regenerated, born-again, genuinely saved people; and in some passages, the inner is in view; and in some, the outer; and we’ll see that as we go through Matthew.  The big circle of profession includes the true and the false.  The little circle only those truly born again in Christ.

Now, tracing the kingdom will help us a little bit.  Let me give you a quick little historical look at the kingdom.  We’re gonna go flying by, so hang on.  There are five distinct phases in the kingdom.  Five phases.  I, I tried to reduce a very difficult subject to simple terms so I could understand it and pass it on to you simply.

First of all, it’s talking about the rule of God.  The rule of God over the hearts of men and over the world.  Both are included.  Now, the first phase of this thing is the prophesied kingdom, the prophesied kingdom.  For example, Daniel said that God is gonna come and set up a kingdom, a kingdom that’ll never be destroyed; and Daniel foresaw that Christ would be the King of that kingdom It was a prophesied kingdom.

The second thing, the second phase of this is what you could call the present kingdom or the at-hand kingdom; and that was the kingdom described by John the Baptist He was saying, “The prophesied rule of God is now imminent.  It’s now ready.”  Jesus said it.  The twelve said it.  It’s at hand.  It’s coming.  It’s imminent.  It’s near.  The rule of God, the reign of Christ, both internally and externally – it’s here.

Then the third phase of the kingdom was what I call the interim phase The prophesied, the imminent or at-hand, and the interim; and, there, the kingdom is described in this way.  After the King was rejected by Israel, the King returned to heaven, and the kingdom now exists in a mystery form.  Christ isn’t literally in the world, literally reigning, literally sitting in Jerusalem ruling the kingdom; but He reigns a kingdom in the hearts of all who acknowledge Him as Lord, right?  So it’s an interim kingdom, the mystery form.  So you have the prophesied, the at-hand, which would’ve been both earthly and internal, the whole thing; and when they wouldn’t accept the King, the kingdom went inside; and now in a mystery form is in the hearts of those who believe And, as Paul says in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”  It’s internal.

The fourth phase of the kingdom is what I call the manifest phase You start with the prophesied, the at-hand, the interim, and then the manifest; and this is the literal, thousand-year millennium that is to come It will involve an external rule where Christ literally rules, physically in the earth, and an internal where He rules the hearts of the believing people.

The book of Revelation talks about this.  Jesus, in Matthew 16, gave people a glimpse of this in the transfiguration.  So what do you have?  You have the prophesied kingdom, the at-hand one, the interim one, the manifest one for a thousand years; and finally what I call the everlasting kingdom.  Second Peter 1:11, Peter calls it, “The eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The fifth and final phase.

Now, that’s generally the flow of the kingdom.  The Old Testament prophesied a kingdom — a kingdom that would be external, where they would literally be in the earth; and the earth would be the place of the kingdom; and the earth would be ruled by the King; and it would also be internal, the hearts of the believing people would submit to that reign.  And John and Jesus and the twelve said it’s at hand. But it was rejected, and so an interim, internal kingdom has taken form now that we call this mystery age.  But one day the kingdom will be manifest internally and externally, and then that thousand-year kingdom will exist and, at the end of that, an everlasting kingdom.

This bit is particularly interesting:

So John was talking about the at-hand. Now listen to me – had they received John, and had they received Christ, there never would have been the interim – you understand that there never would have been the mystery church age. They would have gone into the thousand-year manifest kingdom and from there right into the everlasting kingdom, and John would have been that Elijah and it would have all been fulfilled. But when they killed the forerunner and they killed the King, the whole thing was future postponed and in the meantime the mystery kingdom dwells in the hearts of believing people. And Christ may not be reigning in the world, but He’s reigning in my heart, right, and your heart. So John was calling the nation to turn its back on sin, to be converted, to get ready for the kingdom, because the kingdom was coming.  The tragedy of it is that they didn’t hear his message.  They didn’t listen.  They never received the kingdom, and that whole generation died without the King, died without the kingdom, and went into hell. So the man, the message, and the motive.

The notion of the herald continues as Matthew tells is that Isaiah spoke of a man in the wilderness who would cry out, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (verse 3).

MacArthur explains:

Fourthly, the mission. Simply stated, and we’ve already seen it, he was called to be the herald of Christ, but the mission was laid out long before in the Old Testament prophets.  Look at verse 3, “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'”  He fulfilled Isaiah 40, verse 3, “He is the one of whom the prophets spoke.”  He is the one who was to come and get things ready, and he was preparing a way.  Not a road, not a dirt path, but a way into the hearts of believing people.  He was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

Oh, that’s such a great passage.  Isaiah 40, you see, that tells us about the forerunner in 40, verse 3. But in the verses after it tells us why he was getting them ready.  Listen to chapter 40 verse 1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” and you can’t know what an exciting thing that was in chapter 40 ’cause they had just had 39 chapters full of judgment; and, boy, here comes this comfort “Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem.  Cry to her.  Her warfare is accomplished.  Her iniquity is pardoned.  She’s received from the Lord hands, Lord’s hands double for her sins.”  All that’s done, and now comes the voice of him that cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Why?!  Because the kingdom is coming, and he describes it this way:  “Every valley shall be exalted.  Every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The crooked shall be made straight, and rough places plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”  One of the, one of my favorite passages of the Messiah taken from that marvelous text.

You see, John was crying to prepare the people for the kingdom, and Isaiah described the kingdom in 4 and 5.  He was fulfilling the prophetic word of Isaiah.  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make his paths straight.  Prepare a road into your heart by turning from sin.”  So his mission was preparation, deep conviction.  He wanted to bring to bear on Israel such conviction that they confessed they were unfit, sinners, poor, damned, miserable – he was a judgment preacher.  He was a judgment preacher designed by God from way back in the book of Isaiah to confront a wicked, evil nation and get ’em right for the arrival of the King. So he fulfilled prophecy.

Part of the herald’s job was to make sure that the road upon which the forthcoming king travelled was smooth and free of obstacles.

MacArthur says that the straight paths here were spiritual rather than literal:

So to John was given the role of being the herald of the King, announcing the King’s arrival and making sure the people made the preparations so that the path was smooth This was a customary oriental thing, and John was called to do it.  Only in his case, he was heralding the King of kings; and in his case, he wasn’t asking people to prepare a dirt road He was asking them to prepare the road into their hearts, that the King might enter there.  That was his purpose.

Henry has more on the corrupt religious system that the Jewish hierarchy imposed on the people, legalistic without holiness:

In the Jewish church and nation, at that time, all was out of course; there was a great decay of piety, the vitals of religion were corrupted and eaten out by the traditions and injunctions of the elders. The Scribes and Pharisees, that is, the greatest hypocrites in the world, had the key of knowledge, and the key of government, at their girdle. The people were, generally, extremely proud of their privileges, confident of justification by their own righteousness, insensible of sin; and, though now under the most humbling providences, being lately made a province of the Roman Empire, yet they were unhumbled; they were much in the same temper as they were in Malachi’s time, insolent and haughty, and ready to contradict the word of God: now John was sent to level these mountains, to take down their high opinion of themselves, and to show them their sins, that the doctrine of Christ might be the more acceptable and effectual. (2.) His doctrine of repentance and humiliation is still as necessary as it was then to prepare the way of the Lord. Note, There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, to bow the heart for the reception of the Son of David (2 Sam 19 14); and nothing is more needful, in order to this, than the discovery of sin, and a conviction of the insufficiency of our own righteousness. That which lets will let, until it be taken out of the way; prejudices must be removed, high thoughts brought down, and captivated to the obedience of Christ. Gates of brass must be broken, and bars of iron cut asunder, ere the everlasting doors be opened for the King of glory to come in. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Heb 12 13.

John wore simple clothes made from camel hair along with a leather belt; he ate locusts and wild honey (verse 4).

It is probable that he had taken a lifelong Nazirite vow, as Samson and Samuel did.

However, our commentators note that Old Testament prophets dressed similarly and lived simply without that particular vow.

Henry says that John might have purposely dressed like Elijah:

John appeared in this dress, (1.) To show that, like Jacob, he was a plain man, and mortified to this world, and the delights and gaieties of it. Behold an Israelite indeed! Those that are lowly in heart should show it by a holy negligence and indifference in their attire; and not make the putting on of apparel their adorning, nor value others by their attire. (2.) To show that he was a prophet, for prophets wore rough garments, as mortified men (Zech 13 4); and, especially, to show that he was the Elias promised; for particular notice is taken of Elias, that he was a hairy man (which, some think, is meant of the hairy garments he wore), and that he was girt with a girdle of leather about his loins, 2 Kings 1 8. John Baptist appears no way inferior to him in mortification; this therefore is that Elias that was to come. (3.) To show that he was a man of resolution; his girdle was not fine, such as were then commonly worn, but it was strong, it was a leathern girdle; and blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he comes, finds with his loins girt, Luke 12 35; 1 Pet 1 13.

As for his meagre diet from foraging, Henry posits that he probably had more normal meals, just not that often:

… his meat was locusts and wild honey; not as if he never ate any thing else; but these he frequently fed upon, and made many meals of them, when he retired into solitary places, and continued long there for contemplation. Locusts were a sort of flying insect, very good for food, and allowed as clean (Lev 11 22); they required little dressing, and were light, and easy of digestion, whence it is reckoned among the infirmities of old age, that the grasshopper, or locust, is then a burden to the stomach, Eccl 12 5. Wild honey was that which Canaan flowed with, 1 Sam 14 26. Either it was gathered immediately, as it fell in the dew, or rather, as it was found in the hollows of trees and rocks, where bees built, that were not, like those in hives, under the care and inspection of men. This intimates that he ate sparingly, a little served his turn; a man would be long ere he filled his belly with locusts and wild honey: John Baptist came neither eating nor drinking (ch. 11 18)—not with the curiosity, formality, and familiarity that other people do. He was so entirely taken up with spiritual things, that he could seldom find time for a set meal.

The people of Jerusalem and all of Judea as well as those who lived along the Jordan flocked to him (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

This man had an amazing impact.  He called the society to attention.  In Matthew 21:26, it says, “For all men hold John as a prophet.”  It was common belief this was a prophet from God, and they went out. 

John baptised people in the River Jordan and they confessed their sins (verse 6).

This was radical, because the Jews of that era had ritual ceremonial baths but not the type of baths that proselytes — converts — had. John the Baptist’s form of baptism was the kind that those converting to Judaism had.

MacArthur explains:

As much of a shock as it was, people came, and they were baptized, and they confessed their sin Can you imagine it out there? One crowd after another, everywhere, even in Galilee they came.

The fact that they were baptized is shocking.  I’ll tell you why.  Listen to me.  Never — I’ll say it again — never in all history had any Jew submitted to being baptized Okay?  This is something new.  “Oh,” you say, “what about the Levitical washings?”  Those were different.  The Levitical washings of the hands and the feet and the head and all of that were frequent.  There were certain ceremonial bathings among the Essenes, which was a community of the Jews living out in that area; but all of those – listen to this – purification ceremonies were repeated daily and even hourly if you sin.  You understand that?  These were just ceremonial washings, and every time you suspected another pollution, you did it again.

John’s baptism was a one-time, one-shot deal; and Jews never did that.  You say, “Why?”  Listen to this.  Because single baptism was exactly what was required of a Gentile proselyte, who was entering into Judaism. And a Jew who would submit himself to that kind of baptism would be saying, in effect, “I am an outsider seeking entrance into the people of God,” and that’s quite an admission, isn’t it?  They were literally indulging themselves in proselyte baptism.

So, they did this; it was really a step.  A member of God’s chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God’s salvation, baptized like a common proselyte? And, yet, that’s exactly what John asked of them He called Israel to realize that their nationality couldn’t save ’em.  Their race couldn’t save ’em.  They had to forsake sin.  They had to be converted to righteousness.  They had to get in the kingdom like everybody else did; and in the East, no act of religion, no act of crisis in religion was ever done in the heart without an external act to go with it.  That was part of the culture, and baptism in the Jordan River was the sign of the public confession of sin that had occurred in the heart.

So John was calling for a fundamental transformation that even a Jew had to make.  Now, some of these people were hypocritical.  Some of them went through it, but they were phony … the fascinating confrontation with the snakes who were also known as Pharisees.  But they came confessing their sins.  The man had an incredible impact on the entire country.

When John saw the Pharisees — those who had devised the legalistic religious system — and the Sadducees — those who ran the temple system and did not believe in the divinely supernatural — he called them a brood of vipers and asked them who warned them to flee from the wrath to come (verse 7).

MacArthur says that the Pharisees inherited their beliefs from the predecessors, the Hasidim. (Today’s Hasidim are probably a mix of the original and of the Pharisees.) The Pharisees focused more on legalism than holiness:

… it all started out kind of okay with the Hasidim, but by the time it got to the reorganized Pharisees, they perverted everything.  And there was no inward life left.  There was no real devotion.  There was no real consecration.  There was no real piety.  There was no real godliness.  It was all an external, phony deal to set themselves above everybody else as the real super spiritual people.  They were, literally, fanatics at self-righteousness.  They withdrew themselves, Luke 7:39 says, from all sinners.  And they tried to condemn Jesus for even going near sinners.  You remember that?  They blasted Him for hanging around drunkards, winebibbers and sinners, and any of those kinds of people.  They tried to force Jesus into their same kind of fanatical self-righteousness.

The Sadducees got rich off the sacrificial system and courted the Greeks when they ruled, then the Romans:

They didn’t particularly care about the intrusion of Greek culture.  They could have cared less about Greek customs.  They were the ones who courted and kowtowed and hassled around and fiddled with Rome to get everything they could out of it.  The high priests at the time of Jesus were Sadducees.  They were compromisers.  They didn’t believe in any resurrection, so they didn’t have to worry about how they lived ’cause there weren’t any consequences.  They just, you know, made hay while the sun shined, that’s all.  Everything was here-and-now, get it while you can get it, make it while you can.

And so they did everything they could politically to make sure they got out of Rome all they could get and they played the political game to get into the seats of power.  They were few in number, extremely wealthy. They were a priestly party, and the chief priest, by the way, is almost a synonym when you see that in the Bible. The term chief priest, the New Testament, is almost a synonym for the Sadducees.  Their big thing was to make money, and they ran the temple franchises.  You say, “What?”  Oh, yeah, they had big business in the temple.  When certain feast time came – in fact, all year long, when people came there, pilgrims from other countries, to make sacrifices – the first thing they had to do was exchange their money, because they had to buy sacrificial animals.  And in the temple they sold everything, the doves and the pigeons and the goats and the sheep.  They sold it all there.  They provided the whole bit, and when these pilgrims would come to the temple they would first of all have to exchange their money to trade in Jerusalem And the place you exchanged your money was at the temple and, of course, they charged an exorbitant interest to change the money.  And then it turned right around, when they went to buy the animals, they paid incredible prices for the animals and the Sadducees were gettin’ wealthier and wealthier and wealthier.  And that’s why Jesus went in with a whip and cleaned them out.  And when He cleaned the thing out, that’s when He alienated the Sadducees ’cause that was their business that He was messing with.  And that’s why people like Annas and Caiphas hated Him for the rest of the time that He lived and ministered, until finally they got Him to the cross.

MacArthur analyses the verse and explains why the two groups were there:

In Matthew 3 we find a very interesting thing in the Greek “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  What’s interesting to me about this, in the Greek there are two nouns but only one article And it seems to me that John is kind of pointing to the fact that he saw them as one group.  It’s sort of like he was saying, “and when he saw the Pharisees/Sadducees.”  They’re just like one group, one class of religious phonies, one class of people all wrapped up in the religion of human achievement.  In one case it was get it now, in one case it was earn it for later, in both cases it was the same thing.

You say, “Well, John, if they’re so bad off and they’ve got it all figured out with their human achievement, why are they coming to be baptized?”  Good question.  Why are they coming to be baptized?  What do they want out of John?  Well, you know something?  The Bible doesn’t tell us why they came.  But I’ll give you some reasons that I thought of.  First of all, they may have come because they were curious.  I mean, if the whole city of Jerusalem had come out there, you know that they’re gonna come out.  And it’s amazing that they figured it was a threat to them, too – Right? – or they wouldn’t have banded together.  Or at least we assume they were together because they appear together so frequently following this.  I think maybe, too, that the Bible tells us, you know, that all men perceive that John the Baptist was a prophet, and I think they were intimidated by the population that thought this man was a prophet of God.  And maybe they even had some real questions ’cause they’d had prophetic silence for 400 years.  Maybe they figured that maybe the people are right.  Maybe the guy’s a prophet.  We certainly can’t stay in here and be ignorant while everybody in town’s running out to find out about it.  We gotta find out about this guy.  And so under the pressure of curiosity and the pressure of the people believing he was a prophet, they showed up. And I got another think, too.  I think maybe they figured if they didn’t join the people, they might get left out and then the people would know something they didn’t know and they might lose their influence.

And I think, also, that they probably wanted to get in on the movement so they could move to the top and take it over.  Listen, that’s an old one.  We’ve got that in Christianity today.  We’ve got all kinds of people running churches and running organizations in Christianity who aren’t Christians.  Satan moves these people in.  The apostle Paul told us that.  “Beware, because when I leave grievous wolves shall come in not sparing the flock.”  Watch out for false teachers.  Watch out for false apostles.  Watch out for the people who want to come in and take over the church – false leaders.  They wanted to get in on it.  This was a movement that was gonna make a difference.  If this was a movement that was gonna capture the people, then they were willing to stoop to conquer.  Now, you can see they were all the wrong reasons There was no real repentance, no real repentance, no real confession of sin, no honest spirituality, no real search for God, no real heart-rending sorrow, no desire to get a heart that was sinful righteous, to get ready for the coming King and His kingdom.  They were so smug and self-righteous. They believed that they would be the great exalted ones in the kingdom when it came, just as they were; so they didn’t repent.  There wasn’t any conversion, no transformation.  They were just deceitful hypocrites.  And they just come walking out minding their own business and they run into John.  And I don’t know what they figured about this guy, but I’m sure they didn’t figure what they got.

Henry says that John was warning these two groups about the wrath here and the wrath to come. Recall that the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70:

Note, (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter. (2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath. (3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think—Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. (4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.

MacArthur explains why John called them a brood — offspring — of vipers:

“O, offspring of snakes, who chased you out here?”  The proud sons of Abraham, honored leaders of the nation, and he says, “You offspring of vipers.”  You know, the Lord must have liked that title for them ’cause He used it a lot.  It became rather common.  Jesus said to them in Matthew 12:34, “O offspring of vipers.”  And then over in Matthew 23:33, Jesus said again to them, “O offspring of vipers”  Boy, I mean, that’s pretty strong stuff.  What does he mean by that?  Well, he exposes in one expression the great and fatal sin that marked them.  He condemns them instantly as religious phonies.  Let me tell you why.  Viper, echidna, interesting little Greek word.  It refers to a small, poisonous desert snake, very familiar to John the Baptist.  And that snake was so deceitful.  It looked like a dead branch or a little stick, and it would stay still and somebody gathering firewood, phe-ew!  That’s exactly what happened on Melita in Acts 28, you remember, in verse 3, the firewood, and Paul was at the fire and that little thing that looked like a stick got Paul, Acts 28.  That was the viper, deceitful.  Suddenly it would strike and sink its teeth in and shoot its poison.  Now, he doesn’t call them just vipers; he calls them offspring of vipers, for they were just the product of the people who preceded them He really talked about the sin of their fathers.  But they were deadly hypocrites.  They were poisoning a whole nation with their fatal deception.  They were passing themselves off as if they were harmless and they were venomous.  And by the way, it was fitting that he called them vipers because their own originator and their own leader was nothing but a viper himself, and who was that? – Satan.  Revelation, chapter 12, verse 9 and Revelation, chapter 20, verse 2, Satan is seen as a serpent.  He is a serpent in the Garden.  John 8, he is a deceiver.  He is a liar.  And so he calls them poisonous, deceitful vipers, snakes.

