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Thomas Boston (1676-1732) spent most of his life in the Scottish Borders in ministry.
His parents were Covenanters, meaning that they bound themselves in various covenants to ensure Presbyterianism was the only Christianity practised in Scotland. In the 16th century, these men and women resisted the return of Roman Catholicism and, in the 17th century, the religious reform from the Anglicans in England.
Boston earned a degree in Arts from Edinburgh University and, for a short time, was a schoolmaster. He spent one term at theological college before being assigned to active ministry, which he began in 1697.
He spent much of his spare time educating himself and was well known for his knowledge of Hebrew. Jonathan Edwards considered Boston:
a truly great divine.
He also wrote several books and shorter works about Christianity and human nature. In 1704, having read a controversial book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity, he became a Marrowman, which meant that he emphasised the doctrine of grace and the free offer of the Gospel. The book is a collection of dialogues from Reformation divines on the nature of Christ’s atonement and was a middle way of Christian practice, intended to guide believers from antinomianism (disregard for the Law) without embracing legalism.
The legalistic Calvinist hierarchy of the day disapproved of this perspective, yet it proved very popular among Scottish congregations. Indeed, the Marrowmen were effective, heartfelt preachers. Boston himself revived the church in Ettrick, where he ministered for 25 years. When he arrived in 1707, the number of members was around 60. By the time he retired, there were 777.
Boston not only preached in church, he had an active ministry at home, where he regularly held classes for his congregation.
Despite family deaths which touched him to the core, his wife Catherine was his loving companion and source of emotional support.
Boston’s written works had a profound effect not only on his congregation, but many poor, hard-working Scots.
One of his essays is entitled, simply, ‘Hell’. It describes the certainty, the nature and the eternity of it.
Excerpts and summaries follow, emphases mine (except for the first line, the titles and subtitles).
He introduces his essay with:
Then He shall say unto those on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!” Matthew 25:41
and reminds us in the Introduction that:
The last thing which our Lord did, before He left the earth, was, ‘He lifted up his hands, and blessed his disciples’ (Luke, 24:50,51). But the last thing He will do, before He leaves the throne, is to curse and condemn His enemies; as we learn from the text which contains the dreadful sentence wherein the everlasting misery of the wicked is declared.
He then summarises the body of the essay before examining the doctrine of hell.
DOCTRINE– THE WICKED SHALL BE SHUT UP UNDER THE CURSE OF GOD, IN EVERLASTING MISERY, WITH THE DEVILS IN HELL!
In this section, Boston discusses the ‘curse’ of the ‘damned’, their misery, their society and their eternity.
I. THE “CURSE” UNDER WHICH THE DAMMED SHALL BE SHUT UP IN HELL–
By nature all men are under the curse. But it is removed from the elect by virtue of their union with Christ. It abides on the rest of sinful mankind, and by it they are devoted to destruction, and separated to evil …
As in heaven grace comes to its perfection, so in hell sin arrives at its highest pitch; and as sin is thus advancing upon the man, he is the nearer and likelier to hell.
There are three things that have a fearful aspect here–
1. When everything that might do good to men’s souls, is blasted to them; so that their blessings are cursed– sermons, prayers, admonitions, and reproofs, which are powerful towards others, are quite ineffectual to them.
2. When men go on in sinning still, in the face of plain rebukes from the Lord, in ordinances and providences. God meets them with rods in the way of their sin, as it were striking them back; yet they rush forward. What can be more like hell, where the Lord is always smiting and the damned always sinning against Him?
3. When everything in one’s lot is turned into fuel for one’s lusts. Thus, adversity and prosperity, poverty and wealth, the lack of ordinances and the enjoyment of them, do all but nourish the corruptions of many. Their vicious stomachs corrupt whatever they receive, and all does but increase noxious humors.
But the full harvest follows, in that misery which they shall forever lie under in hell; that wrath which, by virtue of the curse, shall come upon them to the uttermost– which is the curse fully executed. This black cloud opens upon them, and the terrible thunderbolt strikes them, by that dreadful voice from the throne, ‘Depart from me, you cursed’, which will give the whole wicked world a dismal view of what is in the bosom of the curse …
II. THE MISERY OF THE DAMNED, under that curse–
It is a misery which the tongues of men and angels cannot sufficiently express. God always acts like Himself– as no favors can be compared to His, so also His wrath and terrors are without a parallel.
As the saints in heaven are advanced to the highest pitch of happiness, so the damned in hell arrive at the height of misery.
Two things here I shall soberly inquire into– the punishment of ‘loss’, and the punishment of ‘sense’, in hell. But since these also are such things as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, we must, as geographers do, leave a large void for the unknown land, which that day will discover.
A. THE PUNISHMENT OF ‘LOSS’ WHICH THE DAMNED SHALL UNDERGO IS SEPARATION FROM THE LORD. ‘Depart from me, you cursed.’ This will be a stone upon their grave’s mouth, as ‘the talent of lead’ (Zech 5:7,8), that will hold them down forever …
They cannot indeed be locally separated from God, they cannot be in a place where He is not; since He is, and will be present everywhere– ‘If I make my bed in hell,’ says the psalmist, ‘behold you are there’ (Psalm 139:8). But they shall be miserable beyond expression, in a ‘relative’ separation from God. Though He will be present in the very center of their souls, (if I may so express it), while they are wrapped up in fiery flames, in utter darkness– it shall only be to feed them with the vinegar of His wrath, and to punish them with the emanations of His revenging justice.
1. This separation will be AN INVOLUNTARY SEPARATION. ‘Now’ they depart from Him. They will not come to Him, though they are called and entreated to come.
But ‘then’ they shall be driven away from Him, when they would gladly abide with Him …
2. IT WILL BE A TOTAL AND UTTER SEPARATION. Though the wicked are, in this life, separated from God, yet there is a kind of interchange between them– He gives them many good gifts, and they give Him, at least, some good words; so that the peace is not altogether hopeless.
But ‘then’ there shall be a total separation, the damned being cast into utter darkness, where there will not be the least gleam of light or favor from the Lord; which will put an end to all their fair words to Him.
3. IT WILL BE A FINAL SEPARATION. They will part with Him, never more to meet, being shut up under everlasting horror and despair. The match between Jesus Christ and unbelievers, which has so often been carried forward, and put back again, shall then be broken up forever; and never shall one message of favor or goodwill go between the parties anymore.
This punishment of loss, in a total and final separation from God, is a misery beyond what mortals can conceive, and which the dreadful experience of the damned can only sufficiently unfold …
Wherefore, a total separation from God, wherein all comfortable communication between God and a rational creature is absolutely blocked up, must of necessity bring along with it a total eclipse of all light of comfort and ease whatever. If there is but one window, or open place, in a house, and that be totally shut up, it is evident there can be nothing but darkness in that house …
All joy goes, and unmixed sorrow settles in them. All quiet and rest separate from them and they are filled with horror and rage. Hope flies away, and despair seizes them. Common operations of the Spirit, which now restrain them, are withdrawn forever, and sin comes to its utmost height. Thus we have a dismal view of the horrible spectacle of sin and misery, which a creature proves when totally separated from God and left to itself; and we may see this separation from God to be the very hell of hell.
Being separated from God, they are deprived of all good. The good things which they set their hearts upon in this world are beyond their reach there. The covetous man cannot enjoy his wealth there; nor the ambitious man his honors; nor the sensual man his pleasures– no, not a drop of water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24,25).
