Friday 31 May 2013

The Puritans were Committed to Fasting

"Committed to what?" some may ask as they read this blog post. I must confess that as I write this bite-size article that my doubting thoughts are that many people will probably not be stirred by such a theme as fasting. However, is that a biblical reaction? The Puritans were committed to fasting during the English Civil War when many "fast days" were called and held by the Westminster Assembly. They must have sensed the urgency of the situation and the spiritual plight of the land at that time. It is not surprising to think of the impact of puritan teachings which are eagerly read over 300 years later which would have been bathed in fasting conjoined with prayer. Could we learn a lesson from these spiritual giants?

In Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day", solemn fastings are part of the ordinary worship of God. Additionally in Question 108 in The Larger Catechism, religious fasting is included as part of our duties required in the second commandment. However, what of scripture? Does the New Testament warrant the ongoing practice of fasting for Christians?

In Matthew chapter 6 on "The Sermon on the Mount", the Lord Jesus taught the following: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you, Matthew 6:16–18".

Note the phrase "when you fast" does not read "if you fast". It is anticipated that the people of God will pray, give and also fast, though there is no explicit reference to the frequency. Fasting is referenced in the Book of Acts also:

13:2 the elders in the church at Antioch sought the Lord with fasting
13:3 Paul and Barnabas were sent out with prayer and fasting
14:23 elders were chosen and installed with prayer and fasting

All Christians are invited to fast but there appears to be a special emphasis placed on God's elders to appropriate fasting to their prayer, especially in connection with making important decisions.

May we join in fasting and prayer for the good of Christ's church, for labourers to be thrust forward into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38-39), for the propagation of the gospel and for a spiritual awakening so that our Lord may restore the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126).

Thursday 23 May 2013

The Puritans Promoted the Pre-eminence of Jesus Christ

The Puritans excelled at and delighted in, exalting the Lord Jesus Christ. From holy Scripture they ably demonstrated that Christ has no rivals, no prophets who come near his excellency and wherever you turn in the writings of the puritans they were consumed by a holy zeal to promote the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why was this?

It was because their message was carefully drawn from the Bible. It was because their doctrine was in line with the Heavenly Father who declared at the baptism of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It was because they followed in the footsteps of the apostle Paul who wrote to the Colossians: "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent" (Col. 1:18).

Listen to some of these puritan pearls to better understand the heartbeat of the Bible, in order that we grow in our esteem and love for God's only begotten Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Samuel Rutherford: "Acquaint yourself with Christ's love, and you shall not miss to find new goldmines of treasures in Christ".

Samuel Rutherford again: "They lose nothing who gain Christ".

Thomas Brooks: "Though Christ's coat was once divided, He will never suffice His crown to be divided".

Richard Sibbes: "It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ".

In closing, listen to Peter the apostle writing to Christians in the First Century world: "... to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:7-9)".

May we delight in Christ being exalted and may we emulate this puritan pattern for life, ministry and the church.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

An Open Letter to Lord Krebs of The House of Lords: Dissent against the UK Government's Proposed Re-definition of Marriage

22 May 2013

Lord Krebs,
The House of Lords,

Dear Lord Krebs,
Subject: Dissent Against the Proposed Marriage Bill

I am writing to you in relation to the coalition’s attempt to very quickly, even hastily, rush through the current legislation concerning the redefinition of marriage. Along with many others, I have written to our politicians, the leaders of all the parties and the responses which I received from 10 Downing Street and Ed Milliband MP were simply this; “we are going to change the law concerning marriage regardless”. I was left perplexed as to the meaning of a democratic process. It appears that the political elite of this country have decided and who are we to challenge their views?

As a Sheffield citizen, I have chosen to write to you as a “cross-bench” peer to appeal for you to raise a voice of concern regarding this bill. The historic definition of marriage has been foundational to the society in which we live. Any democracy should protect vulnerable individuals, which includes those who differ on the general consensus, in this case that marriage is a union between a man and a woman as instituted by God. Though we live in a strongly secular society, marriage will always remain a cornerstone institution for the satisfaction of mankind, for procreation, and stability within communities.

The agenda for the redefinition of marriage appears to be under-girded by a much wider motive by groups such as Stonewall, as well as our politicians. The desire appears to be to bring about a wholesale change in the British mindset, including the active promotion of “same-sex” relationships in every sphere of society, especially among children; in schools this will often be against the desires of existing families. This legislation is not just another “white paper”. This legislation crosses a line into endless future disputes where our government’s are going to be at constant odds with the society that they are supposed to responsibly govern. Please vote against this bill.


Dr Kevin J. Bidwell

I urge people to write to one of the peers in the House of Lords to register your dissent on this matter. For more information contact the Christian Institute: If you are not sure who to write to, then why not write to Lord Krebs using the address above.

Saturday 18 May 2013

The Puritans on Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

Of all the chapters in the Westminster Confession, chapter 20 is probably one of the least written and spoken about. And yet, it is so crucial to the health of the church in every generation. What is the title of this chapter? It is "Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience". It contains four headings to guard the church, individual members, and elders, from spiritual abuses that can occur so easily.