It is common to see vipers slither out of the way of danger:

… basically, in the desert, and if you were there today, you’d see that this is all there is – in places in the desert there was dry, short grass, and it’s just very dry and you see fields of it.  Maybe it’s sometimes left over from a harvest, but just sometimes growing there.  Perhaps the water of the Jordan allowing some growth and then as the heat of the summer comes and the Jordan becomes a little narrower, it dries out and is very parched.  And then, now and then, around the desert, as John would well know, you would see these stunted little bushes, thorny bushes, very brittle for lack of water.  And sometimes a desert fire would come.  And when a desert fire would break out, it would sweep like a river of flame across that dry grass and those brittle little thorny bushes.  And invariably, and this is still true, in front of that wall of fire would come scurrying these little snakes, these little vipers, and other little scorpions and desert creatures running for their lives In fact, the same thing happened when a field was burned Today in America we still burn fields after harvest.  They did the same then.  During the time when the grain was growing, the snakes would hide in the grain.  They would live there.  And then all of the sudden the harvest would come and they might endure the harvest.  And then the field burning would come and if the field was being burned, you’d see the little snakes fleeing across the desert in front of the fire.  And so John the Baptist faces the snakes and says, “What made you run to safety before the fires of judgment?”  You see this picture?  Graphic.  He sees these people scurrying in front of the flame.  It’s as if to say, “Who brought you snakes out of your holes?” What brought you out of your holes?  What fire got you moving?  And, you know, in his own mind and in his own heart, he knew what that fire was It was the fire of the judgment of God he’s about to talk about.  But that wasn’t what really moved them.  They weren’t moved by the fire of the judgment of God; they were chased out of their holes by Satan The devil had pushed them out there to carry out their hypocrisy.  And just like snakes scurrying before a fire, they were running out there as chased by Satan.  They should have been running out there running from the wrath of God with real repentance.

John warned that repentance is evidenced by worthy fruit (verse 8), meaning that those who have truly turned away from sin will lead sincerely godly lives, not just on the surface — not through legalism — but in spontaneous and heartfelt good deeds.

MacArthur explains:

What he’s saying is there oughta be a change in your lifestyle.  Stop doing what you used to do.  Do righteous things, not unrighteous things.  Be loving and sharing and kind.  He says to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, if you got two coats, give one to somebody and if you’ve got food, give it to somebody who’s hungry.  Let me see something in your life.  That’s exactly what James says: “Faith without works is” – What? – “dead.”  You’ll never prove true repentance unless the fruit of repentance and the work of repentance is visible.  True repentance will manifest a changed life.  And there’s a beautiful little word here.  “Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance.”  That Greek word means “of equal weight.”  In other words, there ought to be works that are of equal weight with repentance so you can see it’s legitimate And this wasn’t true of them, and he knew it, and they knew it, and everybody around knew it.  And so he nails ’em with it.  “If you’re coming here with genuine repentance, then let’s see it.  Let’s see your life change.”

John had a special message for his fellow Jews: their Abrahamic lineage meant nothing. John said that, if He chose to do so, God could raise stones as children to Abraham (verse 9).

The Jews of that era were fond of saying they had nothing to worry about spiritually, because Abraham was their father. They did not need to repent. John was telling them otherwise, hence the exhortation to be baptised as if they were Gentile converts.

MacArthur elaborates:

“Think not to say within yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father,’ for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”  Big deal!  “You have Abraham as your father.  God can make a child of Abraham out of a rock.  You’re not so hot.”  Now, this he says, “Stop presuming on your descent from Abraham as a passport to heaven.”  Boy, this was really a shock to them Do you realize that orthodox Jews believed that they were saved by their Jewishness?  I’m sure you know that.  The rabbis said, quote, “All Israelites have a portion in the world to come.”  They believed that.  They talked about – listen to this – they talked about “the delivering merits of the fathers,” “the delivering merits of the fathers.”  They had their own Jewish treasury of merits.  Another thing the rabbis taught was that Abraham sat at the gates of Gehenna and hell to turn back any Israelite who happened by chance to come that way.  They said that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled the ships to sail safely on the seas, that it was because of the merits of Abraham that the rain descended on the earth, that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled Moses to enter into heaven and receive the law, that it was because of the merits of Abraham that David’s prayer was heard, even for the wicked these merits sufficed.  They said, “If thy children were mere dead bodies without blood vessels or bones, thy merits, O Abraham, would avail for them.”  And it’s just that spirit that John is rebuking.  A degenerate person cannot claim salvation on the basis of a heroic past.  An evil son cannot plead the merits of a saintly father.  They were tryin’ to hold onto their nationality.  They were dead wrong

And the Pharisees and the Sadducees that confronted John were headed for hell because they were relying for their eternal security on their descent from Abraham They were Jews, and they were so smug.  And he says to them, “God is able to take these stones and make children unto Abraham out of ’em.”  What a statement.  You see, it minimizes the importance of being a son of Abraham.  But more than that –  listen to this.  It is a symbolic statement, I feel.  If these Jews – now watch – if these Jews, by turning their hearts to stone in resisting God’s converting grace, if they wish to do that, if they wish to turn their hearts to stone, then God will take stones – lifeless, useless, dead things – and make them into his sons And I believe those stones are symbols of the Gentiles “If you want to turn into rocks, dead, lifeless and useless, then I’ll take the dead and lifeless and useless Gentiles and turn ’em into sons.”  In chapter 8, verse 10, Jesus said the same thing.  He met a centurion servant who was a Gentile, and he saw, and he listened and he marveled and he said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”  I never met a son like this.  And here’s a rock that I can turn into a son.  “And I say unto you that many” [such Gentiles] “shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom” – the Jews – “shall be cast out into outer darkness.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  If God finds a son who has become a rock; He’ll find a rock that He can make a son out of.  And so John confronts them and condemns them.

There is a note of caution here for Christians, too. Some firmly believe that the denomination they belong to is the only one that brings salvation and that anyone who doesn’t belong to it is destined for hell. That sort of thinking is along the lines of the Jews invoking Abraham here.

MacArthur says:

You know something very interesting to me?  Do you know that the rich man in hell in the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus – You remember that? – the rich man went to hell; the rich man was a man who had Abraham for his father.  That’s right.  He had Abraham for his father.  I’ll tell you something else.  He even heard Abraham call him “son” and it didn’t do him any good.  He recognized Abraham as a father.  Abraham recognized him as a son racially; it didn’t do him any good.  No religious attainment does.

Tying into that verse, John then goes into an agricultural analogy which everyone listening to him would have understood, even if they lived in Jerusalem. He said that the ax is lying at the root of the trees, and that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire (verse 10). Farmers chop down trees that don’t bear fruit. Gardeners do, too. Those trees are wasting space that could be used for productive trees.

Henry says:

It is now declared with the axe at the root, to show that God is in earnest in the declaration, that every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in external professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down, disowned as a tree in God’s vineyard, unworthy to have room there, and is cast into the fire of God’s wrath—the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel.

To understand this more fully, MacArthur explains true repentance as expressed in Psalm 51:

First of all is the intellectual.  Repentance begins when there is a knowledge of sin, when there is a recognition of sin.  So John, like any good preacher of repentance, confronted people with sinfulness.  There had to be an understanding of sin involving a sense of personal guilt, a sense of personal defilement, a sense of personal helplessness.  Now, all three of these are illustrated very aptly in Psalm 51first of all is the intellectual part in verse 3 “For I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is ever before me.”  Verse 7, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Verse 11, “Cast me not away from thy presence.  Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”  Now, in all three of those verses is a recognition of sin.  Verse 3 explicitly, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, my sin is ever before me.”  Verse 7 and 11, implicit, the sense that he needs to be cleansed, the sense that he needs to be purged, that there is something wrong, that God may leave him, verse 11, the Holy Spirit may be removed from him.  And so there is an acknowledging, an acknowledging of sin, a recognition of what we are before God.  That is the beginning of repentance …

There must be, secondly, the emotional; and … this what we have in the feelings.  We go from the mind to the feelings, and it becomes a recognition not only of sin, but that sin is hateful to a holy God, and then there is an overwhelming sense of guilt in the emotions Psalm 51 again – in this psalm where David is facing his sin, we find this element in verse 1: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  You see, here is a man crying for mercy and the only man who needs mercy is a man who is – What? – guilty.  You see, innocent men don’t need mercy.  Justice will do fine for them.  It’s guilty men that need mercy, and David recognizes here that he is guilty and his emotions are stirred.  In verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart” – he sees the evil in his heart – “O God, renew a right spirit in me.”  Verse 14, “Deliver me from blood guiltiness.”  And David even felt the anxiety and the pain in his physical body He cries out to God in the midst of this sin, in terrible anguish in his heart … True repentance doesn’t think of consequences, it doesn’t think of other people’s opinion, and it doesn’t think of excuses; it does think of transgressing God, it does think of being personally guilty.  So it is lupe kata theon, “sorrow toward God.”  That’s the issue.  And when there is genuine repentance, there will be this deep sense of sorrow directed toward a holy God who has been offended

But no matter how convinced the mind is about sin, and no matter how pained the emotions become, even in the right way, true repentance will never happen without the third area, and that’s volitional – intellectual, emotional, and volitional.  There’s got to be an act of the will.  There’s got to be a turning around With David he recognized it and he felt guilty for it and his guilt was directed toward God, but the thing that really made the repentance happen was the fact that he had an act of will in which he said “I will not do this anymore.  I turn from this.”  He changed his life pattern.  Look at Psalm 51, verse 5.  “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  He recognizes that this is the past, this is the way it was.  But in 7 he says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Turn it around.  Turn this depravity around.  Turn this sinfulness around.  “Create,” verse 10, “in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me.”  You see, his will wanted a dramatic change.  That’s vital.  That’s vital.

Guilt is of no use if we do nothing with it to change our lives with the help of divine grace.

Now on to MacArthur’s explanation of verse 10:

John is saying this: “Look, you can pretend to be running from the wrath to come.  You can pretend to be fleeing from the judgment of God, but if there’s not any fruit there, and if you’re depending upon your self-righteous smugness and your descent from Abraham to save you, you’re in a lot of trouble because the axe is already laid at the root of your tree because there’s no fruit.  There’s an imminency here.  He says – look at it – “the axe is laid unto the root of the trees” already.  “Now,” he says, “it’s there.  It’s there now.  Judgment is now.  It’s imminent.”  Notice a most interesting thing that judgment, in John’s preaching and in all of the prophetic preaching of the Old Testament, was connected with the coming of the Messiah, just as much as salvation was

As Henry said above, there is judgement here and judgement in the life to come. MacArthur agrees:

I can’t help but think back a few weeks ago in Matthew that as soon as that little baby arrived, as soon as that little baby arrived it wasn’t very long until other little babies were slaughtered, until there was chaos in Israel, until 70 A.D. came and the whole nation of Israel was drowned in a bloodbath and the city of Jerusalem literally obliterated from the map When John preached this word, when John said the axe is laid at the root of the tree, do you realize the destruction of Jerusalem was only about 40 years away and it would be all over And so there was imminent judgment.  By the way, this is always true There is always imminent judgment, because the moment you die, the moment any man dies, there is judgment.  Oh, not the final great white throne judgment, but listen, when you die without Jesus Christ, at that moment you go out of the presence of God forever That’s judgment.  And, additionally, God brings about judgment and vengeance even in this life before we die.  If you live a life in violation of God’s principles, you will suffer consequences here and now.  Read the book of Proverbs.  The bottom line in the book of Proverbs is this:  It’s gonna be good for the good and bad for the bad, here and later.  That’s the bottom line in the book of Proverbs.  Good for the good, bad for the bad, now and later.  The axe head is at the root of the tree.  And, of course, ultimately, the great white throne judgment – terrible, fearful, fearful judgment.  So, John had to say judgment is just as near as the kingdom is near.  If the King comes, He comes not only to save, but He comes to judge and always the same.  By what you do with Jesus Christ, you determine whether He’s the Savior or the Judge. 

Then John spoke of Jesus. John said that he provided a baptism of repentance but that Jesus — unnamed here — was more powerful and coming after him; John said he was unworthy of carrying His sandals and that he would baptise the people with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 11).

Henry says:

See how meanly he speaks of himself, that he might magnify Christ (v. 11); “I indeed baptize you with water, that is the utmost I can do.” Note, Sacraments derive not their efficacy from those who administer them; they can only apply the sign; it is Christ’s prerogative to give the thing signified, 1 Cor 3 6; 2 Kings 4 31. But he that comes after me is mightier than I. Though John had much power, for he came in the spirit and power of Elias, Christ has more; though John was truly great, great in the sight of the Lord (not a greater was born of woman), yet he thinks himself unworthy to be in the meanest place of attendance upon Christ, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He sees, (1.) How mighty Christ is, in comparison with him. Note, It is a great comfort to the faithful ministers, to think that Jesus Christ is mightier than they, can do that for them, and that by them, which they cannot do; his strength is perfected in their weakness. (2.) How mean he is in comparison with Christ, not worthy to carry his shoes after him! Note, Those whom God puts honour upon, are thereby made very humble and low in their own eyes; willing to be abased, so that Christ may be magnified; to be any thing, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.

Of Christ’s forms of baptism, Henry tells us:

By the powerful working of his grace; He shall baptize you, that is, some of you, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Note, [1.] It is Christ’s prerogative to baptize with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit conferred upon the apostles, to which Christ himself applies these words of John, Acts 1 5. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit given to them that ask him, Luke 11 13; John 7 38, 39; See Acts 11 16. [2.] They who are baptized with the Holy Ghost are baptized as with fire; the seven spirits of God appear as seven lamps of fire, Rev 4 5. Is fire enlightening? So the Spirit is a Spirit of illumination. Is it warming? And do not their hearts burn within them? Is it consuming? And does not the Spirit of judgment, as a Spirit of burning, consume the dross of their corruptions? Does fire make all it seizes like itself? And does it move upwards? So does the Spirit make the soul holy like itself, and its tendency is heaven-ward. Christ says I am come to send fire, Luke 12 49.

John warned that Christ’s winnowing fork is in His hand and that he will clear the threshing floor, gathering His wheat — the saved — into His granary but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (verse 12).

Henry explains:

By the final determinations of his judgment (v. 12); Whose fan is in his hand. His ability to distinguish, as the eternal wisdom of the Father, who sees all by a true light, and his authority to distinguish, as the Person to whom all judgment is committed, is the fan that is in his hand, Jer 15 7. Now he sits as a Refiner. Observe here [1.] The visible church is Christ’s floor; O my threshing, and the corn of my floor, Isa 21 10. The temple, a type of church, was built upon a threshing-floor. [2.] In this floor there is a mixture of wheat and chaff. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light, and empty, useless and worthless, and carried about with every wind; these are now mixed, good and bad, under the same external profession; and in the same visible communion. [3.] There is a day coming when the floor shall be purged, and the wheat and chaff shall be separated. Something of this kind is often done in this world, when God calls his people out of Babylon, Rev 18 4. But it is the day of the last judgment that will be the great winnowing, distinguishing day, which will infallibly determine concerning doctrines and works (1 Cor 3 13), and concerning persons (ch. 25 32, 33), when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. [4.] Heaven is the garner into which Jesus Christ will shortly gather all his wheat, and not a grain of it shall be lost: he will gather them as the ripe fruits were gathered in. Death’s scythe is made use of to gather them to their people. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. They are not only gathered into the barn (ch. 13 30), but into the garner, where they are thoroughly purified. [5.] Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will burn up the chaff, which will certainly be the portion and punishment, and everlasting destruction, of hypocrites and unbelievers. So that here are life and death, good and evil, set before us; according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.

Before I forget, MacArthur has an English anecdote that needs correction. As he preached these sermons in 1978, he did not have the benefit of the Internet.

MacArthur’s sermon says:

The story goes that Lady Huntington was invited, or rather invited, I should say – the Duchess of Birmingham – to come to hear George Whitfield preach.  The duchess responded in this manner, quote, “It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.  It is highly offensive and insulting,” end quote.  Well, Lady Huntington was insulted when George Whitfield attempted to call her to the recognition of sin, and consequently she never entered into the act of repentance.

I do wonder about the veracity of that story, since Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), devoted her life to the Christian faith and to charity. George Whitefield became her personal chaplain and preached to invited guests in one of her homes in London. She had connections with Anglicanism, her first denomination, then Calvinism and, finally, Methodism, participating in the work of the Great Revival.

In closing, MacArthur tells us what made John the Baptist the greatest human that ever lived:

Number one, made him great, he was obedient to God’s Word.  From the very beginning of his life, he obeyed.  From the very start of his life, he obeyed.  He never wavered from the calling that God had given to him.  From the time that he was a little child, he obeyed God.  That’s part of greatness.

Second, he was filled with the Spirit.  Luke 1:15 says he “was filled with the Spirit from the time of his mother’s womb.”  He was great because he was obedient.  He was great because he was filled with the Spirit of God.  He was controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, he was great because he was self-controlled.  Luke 1:15 says he, “drank neither wine nor strong drink.”  Matthew 3 says that, “His clothes were only what was necessary, and his food the same.”  The man had self-control.  The man had brought his body into subjection.  He didn’t overdo anything …

Fourth, he was great not only because of his obedience, because he was Spirit-controlled, because he was self-controlled, but because he was humble He was humble.  The greatest thing he ever said, I think, in this regard was when Jesus finally arrived on the scene, and the disciples who had so fallen in love with John the Baptist were gathered around John, and they said, “And, John, now what?  This, this is the Messiah, and He’s come, but, but what about you?”  And John said in John 3, in verse 30, “He must increase, and I must” – What? – “decrease.”  “It’s over for me, guys.  You go and give your love to Him.  I’m not even worthy to unlatch His shoe.”  Right?  That’s what he said.  Humble.

Fifth, he was great because he proclaimed God’s Word.  “Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.  Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  You can hear him thundering it out, “He shall turn many of the people to righteousness.”  That’s the sixth He not only proclaimed God’s Word, he won people to Christ He was obedient, filled with the Spirit, self-controlled, humble, proclaiming God’s Word, and winning people to Christ.  “He shall turn many of the hearts of the people to righteousness.”  And he did.

You say, “Oh, boy, but even if I did all that, I’d never be as great as John.”  Hang onto your seat and listen to this.  Matthew 11:11 says, “Verily I say to you, among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.”  Now listen to this.  “Nevertheless, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  You get that? Shock.  Listen, we’re in the kingdom; and any of us, the least of us in the kingdom, surpasses the one who foretold its coming.  We have all the resources he looked for.  We have all the realities he searched for.  We have all the blessings he anticipated.  We’re not greater in terms of character.  That isn’t what he’s saying.  We’re greater in terms of privilege and opportunity.

It’s like Jesus said to His disciples, “Greater things than these shall” – What? – “ye do, because I go to My Father.” We can be great for God.  The least of us, greater than the greatest who ever lived.  That’s what it is to be in His kingdom.  Are you grateful?

That is certainly something to ponder in the days ahead. So often, we take our spiritual blessings for granted, but they are the greatest gifts we can receive in this life, because the Lord gave them to us.

My most recent post discussed Liz Truss’s commitment to libertarianism and the part she played in her own downfall.

At the end, I mused whether she would still be in office were she a man. Having thought about it some more, I do believe that would have been the case. Truss has better morals than Boris Johnson and more integrity than Rishi Sunak. Furthermore, she is far more trustworthy than our de facto Prime Minister, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. She has flaws. They have flaws.

It is curious that all of them, men, are given a pass. Truss, an honest woman, was not afforded that opportunity.

Let us look at who was out to finish Liz Truss’s premiership.

The media

During the summer Conservative Party leadership campaign, most papers — right and left — came out in favour of Rishi Sunak.

Only the Daily Mail and The Telegraph consistently supported Truss. Truss also saw The Sun as a friendly paper, particularly its political editor Harry Cole.

Broadcast media also largely favoured Sunak. Only GB News supported Truss for the most part.

Why that was is unclear.

One could point to Truss’s U-turns, evident as soon as the leadership campaign for Party members’ votes started, but most of the media — print and broadcast — were already in the tank for Sunak when Conservative MPs were still voting in July.

On November 16, veteran columnist Andrew Gimson wrote about the media outlets covering Parliament, known as the ‘lobby’: ‘Lobby journalism holds power to account. But it’s often cruel, trivial — and unfair’.

Guido Fawkes liked what he had to say:

Gimson’s article for ConservativeHome discussed the attacks on other Conservative ministers in Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet. Suella Braverman, Home Secretary once again, is one of them and Justice Secretary/Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is another.

Gimson says that journalists find their witch hunts as exhiliarating as blood sports (emphases mine):

Hunting is reckoned to improve the health of the fox population.

That is not, however, why people want to hunt them. They yearn to do so because it is a wonderful, exhilarating sport.

Forget for a moment any impulse to moralise. High-minded theories are all very well. Politics as actually practised is a blood sport.

