Saturday 22 December 2018

New Covenant Theology: Weighed and found wanting by Kevin McGrane

This book called "New Covenant Theology: Weighed and found wanting" is a welcome publication. I aim to write a review on this book and I have read it through once so far. This publication exposes an unwelcome theological error: a branch of anti-nomianism. New Covenant theology has gained huge traction in the last decade, especially in Baptist circles, and it has had a devastating impact. Why? Its teaching leads people away from a historic and confessional church position.

New Covenant theology is at its heart, a non-confessional position, regarding the use of the law for the church and Christians. Therefore, Confessions have to be sidelined when you hold this theology, because all Reformed Confessions uphold a biblical and balanced view of the law of God.

My favourite chapter in the book was Chapter 6: "Replacement Lawgiver, Replacement Law". My aim here is not to write a review of this book, but to simply commend this book, as one that you may want to order online and read over Christmas or early in the new year.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Predestination and Public Worship

Predestination, when it is rightly understood as framed by Holy Scripture, it has many lines of application. If we understand for example Acts 4:28 and connect this with Ephesians 1:4, then public worship will not be used as a tool to attract people to the church.

Acts 4:27-28 reads "for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place". Therefore what happened to Jesus was decided in advance by the heavenly Father (predestination defined). Similarly there are a fixed number of people whom the Lord will save, and they have been chosen in eternity.

Ephesians 1:4-5 "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will".

These truths are stable and unchanging. They can guard us from a numbers and results driven approach to the church. Numbers are not our primary focus, but faithfulness to biblical principles in public worship and also in expounding and hearing the truth of Holy Scripture. When results come we will be quick to divert attention to ourselves and instead give credit and praise to the glorious grace of God (Ephesians 1:6, 7, 12).

A fresh meditation on the truth and doctrine of predestination can grant us all fresh spiritual rest and renewed spiritual stability. We want the church to be outward moving and evangelistic, while always being rooted in the doctrine of predestination. This guards us from worldliness and worldly methods in order to gain success. True success and genuine kingdom growth, only comes from the head of the church who is the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18).

My desire is that predestination could be freshly discussed and considered as to how its truth can be relevant in application to the church at this time.

Monday 17 December 2018

Predestination and the Atonement stand together.

At the heart of the debate at the Synod of Dort, the truths of predestination and the atonement belong together. To fail to understand and accept the doctrine of predestination will always lead to a defective and unbiblical view of the atonement. This is why the following verses on predestination MUST be read, discussed, preached upon and taught to the church.

Acts 4:28
1 Corinthians 2:7
Romans 8:29
Romans 8:30
Ephesians 1:5
Ephesians 1:11

This is the definition of the doctrine of predestination from the Westminster Confession of Faith (3:6):

As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified,6 and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

The connection between predestination and the atonement is unmistakeable. The Trinity did not simply make salvation available but a definite number of people were definitely purchased and in due season brought to Christ.

Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The heartbeat of redemption is the cross of Jesus and his sufferings at Golgotha. Let us read, study and discuss the atonement and here are some books to help us do just that.

Hugh Martin, The Shadow of Calvary.

Hugh Martin, The Atonement.

Frederick Leahy, The Cross He Bore.

Alec Motyer, Commentary on Isaiah (Read 52:12-53:12).

The Westminster Confession, Chapter 8 *Of Christ the Mediator".

Thursday 13 December 2018

When was the last time you heard someone mention "predestination"?

The very word "predestination" can be a conversation stopper. It is a truth that is like "smelling salts" and it often provokes a sharp reaction, especially from those who are opposed to the very idea that Almighty God rules over all. In the light of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort next year, the word "predestination" is coming to the surface again and this is helpful and necessary.

One's view about predestination often reveals our individual understanding of the Scripture, of the character of God, of salvation and of our needed thankfulness for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, what is your understanding of predestination?

The Greek word is found six times in the New Testament and we will summarise now each occurrence and give a brief explanation.

1). 1 Corinthians 2:7 "But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed [predestined] before the ages for our glory". Here the word is translated as decreed, but elsewhere in the NT it is treated as the word predestined [proorizō). It means to "determine beforehand" and here in 1 Cor 2:7 it is reference to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus by the rulers of that age. The death of Jesus was no mere accident of history. Surely no serious evangelical Christian would disagree with that.

2). We find the same truth and idea in Acts 4:28 but let's also hear the verse before to understand the context: "... for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place".

Again, the purpose of God was planned before hand, indeed it was in eternity that the Son of God was decided by the Father, to be the lamb slain (Revelation 13:8).