No food or drink there to strengthen the faint; no sleep to refresh the weary– and no music, or pleasant company, to comfort and cheer up the sorrowful. And as for those holy things they despised in the world, they shall never more hear of them, nor see them.
No offer of Christ there, no pardon, no peace; no wells of salvation in the pit of destruction. In one word, they shall be deprived of whatever might comfort them, being totally and finally separated from God, the fountain of all goodness and comfort.
(3) Man naturally desires to be happy, being conscious to himself that be is not self-sufficient. He forever has a desire of something outside of himself, to make him happy; and the soul being, by its natural make and constitution, capable of enjoying God, and nothing else being commensurable to its desires, it can never have true and solid rest until it rests in the enjoyment of God. This desire of happiness the rational creature can never lay aside, no, not even in hell …
So the doors of earth and heaven both are shut against them at once. This will create them unspeakable anguish, while they shall live under an eternal gnawing hunger after happiness, which they certainly know shall never be in the least measure satisfied, all doors being closed on them.
(4) The damned shall know that some are perfectly happy, in the enjoyment of that God from whom they themselves are separated; and this will aggravate the sense of their loss– that they can never have any share with those happy ones …
It is the opinion of some, that every person in heaven or hell shall hear and see all that passes in either state. Whatever is to be said for this, we have ground from the Word to conclude that the damned shall have a very accurate knowledge of the happiness of the saints in heaven; for what else can be meant of the rich man in hell seeing Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom? …
It would be a mighty torment to a hungry man, to see others liberally feasting, while he is so chained up as not to have one crumb to stop his gnawing appetite …
(5) They will remember that time was when they might have been made partakers of the blessed company of saints, in their enjoyment of God– and this will aggravate their sense of the loss. All will remember that there was once a possibility of it; that they were once in the world, in some corners of which the way of salvation was laid open to men’s view– and may wish they had gone round the world, until they had found it out.
Despisers of the Gospel will remember, with bitterness, that Jesus Christ, with all His benefits, was offered to them– that they were exhorted, entreated, and pressed to accept, but would not; and that they were warned of the misery they now feel, and exhorted to flee from the wrath to come, but they would not hearken.
The Gospel offer slighted will make a hot hell, and the loss of an offered heaven, will be a sinking weight on the spirits of unbelievers in the pit …
Others will remember that they thought themselves sure of heaven, but, being blinded with pride and self-conceit, they were above ordinances, and beyond instruction, and would not examine their state– which was their ruin. But then they will in vain wish that they had reputed themselves the worst of the congregation, and curse the fond conceit they had of themselves, and that others had of them too …
(6) They will see the loss to be irrecoverable– that they must eternally lie under it, never, never to be repaired.
Might the damned, after millions of ages in hell, regain what they have lost, it would be some ground of hope; but the prize is gone, and never can be recovered …
B. THE DAMNED SHALL BE PUNISHED IN HELL WITH THE PUNISHMENT OF ‘SENSE’ AS THEY MUST DEPART FROM GOD INTO EVERLASTING FIRE.
I am not disposed to dispute what kind of fire it is into which they shall depart, to be tormented forever, whether a material fire or not. Experience will more than satisfy the curiosity of those who are disposed rather to dispute about it, than to seek how to escape it.
Neither will I meddle with the question, Where is it? It is enough that the worm that never dies, and the fire that is never quenched, will be found somewhere by impenitent sinners.
1. But, first, I shall prove that, whatever kind of fire it is– it is more vehement and terrible than any fire we on earth are acquainted with …
(a) As in heaven, grace being brought to its perfection, profit and pleasure also arrive at their height there. So sin, being come to its height in hell, the punishment of evil also arrives at its perfection there …
(b) Why are the things of another world represented to us in an earthly dress, in the Word, but because the weakness of our capacities in such matters, which the Lord is pleased to condescend unto, requires it. It being always supposed, that the things of the other world are in their kind more perfect than those by which they are represented.
When heaven is represented to us under the notion of a city, with gates of pearl and the street of gold, we do not expect to find gold and pearls there, which are so mightily prized on earth, but something more excellent than the finest and most precious things in this world.
When therefore, we hear of hell-fire, it is necessary we understand by it something more vehement, piercing, and tormenting, than any fire ever seen by our eyes.
And here it is worth considering, that the torments of hell are held forth under several other notions than that of fire alone. And the reason of it is plain– namely, that hereby what of horror is lacking in one notion of hell, is supplied by another …
Therefore, we hear also of ‘the second death’, for the damned in hell shall be ever dying …
(c) Our fire cannot affect a spirit, but by way of sympathy with the body to which it is united. But hell-fire will not only pierce into the bodies, but also go directly into the souls of the damned, for it is ‘prepared for the devil and his angels,’ those wicked spirits, whom no fire on earth can hurt …
(d) The preparation of this fire proves the inexpressible vehemency and dreadfulness of it. The text calls it, ‘prepared’ yes, ‘the prepared fire,’ by way of eminence.
As the three children were not cast into ordinary fire [Daniel 3], but a fire prepared for a particular purpose which therefore was exceeding hot, the furnace being heated seven times more than ordinary, so the damned shall find in hell a prepared fire, the like to which was never prepared by human are …
2. As to the second point proposed, namely, the properties of the fiery torments in hell–
(a) They will be universal torments, every part of the creature being tormented in that flame. When one is cast into a fiery furnace, the fire makes its way into the very heart, and leaves no member untouched.
What part, then, can have ease, when the damned ‘swim’ in a lake of fire, burning with brimstone? There will their bodies be tormented and scorched forever …
Hence, no pleasant affection shall ever spring up in their hearts any more; their love of comfort, joy, and delight, in any object whatever, shall be plucked up by the root. They will be filled with hatred, fury, and rage against God, themselves, and their fellow-creatures, whether happy in heaven, or miserable in hell, as they themselves are.
They will be sunk in sorrow, racked with anxiety, filled with horror, galled to the heart with fretting, and continually darted with despair– which will make them weep, gnash their teeth, and blaspheme forever …
Conscience will be a worm to gnaw and prey upon them; remorse for their sins shall seize them and torment them forever, and they shall not be able to shake it off, as once they did; for ‘in hell their worm does not die.’ (Mark 9:44,46) …
(b) The torments in hell are manifold. Imagine the case that a man were, at one and the same time, under the violence of the gout, stone, and whatever diseases and pains have ever met together in one body– the torment of such a one would be but light in comparison to the torments of the dammed …
(c) They will be most intense and vehement torments, causing ‘weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt 13:42, 22:13). They are represented to us under the notion of pangs in childbirth, which are very sharp and acute …
It is true, there will be degrees of torments in hell– ‘It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida’ (Matt 11:21,22). But the least load of wrath there will be insupportable; for how can the heart of the creature endure, or his hands be strong, when God Himself is a consuming fire to him?
When the tares are bound in bundles for the fire, there will be “bundles” of covetous persons, of drunkards, profane sweaters, unclean persons, formal hypocrites, unbelievers, and despisers of the Gospel, and the like.
The several “bundles” being cast into hell-fire, some will burn more vehemently than others, according as their sins have been more heinous than those of others– a fiercer flame shall seize the bundle of the profane, than the bundle of unsanctified moralists.
(e) They will be unpitied. The punishments inflicted on the greatest malefactors on earth draw forth some compassion from the spectators. But the damned shall have none to pity them.
God will not pity them, but laugh at their calamity (Prov 1:26). The blessed company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s righteous judgment, and sing while their smoke rises up forever and ever (Rev 19:3), ‘And again they said, Hallelujah! And her smoke rose up forever and ever.’