Dominic Raab, Gavin Williamson and Suella Braverman are or were the most recent quarry, closely preceded by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, before which a blond beast rampaged across the political landscape for three years with excited members of the Westminster lobby in close pursuit.

Four of the six were hunted down, while Raab and Braverman have so far (with intermissions) survived, but might at any moment find themselves once more in mortal danger.

The lobby is trained and ready at a moment’s notice to follow any scent, no matter how faint, rival correspondents for different newspapers acting as a pack of hounds, each leaping at whichever politician is the hunted animal, drawing blood and emboldening the others to fresh frenzies of aggression …

It is impossible, if one is a lobby correspondent at Westminster, to stand aside from the full-blown crisis which rages, and any case, few experiences are more exhilarating than to be in at the death of a Prime Minister.

Every journalist, indeed everyone in the slightest bit interested in politics, will remember the first time he or she witnessed such a drama: in my case I was lucky enough in November 1990 to be in the Press Gallery to watch the fatal resignation speech delivered by Sir Geoffrey Howe, and 19 days later was in the crammed Committee Corridor on the evening it was announced amid almost unbearable excitement that Margaret Thatcher had fallen four votes – four votes! – short of beating Michael Heseltine by the necessary margin in the first round.

Such crises becomes all-consuming. You surrender yourself to the experience, and nothing else seems to matter. If you are a reporter, your news editor and editor demand constant reports from the front, and you want to distinguish yourself by revealing dramatic new charges, whether solid or flimsy, against the embattled minister, rather than just repeating what your rivals have said.

Such work requires the ruthless expertise to spot in an instant the two or three words in some dreary speech or answer which can be held to constitute a new development. The lobby are brilliant at this: they see the new angle, the incriminating admission, where a normal person would notice nothing.

News becomes an artificial commodity, an esoteric language only comprehensible to highly intelligent and practised correspondents, who translate it into the latest thrilling episode of a story which is intelligible to the dimmest of us, for it is as old as history: will the ruler live or die?

This question of life and death simplifies everything, and lends it a personal flavour. Does one like the look of whichever minister is just then being hunted, and hope he or she will get away? Or would one much rather see him or her bumped off?

The tyranny of the story extends to the comment pages. Leading articles and columns are written for or against the hunted person, most likely against, for it is much easier to write a vivid piece denouncing a politician for being disreputable than to compose a vivid defence.

In order to purify public life, the offending minister must be drummed out of it. Nothing which might serve this noble end is too cruel to be said; too piffling to be taken down and repeated.

Let the victim and his or her family cope as best they can. It would be wrong to spare them the full blast of public disgust. We find ourselves in a primitive world where human sacrifice is demanded; not in a rational one where events can be weighed and assigned their due importance, or unimportance

There is a deep satisfaction to be derived from getting rid of a Prime Minister, so deep that we have in recent years got rid of three. For a short time, very short in the case of Liz Truss, we allow them to triumph, before restoring equality, for which all democracies have a deep yearning, by dragging them down with brutal abruptness to our own level …

What the lobby does, or helps Conservative politicians to do, is the modern version of an ancient and savage tradition. All else is forgotten while the tribe slays its chief.

And no tribe is better at slaying its chiefs than the Conservative Party.

Afterwards, some enemies of the prey express their empathy for the slain, such as Jenny Murray did for Truss on October 27 in The Mail. Murray’s headline read ‘I never expected to feel sorry for Liz Truss’ and, upon closer inspection, she doesn’t really feel sorry at all. She uses the piece to lick her own wounds after retiring from the BBC at the age of 70:

I was not sorry to see her go. Her short time in power was a disaster.

I’d known her professionally for a good few years and had often found her a bit weird with her oddly truncated speech patterns, bizarre facial expressions and apparent lack of emotional intelligence. She was no public speaker and I certainly never saw her as Prime Ministerial material.

In that I was right, but despite her self-serving, unapologetic final speech and her typically arrogant and selfish, ‘Well at least I’ve been Prime Minister!’ goodbye, I can’t help sympathising with what she has to face next.

As an ordinary constituency MP, she’ll join what I have dubbed, from bitter personal experience, the ‘Once I Was Hot, But Now I’m Not,’ club. I know she’ll be asking herself, ‘Who am I now?’

It’s two years since I left the job that defined me for 33 years. I was Jenni Murray, presenter of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

It had been my greatest ambition since childhood. I’d presented Newsnight and Today, but the moment I heard the announcer first say on Monday, September 14, 1987, ‘And now Woman’s Hour, with Jenni Murray’ remains the most thrilling of my life.

I loved every minute of those 33 years and, unlike Liz Truss, I was not forced out of my position (though even when you leave a top job of your own volition, it doesn’t stop others speculating). I made the choice to leave as my 70th birthday came and went.

So, nothing like Liz Truss after all. The rest of Murray’s lengthy column is all about herself. Sickening.

On a positive note, I was surprised to read that Andrew Neil, normally a supporter of the status quo, supported Truss and Kwarteng’s mini-budget just after it was announced in Parliament:

After 12 years of Tory government we finally get a Tory budget. Yesterday’s not-so-mini-budget was a watershed event, taking the country in a new economic direction and creating clear blue water between government and opposition.

The Tory faithful couldn’t quite believe it. Labour struggled to grapple with its implications. The political dividing lines will now be starker and fiercer than they’ve been for a generation.

No more tax rises by stealth (or, more recently, in plain sight). Or endless, futile tinkering with the minutiae of spending and taxation to give voters a false impression of constructive activity. Or the relentless doling out of taxpayers’ dosh to whatever fashionable vested interests managed to catch ministers’ attention.

Instead, Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, junked all of that in favour of one overriding economic priority: higher economic growth. Many of the verities of Britain’s economic establishment have been slaughtered in the process

Scrapping next April’s planned rise in corporation tax (on businesses’ profits) won’t win any popularity contests outside company boardrooms. But an essential part of Britain’s post-Brexit future is surely to be a magnet for foreign investment. Whacking up the country’s key business tax was a strange way of going about it

New ways require new justifications. The Treasury estimates that abolishing the 45 per cent top rate of income tax will cost £2 billion a year.

This is a typically static official calculation. If it results in more top earners declaring their income in Britain, then it could soon more than pay for itself.

Ditto bankers’ bonuses. The cap is a relic of EU regulation. Banks simply increased pay to compensate for reduced bonuses, thereby making their compensation costs more fixed and less flexible.

Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam have tried hard to lure our financial services away from the City since Brexit, with only limited success. Bonuses in those centres are still capped. London now has the advantage.

And, remember, with the new top rate of tax at an internationally competitive 40 per cent, every £1 million banker’s bonus is £400,000 more for schools and hospitals

for more than a decade now I’ve watched chancellors take tough, painful decisions on tax and spending based on OBR borrowing forecasts that turned out to be huge over-estimates, so much so that in retrospect neither the tax rises nor spending cuts were necessary.

Indeed, as Truss attempts to take the country in a new, less orthodox direction, I’d argue that it’s a blessing that she’s been able to do so unencumbered by the OBR’s dubious forecasting.

We’ll get the OBR’s latest workings in two months anyway, when it might have a better idea of what 2023 will look like. Nor are we entirely in the dark. The Treasury says the tax cuts and energy price cap measures will increase borrowing this year from £162 billion to £234 billion — an extra £72 billion.

The IFS thinks we’ll still be borrowing £100 billion a year through the middle years of the decade.

These figures have spooked the markets. The pound continued its decline against the dollar after Kwarteng’s statement and the yield (or interest rate) on short-term government debt rose to close to 4 per cent, making it a lot more expensive to borrow than only two years ago, when it was 0.4 per cent.

These are real constraints on the Government’s ability to borrow even more. A falling pound merely fuels inflation, especially when it comes to imported energy, which is priced in dollars.

Interest rates are already rising. If excessive government borrowing forces them even higher, that will merely choke off the economic growth the Government so desperately seeks.

There’s another factor at work here. The global currency and debt markets have had a ‘down’ on Britain for some time. It’s not clear why. Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio is among the lowest in the G7 club of big economies. Our budget deficit is on a par with many other major economies. Economic growth is anaemic — as it is everywhere, from the Eurozone to America to China.

I suspect it’s a Brexit hangover. The publications global market players read most closely include the New York Times, the Economist, the Financial Times and leading European papers such as Le Monde and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. All — and others like them — have been relentlessly negative about Britain since the 2016 referendum

It is said she’s taking a great gamble. That’s true. But sticking with the failed policies of the recent past was probably an even a bigger gamble. The stakes are certainly high.

If by this time next year the economy is still in the doldrums, then it’s not just Truss who will be finished. So will any prospect of the Tories winning the next election.

Read it and weep. We are back to square one.

There is much that the media didn’t tell us about the global picture of economic pandemonium.

Early in the week following Kwarteng’s mini-budget, US mortgage rates went up to 7%:

The EU’s average deficit is worse than the UK’s:

https://image.vuukle.com/9b30bb2c-838f-44c2-bf35-a8380d75711b-80a8ed1b-f697-4bc1-bc25-d18521aa563f

At the end of October, by which time Truss had gone, inflation in the Euro zone increased to 10.7% as growth slowed:

At the beginning of November, a Fed hike caused sterling to trade below £1.13 against the dollar:

And, finally, within three weeks of becoming Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak made new spending commitments, pledging billions to the world. This graphic appeared on November 7:

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-6f3d3b31-5e82-478e-b97c-3802370621e8

Objection from the media came none.

Conservative MPs

On October 20, in the immediate aftermath of Truss’s stoic resignation, The Sun gave us the reaction from three Conservative MPs:

Responding to today’s bombshell announcement, former minister and Red Wall poster boy Neil O’Brien tweeted: “The next PM must return to the national conservatism represented by our election winning 2019 manifesto and put us back on the side of normal working people.”

If anyone was going to have done that, it would have been Truss, for whom Party members voted in the majority. Sunak and Hunt certainly aren’t on the side of ‘normal working people’: tax ’em until the pips squeak.

Next up was Steve Baker, now an apologetic Northern Ireland Minister:

Brexit hardman Steve Baker urged colleagues that whatever the result, “we must accept and back the new Prime Minister”.

Millions of us wish he had shown the same allegiance towards Truss.

The only one to say anything complimentary was Greg Hands, who served as an International Trade Minister:

He said:

A dignified exit as Prime Minister from Liz Truss. A difficult day for the country, the Party and for Liz personally.

She wasn’t long as PM, but served at the Cabinet table longer than any of her three predecessors. She has long served the country – and I wish her very well.

At least Truss wasn’t removed from the top table Chinese-style:

On October 27, one week after Truss’s resignation, The Telegraph‘s Matthew Lynn said that backbench Conservatives just could not bring themselves to support Truss’s economic plan, which Kwasi Kwarteng fronted.

In other words, Conservative MPs shy away from libertarianism, even though I think it would do the UK a lot of good:

The timing, to put it mildly, was unfortunate. It was a difficult transformation to pull off at the best of times, but against the backdrop of rising inflation and an out-of-control dollar, it was doubly difficult. 

Truss’s programme did not have the necessary support within the Parliamentary Conservative Party either. Massive opposition from Labour, the Scottish Nationalists, and the Twitter mob was to be expected. 

But very few MPs were willing to support the plan, and without that backing it was always going to be hard to push through. Even before it got on to the genuinely difficult stuff – investment zones, planning reform, the green belt – the opposition was overwhelming. 

The Bank of England

Matthew Lynn points the finger of blame at the Bank of England (BoE):

the real failure of Trussonmics may well have been the fault of the Bank of England. As Narayana Kocherlakota, a former President of the Minneapolis Fed, and now Professor of Economics at New York’s Rochester University, argued in an opinion piece for Bloomberg this week, it was the Bank’s failure to support the gilt market that killed the plan

“The way the Truss government collapsed should concern all who support democracy,” he warned. 

In his Bloomberg article of October 26, Narayana Kocherlakota defended Truss and criticised the BoE:

Markets didn’t oust Truss, the Bank of England did — through poor financial regulation and highly subjective crisis management.

Truss won the leadership of the Conservative Party, which the UK electorate had voted into power, by promising a range of deep tax cuts and government spending increases. Whatever one might think of her policies, they were her mandate. I agree with the many observers who expected them to lead to higher inflation, higher interest rates and quite possibly higher unemployment. But such adverse outcomes take months and years to play out. Her government fell in a matter of weeks. How could this happen?

The common wisdom is that financial markets “punished” Truss’s government for its fiscal profligacy. But the chastisement was far from universal. Over the three days starting Sept. 23, when the Truss government announced its mini-budget, the pound fell by 2.2% relative to the euro, and the FTSE 100 stock index declined by 2.2% — notable movements, but hardly enough to bring a government to its knees.

The big change came in the price of 30-year UK government bonds, also known as gilts, which experienced a shocking 23% drop. Most of this decline had nothing to do with rational investors revising their beliefs about the UK’s long-run prospects. Rather, it stemmed from financial regulators’ failure to limit leverage in UK pension funds. These funds had bought long-term gilts with borrowed money and entered derivative contracts to the same effect — positions that generated huge collateral demands when prices fell and yields rose. To raise the necessary cash, they had to sell more gilts, creating a doom loop in which declining prices and forced selling compounded one another.

The Bank of England, as the entity responsible for overseeing the financial system, bears at least part of the blame for this catastrophe. As a result of its regulatory failure, it was forced into an emergency intervention, buying gilts to put a floor on prices. But it refused to extend its support beyond Oct. 14 — even though its purchases of long-term government bonds were fully indemnified by the Treasury. It’s hard to see how that decision aligned with the central bank’s financial-stability mandate, and easy to see how it contributed to the government’s demise.

The way the Truss government collapsed should concern all who support democracy. The prime minister was seeking to fulfill her campaign promises. She was thwarted not by markets, but by a hole in financial regulation — a hole that the Bank of England proved strangely unwilling to plug.

Two days before Truss resigned, Daniel Lacalle wrote an article for Mises Wire: ‘The Bank of England Made Liz Truss a Scapegoat’.

Lacalle points out that economic turmoil was worldwide, something not reported widely in the British media. No surprise there:

I find it astonishing that not one of the so-called experts that have immediately placed the cause of the British market volatility on Liz Truss’s budget have said anything about the collapse of the yen and the need for Bank of Japan intervention, which has been ongoing for two weeks.

Why did so many people assume the Truss minibudget was the cause of volatility when the euro, the yen, the Norwegian krone, and most emerging market currencies have suffered a similar or worse depreciation versus the US dollar this year? What about the bond market? This is the worst year since 1931 for bonds all over the world, and the collapse in prices of sovereign and private bonds in developed and emerging market economies is strikingly similar as those of the UK fixed income peers.

He blames British pension funds’ liability-driven investing (LDI) strategies on the abuse of quantitative easing (QE) over the years. Who was in charge of that? The BoE.

Lacalle wrote while Truss was still Prime Minister:

British pension funds are not selling sovereign bonds because of lack of trust in this or another government’s budget. They are selling negative-yielding sovereign bonds because they jumped wholeheartedly into the debt bubble created by artificially cheap money believing that central banks would keep fixed income prices elevated with constant repurchases.

British pension funds’ unfunded liabilities are not a problem caused by the mini budget nor solely a UK problem. It was an enormous problem in 2019–20 disguised by insane currency printing. Unfunded global liabilities for state pension funds in the US were already $783 billion in 2021 and rose to $1.3 trillion in 2022 according to Reason Foundation. The funded ratio of state pensions was just 85 percent in 2021 and has fallen below 75 percent in 2022.

What happened in the years of negative rates and massive currency printing? Pension funds used liability-driven investing (LDI) strategies. Most LDI mandates used derivatives to hedge inflation and interest rate risk. And what happens when inflation kicks in and rates rise? “As interest rates have risen, the notional value of some of the derivatives held in LDI portfolios has fallen. The result: increased collateral calls. The speed at which rates have risen means some pension plans have had to liquidate portfolios to meet collateral calls” according to the Investment Association’s latest report in September and Brian Croce at Pensions and Investment.

The total assets in LDI strategies almost quadrupled to £1.6 trillion ($1.8 trillion) in the ten years through 2021. Nearly two-thirds of Britain’s defined benefit pension schemes use LDI funds, according to TPR and Reuters. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are not to blame for this insanity. The policy of negative real rates and massive liquidity injection of the Bank of England is. Kwarteng and Truss are only to blame for believing that the party of policies of spending and printing defended by almost all mainstream Keynesian economists should work even when the music stopped

Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are not to blame for the insanity of the past years or Rishi Sunak’s ultra-Keynesian budgets. They are only to blame for believing that another dose of Keynesian deficit insanity would not harm.

Mr. Kwarteng’s demise is just a casualty delivered by the modern monetary theory crowd and the monetary laughing gas city to justify that the problem was a ludicrous tax cut not years of currency printing and deficit increases.

What has happened in the UK or Japan is likely to happen soon in the eurozone, which accumulated more than twelve billion euro of negative-yielding bonds in the years of cheap money and reckless stimulus plans.

Liz Truss is not to blame for twenty years of monetary insanity and fiscal irresponsibility. She is to blame for a budget that increases spending without cutting unnecessary expenses.

The irony of it all is that the defenders of monster deficits and borrowing if it comes from bloating the size of government feel vindicated. It was the evil tax cuts!

The political analysis of the mini budget is astonishing. No one in the UK parliament sees any need to cut spending it seems, yet those expenses are consolidated and annualized, which means that any change in the economic cycle leads to larger fiscal imbalances as receipts are cyclical and, with it, more currency printing. The assumption that raising taxes will generate perennial annual increases in receipts no matter what happens to the economic cycle can only be defended by a bureaucrat.

Well, Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are those bureaucrats.

There are global players in pension fund management, BlackRock being one of them, as The Conservative Woman revealed on October 27:

BlackRock is heavily involved in the charity sector, managing over £4.5billion for more than 3,000 UK charities alone. ‘Sustainability’, food security and renewable energy rank very highly in their priorities in that sector.

The role of BlackRock in the recent selling off of derivatives by UK pension funds, said to be behind the triggering of a fall in sterling following the ill-fated Kwasi Kwarteng mini-Budget, is an intriguing one. BlackRock executives would defend their actions by stating they were merely protecting clients who were financially overcommitted in that sector and that pension fund managers ought to have known the risks involved in leveraged investment strategies in the first place, and that there is far more to that type of riskier investment than just following trends. Either way the political fallout was profound, triggering a chain of events which led to the fall of Prime Minister Liz Truss. BlackRock executive defends pensions strategy that fuelled UK crisis

Interestingly, Jeremy Hunt has appointed a BlackRock executive who is pro-Net Zero and anti-Brexit as one of his chief advisers:

A business with the financial resources of BlackRock will naturally attract well-connected people to its payroll. People such as Rupert Harrison, chief of staff to Chancellor George Osborne from 2006 to 2015. An opponent of Brexit, he tweeted in July 2017 that ‘the rest of Europe is booming and we’re not’.

Intriguingly, Harrison is now one of new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s most senior advisers. On the surface, Hunt seemed to have been parachuted in from nowhere, having failed in two leadership elections and spending more than two years on the back benches, yet from the moment he was appointed he already had a highly expert team, including Harrison, ready to start at once and acting promptly with great self-assurance as though he knew he already had the backing of those who really matter.

However, Conservative Party members are unhappy with Hunt and Sunak’s economic policy based on higher taxes, which are, in reality, much higher than they read on paper. This poll is from November 29:

Guido Fawkes wrote (emphases his):

The Tory membership doesn’t support their own government’s economic policy, according to the latest Conservative Home panel poll. Opposition stands at 48.78% and support at 41.87%. 9.35% don’t know. 

It can’t come as much surprise. As Rishi’s supporters point out, he was warning of the consequences of Liz Truss’s policies during the summer contest, and the membership still voted for Liz’s low tax package. Support at 41.87 is actually 0.8% lower than Rishi received from the members during the summer…

Let us return to the BoE.

In the December 2022/January 2023 issue of The Critic, Jon Moynihan published ‘How the Bank broke the Government’, which refers to Narayana Kocherlakota’s aforementioned article for Bloomberg and expands on the use of LDIs in pension fund management:

Kocherlakota’s view was that the Bank of England was responsible for the crisis, through “poor financial regulation and highly subjective crisis management”. Outside the UK chatterati, this view is widely supported.