3). Romans 8:29 "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers". This verse begins what William Perkins called the Golden Chain of salvation. Note the first link is whom he foreknew, he then predestined, therefore the very act of the Lord's predestination took place in eternity, before time and before the Creation.

4). Romans 8:30 "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified".

Predestination means to simply decide beforehand the future eternal destination of every individual person in eternity. Some are predestined to be saved, by grace, and some are left in their sins. Here comes the offence for some people then. If it is God who chooses people to be saved and not us, then people get angry about the free will of man, but at heart that idea, is to then rebel against the teaching of Holy Scripture, and therefore to rebel against God himself.

5). "In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" Ephesians 1:5.

Again, this reference is in relation to the church and who constitutes the true church. It is those who are predestined for eternal life.

6). "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" Ephesians 1:11.

So, this little, but powerful word called "predestined" is a central spoke in the wheel of biblical revelation. Let's start discussing predestination with one another again and to rejoice in this liberating truth.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Re-discovering the meaning of TULIP

Do you know what the acronym TULIP means? It is the English version of remembering the essence of the settlement at the Synod of Dort. This was where an Arminian approach to salvation, Scripture and life was rejected. Though TULIP does not perfectly fit the Canons of Dort, it has proved remarkable effective to uphold the truth of Scripture in the English speaking world.

There were five points proposed by the supporters of Arminius. TULIP stands for this to rebuff those points which are biblically false. Though Calvinism is more than TULIP, it is not less than TULIP.

T Total Depravity

U Unconditional Election

L Limited Atonement

I Irresistible Grace

P Perseverance of the Saints

I remember working through the Scripture and the force of logic offered by the teaching of TULIP and it revolutionised my thinking, my direction of travel as a Christian and my understanding of the Triune God. Do you understand TULIP? Have you worked through each of these five points? Do you have a biblical framework to understand these five points? What difference does it make to your life by grasping these points?

I intend to expound these points on this Blog as part of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort next year, but also to help people in their spiritual journey. If you want some helps, then Read Romans 9, John 6 and 10 as a starter. Perhaps Romans chapter 9 is one of the least preached chapters in the church. Here is a taster from this chapter of Holy Scripture:

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:15-18.

Monday 3 December 2018

Creation Ministries International

Last week, at Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we had a mission emphasis week. This included an ongoing Christianity Explored course, a day of outreach in the city centre with a team of 7, which included street preaching, but also two meetings at Hill Top Chapel (home of Sheffield Presbyterian Church) with Creation Ministries International.

The plain truth concerning God as Creator has been under attack for about 150 years, however evangelical Christians today, they often do not see the truth about Creation to be important. It is traded off as a half way point with evolution, in order to attempt to make a compromise between what is in reality two mutually exclusive world views: biblical Creation and evolution. The teaching of Holy Scripture is clear:

Genesis 1:31-2:3
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Exodus 20:8-11
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The LORD God created everything out of nothing, in the space of six literal days, which then implies a young earth.

Creation Ministries International have a very useful website ( and they did two presentations for us in Sheffield:

I. The age of the earth and its relevance to the gospel.

II. Dinosaurs and dragons.

Both were immensely useful, stimulating, encouraging and thought provoking presentations, of a simple view of biblical Creation. Do check out their website, especially if you are unclear on matters concerning Creation.

Monday 19 November 2018

"Endure hardship": the example of Paulus Schneider in WW II

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry" 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

At a recent ordination service, I preached on 2 Timothy 4:1-5. The headings were: what, why and how? The last heading was 'how should ministers perform their task?' and I preached this in reference to 4:5. In this blog post I have in mind the phrase "endure suffering" which could also be translated "endure hardship". In our very comfortable Western world, this idea of hardship is almost never mentioned during sermons or in the church generally. But we must mention this truth, so that Christians can understand that the way of discipleship is never easy.

Endure suffering [afflictions] kakopatheō — suffer hardship, persevere.

It is not excitement that the life of the Christian is all about. Excitement comes and excitement goes! Living under the Word of God is about walking by faith instead and that includes hardship. Excitement comes and goes, but we must perform our task as ministers by faith. Hebrews 11 teaches us that we endure as seeing him who is invisible. That is how Moses was able to stay on course. This is especially the case during the times of trial, persecution, criticism, obstacles, difficulties, setbacks, and for some even martyrdom.