No compassion can be expected from the devil and his angels, who delight in the ruin of the children of men, and are and will be forever void of pity. Neither will one person pity another there, where every one is weeping and gnashing his teeth, under his own insupportable anguish and pain.
There, natural affection will be extinguished– parents will not love their children, nor children their parents; the mother will not pity the daughter in these flames, nor will the daughter pity the mother; the son will show no regard to his father there, nor the servant to his master, where every one will be groaning under his own torment.
(f) To complete their misery, their torments shall be eternal! ‘And the smoke of their torments ascends up forever and ever.’ Ah! what a frightful case is this– to be tormented in the whole body and soul, and that not with one kind of torment, but many; all of these most acute, and all this without any intermission, and without pity from any!
What heart can conceive those things without horror? Nevertheless, if this most miserable case were at length to have an end, that would afford some comfort.
But the torments of the damned will have no end!
The final sections discuss being with the company of devils and the everlasting nature of hell.
Boston concluded with an exhortation to unbelievers to receive Christ ‘as He is offered in the Gospel’ and prayed that the Lord would be ‘effectual’ in accomplishing this.
This concludes a series on hell, available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under ‘Hell’. Previous posts include:
Hell on low — or no — heat (20th century history)
J C Ryle on hell (19th century, first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
Archibald G Brown (1844-1922) was a famous English pastor who devoted his ministry and life to the poor in London’s East End.
(Photo credit: ELT Baptist Church)
Brown was the son of a wealthy investment banker and was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, his future wife Anne Bigg invited him to a service at Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The Metropolitan Tabernacle still exists today.
Although the Metropolitan Tabernacle was a Calvinistic Baptist congregation, the night Brown attended an Anglican lay preacher Stevenson Arthur Blackwood led the service. He asked an unbelieving, somewhat wayward Brown if he was a Christian. When Brown replied in the negative, Blackwood said, ‘How sad’.
Brown was 16 at the time. Afterwards, he went to reflect on Blackwood’s words and his own sinful state. Not only was he converted that day, privately, to Christianity, he went on to train for the ministry under Spurgeon at his Pastor’s College. Brown stood out for Spurgeon. Not only was he the youngest seminarian but the most dedicated to the ministry. Hence the title ‘Spurgeon’s Successor’.
Brown’s first ministry was in Bromley, Kent. However, outside of serving at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, his other pastorates were in London’s East End. He became pastor of the Stepney Green Tabernacle in 1864, which was not well attended. However, by 1867, it was standing room only.
In 1872, he had a new tabernacle built — the East London Tabernacle, which you can see in the photo above. The new church could seat 2,500, although another 500 stood to hear Brown’s powerful preaching. Inside, the tabernacle was massive; you can see more photos of it on the ELT Baptist Church site. Unfortunately, Germans bombed the building in 1944. It took ten years before a new replacement church opened, seating one-fifth of the number of people. The church has since left Baptist alliances and is now affiliated with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and through it to Affinity (formerly the British Evangelical Council).
Sadly, Brown was widowed four times. However, two of his wives left him several children. Annie bore six and Brown’s third wife Edith bore him four.
In later years, Edith’s poor health required him to consider relinquishing the pastorate at the East London Tabernacle and leave the capital altogether. Before he could do so, Edith died. Mourning her loss, he felt he could not continue leading his congregation without her and embarked on an international preaching tour combining travel. He returned to London in 1897 and married his fourth wife Hannah.
His subsequent ministries included a pastorate at a Baptist church in south London and a co-pastorate with Spurgeon’s son at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1907. In 1908, Brown became the sole pastor, a role he continued until 1910, when his own health began to fail. He toured and ministered in South Africa and Tasmania. In March 1922, Hannah died. Brown died nine days later on April 2, 1922.
During his lifetime, Brown and his assistant pastors had an intimate knowledge of the East End and its residents. Many were poor, burning their own banisters to stay warm. Others were prostitutes and thieves. Brown opened an orphanage for girls, started a soup kitchen and founded a summer holiday home in Herne Bay, Kent, to provide relief for the people of the East End.
Brown took a dim view of the modern views and erroneous theology creeping into the Church. He agreed with Spurgeon on the errors of fellow Baptist clergy denying that the Bible was divinely inspired. He deeply disapproved of the new social gospel, calling it an invention ‘by the devil’. He also opposed musical instruments in worship and using secular activities as a means of evangelisation. Not surprisingly, many people who thought they knew better ridiculed and criticised him.
In February 1878, after returning from his travels and newly married to Hannah, Archibald G Brown preached a sermon on hell to young men. The sermon is called ‘The Spiritual Doctrine of Hell’. He gave the address at the East London Tabernacle.
On his trip to Naples in 1877, Brown was struck by the looming Mount Vesuvius on the horizon and went to visit a recently rediscovered Pompeii, much of which was still buried. In August 79 AD, the town experienced a series of earthquakes over several days before Vesuvius erupted.
Wikipedia has a geological account of what happened. However, if anything approached hell on earth, the two days following the earthquakes had to be it. This summarises what happened in Herculaneum and Pompeii (emphases mine):
On the first day of the eruption a fall of white pumice containing clastic fragments of up to 3 centimetres (1.2 in) fell for several hours. It heated the roof tiles to 120–140 °C (248–284 °F). This period would have been the last opportunity to escape. Subsequently a second column deposited a grey pumice with clastics up to 10 cm (3.9 in), temperature unsampled, but presumed to be higher, for 18 hours. These two falls were the Plinian phase. The collapse of the edges of these clouds generated the first dilute PDCs, which must have been devastating to Herculaneum, but did not enter Pompeii.
Early in the morning of the second day the grey cloud began to collapse to a greater degree. Two major surges struck and destroyed Pompeii. Herculaneum and all its population no longer existed. The emplacement temperature range of the first surge was 180–220 °C (356–428 °F), minimum temperatures; of the second, 220–260 °C (428–500 °F). The depositional temperature of the first was 140–300 °C (284–572 °F). Upstream and downstream of the flow it was 300–360 °C (572–680 °F).
The variable temperature of the first surge was due to interaction with the buildings. Any population remaining in structural refuges could not have escaped, as the city was surrounded by gases of incinerating temperatures. The lowest temperatures were in rooms under collapsed roofs. These were as low as 100 °C (212 °F), the boiling point of water. The authors suggest that elements of the bottom of the flow were decoupled from the main flow by topographic irregularities and were made cooler by the introduction of ambient turbulent air. In the second surge the irregularities were gone and the city was as hot as the surrounding environment.
During the last surge, which was very dilute, one meter more of deposits fell over the region.
Now onto Brown’s sermon on hell, which I highly recommend reading in full. Excerpts and summaries follow. Photos are courtesy of Wikipedia.
Brown began by denouncing modern theology, a warning to his audience that they should turn away from error:
Any casual reader of so-called Christian literature must know the distinctive feature of this nineteenth century. There has arisen in the midst of the church an anti-Christ which is known by the name of ‘modern thought’, at whose altars tens of thousands are bowing the knee, and offering their devotion. There is a horrid malaria abroad — a malaria breeding doubt and skepticism, and giving birth to wholesale practical infidelity. Surely the gospel of the present day might be rendered — ‘He who doubts shall be saved, and he who believes shall be counted a fool.’
The eternal covenant of God is torn up with a glib remark and a smile of contempt by some boy-censor. The threatenings of God are having all the thunder taken out of them; and now let any one venture to say that he believes in such doctrines as the sovereign grace of God, an atoning sacrifice, and a doom of unspeakable horror awaiting the man who dies unconverted — and if he is not derided, he will at least be looked upon with contemptuous pity.