The beef against the mini-budget was that it spooked the market. But virtually all of the policy announcements made by Kwasi Kwarteng on the day were not new; they had been pledged during the Truss campaign or — in the case of the energy price guarantee — confirmed shortly after her arrival in Downing Street

Sure, the mini-budget stated that clarifying how all the spending/lowered tax revenue would be paid for was to be put off until the later financial statement, due some weeks later. But the only new thing was the change to the top rate of income tax from 45 per cent to 40 per cent

Given the well-known dynamic impact of lowered tax rates, this change would arguably have been revenue neutral or even beneficial; even without any dynamic benefit, it could have cost at most £2 billion in tax revenue. That is a rounding error compared to the amounts already absorbed by the market and a fraction of the costs Rishi Sunak has accepted at COP 27 — to which the markets have reacted entirely complacently. It is just not credible to blame the mini-budget for the market turmoil.

Moynihan explains more about how LDIs work:

The prime obligation of a pension fund is to match its assets (the money it uses to make payments) to its liabilities (the payments it expects make to its pensioners over the years). For a fund to be as sure as it can that it will be able to pay its future pension liabilities, it buys assets whose coupons and maturity match its (actuarially expected) future pension payments.

So far, all well and good. The problem is with LDI funds. These, like so many pension funds these days, use gilts to accomplish that matching (in a popular meme of the past couple of decades, “gentlemen prefer bonds”). However, in addition the idea has been sold that they can goose up their returns a bit, to compensate for the low yields they are getting on their gilts

This little bit of extra profit is accomplished by borrowing some further money, short-term, and with it buying long, higher-yielding assets — either real assets, or derivatives. It’s a well-known and always risky bet on interest rate movements; in some markets it’s known as the “Carry Trade”; in the Japanese markets it’s known as the “Widow Maker”. It’s entirely inappropriate for “safe” pension funds. 

If rates move against the bet, the bet sours. To cover the risk they are taking, the funds are required to give over their other assets (the gilts) as collateral to the bank that lent them the money. 

When the bet sours, the bank that lent them the money “calls the collateral”, selling off the gilts in order to repay the borrowing a wave of such sales can destabilise the gilts market and create a disorderly environment, as happened in late September 2022.

Some would say that the Bank of England should have known all of this and not allowed such risk to be taken by this huge market in LDI funds. Some would raise an eyebrow at the news that until the middle of 2022, the Bank of England itself held 100 per cent of its £5 billion pension fund in just one single LDI Fund, and therefore blithely seemed to believe it was OK for such risks to be taken (their 100 per cent recently was reduced to a scarcely less concerning 82 per cent).

For whatever reason, the Bank and other regulators did allow LDI funds to become more and more the fashionThe total value of liabilities hedged with LDI strategies was $1.8 trillion in 2021, around half of the total of LDI funds in the world, a sure sign that the Bank Of England had been far too lenient in allowing LDIs to flourish in the UK. That is Strike One.

Why then did the LDI funds start collapsing specifically in late September? It starts with the rapid appearance this year of inflation, caused in no small part — as the Bank has finally admitted — by the bank’s excessive growth of the money supply in recent years. As inflation consequently shot up, so, all year, did gilt yields rise, putting increasing pressure on those rickety LDI funds. That is Strike Two against the BoE for its role in worsening inflation in the UK, leading to this instability.

Two days before Kwarteng delivered his mini-budget, Saxo Bank and Deutsche Bank correctly predicted a fall in sterling.

Saxo predicted:

“If the BoE fails to hike 75 basis points, let’s shield our eyes for what is going to happen to the pound here.” (They were predicting a fall in sterling, which duly happened. Low sterling leads to higher inflation leads to higher gilt yields.) 

Deutsche Bank said that the BoE needed a ‘hawkish response’. It never materialised.

In the end:

Both Deutsche and Saxo were right. Only days after the Bank failed to step up to the 75 basis points mark, sterling momentarily dropped to $1.04, just as Deutsche had predictedyet for reasons that remain to be explained, the drop was blamed on the mini-budget, not on the Bank’s failure to sufficiently raise rates. The failure to raise rates enough, two days before the mini-budget, is Strike Three.

In addition, the BoE announced a fortnight-long programme of selling £40 billion of gilts, which ended in mid-October.

In other words, it moved from QE to QT, quantitative tightening.

Reuters noted the BoE was the first central bank to do that, at least in recent years. Bloomberg called the move ‘historic’ for the same reason:

In 2013, all it had taken was the Fed to announce it was doing less QE — not stopping, just doing less — for the markets to go into a “Taper Tantrum”.

Ever since, most central banks have been cautious not to move too fast in shutting down their QE. But not the BoE. Why did it see itself as in a position to be the first in the world to take this very risky step, aware as they were that the mini-budget was about to be announced?

Not surprisingly, the markets responded:

market participants move fast to get ahead: they quickly sell their own bonds before their value is hammered by the BoE sales. Yields immediately go up and the price of bonds immediately falls. Which is why it was — Strike Fourstupid for the central bank to announce its moves ahead of time: it’s like the time that Gordon Brown announced he was selling all our gold, and the price collapsed so he made much less from the sale. But now the LDI pension funds started to get really hammered: as the market moved to dump gilts, the price of gilts fell and fell — this is still before the mini-budget — and collateral calls began to come thick and fast on the LDI funds.

The doom loop began:

And even more collateral calls then came in, and we were in an accelerating doom loop. All this was happening as the mini-budget was announced, and the lazy financial press, not seeing what had happened earlier, blamed the rout in the gilts market on the mini-budget. But it was started by the Bank of England’s earlier decision to go full tonto QT. Strike Five.

Cue the headlines that Liz Truss ‘crashed the economy’, to borrow Labour’s words, which they are still using in Parliament:

The Prime Minister is accused the following day of destroying the economy.

The BoE backtracked immediately, announcing it would move from QT back to QE:

The Bank of England, of course, immediately announces that it is not after all going to sell £40 billion of gilts — it is going to buy £60 billion of them — back from QT to QE in a blink of the eye. 

Of course, by then, it was too late for Truss and Kwarteng. Their collective goose was well and truly cooked:

… by now the gods of havoc have been unleashed. Truss’s enemies in the Conservative party get to work, using the mini-budget narrative to undo the mini-budget, to oust the Chancellor, and finally to oust the Prime Minister herself. Job Done

The BoE defended its actions:

The post-mortem speech by the Bank’s director for financial stability, entitled “Risks from leverage: how did a small corner of the financial industry threaten financial stability?” makes for interesting reading; in this telling, the Bank staved off a crisis from what, for anyone, would have been an unexpected direction, dealing more than adequately with the non-bank sector. If anything, the director claims, the UK was ahead of the curve!

As for the current Sunak-Hunt government, Jon Moynihan has also noted the presence of David Cameron’s Chancellor and the former BlackRock executive:

George Osborne and Rupert Harrison, late of BlackRock, the UK’s second largest provider of LDI funds, are now advising the new government.

Moynihan ends his article by pointing out that the BoE’s governor, Andrew Bailey, has the nickname of ‘Lullaby’ because he tended to doze off during meetings in a prior position:

As head of the Financial Conduct Authority from 2016 to 2020, he saw first-hand the sort of shenanigans firms and funds will get up to if, pressed by smooth talking salesmen, they are given the freedom to act as they will.

It has been alleged that while in that role, Bailey “dozed off” during meetings over a pensions scandal. Now, the organisation he runs is accused of being asleep at the wheel on LDI pension funds, not to mention on inflation, the currency, the stability of markets.

It looks like the BoE’s laxity led to the fall of a government:

All that led to the end of a government, in a way that will continue to reverberate, to the detriment of many people’s view of democracy in this country, for decades to come.

What the British think

Only last week, on November 23, IPSOS published a poll saying that politicians are the least trustworthy of working Britons. Pictured alongside Rishi is a very young Piers Morgan when he edited The Mirror. Journalists have a trustworthiness rating of 29%, compared to politicians in general at 12%:

Guido has the full chart of occupations participants were asked to rank in order of trustworthiness:

Hardly unsurprisingly, public trust in politicians to tell the truth has fallen to its lowest level ever, according to the latest Ipsos poll. Just 12% of the public now trusts politicians to tell the truth, lower than advertising executives (14%) and government ministers (16%).

Unfortunately for journalists they don’t fare much better, at just 29% – one percent above estate agents…

Nurses and doctors ranked the highest at 89% and 85%, respectively.

Television news readers ranked at 58%, above clergy/priests and the man in the street, both of which tied on 55%.

Conclusion

On November 22, roughly one month after Truss resigned, Dan Wootton did a follow up on GB News.

Nigel Farage told him:

Hunt was the coup. Sunak is little more than a puppet.

Wootton also interviewed Ranil Jayawardena, who served as Secretary of State for DEFRA, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He was very gracious and didn’t want to get into any controversies. Wootton, who was a big Truss supporter, wanted to know how both of them were faring. He said that they were fine.

I’m including the nine-minute interview here just so you can hear Ranil Jayawardena’s voice. He should record audio books in his retirement. Someone in the comments to the video said that he sounds like Boris. He sounds a thousand times better than Boris. This is received pronunciation, rarely heard today in such mellifluous tones:

The Liz Truss saga ends here.

I fear the worst, for the Conservative Party and for the British.

End of series

Yesterday’s post discussed Liz Truss’s dogged determination.

Today’s entry looks at how determined she was to bring a refreshing libertarianism to Government.

On September 28, 2022, Jeremy Cliffe wrote a fascinating profile of Truss’s love of free markets in the New Statesman: ‘Liz Truss and the rise of the libertarian right’.

Of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget of September 23, Cliffe points out (emphases mine):

nothing in Truss’s past was fundamentally incompatible with her proclaimed ideological commitment to a small-state, free-market model. And now, just three weeks into her tenure in No 10, it has been comprehensively buried. The unofficial Budget from her like-minded Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, on 23 September, removed any remaining doubt by ushering in the biggest package of tax cuts since the Conservative chancellor Anthony Barber’s expansionary “dash for growth” in 1972, and by targeting the benefit of those cuts overwhelmingly on the richest.

Far from popularity-chasing opportunism, this amounts to a huge experiment that, as the Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie has put it, effectively treats Britain as a giant “laboratory” for economically libertarian ideas. The success or failure of that experiment will make or break Truss’s government. Say what you like about the wisdom of this approach – and the markets have had their say – but it is absolutely not the method of a flip-flopper. Rather, it is that of a convinced member of a deep-rooted network of ideas, institutions and thinkers born on the shores of Lake Geneva over 75 years ago. It is impossible to understand the ideological zeal with which Truss and Kwarteng are pushing Britain towards the economic brink without understanding that network.

Cliffe goes on to present a summary of Friedrich Hayek’s economic vision. I learned a lot, so am sharing that below.

Hayek and the Mont Pelerin Society

Over the centuries, many wonderful things originated in Switzerland. Libertarianism was no exception.

In 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Friedrich Hayek invited a group of 39 economists, historians and philosophers to promote classical liberalism, which has nothing to do with left wing politics. In fact, what became the Mont Pelerin Society was — and is — actively opposed to Marxist and Keynesian economic policies promoted globally at that time.

The group met at the Hotel du Parc, now the Pelerin Palace, in the village of Le Mont-Pèlerin, which overlooks Lake Geneva. I have been to that part of the world, and it is sublime.

The Mont Pelerin Society still meets regularly, annually for regional meetings and every two years for a general meeting. In 1997, they met at the village’s stunning Le Mirador Resort and Spa. In October 2022, they met in Oslo.

Cliffe describes the Society’s goal:

Inspired by Hayek’s warnings of a “road to serfdom” – as set forth in his 1944 book of that name – they were united in concern at the apparent march of international collectivism, in both its totalitarian (Soviet) and democratic (social democrat and New Deal) forms.

Afterwards, libertarian think tanks were founded in the United Kingdom and the United States which influenced the thinking of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan:

Over the subsequent decades members and associates of this group established successive generations of influential think tanks advancing anti-collectivist economics. In 1955, Antony Fisher founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in London (IEA). This would help inspire a second wave in the 1970s, including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC and, in London, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) and the Adam Smith Institute (ASI). As the historian Daniel Stedman Jones puts it in his book Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, these transatlantic “ideological entrepreneurs” provided both a long-term incubator for such ideas and a bridge from high economic theory to applied policy practice. Both Reaganomics and Thatcherism would have been unthinkable without them.

Not all of these think tanks think alike. Some are socially conservative, while others are not. Some are geared towards academia, others towards politics. However, they agree on economic policy:

From the 1980s to the early 2000s came the next wave of more public-facing bodies such as Americans for Tax Reform and the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). Matthew Elliott, who worked at the former before returning to his native UK to found the latter in 2004, would also go on to help establish and lead the Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

These bodies are not homogeneous. Cato, for example, is classically libertarian on social issues like LGBT+ rights, whereas Heritage is hard-line conservative. There are also differences of approach. Mark Littlewood, the director of the IEA [Institute of Economic Affairs], who has known Truss since their student days – they both attended Oxford in the 1990s – differentiates between more “upstream” think tanks like his own, which are closer to academia and concentrate on disseminating ideas among opinion-forming elites, and more “downstream” organisations, which are focused on government policymaking (like the CPS) and shaping debate in the mass media (like the TPA).

One of Truss’s tutors at Oxford, Marc Stears, says:

“Hayek’s ideas are really important because of the underlying spirit that animates them: that there is no such thing as collective intelligence; the state does not know things and only individuals can really know things. That faith in the wisdom of the crowd, as expressed in price mechanisms, is very deeply ingrained.”

He also points to a shared tendency to be patient, citing the Marxist philosopher GA Cohen’s observation that the supply-side right has succeeded at “keeping the fires burning” even through periods in the political wilderness.

Stears himself leads a libertarian think tank:

Marc Stears tutored Truss when she was a PPE student at Oxford and today leads the Policy Lab at University College London. He notes that the more theoretical “upstream” parts of the libertarian think-tank spectrum have grown in significance as academia has tilted leftwards. “There are fewer centres in the big universities where these thinkers cluster,” he told me. “So that makes the role of think tanks more important.”

Cliffe points out the geographical proximity of think tanks in London and Washington DC:

The majority of these think tanks are clustered around Tufton Street, a Georgian terrace in Westminster, and Massachusetts Avenue, a long boulevard in Washington DC (a distinction being that “Mass Ave” is also home to think tanks of various other intellectual outlooks).

These two worlds have long been linked by transatlantic personalities criss-crossing between them. Prominent examples include Fisher (who founded the Atlas Network, a Washington-based umbrella organisation of international free-market think tanks), Edwin Feulner (a former IEA intern who co-founded Heritage) and Eamonn Butler (an ally of Feulner’s who co-founded the ASI in London). Today they number Ryan Bourne – a Truss ally, formerly of the IEA and now at Cato; Daniel Hannan – a Brexiteer former MEP and founder of the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT); and Nile Gardiner – head of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage.

Today’s economic libertarianism

The current Conservative government, whether under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, has some commitment to economic libertarianism. Sunak promoted freeports in 2019, which are slowly coming to fruition. Truss advocated investment zones, which are still going ahead, although they will be more focused on research.

Cliffe says:

Ideologically, the institutions and thinkers of this world share a common commitment to a low-tax, low-regulation, Anglo-Saxon social model, distinct from the social democratic “European” one. They tend to favour mechanisms for advancing that model, such as free-trade deals, “levelling down” state intervention, and demarcated zones pioneering extremely small-state government (variously referred to as “freeports”, “investment zones” or “charter cities”). They instinctively prefer market-led solutions to collective problems, such as climate change, over state-led ones. Perhaps not unrelatedly, many of them draw on opaque funding from big private-sector interests. Cato, for instance, has received backing from corporations such as FedEx and Google, and, in the past, from the tobacco industry – which has also been a source of funding for both the IEA and ASI.

In the Britain of 2022 these instincts express themselves in a particular analysis of the state of the country. This, as Truss-ite thinkers explain, starts from the argument that British governments since Margaret Thatcher – Conservative as well as Labour – have become much too sentimental about the distribution and moral character of growth, and too little focused on raising the overall growth level. As Bourne puts it: “Liz Truss would not consider it a failure if she got the growth rate up significantly but not equally across regions.”

It is not a politics of pursuing what is popular per se, but of letting “what works” (defined as whatever lifts the growth rate) speak for itself. “They won’t be transactional about policies,” Bourne says of Truss and Kwarteng. “It’s the whole string of things. Incrementally, the patient might not like the medicine, but overall they will feel healthier and revived.”

Truss’s brand of libertarianism

I had no idea that Truss worked for a British think tank or that she had speaking engagements at the American ones.

Her interest began at Oxford, then continued in London:

Even during her student years in Oxford, recalls Marc Stears, Truss prided herself on defying intellectual convention. “Her primary characteristic was a love of controversy, quirkiness and idiosyncrasy… Her thinking was always intriguing and contrarian, if not always fully worked through.” A brief flirtation with the Lib Dems is not entirely inconsistent with right-wing libertarianism (the party’s Orange Book tendency has links with this world  too, and as a student Truss was also a member of the Hayek Society). “She definitely sat outside the prevailing social democratic orthodoxy even then,” Stears says.

Truss worked in think-tank land herself before her election to parliament, serving as deputy director of Reform from 2008 to 2010, a period when the organisation was laying some of the intellectual foundations of the spending cuts and market-led approach to public services that would be introduced under David Cameron and George Osborne. “Cameron and Osborne may have been more Thatcherite where Truss is more Reaganite,” notes Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London, a historian of the Conservative Party. “But they shared the basic belief that the market should be the main force in economic life, the state as small as possible and the individual as large as possible.”

Truss’s Thatcherite tendencies became more apparent once she entered Parliament in 2010. However, Thatcherism means different things to different people:

Shared beliefs, yes, but with different degrees of intensity. In 2010, Truss typified a romantically Thatcherite intake of new Tory MPs who thought Cameron and Osborne were being too cautious about slashing the state.

“When you think that people’s politicisation tends to take place in their teens and early twenties, it is perfectly understandable that MPs who had come of age around 1997 would equate past Conservative election victories with what they saw as Margaret Thatcher’s uncompromising free-market ideology, rather than her more compromising reality,” Bale says.

Truss rapidly became a figurehead for this generation. “Liz was the first convenor of the Free Enterprise Group,” recalls Littlewood, referring to the establishment in 2011 of a cluster of like-minded Conservative MPs – which was effectively the IEA’s parliamentary branch. “And Kwasi Kwarteng was the second.”

Cliffe says there are other Conservative MPs committed to the free market, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab among them.

In 2017, Truss became Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The following year, she began giving speeches in the United States:

A particularly notable speech was delivered at the Cato Institute in Washington in 2018. In it, Truss called for a new, small-state “Anglo-American dream” driven by an emergent generation of “market millennials” used to the freedoms of the app economy – “Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters”, as she put it elsewhere. “Free enterprise is a hymn to individuality and non-conformity,” she proclaimed to her Cato audience. “It’s what allows the young to flower and the anti-establishment to flourish.”

Bourne helped set up the speech. I put it to him that her argument ignores strong youth support for the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. “It’s a case of stated preference versus revealed preference,” he said. “Liz’s essential argument is that, in their actions, young people in both countries are very entrepreneurial, independent, and enjoy the fruits of a liberal, dynamic economy. She thinks there is a latent enthusiasm for markets if we can reform things in a direction that enables these people to fulfil their wants and needs, like starting companies and buying homes.”

Her visits to the US engaged her interest in the Reagan years:

It was around this time that she became engrossed in books by the American historian Rick Perlstein on the making of the Reagan revolution.

Fast-forwarding to her appointment as Foreign Secretary in 2021, her commitment to libertarian ideals ran deeply:

her ideology, rooted in the school of thought founded at Mont Pelerin, was long-established. “Her ideological disposition is towards the likes of Robert Mundell, Alan Reynolds and Arthur Laffer,” says Bourne, “the original supply-side thinkers in the US who influenced the underpinnings of the Reagan administration. The basic idea is that monetary policy deals with inflation and that fiscal and especially tax policy has to deliver incentives for long-run growth.”

Another inspiration is “Rogernomics” in 1980s New Zealand, when the Labour government’s finance minister Roger Douglas slashed trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers and pioneered monetary policy targeting. (The legacy of that neoliberal experiment remains deeply divisive on the New Zealand left.)