The example of Pfarrer (German equivalent of minister or Rev) Paulus Schneider, the first martyr in Nazi Germany. He was a German opponent of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Paulus Schneider was installed as a minister in May 1934 at the age of 36. He had been in his pastorate for only a few weeks when he signed the Barmen Declaration, something against Nazi principles and state interference in the church. In his second pastorate, just after the birth of his sixth child, on May 31st 1937 two Gestapo agents burst into his study and arrested him. He was forbidden to preach in his church when he was released. What should he do? He returned to his church in Dickenschied and in the morning he preached on Psalm 145:15-21. The very act of preaching wrote Don Stephens led to the loss of all he held dear. (p 58, "War and Grace” by Don Stephens, published by EP). He was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp and despite continuing to preach in prison, he was killed by the Nazis in prison by lethal injection, at the age of 41 and his wife was only 35.

“Endure hardship”, both large and small and count it a joy. Any minister or Christian who is faithful to the LORD, you will face then, criticism, conflict, mis-understanding and there will be tears of various kinds. None the less the Word of God will bear fruit if you remain faithful to proclaim it or live it.

Samuel Rutherford once said: “You will not get to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross”.

Monday 12 November 2018

2019 is the 400th Anniversary of the Synod of Dort

How many have heard of the Synod of Dort? This synod took place in The Netherlands between the 13th November 1618 and 9th May 1619. This Synod convened in Dordrecht in the Low Countries, in order to settle the theological dispute with the disciples of Jacobus Arminius (known as Arminianism).

Next year is the 400th anniversary of this important Synod. May we learn more about its history, events and the theology of the settlement of this international Synod. If you would like some books to look at, here are some:

S. M. Houghton, Sketches of Church History.
John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

The fact that I am struggling to find books to recommend on this subject, teaches us about the impoverishment in our church history on this subject. 1619 will change that I think, with a range of new books coming out, I am sure then, on the subject of the Synod of Dort.

The production of the Canons of Dort was one of the legacies of this church Synod. The main points of doctrine are:

1. Divine Election and Reprobation

2. Christ's Death and Human Redemption Through it

3. Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way it Occurs

4. The Perseverance of the Saints

If you want to read more here is a weblink:

Monday 5 November 2018

"The power of the printed page".

Despite many spiritual challenges in the UK over recent decades, one really wonderful and yet quiet revolution has been, the growth of quality evangelical and Reformed books, since the 1950's. The arrival of the Banner of Truth in the 1950's and then the almost global explosion of quality Reformed and evangelical literature, has been amazing. While it is true that not all books are of a high quality doctrinally, the emergence of such quality Reformed books is remarkable.

The kingdom of God is bigger than the English language, but English has more materials available in it today, than any other language in the history of the church. Do we recognise and appreciate this? Are we thankful for this?

Christianity is more than about reading, but it is not less than that. There is a danger of people filling their heads with knowledge for the sake of it and then leaning upon that, rather than upon the Lord himself. However, there is real power in the printed page of Christian literature.

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments". 2 Timothy 4:13.

How can we respond as Christians to this Reformed literature revolution?

1). In the midst of discouragements, give thanks for all of this.
2). Seek to improve your own reading habits beyond the Bible. Find ways as families to switch from technological feeding via the internet primarily, to the written page with great Christian books.
3). Seek to encourage others to read good wholesome Christian books that you have benefited from.
4). Encourage your church to have a book of the quarter, recommended by the pastor to get Christians reading
5). If opportunities arise, how about starting a book table at events. I have been selling good Christian and Reformed books for years. I contact publishers and get good prices and pass them on to people buying. We want Christians to read, read, read!
6). If you have the financial resources, how about buying a stack of a book that you believe is powerful and give them away as gifts. Generosity is part of being a Christian and giving should be natural for us as Christians.
7). Pray for Christian publishing houses like EP, Banner, Reformation Heritage and others. Christian printing is a labour of love and these publishers need prayer.

Monday 29 October 2018

"Uniting as Christians" and "not dividing" over literal translations of the Bible in English

We all acknowledge that non-literal translations of the Bible exist, and therefore not all translations can be validly used in public worship. This would include "The Message" or the German People's (Volk's) Bible which should not be used public (and I would say also privately). These loose translations do not even attempt to be faithful to the original Greek or Hebrew text.

However, there are a number of literal Bible translations which seek to be faithful to the original manuscripts of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Sometimes people get heated over the use of their favourite Bible translations. Literal translations in English would include, in my opinion, the King James, the New King James, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Version and the New International Version (excluding the 2011 NIV edition, which deliberately seeks to feminise its translation work-- see my blog post on this, on this blog by using the search engine).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 "Of Holy Scripture", 1:8:

1:8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the common language of every nation unto which they come1 that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

Our Confession makes plain that the original manuscripts "being immediately inspired of God, and by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic". This is a wonderful statement. There are several streams of New Testament Greek manuscripts from North Africa, late Byzantine and others. We do not yield that one stream is better than any others, because that would be to go against our confession of faith and to undermine our confidence the Lord's providence.