Now, the fiercest onslaught has been made upon the doctrine of God’s severity against sin, and the reason why I have selected this topic this evening is that, somehow or another the evil is finding its way into all the homes of our church members …
There is also an immense amount of jargon about the ‘universal fatherhood’ of God. We are told that God is so good, so kind, so indulgent, that he cannot possibly visit a sinner’s sin with the dire doom that Scripture language declares.
He went on to discuss the letters (epistles) of Peter which mention the flood (Noah) and fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I. Now let us to our first point, namely, that our text shows that GOD’S SEVERITY ON SIN IS A SOLEMN FACT.
He mentions the verse where Peter reminds his converts that God expelled the bad angels from heaven and sent them to hell. There is no reason why He would not do the same to us:
Young men, can you not see that every argument which can be employed against the ultimate punishment of men, applies with equal force against the punishment of the sinful angels? Am I told, as we are repeatedly, that there is such a nobility about man, such a natural grandeur, that it is almost impossible to imagine that God can ever consign so glorious and intellectual a being to perdition!
Regarding the flood, from which Noah and his family were spared:
Come, Mr Modern Thinker — you who are so shocked at the idea of God ever pouring out his wrath on any — how do you account for this? Does this look like ‘universal fatherhood’? Does this look like an indulgent father who knows nothing of righteous indignation against sin? It has been computed that the population of the world at that time was as great as now, owing to the longevity of the race, and yet the waters rose until the few — the eight — who rode in that ark were the sole remnant of a world that God had made.
Come, open your ears and hear the shrieks of the drowning; hear the cries of the strong swimmer in his last agony, and account for it, if you can, on any other ground than that God is a hater of sin — that when the accursed thing reaches a climax, he pours his wrath upon it — ay, though doing so destroys a world he fashioned.
He also spoke about God’s slaying of the first-born in Egypt:
I suppose that in Egypt there were more people than there are in London tonight, and yet in every house the first born was found dead, and from end to end of Egypt’s land a great wail of grief went up. Does that look like ‘universal fatherhood’?
He also discussed the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites, followed by the swallowing up of Pharaoh and his armies:
their salvation meant the destruction of all the chivalry of Egypt.
He mentioned that some modern thinkers would downplay these examples as all coming from the Old Testament, therefore, ancient history. Furthermore, any vivid portrayals of hell come from mediaeval monks, long dead.
‘Medieval’ is it, to speak about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? These words came not from the lips of any mortal man. They fell from the same lips that said, ‘Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Neither Paul, nor Peter, nor any of the apostles, ever uttered such words as leaped from the lips of the Man of Sorrows. Christ’s descriptions of Hell are the most fearful that we have! It is the lips of infinite love that speak of being cut asunder, and about burning with the fire that is never quenched!
II. Now, then, let us look at the next point. THIS PARTICULAR ACT OF SEVERITY MENTIONED IN OUR TEXT, IS TO BE AN EXAMPLE FOR ALL AGES.
it seemed almost impossible to believe that Vesuvius could do any harm. I was almost inclined to think of Vesuvius as modern thinkers dream of God — that surely all the old fire has burned out. Still, there was some smoke rising which showed me that, though at that time no burning lava was pouring out upon its iron-bound flanks, yet it could do it again.
He toured Herculaneum and Pompeii, which reminded him of what divine punishment and hell must be like:
You must remember that it was not covered with burning lava, as is popularly supposed — that would have destroyed the city. There flowed a torrent of boiling mud which cooled and caked, and then over that there went the burning lava; and this again became like iron, so that there was the city sealed up airtightly, and, for 1,700 years, the world forgot that there was such a place as Pompeii. But we not only saw streets covered with the marks of chariot wheels, and houses with their frescoes. There were other sights sadder far. There were the relics of the past. There I saw the marble table, still standing in the garden as it was left that afternoon; and there was a bottle with the oil still in it; and there was the half eaten loaf of bread.
Yes — but what is that lying there? It is the body of a woman with her face in her hand, seeking to avoid the cinders that were falling. And you can stand there and look upon her, still lying as she cast herself down centuries back. I walked in and out those empty houses in this city of the dead, and I thought of the text, ‘turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, he condemned them with an overthrow’. Sudden was the destruction …
The miser was caught as he was counting his hoard; the harlot was arrested in her house of shame; the prisoner was suffocated in his cell, and the sentry as he stood at the gateway.
A darkness that might be felt swathed the city. The earth rumbled; then the sea became tortured; and giant waves rolled up upon the trembling shore; and over all there were the lurid flashes from the crater of Vesuvius, while masses of blazing rock went hissing through the air, and the shrieks of the terrified people rose until death triumphed and stilled the clamor!
At that point he sensed Vesuvius speaking to him:
And the mountain muttered these words — ‘I can do it again! I can do it again!’
In his tour of Pompeii, he saw the wrath of God coming again on Judgement Day:
My brethren and sisters, go back and see what God has done. When God smites Judah it is that Israel should take warning, and he who hurled the angels from Heaven to Hell, and drowned the world, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, has power still to smite. Oh, do not rouse my God to anger. Will you count his longsuffering to be slackness? and because he still lengthens out the time of grace will you presume on it? ‘Escape for your life.’
I have finished, and, as an old preacher once said, ‘Now may God begin.’ I feel that, though we have tried to preach to you earnestly, our language has been but cold and faint. Young men, I do not suppose I shall ever see you all again. It is impossible. But as surely as you are sitting in those pews there is a day coming in which you will find every word we have uttered to be true. There is a day coming in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the earth shall melt with fervent heat, and the trumpet of the archangel shall wax louder and louder! And if you die rejecting Christ you will find yourself, in spite of all that modern thinkers say, doomed to eternal perdition. Fly, then, to Christ, I beseech you. Trust him and he will save you this evening. Rest on his atoning sacrifice, and all sin shall be forgiven you. Go now, and presume no more on God’s patience. Flee from the wrath to come! May God add his blessing, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
I can add little more other than to second this sermon wholeheartedly.
Modern clergy from Brown’s time to the present are hoodwinking us into thinking God will welcome everyone into the heavenly kingdom.
Believe Jesus’s words rather than theirs. There is a second death in hell and it will last forever.
Tomorrow’s post gives a graphic representation of hell by 17th century preacher Thomas Boston.
Yesterday’s post started with Matthew 13:50, in which our Lord spoke of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ that takes place in hell.
In 1982, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Matthew 13:47-52:
The Parable of the Net
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
New and Old Treasures
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
MacArthur’s sermon is called ‘The Furnace of Fire’. In it, he explains the nature of hell.
As I said yesterday, our modern notion of hell has been watered down greatly since the 19th century. Most Christians believe it will be a place of mental torment where the damned long for God forever.
But could there be other sensory elements to hell, ones which mankind would prefer to overlook or to explain away because they are too horrifying to contemplate? MacArthur thinks so.
He says that Jesus talked about how horrible hell would be. The Gospels have many references about eternal condemnation. These can be found in Matthew 5, Matthew 8, Matthew 23 through 25, Mark 9, Luke 6, Luke 12 and Luke 16.
Jesus said more about fire than mental torment, although permanent insanity could well be the end result of going to hell. Yet, many theologians and clergy choose to gloss over this fact. It would be better if they were to say that hell is like Dante’s Inferno and advise us to read it. However, they would probably say that Jesus was using allegory in talking about hellfire. I doubt many believe in hell as Jesus described it.