Liz’s libertarian allies

Cliffe discusses Prime Minister Truss’s Cabinet and think tank allies:

… now she is Prime Minister, the supposed free-market outriders are finding themselves being outridden by the sitting government. Littlewood of the IEA marvels at the scope of the unofficial Budget. “I have long tried to fine-tune out criticism of Conservative governments for not being radical enough; now they’re being more radical than even we are requesting.” He cites the government’s commitment to scrap all remaining EU law as an example. Even when the IEA and Truss disagreed, the closeness was evident; its criticism of her energy price cap promptly elicited an explanatory call from No 10.

Old Tuftonians hold many of the senior jobs in her government.Matt Sinclair is the standout example,” says Littlewood of Truss’s chief economic adviser, formerly of the TPA. “He is steeped in this world.” Ruth Porter, deputy chief of staff, is an IEA alumna. Sophie Jarvis, No 10’s political secretary, was formerly at the ASI. “She will have hired and appointed people who are on board with her ideologically,” agrees Bourne. With Kwarteng as Chancellor, as well as James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg as Business Secretary, the major cabinet roles are held by true believers.

Free-market think tanks, like the IEA, that have long considered themselves to be outside the broad British consensus have used provocation and controversy to catch attention, shake things up and try to shift debates. Truss, observes Marc Stears of his former student, is now bringing that approach into government. “She loves this idea that the action is in the reaction, prodding and provoking people. The unofficial Budget was like going to a slightly mad libertarian think-tank report launch.

Stears said that Truss:

“actually wants to destabilise things. She thinks the prevailing order is wrong and there is a need to break things to rebuild.”

Ryan Bourne and Mark Littlewood say that she would have wanted to increase personal freedoms by reducing the nanny state:

Bourne cites childcare, infrastructure, energy and housing (street votes on city planning decisions, for example) as possible focuses, as well as farming (“where there might be a quid pro quo where they scale back government support but relax regulations”). “And I expect this philosophy to apply to lifestyle freedoms, too,” adds Littlewood. “Deregulating ads for sugary drinks, McDonald’s advertising on the London Underground, that sort of thing.”

Oh, if only she’d been allowed to do all those things.

Bourne had more to say:

“Her broad view is ‘We have to show, not tell’,” says Bourne. “We have to get on with free-market reforms and when they create results they create a baseline, and that wins hearts and minds.” There are echoes of the Prime Minister’s vision of “market millennials” here: that young people will come to recognise their small-state instincts when they feel the benefit of such politics put into action.

Cliffe has a message for his Labourite New Statesman readers and suggests how Labour can oppose Truss’s ideas:

So far, her environment policies seem designed to serve the interests of big polluters rather than market insurgents in the green-energy sector; her deregulation push appears tailored to the interests of existing market insiders with big lobbying budgets; and her proposed tax cuts will certainly benefit the already rich, rather than the worst off. None of this is a “hymn to individuality and non-conformity”. It is corporatism.

The challenge now for Liz Truss’s opponents, both inside the Conservative family and on the left, is to engage with these tensions and use them to expose the contradictions of the great unruly experiment being rolled out from Downing Street. Because to do so is to contest what is really driving it; to have a chance of changing the public debate and building a solid foundation for a different and better national project. Bad ideas make a much more obvious and persuasive target than bad intentions.

I would say that has already been done. Sunak’s government is very different to Truss’s, especially with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as de facto Prime Minister.

‘Weird’ Liz Truss

Shortly after Truss resigned as Prime Minister, The Guardian had an excellent profile of her: ‘From fighter to quitter: the “weird” rise and fall of Liz Truss’.

Truth telling?

It would appear that Truss was somewhat economical with the truth about her education and that of previous Prime Ministers:

At her recent party conference, she spoke of herself as “the first prime minister of our country to have gone to a comprehensive school”. The claim has been disproved by those who note that both Gordon Brown and Theresa May went to comprehensive schools. In any case, Truss has said that Roundhay School in Leeds “let down” children by teaching them “about racism and sexism” with “too little time spent making sure everybody could read and write”.

Again, the notion that Roundhay, a consistently “outstanding” school, was unacademic has been strenuously contested, as has Truss’s claim that her comfortable middle-class neighbourhood in Leeds was “at the heart of the red wall”. Truss is not the first politician to massage her biography but she’s unusual in attempting to establish her rightwing credentials by making her formative years seem more underprivileged than they were.

Political ‘dynamo’ at Oxford

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood was complimentary about her commitment to politics at Oxford:

She became president of the university Liberal Democrats, and a member of the national executive committee of the party’s youth and student wing. Also at Oxford and another Lib Dem activist was Mark Littlewood, now director general of the free market thinktank most associated with Truss’s political outlook, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). He remembers her as a “dynamo who exploded on to the political scene”

“If you spent any more than three minutes in her company, you had no doubt at all about what she thought of the particular topic you might be discussing,” Littlewood says.

Unlike her U-turning days as PM, she was sure of her convictions as a student:

For others, like Neil Fawcett, a fellow committee member of the Lib Dems’ student national executive, this trait of certitude came across as dogmatic and unbending. “She always had very strong views on everything,” he recalls. “Sometimes they were based on knowledge or experience but quite often they weren’t. My main memory is that if she came up with something that simply wasn’t going to work, and I was in a position where I had the experience to know that it wasn’t going to work, she would still argue the case anyway.

“She was absolutely not for turning, whatever the evidence. I thought of that when I read about Treasury civil servants who have been completely ignored because she knew better.”

She was more interested in debating and protesting than in canvassing:

She was more concerned to make a splash, he says, than to get things done. Littlewood suggests, in her defence, that Truss was not much interested in “delivering leaflets”. Instead she spoke out against the monarchy at a Lib Dem conference, and protested against the BNP in Tower Hamlets.

Mark Littlewood says that Truss found the Liberal Democrats of the 1990s more libertarian than the Conservatives of that era:

Littlewood insists that the Lib Dems made more sense at the time to Truss because the Conservatives were authoritarian on civil liberties and Truss was primarily interested in personal freedom. This, he says, has been the constant in her political career.

“People say she was a Liberal Democrat and now she’s a Tory. She was a remainer and became a Brexiter. She was a republican and she’s a monarchist. But actually her overarching view of the world has always been a classical liberal one, that the state is too big and interfering in our lives,” he says.

She joined the Conservatives in 1996 – when the “back to basics” morality campaign was still alive, if not very well – and 13 years later, it was her local Tory party that wanted to interfere in her life.

That would have been after her affair with a fellow sitting MP at the time. Some local Conservative association members wanted her deselected from her rural Norfolk seat, although that did not happen:

Several constituency association members, dubbed the “Turnip Taliban”, objected, arguing that Truss had not disclosed the extramarital affair she had had with the Conservative MP Mark Field. A motion to cancel her candidature was defeated after the then-leader David Cameron came to Truss’s aid.

‘Weird’

Some of Truss’s detractors told The Guardian that her interpersonal skills are ‘weird’:

The knowledge of the affair with Field has hung around Truss in a way that it probably would not have done with a male politician. There is a welter of parliamentary gossip and tall stories concerning Truss that MPs routinely refer to, off-the-record, although no one can ever name a source or witness. “She flirted with every man she comes across,” says one (female) former Tory minister. “She almost even flirted with women.” At the same time, so many of her colleagues and former colleagues – including the one who speaks of her flirting – report that she was unapproachable and, as another put it, “she doesn’t have great interpersonal skills”.

What most MPs agree that she has always had is ambition. Four years after entering parliament in 2010, she joined the cabinet as environment secretary. The most attention she received in the post came with a bizarrely emphatic speech she gave to the Tory party conference.

“We import two-thirds of our cheese,” she told a bemused hall, “that is a disgrace.” She spoke the last half of the sentence as if there were full-stops between each word, an oratorical choice that cemented the “weird” reputation.

When Theresa May became leader, she replaced Michael Gove with Truss as justice secretary and Lord Chancellor, making her the first woman to hold either post. One insider says that it was obvious that “she was an entirely unsuitable appointment for the job”

Also:

When asked to describe Truss, two former Conservative government ministers both used the same word: weird. “She doesn’t have any friends. She’s just weird,” one said. “She sits far too close to you,” said another. “And when she talks to you, she keeps repeating your name. It’s weird.”

As Prime Minister:

While Truss may appear to possess an unshakeable self-confidence, many of her appointments spoke of insecurity, as well as debts that required paying. “Never forget that only 50 MPs voted for her in the first round of the leadership election,” says one former minister, who puts Truss’s ultimate triumph down to the fact that “she wasn’t Rishi Sunak”

“Oh, she’s very clever,” the former minister acknowledges, admonishing those who think otherwise. “She may not be great at understanding nuance, and her political antenna is not very good, but her political skill is in being a survivor.”

A libertarian perspective: ‘shambolic’

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood did not seem to approve of the Truss-Kwarteng mini-budget:

Whatever is said of Truss, there can be no doubt that she inherited a difficult political and economic situation, with a cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine, a huge national debt following the pandemic, and the forecast of a major recession.

But, says Littlewood, she played a bad hand badly. He remains bewildered about why she staked so much political capital on reducing the top rate of income tax. “Why select that as the hill you want to die on?”

Similarly, he doesn’t understand why, if she was looking for tax reductions, she didn’t cut VAT, which he argues would have been counter-inflationary and broadly progressive. He puts her undoing down to her tendency to rely on just a handful of trusted advisers, which may have worked when she was trade secretary, but not as PM. “That’s when you need squadrons of very senior and experienced people advising you,” he says.

Of course, squadrons of experienced people did advise her not to cut taxes – perhaps that’s why she didn’t consult them.

“I was utterly amazed by the complete inability to politically execute anything,” Littlewood adds. “It was totally shambolic.”

It makes you wonder what went on in all those IEA meetings, if Littlewood was taken so thoroughly by surprise.

The article notes the irony in a free-marketeer being brought down by market forces:

Whatever unfolds from here, hers has been a tale of almost classical hubris. In thrall for so many years to free enterprise, she seemed to expect as prime minister that the compliment would be repaid. Instead, she received from the hedge fund managers and bond traders she lionised an ignominious lesson in the most basic rule of capitalism: you can’t buck the market.

‘Weird’ and friendless

According to Harry Cole and James Heale’s Truss biography Out of the Blue, even she admitted that she was lacking.

On November 1, The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley got a look at the book as it was a month ago, before publication:

… Harry Cole, political editor of the Sun, and James Heale, diary editor of the Spectator, have proven that hacks do our best work under pressure, adding two chapters on her 44-day premiership and cleverly turning a story of surprise victory into a well-researched tragedy of warnings ignored.

Even Ms Truss had her doubts about her suitability for No 10. I think I’d make a great PM, she once told a visitor to her office, the only problems are: “I am weird and I don’t have any friends.”

Others agreed with that assessment:

One special advisor recalled her “weird manner, where she has a glint in her eye and she thinks she’s being edgy or naughty”.

At the end of her premiership, she was pragmatic. And she does have some friends, after all:

“Politics is a blood sport,” she told friends, “and I am the fox.”

The ‘pork markets’ speech

In The Times, on Saturday, November 5, Cole and Heale gave us a preview of the book by discussing Truss’s pork markets speech, which went viral this year, even though it didn’t raise any eyebrows at the time. David Cameron was Prime Minister back then:

While Liz Truss was becoming more astute in Whitehall management, there is no escaping that her early days at Defra — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — will be remembered for one thing only: the speech about apples, pork markets and cheese. The 2014 Conservative Party conference in Birmingham was the last chance for the faithful to gather before the widely expected election the following year.

With the polls pointing to a hung parliament, and fears of years more of coalition, it was red meat galore. George Osborne put the £100 billion annual benefits bill on notice, while David Cameron basked in some rare warmth from the membership after seeing off Alex Salmond and co in September’s Scottish referendum. That week Truss picked a fight on two fronts. First, she declared war on the Hunting Act, and then she turned fire on her least favourite pudding: Angel Delight.

… it was the 1970s dessert that drew the minister’s ire in a bizarre pre-conference intervention, most notably in The Times where she blamed the “new-fangled” instant pudding for the decline of Britain’s orchards. “Apples are a symbol of a wider failure to take pride in and cultivate our own food,” she wrote. Citing the fact that two thirds of UK orchards had been “ripped up in the past 60 years” and that Britain was importing “65 per cent of the apples we eat”, Truss was on the warpath: “Consumers reach for easily made, new-fangled products such as Angel Delight or Instant Whip rather than make an apple crumble.”

She continued the crusade from the podium in Birmingham, in her first speech to a conference as a cabinet minister: “At the moment, we import two-thirds of all of our apples. We import nine tenths of all of our pears. We import two thirds of our cheese.” She continued, with now infamous emphasis: “That . . . is . . . a . . . dis . . . grace! From the apples that dropped on Isaac Newton’s head to the orchards of nursery rhymes, this fruit has always been part of Britain, it’s been part of our country. I want our children to grow up knowing the taste of a British apple, of Cornish sardines, of Herefordshire pears, of Norfolk turkey, of Melton Mowbray pork pies and, of course, of black pudding . . . I will not rest until the British apple is back at the top of the tree.”

With only a few newspaper mentions, her speech went largely unnoticed.

However, she also mentioned ‘pork markets’, at which point her face strangely lit up, suggesting something more that wasn’t there. By the end of the week, the BBC’s satirical quiz show, Have I Got News For You (HIGNIFY), picked up the video:

Jennifer Saunders, the programme’s host, mocked the environment secretary’s facial gestures; responding to Truss’s promise that, “In December, I’ll be in Beijing opening up new pork markets”, Paul Merton quipped: “She likes to enjoy herself on holiday, doesn’t she?” Truss’s least radical conference speech would become her most famous — as a meme and as a gif — and “that is a disgrace” a punchline of political jokes for years to come.

Recently, Truss said:

To be honest I didn’t think it would get that much attention. So basically I hammed it up a bit too much.

Those who knew her at the time said that Truss’s awkward delivery was a product of media training gone wrong:

Truss’s friends would later confess she had been on a crash course for “corporate management presentational training” shortly before the speech. Reflecting on it eight years later, Kirsty Buchanan, a former adviser to Truss, told the BBC such training “plays into the worst elements of Liz’s communication because it makes her more stilted — over-pronunciation and pausing is not her problem, it’s the exact opposite. You need to loosen her up in speeches and get her to relax. In private when she’s relaxed, she’s articulate, sharp, witty, funny, engaging. Put her in front of a camera, until recently when she’s grown in terms of confidence, she kind of clams up.

According to Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute think tank: “At the time in CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters] and No 10, they were doing training for ministers, trying to train them in a certain way. You saw that with the weird stance that they all took, standing with their legs apart.”

A leading Tory sympathetic to Truss notes the difficulty in delivering a modern conference speech: “Addressing a conference hall while being told to address a headshot camera and speak to viewers at home: it’s a difficult balancing act to get right, with speakers attempting to build a rapport with delegates while trying to deliver carefully crafted lines more suited to a party political broadcast or social media clip.”

Nevertheless:

The reference to “pork markets” nevertheless raised eyebrows. One special adviser then working in another department says: “I think she was trying to be suggestive, it’s all part of the whole naughty and weird act. I think because I’ve seen her be suggestive so many times, I assumed it was deliberate but it might just have been accidental.”

Following the speech, allies admit Truss undertook more training to avoid a repeat of the mockery. Buchanan says: “There has clearly been a lot more work done on bringing the voice down and slowing down the pace of delivery.”

Kwasi Kwarteng said:

I think it was a bit unfair . . . it was weird, the delivery people thought was a bit strange. The point she made was a fair point. But again she bounced back. She’s totally resilient, totally focused and she learnt from Defra, she learnt from that experience.

She didn’t let poor delivery deter her:

Undaunted, Truss threw herself back into her departmental work. An aide recalls: “There’s a sort of delightfully Terminator quality to her: she just keeps going. And you know if you combine that with a very thick skin this will lead to this almost relentless optimism. It’s quite a powerful force in politics.”

Truss can laugh at ‘pork markets’ now:

One cabinet colleague notes that Truss can at least laugh about the speech: “The number of times that I’ve been in meetings with her and she’s gone, ‘That is a disgrace’ and everyone chuckles because we all know what the reference is and she laughs along with us like, ‘What the f*** was I doing?’” Truss says: “My daughter loves it, though, she plays it all the time.”

Scottish Secretary helped Truss become PM

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations of Out of the Blue is that Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, helped Truss become PM.

On November 13, The Sunday Times featured a synopsis of how Jack dissuaded Truss from resigning as a Cabinet minister in September 2021.

Truss found out about a rise in National Insurance and told Boris Johnson about it. Then a newspaper report about the rise appeared from an unnamed Cabinet minister. The article quoted the minister as saying the rise would be:

morally, economically and politically wrong.

Boris did not want Truss to resign, so he enlisted Alister Jack’s support in keeping her in place:

As a result one of the authors argues that she was able to spend a year at a senior level of the government positioned as the alternative to Rishi Sunak if Johnson lost his job

Jack had become increasingly close to Johnson and was advising him on a cabinet reshuffle. The book says the Scottish MP contacted Truss to tip her off that she was in line for a significant promotion.

Jack told her to keep quiet about the National Insurance rise:

Jack called her and said: “Look Liz you’re gonna get a massive job in two weeks’ time, a massive job. You would be well advised to shut the f*** up.”

Despite going on to raise concerns in cabinet, she did not comment publicly and, according to a Downing Street official “then sucked it up”.

Truss then became Foreign Secretary:

With Truss duly being promoted shortly afterwards to the prestigious foreign secretary post, the authors say: “Perhaps Alister Jack’s plan had worked after all; Truss did not resign.”

Cole told The Sunday Times: “For fans of alternative history, the role Alister Jack played in the rise of Liz Truss is fascinating.

“Had he not convinced her to temper her attacks on Johnson and Sunak’s national insurance rise in September 2021, perhaps she would have resigned. Or perhaps Boris would never have promoted her to foreign secretary to clip Sunak’s wings and set up the battle to replace him a year later. Keeping her on board made her a contender as she spent a year basically being the alternative to Rishi if Boris did go down so it was clearly a key milestone in her tilt for the top job — and all that followed.”

Currently, rumours have been circulating that Alister Jack will be in line for a peerage, perhaps from Liz Truss. Every Prime Minister is allowed a list of nominees for the House of Lords and Truss is no exception.

The end

After Truss resigned, Harry Cole gave an interview to Times Radio, summarising Truss’s final week as Prime Minister. Too many things had gone wrong. She had to go. He ended by saying she was remarkably ‘zen’ about it all:

That fateful Wednesday of Suella Braverman’s resignation coupled with the bungled vote on fracking and no Chief Whip brought Truss and her husband to a serious conversation that night, as the October 23 edition of the Mail on Sunday reported:

When Liz Truss finally accepted that her premiership was over, late on Wednesday evening, she went to the fridge in the No 10 flat and pulled out a bottle of sauvignon blanc to share with her husband Hugh.

She had just endured a torrid night in the Commons, where more than 40 of her MPs had failed to back her in a vote on fracking – leading to the astonishing sight of ministers pulling wavering Tories into the voting lobbies.

As she nibbled on a pork pie, the couple agreed that it was a matter of when, not if, she resigned.

One of the main considerations was the impact of the growing turmoil on their two teenage daughters.

Ms Truss then slept fitfully until 4.30am, when she started messaging aides for advice.

Later that morning, No 10 asked Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, to come in to see the Prime Minister.

When she asked if the situation was retrievable, he replied: ‘I don’t think so, Prime Minister.’ The game was up

Downing Street staff were in tears as Ms Truss prepared her resignation but she reassured them: ‘Don’t worry, I’m relieved it’s over,’ before adding, ‘At least I’ve been Prime Minister.’

While newspaper reporters were putting together Truss stories, she was spending her final weekend as Prime Minister at Chequers, in leafy Buckinghamshire.

The Sunday Times reported that she held back-to-back parties:

Truss, 47, held a farewell party for ministers last night, and will thank close aides and their partners tonight …

Prime ministers are required to cover the cost of any private entertainment or party business they host at the residence.

A Times2 article told us what she allegedly served to guests:

One of Liz Truss’s many leaving parties at Chequers this weekend featured a menu including bruschetta, pigs in blankets and smoked salmon pinwheels and that, right there, sums up this whole sorry mess.

Anyone who inflicts canapé carnage like that is quite obviously unfit for high office. Smoked salmon followed by a mini sausage followed by bruschetta is a recipe for digestive disaster.

It sounds pretty good to me.

The Mail on Sunday reported more Truss controversy to come involving:

a row over whether Ms Truss should be entitled to the annual £115,000 allowance afforded to ex-PMs after her stint in office lasted only six weeks.

