Wednesday 30 December 2015

The Writings and Sermons of Rev John E. Marshall

Have you ever heard of John E. Marshall? For most Christians the answer will be a resounding "no!". Let me introduce this lesser known both gospel minister, one from the 20th Century and just into the 21st Century (he died on the 29th August 2003). A faithful pastor and preacher.

I was introduced to his writings some months ago by a fellow minister in the same denomination as I serve. He pointed me to a valuable essay called "The Puritan Woman" by Marshall and this essay is found in a book published by the Banner of Truth called "John E Marshall: Life and Writings". It includes a biographical sketch of the man who ministered in the same church for over 40 years (Alexandra Road Congregational Church, Hemel Hempstead, UK).

Over the Christmas break, I read the transcript of his last sermon that he preached at the Banner Ministers Conference in Leicester called "Slaying Giants: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 17:42-47). I then read another transcribed sermon in his writings called "The Prophet Balaam". What struck me was that these sermons were distilled wisdom from a man of God who had walked with God over decades. How we need the wisdom of seasoned men of God in the church in our own day!

If you are interested in listening to sermons by this man, there is a website and the address is:

1 Corinthians 4:15 "For though you have countless (ten thousand) guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel".

Though I never met John Marshall, my impression is that he was a spiritual father in the church and how we need such men. Let us pray for the Lord to raise up quality men who are valiant-for-the-truth in our own generation.

Monday 21 December 2015

A Living Tribute to Graham and Pauline Watson

So often men and women in the Christian church are left wondering 'what contribution do I really make to the advancement of the gospel?'. Oftentimes biographies are sold in their 1000's, giving testimony of men and women who were really pioneers in many fields, including those of almost genius status, men such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones or Charles Haddon Spurgeon. However, let me encourage you as I tell you of a couple who have been used mightily in my life, in order to encourage you in your service of Christ our Saviour.

I was baptised as an infant in March 1965, though my parents were only nominal Christians and very nominal attenders of the nearby Church of England congregation. Some friends of my parents, during my late teenage years were a couple called Graham and Pauline Watson; they were born again Christians. They began to challenge my parents on all kinds of fronts. My mum and dad would reply to them "I am just as good a Christian as you are" to which they boldly replied "No, you are not and you are not true Christians either", to which reply they were utterly shocked. This shook their self-righteousness to the roots and from that moment the Lord began to guide them to the path of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. They were converted when I was 21 years of age and Graham and Pauline were instrumental in their conversion also.

In January 1986, just after my 21st Birthday, I was really facing a significant challenge in my life while studying at University. My grandma used to get me as a boy to get on my knees before I went to bed to give thanks to the Lord, even though I struggled to know what to pray. This action by my grandma connected me with the Living God, though I did not realise it at the time. In this time of crisis in my life, at the age of 21, I fell on my knees privately and I called out in my room to the unknown God.

What happened next, you may ask? All I can say is that I got off my knees believing in Jesus Christ and wanting to read the Bible. At that stage in my life, I would have had no idea where I could have got a Bible. The friends of my mum and dad, Graham and Pauline Watson, were thinking to themselves, 'what do we buy this godless student for his 21st Birthday?". They sent me a Bible in the post and it came 2 days after I had prayed. I was assured then that God existed that He had heard my prayer; the arrival of the Bible was a momentous event in my life and key to my becoming a Christian. Little did they know then that later on by God's mercy, I would become an evangelical Presbyterian minister (in Sheffield and with EPCEW).

What is the lesson? I have given this testimony in many parts of the world and most recently in the USA. Each time I tell this story God is glorified, the church are edified and people rejoice. This is all because one couple sent me a Bible through the post. This blog is a living tribute to Graham and Pauline who now live in Conwy in North Wales. Who knows what small acts of service you may perform which actually may be used above and beyond anything you could dream or ask? I urge you to continue to be faithful to the Lord, my friend! In closing, look at the biblical example of Ananias who helped Paul the apostle for similar encouragement. He is mentioned here and we never hear of him again.

"So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened" Acts 9:17-19.

Monday 14 December 2015

Stanley Gower: A Westminster Divine's Approach to Christmas

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled", Titus 1:15.

It is interesting to me, how so many views are propounded as to how Christians should respond to Christmas. Sadly, in the West, this time of the year has descended to a secular feast of materialism, peppered with Santa Claus narratives and a good helping of Christmas specials on the TV. Turkey may abound, but do people understand the message of Christmas? "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" John 1:14.

While as Christians, we may well want to distance ourselves from the wordiness exhibited at this time of the year, we should consider how we can approach Christmas sensibly. Rev Stanley Gower was the founding minister of Hill Top Chapel, Sheffield and he became a Westminster divine. Following his time in Sheffield, he served as a minister in Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire and during this time he was accused by the liturgical and Arminian officials of the Church of England. Here are the a list of charges brought against him:

I. He reads the confession, but altogether neglects [to read] the absolution.
II.He seldom or never reads the Lord’s Prayer.
III. He never reads the Litany [these were liturgical petitions read by the leader with fixed responses
by the congregation].
IV. He seldom reads the [Ten] Commandments and neglects to read them at communion.
V. He does not permit people to stand at readings from the gospels or to bow at the name of Jesus.
VI. In his sermons he dissuades people from kneeling in prayer when they enter the church.
VII. He asserts that it is not the church building that is holy, but it is when the ordinance of God is
performed, that is of itself holy.
VIII. He seldom or never wears the surplice [a white linen cassock as worn by clergy or choristers]
nor baptises with the sign of the cross.
IX. The communion table has no rail and it is brought from the altar at the east end of the church
into the body of the church
X. He did not follow the liturgical calendar or read common prayers for set days, except Christmas
and New Years day.
XI. He does catechise the youth that are aged 14-15 upon previous sermons with questions and answers.

All of these charges reveal something of the theology of moderate Presbyterian and puritan convictions prior to the Westminster Assembly (1643-52). Did you notice charge X refers to the liturgical calendar and Christmas? Christmas and New Years Day were two times when Stanley Gower broke his normal pattern of expositional preaching on the Lord's Day to preach obviously topical sermons at Christmas.

Sometimes I have read articles which assert that all the puritans were against Christmas of any kind. This is not true though, it may be an emotive assertion to foster a kind of fear of so-called Paganism. Christmas has never been a pagan celebration by the church but it afforded the church the opportunity to place special emphasis upon the conception and birth of Jesus, as Easter affords the opportunity to place emphasis on the death and resurrection of God's Son.

I have to confess that though we will have a service on Christmas Day, I do not walk the room wishing people a happy Christmas, neither do I follow the Church of England liturgical or church calendar. Let us make use of the season for the glory of God and give room for conscience regarding the giving of presents, Christmas trees and other matters.

The Nicene Creed states:
I believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;