Degrees of torment
Like Dante, MacArthur believes there will be degrees of punishment in hell (emphases mine):
You have in hell a place of relieved torment of body and soul in varying degrees … In other words, for some people, hell will be worse than others. For all who are there, it will be horrible. It will be ultimate suffering.
There will be no relief for that, but there will be even more severe degrees of suffering for some. It says in Hebrews 10, “Of how much more severe punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.” People who have stepped on Jesus Christ, who have rejected his cross, will know a greater hell than those who have not.
There will be degrees, just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven. We saw that, also, I think, in Matthew chapter 11, when it said, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you.” In other words, it’s only relative. It isn’t going to be tolerable for anyone, but it will appear to be more tolerable for them than for you because of what you have experienced.
You had Jesus Christ in your city, they didn’t. You rejected Him with more light; therefore, hell will be more severe for you. And then you have, of course, that incredible parable in Luke 12 where the Lord says, “To the servant who knew and didn’t do right, many stripes. To the servant who didn’t know and didn’t do right, a few stripes.” So hell will be unrelieved torment of body in soul in varying degrees. And John Gerstner says, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be one less.”
MacArthur reminds us that the Bible speaks of darkness when referring to hell:
the Bible defines it as darkness, outer darkness. That is deep-pit darkness, darkness that’s way out from the light, impenetrable darkness, darkness that closes in. And it is darkness without the hope of light forever. Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for the daylight?
Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for someone to turn a light on? To be in that encroaching, encompassing, moving kind of darkness and know that for all the eons of eternity, you will never see light is how our Lord describes hell. Unrelieved darkness forever, with no hope of the light, no hope of the dawn.
Yes, there is fire:
And the Bible also says it is a fire. Now, it is not a fire that we would know as fire, to burn something in this world. But fire is God’s way of describing it because it is a tortuous, unrelieved kind of fire, more terrible than any fire that we would ever know. But fire describes the torment of the damned; blackness describes the torment of the damned, no light, no light ever, ever. No relief from the suffering, the agony and the pain, forever. And there’s only two times in all of Scripture that we have any insight into how people respond to hell.
Torment of the body
MacArthur mentions Jesus’s cautionary story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:
31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Torment of the soul
it is a place of unrelieved torment for both body and soul, for both body and soul. Soul being the inner part.
The new body built for hell
MacArthur explains that the human body as God created for life on earth would not be able to resist hellfire.
So, when the Last Judgement takes place, just as those going to heaven will have a new glorified body, those going to hell will have a new body fit for eternal damnation:
When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment. In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned. They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire. It will be a body not like the body we have now. It will be a very different one. They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians.
We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right? We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned. And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies.
That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever. They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment. And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” You see, hell is soul and body.
Some people think it’s just bad memories. No, it isn’t just bad memories. It isn’t just the inner thinking processes; it is that body as well. Transcendent, eternal bodies, greater than anything we have on this earth, are going to be given to the damned so that they can suffer in those bodies forever. And that’s the only reason that they’ll have those bodies.
With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment. So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell.
The worm and fire forever
We know that the ‘worm dieth not’ and that the fire never goes out. This describes the Jewish Gehenna. Was Jesus addressing His people allegorically or literally?
Now what did He mean by that? When a body goes into the grave, into decay, worms descend into that body. And they begin to consume that body, and the worms will die when the food is gone. So once the body is consumed, the worms die. But in hell, the worms never die because the body, though it is continually being consumed, is never consumed. So the worm never dies.
In other words, the Lord was saying the unrelieved torment of body goes on and on.
it says, also, the fire is not quenched. Now a fire always goes out when the fuel is gone. But the fuel will never be gone. Though the burning goes on, the fuel is never consumed. And so you have unrelieved torment of body and soul.
Do enough of us think about hell or is it something we can explain away?
Is it more than the great existentialist void many of us have been taught to believe?
For all the time we spend rationalising hell, maybe it is time we gave Jesus’s warnings more thought. We — inherently sinful men and women — are telling each other that hell is a state of mind. Our Lord described it differently.
If contemplating the hell He described is a horrifying thought, He meant us to clearly understand it’s not a place we want to spend eternity. Repent, pray for faith and for continual grace.
In ‘A Church for the New Millennium’ he spoke about the incomprehension church growth theorists express with regard to the success of his Grace Community Church.
In other words, how could they increase their numbers without using the seemingly all-essential — in reality, unholy — principles of church growth?
Church growth in that context requires incorporating worldly values into the Church. It is big at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve written about it before.
MacArthur has never resorted to such falsehood. Yet, his congregation started from a small, local one nearly 50 years ago and, today, has thousands of people attending on any given Sunday.
He began by explaining the seeming urgent conundrum of modernising the Church. Emphases mine below. There has been a:
Tremendous amount of discussion on what it’s going to take for the church to reach this generation. The generation itself is incessantly being defined and redefined. Familiar terms – yuppie generation, the generation X and all of those kinds of terms are used to describe something of the cultural attitudes and mor[e]s of our society which are moving so very rapidly and churches are scrambling to try to react and find a place of relevancy in the culture under the fear that if they don’t, they will not be able to reach that culture.
It was some months ago now, quite a few months ago, that I told you about a book which I read, which has become very popular among church leaders that essentially says the church is going to be out of existence in the next 50 years if it doesn’t re-invent itself. By the mid-21st century, the church could literally be out of existence unless it redefines itself in terms of cultural expectations.
He rightly said that this was the wrong approach:
The church continually trying to redefine itself under the terms that are defined by culture, puts itself in a very difficult position since culture is going in the wrong direction to start with and it’s going there very, very rapidly.
In his congregation:
We have always believed at Grace Community Church that the church is defined not by the culture but by the scripture. That it is God who defines the church not the society around us. And certainly not the prince of the power of the air, who is the source of the culture, morays attitudes and philosophies so even religious. So we are different than other churches.
I received a great compliment recently from somebody who said[,] you know the thing that’s remarkable about Grace Community Church is that while everything in our society seems to be changing rapidly over the years, you haven’t changed at all. In fact, he said to me you are doing the same things you used to be doing in about the same way you used to be doing them. And I said this is true. And of course, the question comes up aren’t you concerned about being relevant? Well I’m only concerned really about being obedient to scripture and leaving the consequences to the Lord. So you know we’ve never been caught up in this scramble to try to adjust to the culture. And our church has grown and that’s kind of turned us into something of a curiosity.
This has flummoxed Fuller, which offers courses such as Theology and Hip Hop Culture:
We used to have the people from Fuller Seminary come here with the Church Growth classes and because our church was the fastest growing church and the largest church in Los Angeles, they of necessity would bring students here to show them a rapidly growing church and then they stopped doing that because they said we confused the students because we had no regard. We don’t have any information about how churches grow and we grew anyway. And that was confusing so they felt that selective research that reinforced their point was more useful for them and so they stopped coming here.
That is so sad, and I’m posting on it today because it reminds me of a reading from Matthew 13 coming up next (link goes live Saturday night UK time).
To draw a parallel, the Fuller faculty and students were exposed the truth of a good church then chose to ignore it in favour of their own flawed, worldly theory! It is appalling that their students are no longer taken as part of coursework to see Grace Community Church’s authenticity and faithfulness to Holy Scripture. That is a very serious and deliberate oversight on the part of Fuller faculty. It is a sin to twist a divine blessing into a manmade falsehood.