She is also due to receive a £18,860 pay-out for her historically short time in office.

Her aforementioned adviser Kirsty Buchanan stuck the knife in:

Kirsty Buchanan, who was a special adviser to Ms Truss at the Ministry of Justice and who also worked in Downing Street under Theresa May, claimed the PM’s reputation was ‘in tatters’.

‘The seeds of destruction were sown early as she shut out all but her closest allies and cocooned herself with those who shared her views,’ Ms Buchanan wrote in the Sunday Times.

‘With experience and institutional knowledge gone, dangerous groupthink and staggering naivety took hold at No 10.

‘Hubris went unchecked when humility was required from an administration that did not earn its majority but inherited it.

‘Politics was baked in a Petri dish, away from the political reality of the world outside.’

Ms Truss’s former aide said it would take ‘every ounce of her famed resilience’ for the PM to ‘bounce back from this humiliation’.

‘I suspect, though, that it will be the humbling in the eyes of her daughters, of whom she is fiercely proud, which may hit Truss hardest,’ she added.

Oh, dear. I hope Ms Buchanan was not one of Truss’s guests at Chequers.

I still think that, had Truss been male, most people in power would have tolerated her mistakes and been supportive.

Tomorrow’s post looks at the role the Bank of England and the media played in her downfall.

Yesterday’s post looked at the new biography of Liz Truss, Out of the Blue.

Her life has been a fascinating one in many ways.

On Saturday, September 3, 2022, shortly before Conservative Party members elected Liz Truss as their leader, The Times published an excellent article complete with photos, ‘Just where is Liz Truss from? Her incredible journey spans three countries and two continents’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Early years

Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in Oxford in 1975 to a couple who lived in Cowley, known for the Anglican religious order, the Cowley Fathers, and car making:

The Truss odyssey begins amid the rackety student townhouses of James Street in Cowley, Oxford. She was born on July 26, 1975 at the nearby John Radcliffe Hospital, the second of five children, to Priscilla, a nurse and teacher and John, a mathematics professor. Their first child, Matthew, died when he was a baby. James Street today is inhabited by a mixture of posh students and local families, with a dash of Cowley seediness thrown in.

Like many of the places where Truss grew up, the area is middle class, left-leaning and studenty, home to a variety of public sector workers and professionals on a budget.

A series of moves followed, all connected with John Truss’s work:

When her father’s junior research fellowship at Oxford University ended, he spent a couple of years as a teacher at King Charles I High School in Kidderminster [Worcestershire], where Truss’s younger brother Chris was born in 1978. After that, he found employment at Paisley College of Technology in Renfrewshire, and in 1979 took the family on the long journey up the M6 to Glasgow. Truss was four at the time.

Handsome civic buildings aside, Paisley is a fairly down-at-heel town, its high street a parade of betting shops, tattoo parlours and discount stores. But leafy Low Road, where the Truss family lived, is a bourgeois haven of Range Rovers and birdsong nestled among council estates and main roads. The Trusses lived in two different houses on the street, one a capacious detached villa, the other a sturdy semi-detached. Her other two brothers, Patrick and Francis, were born in this period.

Liz attended West Primary School and once drew the short straw in having to play Margaret Thatcher in a mock election. Most Scots detest Conservatives, especially in the western half of the country:

“I ended up with zero votes,” she recalled. “I didn’t even vote for myself. Even at that age, we knew it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the west of Scotland.”

In her spare time, young Liz embraced her parents’ left-wing politics and attended protests:

It was in Paisley that Truss’s mother first introduced her to political activism, taking her on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches with the local CND chapter, including the famous Greenham Common protests, which she attended as a seven-year-old. A picture from the Paisley Daily Express on October 23, 1985 shows a 10-year-old Liz with her mother and brother Chris proudly holding aloft a new Paisley CND banner, ahead of a planned protest trip to London. The article recounts how the family spent two weeks painstakingly making the flag.

Truss has recalled the DIY nature of her family’s 1980s radicalism. “We did a number of things like marches, protests,” she told an interviewer in 2014. “On one occasion when we went down to London in a bus we had made some nuclear bombs made out of carpet rolls — ours didn’t quite work because it had floral wallpaper on it.”

In 1987, John Truss got a new job as a visiting professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The year the family spent in Canada transformed Liz’s life:

In July she posted a picture on Instagram of her class at Parkcrest Elementary School in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, which also boasts the actor Michael J Fox as an alumnus. The caption read: “30 years ago I spent a year in Canada that changed my outlook on life #pioneerspirit #optimism.”

Moving 6,000 miles across the world would be a challenge to any 12-year-old, but the wide-open spaces and artless optimism of western Canada appear to have invigorated Truss.

The Times was able to find a Canadian classmate of hers, Brenda Montagano, who now teaches at the school both women attended:

“I remember her accent and I remember her being very smart,” Montagano recalled. “Now that I’m a teacher, I recognise that it’s no small feat to change schools, never mind countries, at that age. She came in and was confident, chatty, tried to get to know everyone. She made her mark.”

Upon returning to England, the Trusses settled in Roundhay, a suburb of Leeds:

the closest thing Truss and her brothers had to a permanent family home. It was a household of music lessons and political debate, books and board games, the latter of which Truss “had to win”, her brother Francis once told Radio 4.

Roundhay was an affluent area in the 1980s and remains so now, with the villas that overlook the park selling for more than £1 million. As a teenager, Truss would play tennis here with her brothers and drink cider with schoolfriends. Although the constituency of Leeds East was still Conservative when the Trusses first moved there, Roundhay today is solidly middle-class Labour, with the tapas bars and bookshops to prove it.

Liz was highly critical of Roundhay on the campaign trail during the summer, denouncing its Labour element. The Roundhay ward is part of Leeds City Council, so perhaps that was what she referred to. She was also critical of Roundhay School, which she attended:

“All of my parents’ friends worked in public sector jobs,” Truss has recalled. “The teachers at my school were quite often card-carrying members of the Labour Party and it just was not part of the culture to approve of what the government was doing.”

Truss is profoundly unpopular in Roundhay today. Beyond her politics, locals were outraged when she made disparaging remarks about Roundhay School, which is now a successful comprehensive (motto: “Courtesy, co-operation and commitment”), situated in a handsome redbrick building by the park.

“The reason I am a Conservative is that I saw kids at my school being let down in Leeds,” Truss said during a debate with Rishi Sunak in July.

It’s true that Roundhay was not a particularly good school in the late 1980s. “The fabric of the school was crap, really awful,” said one Roundhay teacher who overlapped with Truss. “There were ceilings collapsing, water leaks, gas leaks. The GCSE pass rate would have been 40 per cent A-C.”

It is possible that Truss thinks that more effort should have been made across the board. She was clearly a gifted student:

… the school improved markedly for sixth form and Truss reportedly received extra tuition along with other Oxbridge applicants, which helped her gain acceptance to Merton College, Oxford, to study philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).

Her years in Roundhay might not have been her best with regard to friendships:

On Ingledew Crescent, neighbours of John Truss, whose politics diverge considerably from his daughter’s, have been asked to keep their views to themselves. Some are too furious to hold back though. “She’s a lying b***h,” said Louise, a long-time neighbour. “She told lies about our local school. She told lies about the assistance she was given. I despise the woman and I feel sorry for her father. It’s not his fault”

One pupil at Roundhay remembered Truss as “aloof” and a “loner”.

The Oxford years

Going up to Oxford probably came as a relief for Liz Truss:

Like many bumptious high-achievers, it seems she found a more comfortable groove when she went to university in 1993. Even among Oxford colleges, the secluded, introspective Merton has a reputation for academic excellence. “For those of us from regional comprehensives, we’d often had to hide how clever we were,” said one contemporary from her year at Merton. “But at Merton you could meet all these amazing people with similar interests. It was very liberating.”

Oxford was a bastion of Conservatism in those days:

“I met Tories and [found] these people don’t have two heads and they don’t eat babies,” she said of this experience.

That said, she joined the Liberal Democrats:

Unlike most of her Merton contemporaries, though, Truss threw herself into life outside the college, joining the university Liberal Democrat society and becoming its president in the spring term of 1995. Student politics seems to have provided the stage she had been looking for.

Truss’s politics in the Oxford years were a typical Lib Dem mishmash. On social issues she still espoused the left-wing radicalism of her parents. During her speech to the Lib Dem party conference in 1994, made while she was still an Oxford student, she made an impassioned plea to abolish the monarchy.

Roger Crouch, who became president of the Lib Dem society the year after Truss, met her at a freshers’ fair in which she was determined to carpet the party’s entire stall with entreaties to legalise cannabis.

“Even at the time she was determined and willing to pick a fight and stand her ground,” Crouch recalled. “She knew what she thought and was willing to defend it. She was determined, slightly eccentric and challenging. She had an acerbic sense of humour, which I think is why we got on.”

The termcard for Truss’s presidency of the society included events on the legalisation of drugs and prostitution. “She liked to challenge the orthodoxy, often a male orthodoxy,” said Crouch, who is now a teacher.

Even so, she was too libertarian to remain a Liberal Democrat for long:

“Liz was always quite a libertarian Liberal Democrat,” he says. Truss was also involved with the free-market Hayek Society at the university and Crouch recalls one particular discussion in which she advocated for the privatisation of lampposts. “I didn’t see her as someone with a longer-term future in the Lib Dems,” he said. “I think she would have found us quite annoying.”

Liz and her boyfriends made the fringe student newspaper columns, one of which said:

Liz had mad ideas.

Her acceptance of a job with Shell also garnered criticism in the student gossip columns.

Life in London

Liz completed her studies in 1996 when John Major was Prime Minister, one year before Tony Blair’s Labour landslide:

Truss migrated to London after college and the not-quite-northerner became an entrenched southerner. She worked as an economist for Shell and then Cable and Wireless, but she was quickly captivated by the siren call of Tory politics, baffling some of her university peers.

“We came out of Oxford and it was the summer of Euro 96 and Britpop,” said her Merton contemporary. “Then Tony Blair got in. It was a breath of fresh air. The country was full of optimism. To then go and join the Conservative Party, I was like: ‘How does that happen?’ It was really perplexing.”

It was at this time that politics took hold of Liz, even if she was not an immediate success. However, her tenacity saw her through:

In 1998, aged 23, Truss ran for a seat on Greenwich council, a Labour-leaning borough. She lost, and it would be a 12-year political slog before she eventually became MP for South West Norfolk.

Running alongside her in 1998 was Douglas Ellison, who later won a seat on the council. “She was definitely resilient,” he recalled. “I don’t know how many selection processes she went through. There was this enormous self-belief to keep on getting up in front of these audiences and voters to eventually try and get that break. She was a sucker for punishment.”

Ellison wouldn’t necessarily have expected her to become prime minister, but noticed her obvious political skill. “Her manner could be a bit matronly, but she was very good at working people,” he said. “She’s been very lucky in a sense. Sometimes it can be better to be lucky than talented.”

Even though she never got a seat on Greenwich council, she settled in the borough, marrying her accountant husband Hugh O’Leary in 2000, at St Alfege church in Greenwich, just half a mile walk from their current home.

Her Oxford classmate Roger Crouch attended the reception:

It must have been a good one, because I can’t really remember it.

The couple have two daughters:

Frances, 16, and Liberty, 13, who she says is looking forward to hosting sleepovers in Downing Street.

I hope Liberty acted quickly.

Hugh O’Leary

On Tuesday, September 6, after Liz became Prime Minister that day, the Daily Mail told us more about Hugh O’Leary, complete with lots of photos:

Liz Truss‘true blue’ husband watched proudly as the Tory leader was crowned Britain’s third female Prime Minister.

Hugh O’Leary listened on as Ms Truss delivered her first Downing Street address on Tuesday, vowing to to create an ‘aspiration nation’ during her reign as the nation’s 56th Prime Minister …

Mr O’Leary was also by her side when she won Tory leadership on Monday, marking the first high-profile joint appearance by a hitherto private couple.

Ms Truss, 47, described her ‘dry-witted’ accountant spouse as the ‘love of my life’ on Valentine’s Day three years ago. She met Mr O’Leary at the Tory Party Conference in 1997 and said of their first date: ‘I invited him ice skating and he sprained his ankle.’ 

Mr O’Leary was born in 1974 and grew up in Allerton, Liverpool, before his family moved to Heswall, Wirral.

A former neighbour said ‘Hugh was much more serious’ than his two younger siblings and that ‘he was very earnest and very quiet but a lovely boy,’ the Times reported last week.

O’Leary, 48, became a chartered accountant after studying econometrics and mathematical economics at the London School of Economics (LSE). 

The couple started dating and married three years later, settling in Greenwich, South-East London. They have two daughters, Frances and Liberty. O’Leary has worked from home as a house-husband.

A close family friend, cookery writer Mallika Basu, said: ‘They are a great team. Both are keen cooks and very good cooks. She does lovely roasts, he does a good curry.’

There was only one dark period, when Liz had an affair with a fellow Conservative MP. Fortunately, her marriage withstood the strain:

Only once has their relationship been rocked. In 2006, it was revealed Truss had been having an affair with married Tory MP Mark Field. Her marriage survived; his ended.

The only damaging moment came when Tory members in her Norfolk constituency complained they had been kept in the dark about the affair and tried to oust her

But they were defeated and Truss triumphed.

‘I remember when the tabloid furore was roaring … both times, her friends locally rallied around,’ a source told The Times

‘There were a number of occasions when the two of them came to various parties and it was quite good to see that people were sympathising and rallying round, particularly when it was over her selection in 2009. It was extremely unfair the way that came up.

‘I don’t really know much about what went on but from my impression, they [O’Leary and Truss] have always been a really strong couple and I have never seen any real sign that it’s had much of an impact.’

What her family think

The article said that Liz’s father John was sad and furious about his daughter’s Conservatism — and probably her ascent to No. 10:

Truss’ left-wing academic father was apparently ‘so saddened’ at her metamorphosis from an anti-monarchist Lib Dem to a Tory that he finds it difficult to talk about it, according to reports. 

A former neighbour of maths professor John Truss claims he was ‘sometimes furious’ and could ‘barely bring himself to speak about’ her being a Conservative candidate when she first stood in 2005. 

His college, the University of Leeds, has also reportedly banned his colleagues from speaking about Truss as well, The Times reports …

In July, the Daily Express also alleged that the Foreign Secretary’s relationship with her father has been impacted by her ‘conversion to extreme right-wing politics’ and he is really ‘appalled’ by it, a colleague said.

Another university source said: ‘John is distraught at the policies his daughter is advocating in her bid to become PM.’

Also:

Another report claimed Professor Truss was ‘so appalled’ by his child’s ‘conversion to extreme Right-wing politics’ that it had impacted their relationship.

We understand that this is considerably wide of the mark. It may be coincidence but we understand Prof Truss has spent part of the time that his daughter has been campaigning abroad in Finland.

‘I think it’s fair to say there is a diplomatic element to this,’ says a source. Family figures have indicated to us that the move was almost certainly to avoid being a distraction to his daughter.

But if he has been dismayed by her transformation from the spirited girl in whom he proudly instilled a strong social conscience into the standard bearer for the Tory Right, he is not saying.

All the same it is worth noting Prof Truss, whose colleagues at Leeds have been ordered not to give interviews about him, declined to campaign for his daughter when she first stood for election in 2001. (Again it may be a coincidence but she was standing in a strongly Labour-supporting constituency.) An indication of how this must have been testing family bonds comes from Prof Truss’s older brother Richard, a retired Church of England vicar who officiated when his niece married accountant, Hugh O’Leary, 22 years ago.

The Truss family, he said, had liberalism ‘in its blood’ adding: ‘It must still be in her blood as well.’

He last saw his niece in March at a party to mark his 80th birthday.

He was, he says, ‘touched’ that the Foreign Secretary had flown in from overseas in order to be there. Of the family politics, he explained: ‘My grandfather lived and died quite young but he used to turn up and campaign for the Liberals before the First World War, so it’s kind of in our genes.’

His understanding of liberal, he says, is of being ‘open and concerned for those who are in need’.

It is also why he hopes the girl he remembers as ‘fun, very bright… questioning and determined’ will do something to heal ‘the division between people in poverty’ as well as changing the Government’s approach to immigration and refugees. ‘I hope she might do something on both fronts,’ he says.

Fortunately, Priscilla Truss supports her daughter:

The former neighbour also said that Truss’ mother, nurse and teacher, Priscilla – who he spoke to before she was selected as a Tory candidate in 2005 – is backing her daughter.

‘She said she was quite torn. She’d agonised over whether to support her because she was her daughter, or not to support her because she was a Tory,’ he told The Times. ‘In the end, she decided that family ties should win out.’

Liz’s three brothers also support her:

Paradoxically for all this apparent family dissent, there is also considerable support for a politician whose list of jobs in government reads like a cut-out-and-keep guide to becoming PM: Under-secretary of state for childcare and education; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary; Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor; Chief Secretary to the Treasury, International Trade Secretary; and finally heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Her three brothers, Chris, Patrick and Francis, turned out to support her at the final hustings at Wembley on Wednesday evening. As for her mother Priscilla, she has been a near constant presence as her daughter has criss-crossed the country seeking support.

‘For the children, Priscilla has always been there for them,’ says a family friend. ‘They always knew that if they needed her she would be there.

‘The fact is Liz is proud of her politics but she is also proud of her mother’s political views, too.’

The article says that her mother’s family’s politics have been pivotal in shaping Liz’s worldview:

If anything, it is from her mother’s side of the family that we find the crucible of Liz Truss’s convictions.

The roots of the Grasby family, Priscilla’s maiden name, are deep in the rural landscape around Driffield, East Yorkshire. Priscilla’s grandfather George fought in the Great War with the East Yorkshire regiment and lost a leg at the Battle of Passchendaele.

After the war, he married Mary and became a cobbler on Adelphi Street. Mike Kennie, who lived next door, said the old soldier’s disability was no handicap and that he would ‘often be climbing ladders outside the building.’

His father William was a shepherd and inn keeper. Today the pub he ran, The Ship Inn at Langtoft, is still in business. But the link came as a shock to the current publican Martin Weaver.

‘Can you repeat that? Liz Truss, our probable next Prime Minister, is connected to this pub. I’m astonished.

‘In fact I’m shocked. This has been a pub since the days of Queen Victoria but I never knew that Truss’s great-grandfather was brought up here as a boy. I can’t wait to tell the locals.’

The local Tory MP, Sir Greg Knight, looks forward to having a drink with Miss Truss in her great-grandfather’s former home as a matter of urgency.

I hope he hurried.

Anyway:

‘Why not? It’s a great part of the countryside and I am pleased to learn of the family connection.’ It was George who laid the foundation for the socially-upward Truss family. His son, also George, won a place to read classics at Queen’s College, Oxford.

During World War II he served with the Army in India in an intelligence role. After the war he became a teacher, later a head of classics at Bolton School for 25 years. His daughter, Liz’s mother, was one of his pupils.

According to one former pupil, the pipe-smoking Mr Grasby was very much a ‘post-Second World War socialist’. It was into this Left-leaning family tradition that Miss Truss was born in 1975. An older brother Matthew died in infancy the previous year. Three brothers followed her.

Here’s something we didn’t know:

When Liz was two, they moved to Poland and then, when she was three to Paisley, where her father had been appointed a maths lecturer at Paisley College of Technology. She started at the West Primary School, where she recalls, discipline was still imposed with the leather strap for miscreants.

Liz’s brothers talked about what it was like growing up with her. Let’s begin with a neighbour’s reminiscence:

she revelled in her position as the only girl in a family of boys. ‘Her brothers were very sporty and her parents active so there was always something going on,’ says a Roundhay neighbour.

Youngest brother Francis said it was a very musical home: ‘We’d do music practice every night because my dad’s a very keen musician, and that was sort of enforced.’ Recalling playing board games such as Cluedo and Monopoly, Francis said of his sister: ‘My dad would say she cheated to win. She was someone who had to win. She created a special system to work out how she could win, and then if she was losing she might sort of disappear rather than lose.’

What her friends say

The paper reported that Liz’s friends were on board with her candidacy as Party leader and had every confidence in her:

We have spoken to family, friends, foes and even former romantic partners. They all agree on one thing: the Liz Truss they know is brighter and far more intelligent than some of her leaden appearances on hustings and in interviews might have suggested.