Paul the apostle writes in Romans 10:4 "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge". We all know where the Jewish zeal led them to. They sought and worked towards the crucifixion of Christ, the imprisonment of Peter and John and the persecution against Paul's ministry to the gentiles. It is so easy for zeal without true biblical knowledge and balance to slide into wrong actions. All of us need to be aware of this danger.

The manipulative argument of trying to bind people to the commandments of men is to insist on obedience because failing to do so would be to disobey God. This often preys upon the weak, the undiscerning or the young Christian, who of course want to please the Lord. Fear, pressure and the threat of alienation are often used against those who disagree. Paul taught: "But test everything; hold fast what is good" 1 Thess. 5:21.

Why was this chapter important to the puritans? Remember that Europe had faced the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church who wanted to dictate to everyone, every detail of what they should do, believe, think or act. Even today the RCC try to legislate for every moral action as they claim to be the sole interpreters of the Christian Faith, which of course is not true. The Westminster Confession outlines four main points on this subject.

20:1 Christians under the gospel enjoy freedom from the guilt of sin ... and they are no longer under the yoke of the ceremonial law.

20:2 God alone is Lord of the conscience, such that blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience. This heading strikes at 'the doctrines and commandments of men' which can so quickly creep into church life, even subliminally.

20:3 They who practice sin or lust under the pretence of Christian liberty destroy the end of Christian liberty. This is another vital point for the many anti-nomians today. Freedom of conscience is not to be used as an excuse to commit sin.

20:4 There is a distinction between church and state and neither should destroy Christian liberty.

It is very helpful to revisit this chapter on Christian liberty and liberty of conscience to ensure that we walk in the joy and freedom that have been purchased for the church through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, Hebrews 10:19-22".

Monday 13 May 2013

Praying like the Puritans: Praying for Conversions!

It is surprising how little prayer there can be in the Western church for conversions. Has unbelief entered our minds due to difficult circumstances? Is it a theological reason that causes such little heartfelt prayer for conversions of people in our own day? I am not sure exactly as to the reason, but I am sure that the puritans can stimulate us to pray for the conversion of sinners. Let us look briefly at the "Westminster Directory of Public Worship", the Larger and Shorter Catechisms" which both expound on prayer using the Lord's prayer as a skeleton outline.

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship

There is a section called "Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon" which was to be conducted by the minister. It includes a confession of our great sinfulness, a bewailing our spiritual blindness, an acknowledgment that our Great high priest hears our request for the remission of sins and then, prayer for the propagation of the gospel. This is to include prayer for the conversion of the Jews, the bringing in of the fulness of the gentiles (Romans 11:25-27), the deliverance of distressed churches, and the blessing of God upon reformed churches. There are of course other aspects of prayer also covered but praying for conversions is included.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Prayer is a means of grace (question 88) and questions 98-107 focus entirely upon prayer. Listen to question and answer from Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

The second petition of the Lord's Prayer is: "Your kingdom come" Matthew 6:10 and this includes praying for advancement in the kingdom of God, so that ourselves and others are brought into it. Is this how you pray in your churches prayer meetings, and personally? We should!

The Westminster Larger Catechism

This fine document expounds the second petition of the Lord's Prayer in more detail. Here is question 191 "What do we pray for in the second petition?".

Answer: In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Let us pray fervently for the bringing in of the spiritual harvest and in accordance with Psalm 126:1-3.

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3  The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Monday 6 May 2013

Catechising was a Puritan Passion; is it ours today?

Catechising, you may say, what is that? The very word catechise and what it entails in its most basic form is a forgotten art in many parts of evangelicalism. In the history of the church, Christian ministers have sought to wisely pass on the content of the faith using set forms such as the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The puritan movement not only continued this pattern but excelled. Why? It was because the British puritans lamented the lack of Christian knowledge in their own day and they took Christian discipleship very seriously.

Catechising was fundamental to the wider reformed movement across Europe. Luther and Calvin had their catechisms, the production of reformed confessions laid down the content of the faith to be passed on to Christians and at the time of the Westminster Assembly in England there were dozens of catechisms in use across England. Every was catechising their children and congregations, it seemed. Could the same be said today?

One minister was a "prince of catechisers" among the puritans, it was Thomas Watson. His three books entitled: The Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments and The Lord's Prayer are an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. However, these books did not emerge out of desire for an author to simply write books. Watson writes: "I intend every other Sabbath, in the afternoon, to make it my whole work to lay down the grounds and fundamentals of religion in a catechistical way" (Body of Divinity, p 5). Watson also believed: "Catechising is the best expedient for the grounding and settling of people ... to preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation. The way of catechising is not novel, it is apostolic" (Body of Divinity, p 5).

We need to recover the lost art of catechising adults and children. We have the materials already in the Westminster Larger and Smaller Catechisms, we just need ministers to teach them and heads of households to use them in family worship. Let us allow the apostle Paul to have the last word. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).