However, Grace Community Church’s natural growth thanks to the faithful preaching of Scripture has puzzled many other adherents of the church growth movement:
This church has been the subject of magazine articles and thes[e]s. Doctoral dissertations have been written on our church and on my preaching. There have been all kinds of reports about our church seminars, newspaper articles, journals, tapes, books, all undertaken to analyze our church. And our ministry ha[s] been examined and analyzed every way possible. Studied, labeled, categorized, copied. We have been blessed. We have been cursed. We have been defended. We have been ignored. We have been endowed. We have been publicized and we’ve even been sued. So just about a little of everything has come against us and the church itself can be rather simply defined in a lot of ways.
The definition includes:
the word church. That’s what we are. We aren’t anything else but a church. That is what we are. By definition we are a church. And if you understand that word means then you understand what this church is. That is the key to understanding Grace Community Church. It is the key to our identity. We are not like any other institution in the world. We are absolutely and utterly unique. And when you understand church, then you have a definition of what we are and what are to be in the world.
And it is really an unchanging definition. It is no different for us in the 20th century than it was in the 2nd century AD. It is not different for us than it was in the 10th century. It is no different for us than it was in the 15th century or any other century. We are defined by a divine designation church, not by anything cultural, not by anything contemporary, not by anything that society developed but rather by the word church, which is biblical.
MacArthur gave this sermon in 2000. It is sad to think that the church growth movement has been around for decades and shows no signs of abating. Fuller isn’t the only institution promoting it. Rick Warren — possibly their most famous alumnus alive today — does, too.
Fuller’s reach is a long one. Many Lutheran churches in America believe there is a winning formula in church growth.
So do Anglican churches here in England, although it is not referred to as such, however, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of ‘programmes’ and the deadly ‘small groups’. ‘Do, please join,’ our clergy and churchwardens exhort. Everyone needs to be ‘involved’!
It doesn’t work. I went to my Anglican church’s midnight service at Christmas last month. It was only a third full. Twenty years ago to the day — 1995 — it was standing room only. Making the C of E ‘relevant’ has brought down numbers dramatically.
Back to the biblical meaning of ‘church’:
The word church in the New Testament is from a Greek word ekklesia that is a noun that comes out of a group verb kaleo, which means to call. So ekklesia is simply the called, the called ones, those called together, those according to Romans 8:28 called according to God’s purpose. We are called together. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says I therefore the prison of the lord and treat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. You are the called because you’ve had a calling. And the church is simply the called ones. We are the assembly of the called. This was a very ordinary Greek word by the way. Very ordinary Greek word so it can be any assembly of any people called together for anything …
We are not a human organization built by good people. We are not a human organization designed by well-intentioned people. We are not a human organization basically constructed around some tradition. We are a group of people summoned together by God himself for his purposes. So we can say this the church is an assembly of people called by God. We are an assembly of people called by God …
We have been called by God together. Romans 1:6 you also are the called of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God in Rome called together as saints. And you find this in 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John and other places. Even Hebrews 3:1 talks about our heavenly calling and heaven is really a synonym for God.
It is not our church. It is not my church. It is not the pastor’s church. It is not the elder’s church. I have to tell you, it’s not even your church. It’s Christ’s church. He ordained it. He builds it. He leads it. We are simply called into it and he is the caller.
And this explains really all the goodness, all the blessing, all the success, all the power, all the things that we have seen by way of spiritual richness. It has all come from God. The weaknesses of our fellowship, the failures of our church on the other hand are the marks of humanness. Where you see us weak and failing is where you see the hand of men and women. The weak human vessels God has chosen do show up in the weak elements of life in the church. We fail because of us, not him. We succeed because of him, not us. So when you come to Grace Church and you want to analyze why it is what it is and when you want to find some pathway to success that might be repeatable somewhere else, you are going to find it very difficult. Because wherever we have succeeded it is because God has done a mighty work and wherever we have failed it is because the imprint of human hands is on this place.
The successes then cannot be easily defined. They cannot be easily analyzed. They cannot be easily canned and they cannot be easily reproduced and repeated because they are the work of God who is the caller of the called. The failures, yes, you can find those and you can certainly can repeat those. People can come to Grace Church and analyze our failures and go back and repeat them. But when they come and try to analyze our success and go back and repeat that, it’s really impossible because the Lord is the one who has caused the blessing and the success. The Lord is behind the power and the impact of the church. And he is not easily defined, analyzed, canned and repeated.
So what I’m saying is that Grace Community Church has been blessed only as we have functioned as God’s called people, not some human organization, not with some unusual level of human leadership or some unusual level of the power of persuasive speech. That is not what has caused this church to become what it is. That is not how we define ourselves and that is no reasonable explanation of the blessing of God. Wherever God moves, the flowers have always bloomed. Wherever we walk, they always die.
what I’m concerned about today is so many people in the ministry who under this pressure to somehow let the culture define them are ceasing to be the church. You can look at some of those places and they may call themselves the church and there is a church in there somewhere. There’s a community of the called in there somewhere not to be confused with what is visible. We never wanted to have somewhere hidden the midst of a visible human organization a real church. We wanted the real church to be visible. The single great goal then for the church through all its life has been to let God be at work and to allow the church to be the church. We don’t want the culture to define what we are. We don’t want the society around us to define what we are. We want to be whatever it is that God wants us to be. That’s what we want to be. Nothing less and nothing more.
Fuller, Warren, their followers and the rest of the church growth movement will never understand that simple, biblical principle.
May we choose our congregations wisely.
On January 6, 2016, the Revd James McConnell was acquitted of charges concerning improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a ‘grossly offensive’ message to be sent via said network.
As Melanie McDonagh, a Catholic columnist for The Spectator put it, the charges were rather ‘obscure’.
In June 2015, the BBC reported that someone filed a complaint about an Internet broadcast of one of McConnell’s sermons in which he referred to Islam as being ‘heathen’ and ‘satanic’ in May 2014.
McConnell, 78, preaches at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast. The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service’s procedure is to issue an ‘informed warning’ which, whilst not a conviction, remains on or creates a criminal record and holds for 12 months afterwards. The Public Prosecution Service takes anyone refusing an informed warning to court.
Although Pastor McConnell apologised publicly for his remarks, he refused the warning and ended up in court. His three-day trial took place in December 2015.
Possibly because he had no criminal record before this incident, McConnell’s trial had jovial aspects and lighter moments with Irish banter exchanged between the pastor’s legal team and the presiding magistrate.
McConnell said at the trial that the first he knew of the charge was when a reporter from the BBC rang him. Furthermore, the judge told the court that McConnell had also insulted Henry VIII, calling him an ‘auld reprobate’.
Two of the pastor’s character witnesses were a Catholic priest, the Revd Pat McCafferty, and an imam, Muhammad Al-Hussaini. Although the latter was not called on to testify, he travelled to Belfast to support McConnell in a case he believes never should have seen the light of day.
Dr Al-Hussaini, a senior fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute in London, told the Belfast Telegraph:
… this should take place in civic society, rather than within the courtroom. “While there is a public conversation to be had now about how religious leaders should best give witness to their beliefs with truthfulness and at the same time ‘always with gentleness and respect’ as Scripture commands, this is a discussion for theologians and ordinary citizens in civil society, and not the judiciary,” he said. “In a free society people take exception to all kinds of things in cinema, online or other media but, other than material which incites to physical violence, I hope the Northern Ireland PPS will give careful consideration before again entering into vexed questions about what is ‘grossly offensive’ enough to prosecute.”
I suspect that Al-Hussaini is an Ismaili (Shia, Aga Khan leader) Muslim because he enjoys Western society. The Irish Times reported in 2015 that he is one of the sean nós singers at the London Irish Centre. He also plays the fiddle.