There is, too, something of a chameleon character to her that manages to identify her with practically everyone. That, of course, may be her skill as a politician — she is after all the longest-serving Cabinet minister in recent times.

But as a one-time ally says: ‘The key to understanding her is that she actually says what she believes.’ What perhaps is even more bizarre is the contempt she has these days for liberal group-think.

The paper caught up with friends of hers from Roundhay:

While still at school she joined the youth branch of the Lib Dems. A fellow student was Kiron Reid and the two were photographed holding a party flag at a mass trespass at Twyford Down, Hampshire, in protest at then Home Secretary Michael Howard’s Criminal Justice Bill clamping down on illegal raves.

Reid was also a friend of her then boyfriend, Wyn Evans, another Lib Dem supporter who was at Leeds Polytechnic.

Reid, who is still a party activist, told us: ‘Liz always had a liberal social and economic view of the world. Am I surprised she’s now a Tory?

‘Well, even back then she was a huge fan of Mrs Thatcher which was not a commonly held position in the North of England. She regarded her as a strong woman leader.

‘It was a long time ago and I was often drunk or hung over at Lib Dem conferences but she always argued her position strongly.

‘Wyn and Liz went out with each other for at least a year, maybe 18 months or more.’

Mr Evans is clearly no longer a fan of his former girlfriend, tweeting in April: ‘Biggest war in Europe for 75 years and our Foreign Secretary, in a major speech, can barely utter the word Europe. This is a speech of an isolated, detached nation still carrying notions of being a global power. Depressingly sad and woefully dangerous.’

A professor speaks

The Mail‘s article ends with the words of one of Liz’s lecturers at Oxford:

Perhaps Marc Stears, one of her Oxford lecturers, offers the most intriguing insight on our next PM.

‘That Truss appears to be on the cusp of becoming Prime Minister, rather than those candidates from central casting of PPE at Oxford, shows not only that I grossly underestimated her 25 years ago but also that the qualities our politics rewards have changed beyond recognition,’ he says.

‘Truss lacks the media elan of Tony Blair and David Cameron. She lacks the dogged determination of Gordon Brown or the patient, long-term vision of Margaret Thatcher.

Then again, he will not be the first person to have underestimated Mary Elizabeth Truss.

Maybe the prof nailed it in saying she lacked a patient, long-term vision. Then again, with the Conservatives having lost two years’ worth of policy making to the pandemic, time was against her.

Tomorrow’s post looks at the New Statesman‘s fascinating profile of Liz Truss’s brand of politics and The Guardian‘s analysis of her time in Parliament as well as Downing Street.

My most recent post on Liz Truss explored the background to her final week in office as Conservative Party leader for 44 days.

She remained Prime Minister until Rishi Sunak took over and was in post for 50 days.

The book

On Thursday, November 24, 2022, Out of the Blue, the biography of Liz Truss by The Sun‘s Harry Cole (right) and The Spectator‘s James Heale (left), went on sale:

They had to frantically rewrite parts of it and add the sad denouement:

The Guardian‘s Gaby Hinsliff gave it a good review, considering that The Sun and The Spectator are not aligned with the paper’s politics:

More excerpts from Hinsliff’s review follow (emphases mine):

Liz Truss was also the first [Prime Minister] to unravel almost faster than a biographer can type. She quit eight days before the Sun’s political editor Harry Cole and Spectator diarist James Heale were due to deliver a portrait already being written at breakneck speed, and for a book to emerge at all in the circumstances arguably represents something of a heroic technical achievement. True, the writing is clunky in places. But nobody is going to be buying this book for its literary elegance; the point is to rubberneck at what remains of the crash site, and if that isn’t what Cole, Heale or most of their interviewees originally intended to deliver – well, life comes at you fast in British politics nowadays.

Then comes the bit in the tweet about the book being of two parts.

The review introduces tantalizing details into Liz’s life, past and present, that are in the book:

Most of the clues as to what went wrong however lie in the first part, a very readable gallop through Truss’s childhood as the daughter of Guardian-reading, mildly eccentric leftwing parents, via her political awakening at university – first as a free market Lib Dem, then as libertarian Conservativeright the way through to her stint as foreign secretary, careering round the world in pursuit of the perfect Instagram shot. (It was during this stage that her ministerial “rider” was said to include multiple espressos in a flat white-sized cup and a bottle of sauvignon blanc chilling at every overnight stay.)

I was intrigued by Truss’s mother, Priscilla, who briefly moved to eastern Europe in the 1970s to “try out life under the communists”, took her children on Greenham Common protests and made herself a bright yellow banana costume in which to promote fair trade back home in Leeds. When Truss recalls schoolmates shouting “saw your mum in Tesco’s dressed as a banana again”, other 70s children of free-thinking parents may understand her seeming obliviousness to criticism a little better. You don’t grow up with a banana-clad mother, I suspect, without developing a certain sturdiness.

The book shows Truss’s self-belief from the time she entered Parliament in 2010, when David Cameron became Prime Minister:

Obliviousness isn’t always a blessing in politics however, as becomes clear in her first job as early years minister under David Cameron. Truss had hatched a plan to cut childcare costs by slashing the number of adults required to supervise children, which unsurprisingly proved controversial. Instead of patiently trying to build public and political support for it, she simply put her head down and charged – much as she would a decade later with her mini-budget, and about as successfully. All young politicians make mistakes. What’s unusual about Truss is that the lesson she seemingly took from hers was to believe in herself even more, and listen to others even less

But it’s perhaps significant too that she had got away with so much in the past, leading to an overconfidence about her ability to wing it – as she did even in the early days of her leadership campaign.

Interestingly, a Conservative plan to expand the number of adults who can care for children was debated earlier this month. It would allow people to mind children in their own homes rather than at a day care centre.

As with anyone else, there are darker sides to Truss, most of which will never be fully known. Cole and Heale were unable to interview her a third time for the book:

The authors recount sympathetically the well-trodden story of how an earlier extramarital affair with the married former Tory MP Mark Field nearly wrecked Truss’s search for a parliamentary seat, rightly noting the double standard that it never seemed to damage Field. But they also touch on some of the more explosive smears circulated about her during the leadership contest – including claims of an affair with an aide, allegations of predatory behaviour towards staff, and even one wild suggestion that there might be a sex tape of her in circulation. The authors interviewed her twice but their planned third session was canned when she resigned, so perhaps they simply never got to put these to her.

As to how things went wrong, perhaps she should have listened a bit more to others:

Despite his professional closeness to Truss, Cole and his co-author strive to put some distance between them in their final reflections on where it all went wrong. Putting aside her own fear, reportedly expressed to a visitor to the Foreign Office, that “I am weird and I don’t have any friends”, plausible theories for her implosion include that vaulting self-belief (even in her post-resignation speech to staff, she was still insisting she’d been on the right track) and determination to put the wrong people in cabinet.

How to read the books on Boris and Liz

In addition to a book on Truss, there is also one about Boris Johnson, by the Financial Times‘s Sebastian Payne.

How can one read both in chronological order?

Harry Cole says to read the first ten chapters of Out of the Blue, then Payne’s biography of Boris, then end with the final four chapters of Liz’s biography:

An MP writes

Recently, Simon Clarke, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland who served as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in Liz Truss’s Government, and before that as Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Boris Johnson, wrote an article for the December 2022/January 2023 edition of The Critic on Truss’s premiership: ‘How did it all go so wrong for Liz Truss?’

Simon Clarke is one of the better Conservatives, in my estimation. He is diligent, good at the despatch box and is self-effacing. He is also very tall and, as such, when pictured with Rishi Sunak, walked some distance behind him so as not to accentuate the difference in height between the two of them.

Clarke begins his article with a weekend at Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, and concludes with Truss’s last one at Chequers, as she closed out her premiership:

From Chevening to Chequers. For me, two weekends, eight weeks apart, will forever bookend my friend Liz Truss’s time as prime minister. The first, a wash of August Bank Holiday sunshine over the Kent countryside. Walking the grounds of the Foreign Secretary’s home with her on one of the last days of a leadership contest she had already won, listening as she outlined her vision for government, stalking ahead impatiently through the yellowing grass.

The second, an October Sunday in Buckinghamshire, an afternoon of bruised clouds and close heat foreshadowing the storm which broke as we dispersed. A small circle of family, ministers and aides, gathered in the Great Hall to say goodbye. A day defined by the quiet dignity and absence of self-pity of its principal protagonist, entirely typical of our host.

These memories are appropriate, because so much of what happened in between was decided at Chevening in the dog days of August.

Clarke has read Out of the Blue, which he liked, calling it:

a brisk and insightful canter through Liz’s career and the forces that shaped her …

In four breathless chapters at the close of their book, Heale and Cole do a good job of unpicking what went wrong, and why.

However, Clarke is disappointed they did not reach the conclusion he did — that Truss was right all along:

they largely decline to address an inconvenient truth — a truth perceived by those much-maligned Tory members all summer. Namely that in her diagnosis of the situation at home and abroad and what should be done about it, Liz Truss was fundamentally and importantly right

He goes through the failed mini-budget from September but points out that some of the fallout would have happened anyway:

In the eyes of millions of British voters, the fallout from the mini-budget meant the Government alone took responsibility for sharp spikes in both interest and mortgage rates, even though the majority of those increases were already in motion independently

He admits his error in the mini-budget but adds that Truss had a different economic plan during the summer:

The whole package was an exercise in Reaganomics without, fatally, the support of a reserve currency. Indeed, it was launched at the very moment when the strength of the dollar left sterling desperately exposed. As one of her Cabinet ministers, I take my share of the responsibility. But it is important to note that for much of the summer, there was a different plan. 

In July, in the days following Boris Johnson’s resignation, I spoke with Liz about how best to implement her vision for a higher growth, lower tax economy. The role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury is to be a voice of caution, and speaking as the incumbent to a predecessor, I highlighted the need for credible savings options to accompany her tax cuts, warning that without these we would be monstered. She agreed.

We settled on a new spending review, the exercise by which departmental budgets and priorities are determined in conjunction with Number 10 and the Treasury. Events in Ukraine meant the review conducted in September 2021 now strays close to being a fiction: the world has changed. It was time for a reassessment.

We discussed the relative merits of requiring five and ten per cent reductions in expenditure, achievable given how far spending has soared in recent years, and capable of being cushioned by the size of so many Whitehall departments’ Covid-driven underspends. 

Her only caveat, quite reasonably, was that it would be better to identify specific saving plans in the run-up to a budget once safely in office, as opposed to in the heat of a brutal campaign. But the overall approach of securing those savings was not, I believed, in any doubt. 

There was, therefore, a conscious and spectacular change in her policy from mid-July to the end of August. The latter two weeks of August seem to have been pivotal. With an unassailable polling lead and most votes already safely cast by party members, Liz settled in at Chevening for a blizzard of meetings. Here her distaste for “abacus economics”, always present, won out over caution. 

She was well within her rights to point out that the guardians of Treasury orthodoxy are bad at conducting dynamic modelling of the positive impact of both lower taxes and supply side reforms. But this was not the time to try to test that weakness.

Clarke thinks that Truss should have brought on board some of Sunak’s people. Personally, I do not think they would have helped. Perhaps they would have if she were a man:

As the storm broke from the mini- budget, so a second fundamental error of the Chevening days was laid bare: Liz’s choice of personnel. It was a mistake to have excluded from government so many of those who had backed Rishi Sunak. Her administration had too few allies when its momentum faltered, while a pared-back Downing Street operation found itself fighting on too many fronts.

The opposition was real and it was destructive:

What Heale and Cole could acknowledge more clearly is that there was a sizeable group of MPs who were unpersuadable from the beginning. From those who shivered at the thought of making the case for lowering the top rate of income tax back to the level at which it had stood at for all but the last six weeks of New Labour’s 13 years in office, even if it would raise more revenue, to those who did little to hide their desire for revenge for the summer’s reversal, the kindling was dry

Clarke says it is now important for Conservatives to look ahead to the next general election or face a Labour government:

And so we return to the fundamental point: that for all the brickbats, the platform on which Liz was elected PM remains important and urgent, and still needs to be delivered

Who can dispute the need for a plan for growth, at a time of flagging living standards when the Bank of England is forecasting a two-year recession? Taxes are at a 70-year high, and she was right to ease the burden by cutting National Insurance.

The opportunity for further tax cuts may have passed with the mini-budget, but supply-side reform is now more important, not less. Growth since the 2008 crash has been sluggish, and some of the principal reasons for this are the result of policy challenges that a Conservative government with a majority of 70 ought to confront.

I disagree with his plan to build more houses on the green belt but agree that the Conservatives need to maximise Brexit opportunities:

Productivity matters. We need to curb the culture of judicial review that ensures major infrastructure projects take years longer to deliver than they should. We also need to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, rather than just talk about them. Reform of EU rules such as Solvency II, proceeding with painful slowness, desperately needs to be accelerated if the City is to succeed

Liz saw this with total clarity and planned a series of interventions this autumn. If we are to get our economy moving, it is essential that we should act. None of these problems will resolve themselves of their own accord.

If her instinct for action on the home front was sound, it was doubly so abroad. The Northern Ireland Protocol legislation, so vital to ensuring that all parts of our country get to leave the EU, is very much Liz’s legacy from her time as Foreign Secretary. She understood better than almost anyone in the senior ranks of Government that Brexit cannot be a partial or half-hearted endeavour. Delivering this will be a central test for the new Government. 

And then there’s China:

With regard to China, Liz again rose to the level of events. Too many in British and European politics still cling to the German dream of Wandel durch Handel, or inspiring change through trade. Liz did indeed aim to deliver change through trade, but of a different kind. In one of the boldest policies of recent years, she had set out plans to build a democratic alternative to the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, not least by championing UK membership of the CPTPP trading bloc.

When she fell, she was poised to designate China officially as a threat to the UK. From the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong to the genocide being perpetrated against the Uighurs, we should be in no doubt as to the true nature of Xi’s regime. The West will only be able to resist this challenge if we readopt the Cold War trinity of moral confidence, economic dynamism and military strength, and Liz instinctively recognised this.

He concludes:

It was precisely because Liz’s sense of the kind of country we ought to be was so compelling that the Conservative party gave her their decisive backing this summer. It is her tragedy that the mistakes made at Chevening risk diminishing the vision she set out of a more successful Britain, walking tall abroad and better able to offer opportunity and dignity to her citizens at home …

In words which could be the epitaph for her short, extraordinary time as our prime minister, she reflected: “I think I could have gone out and done a better defence, and got on the front foot. On the other hand there is no point in doing these jobs unless you stand up for what you believe in.” 

Rishi laughs, but should he?

At last week’s Spectator Awards, everyone was there except Liz Truss.

The notional great and the good, politicians and journalists, gathered together. Pictured on the left is Grant Shapps MP and ex-BBC presenter Emily Maitlis:

Those who received awards and/or gave speeches, included witticisms:

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace won Minister of the Year:

As we had four Chancellors this year, it must have been hard for the magazine to choose, so they opted for Labour’s Rachel Reeves for Chancellor of the Year:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer won Politician of the Year:

Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy won Parliamentarian of the Year. It looks like Transport Secretary Mark Harper gave the speech on his behalf:

During this annual starry schmoozefest, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak felt free to get a dig or two in about Liz Truss and the book:

Sunak quipped that the BBC turned down a request to make a television series about Cole and Heale’s book, because ‘it is hard to work with just one episode’. How they laughed:

Except things aren’t so funny for Rishi.

He had no honeymoon as Prime Minister and, within a month, Conservative backbenchers began rebelling.

On Wednesday, November 23, the aforementioned MP, Simon Clarke, tabled an amendment to relax the ban on onshore wind farms in England:

Late on Thursday, November 24, The Telegraph reported that Clarke’s proposed amendment was gaining traction. Furthermore, it had support from none other than Boris Johnson and Liz Truss:

Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have launched a challenge to Rishi Sunak’s authority by joining a Tory rebellion backing wind farms to tackle the energy crisis.

In their first major interventions since leaving Downing Street, the two former prime ministers have demanded an end to the ban on new onshore wind farms.

They both signed an amendment to the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, just days after Mr Sunak’s government was derailed by a separate Tory revolt on the same legislation.

The bill is designed to speed up housebuilding, which is crucial to Mr Sunak’s growth agenda.

The two former prime ministers have had tense relationships with Mr Sunak.

Mr Johnson’s supporters view Mr Sunak as having dealt the fatal blow to his premiership by resigning as chancellor.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak clashed repeatedly during the leadership race.

It is unusual for former leaders to oppose their successors, with Theresa May choosing the issue of partygate to make a rare criticism of Mr Johnson

Mr Johnson signed the pro-onshore wind amendment, tabled by Simon Clarke, who was levelling up secretary under Ms Truss – even though he supported the ban, which has been in place since 2015, during his three years in office.

Ms Truss said she wanted to end the ban when she was in Number 10, because she believes the energy crisis means Britain needs more energy independence

The onshore wind revolt is the second blow to Mr Sunak’s bill. 

On Tuesday night, more than 50 Conservative MPs rebelled against his plans to impose centrally-dictated housebuilding targets – forcing the Prime Minister to delay the votes until December.

That revolt risked the prospect of Mr Sunak only being able to get the measure through with Labour support.

The latest rebellion looks set to be even more serious – not only because it has attracted the support of two former prime ministers, but because it is considered more likely that Labour would back measures to promote onshore wind.

By Thursday night, a total of 18 Conservative MPs had signed the amendment.

It demands that Michael Gove, the present Levelling Up Secretary, revises the National Planning Policy Framework to allow councils to grant new onshore wind applications.

The amendment would also force the Town and Country Planning Act to be amended to allow the installation of “new onshore wind sites not previously used for generating wind energy or for repowering existing onshore wind applications”.

On Monday, November 28, The Guardian reported that Sunak was likely to give in to Clarke, Boris, Liz and the other Conservative rebels:

Good morning. Rishi Sunak has only been prime minister for about a month, but already he is learning that a large part of his job consists of playing Whac-a-Mole with Tory party rebellions.

All party leaders face backbench rebellions from time to time but, with its poll ratings still in landslide defeat territory and MPs rushing for the post-parliament lifeboats, the Conservative party is more ungovernable than usual.

Sunak has had to postpone votes on the levelling up and regeneration bill (originally scheduled for today) because of two rebellions on it. One group of Tory MPs (the anti-growth coalition, as Liz Truss would call them), want to amend the bill to ban mandatory housebuilding targets, while another group of Tories (from the pro-growth coalition) are backing an amendment tabled by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, that would lift the ban on onshore windfarms. Although only 25 Tories have signed the Clarke amendment (less than half the number backing the one on housebuilding targets), Clarke’s is more dangerous because it has Labour backing.

This morning Grant Shapps, the business secretary, was doing the morning interview round and he signalled that the Whac-a-Mole mallet is coming down on the Clarke rebellion. As my colleague Peter Walker reports, Shapps hinted that the government will avert the onshore windfarm rebellion by giving in.

In immigration news that morning, Conservative backbencher David Davis told Sky News that the easiest way to stop the influx of Albanians via the English Channel is to send them back home. Albania is classified as a safe country, therefore, claiming asylum should be discounted. Davis has the backing of 50 other Conservative MPs. He said:

[Legislation] would go through and basically we would say to the Albanian population, anybody else who comes across the Channel will be sent back. When that starts to happen, there is no bigger deterrent … than if somebody in your village pays thousands of pounds to a human trafficker and then ends up back in the village three weeks later.

We shall see what happens on both wind farms and immigration.

For now, the Conservatives will have to make the best of Sunak’s premiership, as they cannot reasonably have any more Prime Ministers before the general election, which, all being well, is some time away, either near the end of 2024 or early in 2025.

Returning to Liz Truss, there was no question that she had insurmountable enemies, a subject I will explore later this week. In some respects, if she were a man, she would have been allowed to remain in office. Perhaps men deal with contrarian men better than contrarian women.

Tomorrow’s post looks at Liz Truss’s life.

advent_annunciation botticelliWe are now in the season of Advent, a time of preparation for our Lord’s coming to earth, two millennia ago and in future.

How does that work and why? Advent readings are often gloomy or apocalyptic just as we are preparing for the happiest season in the Christian calendar.

A reflection from Calvin Theological Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching explains the purpose of Advent (emphases mine):

The Church has traditionally begun the Season of Advent with apocalyptic passages about the end of history and Christ’s return for one very simple reason: if the events Jesus foretells (and forthtells) in Matthew 24 will never happen, then there is actually not much to celebrate surrounding his first arrival in Bethlehem. If Jesus is not coming back fully to usher in the kingdom of heaven that he preached about, then his original birth is drained of meaning too.