He told The Irish Times that the London Irish Centre is his ‘safe space’. He explained that, after the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015, he came under severe abuse for opposing extremism and, among other things, received faeces-smeared letters.
Of course, he is equally criticised for loving music, which fundamentalist Muslims say goes against the Koran.
Al-Hussaini reminds me of the Muslims I knew in the 1970s — enlightened, interesting and engaging. I wish there were more of them today, especially in Britain. Even he makes the observation that the strains of Islam practised here are deeply fundamentalist.
On extremism, he had this to say to The Irish Times:
“Extremism seeks to abolish the arts. Isis ban coloured pencils because it is a form of ideological mind-control which the arts frees one from. Arts promote a sense of humanity and expression that is not necessarily constrained by a literalist reading of scripture,” he says.
“So it is in the interests of those who have that particular agenda to sit upon expressions of art, even if they are traditionalist expressions of culture.” In any event, song and poetry is wedded into Arabic culture, “long epic poems, our equivalent of the Odyssey and the Aeneid, that were sung around the Bedouin camp fire.
“People still have the whole of these poems in their heads. There are poetry recitation competitions all over the Gulf. You can become a millionaire from winning one of these, they are so highly valued.”
More power to this imam’s voice — in his lecturing and his singing.
May Pastor McConnell be blessed with a peaceful retirement and provide good counsel to younger ministers and the congregation at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
I notice that his acquittal took place on Epiphany. Wise judgement prevailed.
If you are in Christian leadership, you should exercise much wisdom:
1. Always use the lightest correctionary discipline possible, not the heaviest.
2. Be suspect of “revelation or confirmation of the Holy Spirit.”
3. Be aware of your own personality and flesh and how that might color your judgement.
4. Use grace. Forgive others.
5. Don’t insist on having your way but look for God’s.
6. Allow the Holy Spirit to rule the church. You are not the Holy Spirit.
7. Know that the Pharisees exceeded their authority and punished the innocent (Jesus). Don’t join the company of the Pharisees.
Hope these tips are helpful.
They are also helpful in the home. I shudder when I read some parents’ blogs with their accounts of supposed divinely received messages or visions. Scary. Is that bringing their children closer to Christ or estranging them?
There are also many families who are quick to universally condemn a sibling or cousin who, for whatever reason, feels estranged: ‘We don’t talk to them any longer’. Why not? Instead of behaving like Pharisees and all falling into line without getting the facts, talk to those relatives! Resolve the problem!
One of my cousins from my late mother’s side once said, ‘Your dad was always so nice — and so witty!’
I said, knowing of our side’s estrangement of another cousin — a devout Christian — who, after many years, feels as if she can no longer be part of the family despite my long-distance appeals, ‘My dad’s side did not have feuds or a falling out, even though everyone was an individual with different life experiences.’
He replied, ‘Wow. That’s sure not how our family operates.’
‘No kidding. What are you going to do about it?’
‘Nothing. None of my business. I have my own children and grandchildren now. They keep me busy enough.’
I hope that my readers are not like my cousin, congenial and responsible as he is. I pray that if you are reading this and have a family estrangement for no good reason, you take constructive steps to resolve it, especially before Christmas. Invite that relative over for coffee or meet up somewhere. Have a friendly conversation. Let them know you love them — and keep in touch afterwards.
The past few weekends I have been writing about Jesus’s healing — creative — miracles in Matthew 8 and 9:
Matthew 8:1-4 – Jesus, creative miracle, leper
Matthew 8:5-13 – Jesus, creative miracle, centurion, faith, humility
Matthew 8:14-17 – creative miracles, Jesus, Peter’s mother-in-law
Matthew 8:23-27 – Jesus, storm, miracle, Sea of Galilee, faith
Matthew 8:28-34 – Gadarene swine, miracle, demons, Jesus
Matthew 9:1-8 – healing miracle, creative miracle, paralytic, sin, Jesus
Matthew 9:18-26 – Jesus, miracles, Jairus’s daughter, death, sleep, woman with blood issue, resurrection, healing
Matthew 9:27-31 – Jesus, miracles, healing, two blind men, physical blindness, spiritual blindness, faith, Capernaum
Matthew 9:32-34 – Jesus, miracles, healing, deaf mute possessed by demon, Capernaum
John MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Miracles of Sight and Sound’, explains how St Matthew wanted us to think of Jesus with regard to His miracles, events in the Old Testament and ancient biblical prophecy. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
Matthew’s purpose in writing is to tell us: that Jesus is that Messiah; that that someday has arrived; that Christ is the promised King; that He is the One who can right the wrongs, who can reverse the curse, who can establish the kingdom, who can destroy the enemy. He is the One. And in order to convince us that Christ has the power to do that, in chapters 8 and 9, Matthew marks His miracle power, and he doesn’t do it in a random manner. He marks His miracle power, I believe, insofar as it is associated with Old Testament prophecy. There were many miracles that Jesus did—Matthew selects nine of them in chapters 8 and 9, three sets of three—and, in these miracles, I see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And Matthew was saying, “This is the Messiah. He fulfills the prophecy. The prophecy says He will do all of this in the kingdom, and He has given you a preview of it all.” The kingdom will evidence His power over disease, His power over death, His power over the elements, His power over the earth; and in His first coming, He gave previews of all of those. Now remember that of the nine miracles, the first three deal with disease, the second three deal with disorder, and the third primarily with death. And there’s some overlap, but that’s just kind of a general focus.
After Adam and Eve committed what is known in the Church as Original Sin — the disobedience which caused every human afterward to sin by instinct — God promised redemption for mankind:
in Genesis, chapter 3, no sooner had man fallen than God gave the promise that there would come One who would be called the Seed of the woman; and that very One would bruise the serpent’s head. And so from that time on, the Old Testament was filled with promises that God would bring a Deliverer, that God would bring a King, and that that King would restore the kingdom, would establish again the rule of God, would wipe out disease and death and pain and illness and sorrow and war and fighting. And the prophets would again and again and again repeat that He’s coming: the Anointed Son, the King of kings, the Satan-Conqueror, the Death-Defeater, the Sin-Destroyer, the Healer. The Jews know Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Prophet, Priest, and King surpassing all others.
MacArthur cites passages from the prophet Isaiah which proclaim that the Messiah would save and restore God’s people. He says these are pertinent to the first three healing miracles.
22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.
23 Your cords hang loose;
they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
or keep the sail spread out.
Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
even the lame will take the prey.
24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
Isaiah 57:19 (second half of the verse):
As there was no disease before the Fall, there will be no disease after the restoration. Now, if Jesus Christ is the One who has the power to do that, He must be able to demonstrate such power, and that is why Matthew shows us that He has power over disease.
Isaiah 35 prophesies a restored topography of the Earth. MacArthur says that Matthew wanted us to connect this with Jesus’s calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee when the disciples feared for their lives. This is what Isaiah 35:4 says:
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the restoration of sight and hearing:
In that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
We can also draw a spiritual meaning from those verses, that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and ears to saving faith.
MacArthur associates Matthew’s accounts of deliverance — casting out demons — with verses from the Book of Daniel. These also pertain to his raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Therefore, Jesus has power over sin and death.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
From these verses — merely a few examples of the scriptural foretelling of the arrival of Christ as Lord — we learn that He did not come to earth randomly.
There are Christians who mistakenly say that we should not study the Old Testament. Ironically, they do, for the verses which condemn certain sins. That is not wrong, but there are many New Testament verses which cover abomination and depravity which lead to eternal death.
A true Christian will read the Old Testament in light of how God and His prophets attempted to guide the Israelites to be ready for the Messiah and what we can expect from Him.
The Old Testament points to Christ throughout.
Scripture is alive, historical and full of meaning. May we study it closer in our walk with the Lord.
In Philippians 3, Paul warns against putting too much faith in our own efforts:
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
He tells his own story, describing his former identity as a Jew and a Pharisee. He confesses that he persecuted the Church with zeal, thinking it righteous. Post-conversion everything changed dramatically:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
He acknowledges that he is powerless on his own and:
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
He exhorts the Philippians to do the same:
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
The closing verses of Philippians 3 and first of Philippians 4 appeared in the June 2015 newsletter of l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, in a final written commentary by their pastor Paolo Morlacchetti, who has since been assigned to the Reformed congregation in Nice.
The verses are as follows:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
4 Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
In his commentary, ‘Our city is in heaven’, Pastor Morlacchetti wrote that we can possess the highest human traits and beliefs, but, without faith in Jesus Christ, they count for nothing. Paul saw this in some of the Philippians and, similarly, it is easy for us to recognise such people today:
The enemies of the cross of Christ are those who think they can bypass the cross. They are naturally people who enter one or another of sects which are multiplying in our post-Christian era; they think they can find more and better than the Evangelist [Paul]. Or they think that what the Evangelist said is outdated. These days we need new ideals and a new morality.
The enemies of the cross are also those who believe in humanity, in its faculties, in its achievements without noticing that if humanity is capable of great things it can also commit its worst atrocities. Or they are the indifferent, the great mass of the indifferent, who turn their backs on the cross and obliterate it from their lives.
When the Apostle Paul says that some are enemies of the cross of Christ, he isn’t advocating a crusade against them. He does not say that one must destroy heretics in order to purify the Church and the earth. When he thinks of them, Paul cries (‘with tears’). Yes, he cries with sadness because such people are losing their life by imagining they are saving it.
They have for a god their belly, writes Paul. Their belly, which in that era might have been circumcision or dietary restrictions. It could also be whatever satisfies us morally or materially. It could be moral attributes or a belief system which turns us away from Christ. Any human recourse — false salvation — perpetuates the illusion and enslaves us.
The man who refuses Christ’s cross thinks he can get by on his own efforts; he believes himself to be self-sufficient. But in reality, he obeys this system, this ideology, as if it were a religion and he himself its disciple. He loses his liberty, he allies himself with a foreign power. This is why the apostle Paul directs us to another authority. If we really want to be free, we must choose to submit to this authority, that of Jesus Christ.
As so often happens, we face a choice. No longer putting confidence in ourselves, in our resources and in our own merit … this is the fundamental question which we face our whole lives. Our faith revolves around this decisive choice.
The Apostle Paul understood this well. He ceased putting his confidence in his own personal qualities, however authentic, of being a Jew and a Pharisee. He put his belief in Jesus Christ. When he says to imitate him, he does not say, ‘Follow me,’ he tells us, ‘Follow Jesus Christ, believe in Him’. He directs us to another, not himself.
It is for this reason that we see in him a witness worthy of being believed.
It is useful to read St Paul’s letters not only from a historical perspective but also to discern what they tell us — and the world — today with regard to belief and faith. I’d read this passage before, but not in such a relevant way. Morlacchetti’s interpretation of ‘belly’ was, for me, particularly helpful.
In 2009, I went to a service at Église Reformée in the Rue Notre-Dame in Cannes (right behind La Croisette and the Hôtel Majestic).
The pastor, the Revd Paolo Morlacchetti, was on holiday at the time, and Pastor Tambon took the service. My review of it was mixed, particularly the sermon.
(Photo credit: huguenotsinfo. Note the wrought iron Huguenot cross on the doors!)
In June 2015, we were in town during one weekend, so I went back. The church’s name has since changed to l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.
Perhaps providentially, SpouseMouse and I got a very early wake-up call via the violent thunderstorm which ripped through the Côte d’Azur. Nice-Matin has readers’ photos of the dramatic lightning and flash flooding from that morning.
I am happy to say that my church experience could not have been better. Pastor Morlacchetti was there. As was an organist! Gone was the little machine with recorded hymn music!
There is no Peace with handshakes and hugs, thankfully. In Continental Protestant tradition, people talk to each other in church before the service, sometimes rather loudly. The clergy also appear briefly. A lady came over to speak to me, complimented me on my French, told me there was someone else there from England that morning and cordially asked why I hadn’t gone to the Anglican Church instead. I said that our hotel was but a two-minute walk away.
Most of the liturgy was sung to organ music. These prayers praised God in His glory. The melodic public confession in minor key was lengthy and meaningful.
Hymns were traditional and serious.
The readings were as follows. First, the Psalm:
Come, Bless the Lord
A Song of Ascents.
134 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
Then the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, rather apposite for me and the other Briton in the congregation (see verse 9):
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
The Gospel reading was Mark 4:26-34:
The Parable of the Seed Growing
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
Pastor Morlacchetti tied the Epistle and Gospel together in an excellent sermon on developing one’s personal faith.
He advised us to resist the world and focus on pleasing God instead. This world is not our natural home. He discussed the mustard tree growing abundantly, almost miraculously, from an incredibly small seed. That is how we should be growing in faith.
He said this would come about if we prayed regularly and studied the Bible daily! (A man after my own heart.) He explained that the more we focus on prayer and Scripture, the closer our relationship with the Lord becomes. We begin to put away the things of this life and focus on pleasing Him, as Paul says. We also give a true Christian example to others in demeanour and deed.
I wanted to applaud.
After the service, Morlacchetti — in full Geneva gown and starched bands — seemed genuinely happy to greet everyone, including visitors. He seems to be a godly man, truly serving the Lord in ministry.
Paolo Morlacchetti’s theological speciality is Italian Protestantism, particularly at the end of the 19th century.
The revolution in Italy of 1848 resulted in a decree by their king which permitted freedom of worship for Jews and Protestants. Protestants living in the Piedmont region were finally able to escape their mountain ghettos, where they had been forced to live in isolation for centuries.
Morlacchetti preaches on Pasteur du dimanche (Sunday Pastor), a site which features short videos from Protestant clergy on Scripture.
In July 2015, Morlacchetti briefly discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, emphasising that Jesus’s multiplication took place only once the disciples believed that He could feed everyone. Therefore, faith brings abundant blessings:
Unfortunately for the Cannes congregation, Morlacchetti has been called to continue his ministry in Nice. His last Sunday with them was July 5, 2015. I’m sure they will miss him greatly. I wish them all the best in a search for a new pastor. Their newsletter L’Arc en ciel (Rainbow) explained that it would take at least a year to find a suitable replacement. They have been able to arrange for clergy to take Sunday services in the near term.
L’Église Protestante Unie de France
In 2007, France’s Lutheran and Reformed Churches began unifying both denominations. In 2012, this process resulted in the creation of a United Protestant Church of France.
Whilst l’Église Protestante Unie allows the Reformed and the Lutheran churches to maintain their own churches and theology, they are unified as a Protestant body following the example of United Churches in other countries.
Although France’s Protestants are a small group, indeed — 400,000, or 2.3% of the population — immigrants from Africa are steadily increasing these numbers. An African family was at the church in Cannes the morning I attended, and two African youngsters were confirmed there on Pentecost Sunday this year.
France’s Protestants have 500 clergy, one-third of whom are women. They have 1,000 churches and two seminaries.