It ought not spoil anyone’s “Christmas spirit” if we spend the first Sunday in Advent pondering the ultimate things to which Jesus points. In a world as full of sorrows as this one, would it hurt to have a longing and an expectation for Christ’s Parousia [presence, Second Coming] and his ushering in a better day?  … We live in a world of hunger and want, of economic crises and incessant sorrow.

At Christmas of all times, how can we look at all that and not long for the second Advent of Jesus? If Christ is coming again, then and only then does his first Advent mean anything. In fact, then and only then Christ’s first arrival means flat out everything.

Below are links to my past posts on Advent which include a variety of resources and reveal why Christians place a heavy emphasis on charity at this time of year:

Advent resources for Catholics and Protestants

Advent reflections: John the Baptist and the Apocalypse

Advent: Make straight a highway

Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance

Advent: a time to examine one’s conscience

Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

The Advent wreath: symbolism and history

Advent and Christmas in colonial America

I hope you find these helpful.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

Paul’s Longing to See Them Again

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s displeasure with the Jews who prevented the Thessalonians from extending his ministry there, saying that the congregation suffered as much as the Judean converts did.

In true Pauline fashion, the Apostle wears his heart on his sleeve in today’s verses.

I want to show you the difference in the first few words of verse 17 in three translations, the first being from the ESVUK above:

But since we were torn away from you, brothers,

The second is Matthew Henry’s:

But we, brethren, being taken from you

The third is John MacArthur’s:

But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while

The verb, whether ‘torn away’, ‘taken’ or ‘bereft’ denotes an unwilling and forced departure, in this case, to Berea, as I explained last week. Paul’s time in Berea was similarly short-lived for the same reasons.

Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Here observe, 1. He tells them they were involuntarily forced from them: We, brethren, were taken from you, v. 17. Such was the rage of his persecutors. He was unwillingly sent away by night to Berea, Acts 17 10.

John MacArthur tells us:

He doesn’t say “having been gone from you” in just sort of generic terms.  The verb here, “having been bereft of you” is used only here in the New Testament, but we know its meaning from other uses.  It means “to be orphaned, to be bereaved.”  It literally means “to be torn away from.”  And that’s what he felt.

Henry’s and MacArthur’s respective translations begin with ‘But we, brethren’, meaning in contrast with the Jews who would not allow the Gospel to be preached at all.

MacArthur explains:

Look at verse 17.  “But we,” boy, that is a strong contrast, “But we,” compared to whom?  We’re going back to the prior passage.  He talks about the Jews in verse 14 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.  Contrary to the Jews who don’t care that you get the gospel, contrary to the Jews who don’t care that you know Christ, contrary to the Jews who don’t care about your spiritual condition, we do. That’s the contrast.  “But we,” in contrast to the Jews who resented Christianity, Christians and Christ, we do, brethren.

Paul says that, even though he was torn away from them physically for a short while, but not in heart — not emotionally — he tried all the more, eagerly and with great desire, to see them face to face (verse 17).

That is one powerful verse.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s emotions as well as the quality of the Thessalonian congregation in faith and love:

The work was not done.  He stayed in Ephesus three years, and, Ephesus, it’s questionable whether they had the quality of Thessalonica.  He stayed in Corinth 18 months and the Corinthian church certainly didn’t have the quality of Thessalonica.  There’s no way he wanted to stay only a few weeks in Thessalonica.  He was ripped out of there, torn out of there.  He experienced a forced, sudden separation and he felt orphaned.  Remember back in verse 7 he talked about himself as a nursing mother who cares for his children, and back in verse 11 as a father who encourages and exhorts and implores his children. He had that parental heart and now he feels like a parent who has been torn away from his beloved children

… he says, “We’ve been ripped away from you,” note this, please, “for a short while.”  It indicates that though it had only been a brief separation so far, and though it might be only a temporary one as he, on his third journey, may have gone back to them, he still had a great longing in his heart for them.  Even though Timothy had brought word back and said they’re progressing, they love you, Paul, they love you, their faith is solid, their faith is growing, he still wanted to be with them.  That’s the heart of the shepherd; you can’t rip him away from his sheep.  That’s the heart of a spiritual mother; you can’t tear her away from her children.  That’s the heart of a spiritual father; you can’t rip him away from his children.

… though they are physically separated, they are still in his thoughts.  “I have you in my heart.”  His inward affection for them was strong, even though the physical separation existed.  They had his heart, if not his face.  I’m reminded of Colossians 2:5 where Paul says to the Colossians, “Even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit.”  Why?  “I want to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith.”  I want to see how you live, how you walk, you’re on my heart.

It had to do with the weight that was laid on the man’s emotion, on his heart, because of the immense capacity he had to care about people.  And because he cared so deeply and so widely, he bore this immense burden of care.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s passion, as evidenced by ‘more eagerly’ and ‘great desire’. These are strong words:

… he says, “We were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.”  Now that little phrase is just a sort of an emotional stack, just a piling of words with intense significance.  He starts out, “We were all the more.” That means abundantly, excessively, fervently and it’s a comparative. We were more abundantly, more excessively, more fervently. Then he adds the word “eager” which means haste; you’re in a hurry.  It’s sort of a compelling thing, short of breath, anticipation.  He’s saying we were more abundantly, more excessively, more fervently eager.

And then he adds, if that isn’t enough, “With great desire.”  And he throws in the word epithumia which most often is used of sexual desire, sexual passion.  It is a neutral word. It can be used of any kind of passion, any kind of compelling, any kind of driving desire, any kind of desire that dominates.  And so he is saying we have a fierce passion driving us greatly into an abundant, excessive, fervent eagerness.  Boy, that’s pretty strong stuff.

Paul specifies he wants to see them ‘face to face’ or ‘to see your face’.

MacArthur looks at that, combined with Paul’s passion for the Thessalonians:

If we had time, we’d find that that’s a rich biblical statement, to see your face It means to come into intimacy with you ... Seeing the face is the full expression of the personThat’s why the telephone is only marginal Sometimes we’ll say, “Ah, this is too important to talk on the telephone, I want to see you face to face,” right?  Because there’s…there’s an interchange of life, not just words.  And so he says, “I want to be intimate with you, I want to make contact with your eyes. I want to look in your face.  I want to be there.”  That was his strong, compelling, fierce, passionate, abundant, successive, fervent desire.  Boy, that’s strong language.

From verse 17, we can feel Paul’s passion for the Thessalonians’ spiritual well being. It’s obvious that, even if he did not get to know them well, he loves them like a spiritual father.

The next thing we discover about the Apostle is that he knows his enemy.

He says that he wanted to see the Thessalonians again and again, but Satan hindered him (verse 18).

Henry says that Satan worked through Paul’s enemies to get him out and prevent him from returning:

He tells them that Satan hindered his return (v. 18), that is, either some enemy or enemies, or the great enemy of mankind, who stirred up opposition to Paul, either in his return to Thessalonica, when he intended to return thither, or stirred up such contentions or dissensions in those places whether he went as made his presence necessary. Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God, and does all he can to obstruct it.

Sometimes Paul refers to himself as ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. MacArthur says that here, he is referring to Silas and Timothy, too, then himself:

He’s “we” in verse 17 and “we” in verse 18, embracing Timothy and Silas, and now, all of a sudden, he says, “I, Paul, more than once.”  And he says, “I’m not just talking about the group here, I, Paul.”  “More than once” means repeatedly. It’s the same term used in Philippians 4:16, the Philippians gave money to Paul repeatedly And here he says, “Repeatedly, I, Paul, personally want to see your face.”  Can’t delegate compassion, can’t delegate concern, can’t delegate love, can’t leave it to someone else to be concerned about the condition of your flock while you’re only concerned about the expansion of your ministry.

Paul did send Timothy back, but Paul as much as he wanted to go couldn’t go.  It wasn’t from a lack of concern. It wasn’t from a lack of effort.  He loved his people.  He desired to be with them.  He didn’t want to drop a load of information on them and then get out of there.  He wanted to find out their spiritual condition, nurture that spiritual condition.

MacArthur points out that Paul knew when the Holy Spirit prevented him from going places and when Satan hindered him:

Paul was very discerning.  You know, in Acts chapter 16 verses 6 and 7 the apostle Paul was moving on his missionary enterprise when he was stopped by the Holy Spirit.  Acts 16:6, they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia.  When they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go to Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus didn’t permit them.  Now here he is being stopped by the Holy Spirit.  Over here he says, “I’m being stopped by Satan.”  Here was a man of discernment.  I believe this man walked with God in such a way that he knew the Spirit of God from Satan.  He understood when Satan invaded his territory.  “Satan thwarted us.”

This is another relationship that any servant of the Lord has to take into account.  If you’re going to be an effective servant of the Lord, plan on satanic attack. That malignant, evil, spiritual, supernatural person, Satan, that fallen angel, is going to get in the way of effective ministry.  Here was Paul separated from these believers, longing to be with them.  His heart was there.  His parental instincts were there.  He had been ripped apart from them.  He wanted to go there.  More than once he tried to go there.  He could never get there.  Why?  Satan was thwarting him.  Satan is very active in doing that.  I’m not under any illusions about that.  There are many times when I believe that I need to accomplish something for the Lord, to speak some place, to get a radio program on in a certain city, to accomplish some ministry here in the church and it just never happens.  It’s a good and noble effort and you make it several times, but it never happens.  Satan thwarts it …

MacArthur gives us instances in the New Testament where Satan was on the attack:

Now when he comes to attack, he desires to attack the church.  No question about that.  He desires to attack the church.  He attacked the first church in Jerusalem.  He moved right inside Ananias and Sapphira to make them lie to the Holy Spirit and God had to kill them before the whole church.  He was attacking the integrity of the first church, the only church right after its birth in Acts 5.  He attacks the church.  That’s one of his major ploys, to thwart the church, to prevent it from doing what it would otherwise do.  Paul told the Corinthians, don’t be taken advantage of by Satan.  He’s after the church.  You read Revelation if you have any question about that.  Just listen to this, Revelation 2:9, the church at Smyrna, “You have there” He says “blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan, an assembly of Satan.”  Pretty strong.  You find in chapter 2 verse 13, the church at Pergamum. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”  And He says there are some who died, even Antipas, who was killed among you where Satan dwells.  Satan always attacks the church.  Chapter 2, verse 24, the church at Thyatira, He says, “The rest who are in Thyatira who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan.”  There were some in the church who were into the deep things of Satan, wittingly or unwittingly.  Chapter 3 verse 9, it says here about the Philadelphia church, “I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not but lie…” and so forth and so on.  Satan’s always in and around the church.

Let me go a step further.  He particularly attacks the leaders.  In 1 Timothy chapter 3 it tells us that when we choose elders and deacons, “They must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that they may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”  The devil wants to snare leaders.  Why do you think there are so many scandals among leaders?  Money scandals, sex scandals, why?  Because he wants to snare leadership in the church.  He’s after the church.  He’s after the church’s leaders.  He went to God one day and he said, “I want Job. I’ll destroy him.”  God said, “Have at him.”  Couldn’t destroy him.  But he wanted the most righteous man who was the most faithful representative of the true God and he wanted to tear him down.  He wanted to devour him.  He didn’t succeed.

You come into the New Testament, who is the leading apostle?  Who is it?  Who is number one of the twelve?  Peter.  Satan again comes to God and according to Luke 22:31 Satan says to God, “I want Peter.”  God…Christ said, “Satan has asked for you, he wants you, Peter, to sift you like wheat.”  What does that mean?  You know how they sifted wheat?  They took a big basket; they threw it in the air like this. They sifted it that way.  And then they would put it through a process where that which was heaviest would fall back down. Obviously the wind would blow the chaff away.  And there were other processes of turbulence.  And so what is being said here is Satan wants to shake your life up.  He wants to flip everything in the air and shake it all loose.  He went after Peter.  Why?  Because Peter was the key guy.  Peter said, “I’ll go to prison and I’ll die for You, I don’t care what he does.”  Huh. The Lord said, “No you won’t, you’ll deny Me but you’ll get restored.”  He’ll get you temporarily but he won’t get you permanently.  So he tried Peter and didn’t succeed.

Satan came back to God and he said, “There’s another guy I want, I want Paul. I want Paul.”  And he gave to Paul, according to 2 Corinthians 12, a thorn what? In the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet me Satan went to God because he can’t go to any of God’s servants without permission. He said, “I want Paul, You give me Paul, I’ll destroy him. I’ll destroy him.”  Couldn’t do it.  Paul prayed three times for that satanic thorn to be removed. God said no every time and then Paul said, “Fine, my weakness becomes God’s (what?) strength.”  He’s always after the leaders.

He got Judas.  Satan entered into Judas and he betrayed Christ.  But he was never God’s to begin with.  He can only get his own, he can’t get God’s.  But he’ll come after the church and he’ll come after the Jobs and the Peters and the Pauls and anyone who is in spiritual leadership.  He’s not omnipresent, he can’t be everywhere. but he goes after certain leaders. 

And what does he want to do?  He wants to hinder the progress.  That word “hinder” or “thwart,” very interesting word, it’s a military word. It means to dig a trench or to break up a road.  If you’ve got your army sitting here and here comes the enemy, one of the ways that you would defeat the enemy is by making sure he can’t get access to you.  What you would do is send your soldiers out and dig a massive trench.  They can’t cross the trench.  Or you would go out and break up the road, tear up the road.  Roads would be made of stone. You just tear it up so that they can’t traverse.  You hinder their progress.

Paul says, I want to come, Satan’s breaking up the road.  Satan’s dug a bunch of trenches, I can’t get there.  I can’t get it done.  A warring tactic.

And it shows that the…the servant of God must understand not only loving his people but he has to understand his enemy He’s got to recognize satanic opposition. 

MacArthur explains that God sometimes allows satanic attacks if they further His plan:

Now remember this, though Satan is opposing us, he is controlled by the overruling providence and sovereignty of God He can only do what he can do within the limits that God allows.  God allowed him to go after Job.  God allowed him to sift Peter.  God allowed him to deal with Paul.  Why?  Because in Job’s weakness he was made strong.  In Peter’s weakness he was made strong.  In Paul’s weakness he was made strong.  And the end product benefits God’s work.  So within the limits that God allows, Satan hinders, prevents God’s servant from doing what he desires to do.

MacArthur cites the Lutheran theologian and Bible scholar Richard C H Lenski (1864-1936), who wrote the following:

This by no means excludes divine providence which rules in the midst of our enemies. Satan entered the heart of Judas so that he made plans to betray Jesus and God permitted the betrayal for His own divine and blessed ends.  So Satan succeeded in frustrating Paul’s plans to return to Thessalonica, but only because this accorded with God’s own plans regarding the work Paul was to do Satan has brought many a martyr to his death and God permitted it.  The death of these martyrs was more blessed for them and for the cause of the gospel than their life would have been.  It is ever so with Satan’s successes.  No thanks to Satan, his guilt is the greater.

Paul turns his attention to the Thessalonians’ spirituality, paying them a great compliment in saying that they are his hope, his joy, his heavenly crown; he hopes to boast of them to the Lord at His Second Coming (verse 19). He repeats himself, telling them that they are his glory and his joy (verse 20).

Henry says:

They were his hope, and joy, and crown of rejoicing; his glory and joy. These are expressions of great and endeared affection, and high estimation. And it is happy when ministers and people have such mutual affection and esteem of each other, and especially if they shall thus rejoice, if those that sow and those that reap shall rejoice together, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming.

MacArthur says this brings us to the third aspect of a good servant of the Lord — anticipating His return:

If you are to be a good servant, you must love your people; you must understand your enemy; thirdly, you must anticipate your Lord.

MacArthur explains these verses in light of any detractors Paul might have had who infiltrated the Thessalonian congregation:

Paul lived in the light of the return of Christ.  He says in verse 19 that very thing.  “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming, for you are our glory and joy.”  The great motivation of the apostle Paul was that the Lord was coming, the return of the Lord.  This is a marvelous statement.  Listen very carefully to what he’s saying here, very rich.  He says this, “Who is our hope?  Who is it that we are hoping to see?  Who is that which is all bound up with our future hope?”  He’s talking about his hope of eternal reward, his hope of eternal blessing.  Who will be that hope?  Who will fulfill that anticipation?  And he secondly says, “Who is our joy?  Who is the source of our eternal happiness?  Who is the source of our eternal bliss?  Who is the source of our eternal satisfaction?”

Then he adds this, “Who is our crown of boasting?” That’s what exultation means.  “Who is our crown to boast about?”  He’s using crown, festive wreath, victor’s crown.  “Who is my hope in?  Who is my source of joy?  Who will be my eternal reward?  Who will cause the burst of joy coming out of my heart when Jesus comes?  Who?”  Well, you’d think it would be Christ and surely it is, but that’s not his point here.  Look what he says, verse 19, “Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus?”  It’s the whole thing, it’s the presence of the Lord Jesus but it’s you in His presence.  That’s my joy.  That’s my hope.  Paul is saying, “Can you imagine that the critics are right in suggesting I don’t care about you when you are my hope and you are my joy and you are my eternal reward?”  You’re it.  What a statement, what a marvelous statement.

And it wasn’t just them.  To the Corinthians he wrote, 2 Corinthians 1:14, “We are your reason to be proud as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.”  Paul said, “I’m going to boast about you in the day of the Lord Jesus.  When I see the Lord Jesus you’re going to be my boast, you’re going to be my joy, you’re going to be the fulfillment of my hope.”  Oh did he understand ministry.  What he understood was, when you get to glory you’re not going to get a crown for your glorified head. 

Here is the application for us:

Your crown is going to be the presence of the people that you were responsible to lead to the knowledge of Christ, the people with whom you planted the seed or watered or harvested, the people whose lives were influenced by your teaching and your living and your praying.  That’s your eternal reward.  It isn’t something you stick on your head and parade around saying, “I’ve got more of these than you.”  It isn’t something like that.  It is the accumulated impact of your life on the lives of others. That’s why in Luke 16 Jesus says, “Use your money to purchase friends for eternity.”  Spend your money as well as your time and effort to bring people to the knowledge of Christ so that you can know them forever as your friends and the source of your eternal joy.

Henry and MacArthur disagree on whether Paul saw the Thessalonians once more.

Henry says:

The apostle here puts the Thessalonians in mind that though he could not come to them as yet, and though he should never be able to come to them, yet our Lord Jesus Christ will come, nothing shall hinder this.

MacArthur thinks that Paul returned, as alluded to in Acts 20:

in God’s providence things cooled down and apparently he was able to get back on his third missionary journey You can read Acts 20 and take note of that.

Acts 20:1-6 might well be that passage, as Luke says two Thessalonians joined him:

Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In closing, MacArthur describes his own personal longing to check in with his own church when he is away:

I, while not comparing myself in any measure to Paul, understand this to some degree.  People always ask me, “When I’m gone why I call back to the church every day?”  For the days that I’m gone, there’s a very few days that I would not call back and the reason is not because I have something to do or some question to ask, but because I must know the state of the congregation.  I need to know how it is with the sheep.  I find it very difficult to think about leaving this church, as many as offers as I might have to do that, I find it difficult to consider any of them because I feel I would spend the rest of my life wondering about your spiritual condition.  That’s just how it is.

It isn’t that the leader seeks the socialization and the sentiment of fellowship, but he seeks the responsibility of fellowship, which is to see the spiritual condition of the people, to be sure that all is well … 

There are people in ministry, I fear, who care very little, who care a lot about their sermons, who care a lot about how they come across, who care a lot about their popularity, who care a lot about drawing a crowd, who care a lot about traveling around and being well known, who care a lot about their preeminence, who care a lot about satisfaction, who care a lot about success, who care very little about their people There are, on the other hand, many faithful servants of God who care much about their people, who in continuous prayer and concern hold up their people before God, who are very uncomfortable when being dispossessed from their people, who long to be in the place of responsibility, the place of accountability, so they know the condition of their flock That’s Paul.  These people were new to him.  It wasn’t that there was some lifelong sentimentality. It wasn’t that there was some bonding, as they say today, that was deep and profound over a long period of time, not at all.  These were strangers in a sense.  And yet because they had become his charge and he was now their spiritual mother and father, his heart was there.  That’s how it must be in ministry.  You cannot effectively serve whom you cannot love and be concerned about.

In next week’s verses, Paul explains why he sent Timothy back to the Thessalonians.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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