Let us encourage Christians to read their Bibles with confidence and let us seek to build up the unity of the faith and not seek to undermine anyone's confidence in the precious Bible that we hold. After over 25 years I have seen much "heat" at times over English Bible translations. May the grace of Christ help us to walk humbly together in unity and love and to all seek together to know the Lord better, as we walk in the light of His Word.

Friday 26 October 2018

God's gospel of mercy and grace to ex-Nazi leaders in 1946

We must never lose sight of a sense of awe and wonder at the gospel of God's free grace. Paul the apostle, late in his life writes to Titus and the letter oozes with an emphasis on the lovingkindness towards him and others through the gospel. Do you have that sense of thankfulness and appreciation to the LORD for the forgiveness of sins? A wonder and awe towards the LORD for saving you personally is a mark of genuine Christianity. Listen to Paul in Titus 3:4-8.

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works".

In recent months, my wife and I have been reading a wonderful book written by Don Stephens called "War and Grace: Short Biographies from the World Wars" published by EP. It is the last chapter I would like to mention, one which I found tearful and thrilling. It is called Henry Gerecke, chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. It is about his work as a chaplain in Nuremberg, Allied Occupied Germany (then) from early November 1945 to the 16th November 1946. During this time he ministered the gospel for a year, to some of the top Nazi leaders who were by this time imprisoned. 11 were eventually condemned to death by hanging (Hermann Goering cowardly committed suicide but would otherwise have also hung among the other 10). However, the story of some of the Nazi leaders coming to a genuine faith is awesome.

Over that year of chaplaincy work by the Lutheran pastor, 8 former Nazis were carefully examined and admitted to the Lord's Supper by the chaplain. The chaplain was not interested in mere hollow professions and he was not a man impressed by 11th hour phoney reformations. The Nazi leaders who professed genuine faith were 8 in total and they were:

Fritz Sauckel: Once head of labour supply
Baldur von Shirach: once head of Hitler youth
Hans Fritzsche: part of Goebels' propaganda machine
Albert Speer: minister of armaments
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel
Admiral Raeder
Joachim von Ribbentrop, former Nazi foreign minister
Field Marshall Kesselring

If you want to learn more, you must buy the book. But one excerpt is from the profession of faith by von Ribbentrop. He responded slowly to the gospel through the chapel services and cell visits. Gerecke believed that he had put all his trust in Christ. At his death by hanging, his last words were: "I place all my confidence in the lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul". Then he turned to Gerecke the chaplain and said "I'll see you again" (page 269).

How about you? Who are you trusting in for salvation? We all need the Saviour. We leave the judgement of people's lives to the Lord, but we are assured from the Scriptures, that the only door into heaven is through dependence upon the mercy of Christ.

Acts 17:30-31 "... but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Thursday 11 October 2018

Reading our Bibles biblically and persistently

When was the last time you thought about how to read your Bible? Have you considered recently, is there a better or even more biblical way to read to understand the Bible? I trust that you do read the Bible and that you are committed to reading the Bible, with more attention than you give to texting your friends or writing a post on Facebook.

Let us look at this matter to help readers of this blog post pastorally. I want to give seven points to help you grow in your Bible reading and your understanding of the Bible.

1. Commit to reading the Bible everyday.

2. Do not focus on reading the New Testament only, but instead, to all 66 books of the Bible. The Covenant Lord has given about 75% of his revelation in the so called Old Testament period. Therefore, you need to read books like Lamentations, Ezekiel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Read them with joy, expectation and anticipation.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".

3. Aim to read the whole Bible. You can do this by reading the contents list of your Bible and then choosing what to read and then ticking the book off, once you have read it. Then proceed to read the whole Bible, but with no fixed time period in mind.

4. Pray before you read the Bible and ask the Lord to open up the Scriptures to you.

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Psalm 119:18.

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32.

5. Searching for Christ in the Old Testament. This is a fresh way of reading the Old Testament and it is the way the Old Testament writings should be primarily read.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself, Luke 24:27.

Be reminded that though we search for glimpses of Christ to come in the Old Testament, that we do not neglect to learn the other many lessons that that are there also, such as to live a holy life and to avoid adultery, stealing and idolatry and such like.

6. Ask yourself "in what way is the Lord speaking to me in this passage?". James teaches that the Scripture is like a "mirror" and therefore, the Bible points out our sins and errors. We need to read the Bible to have our sins exposed, so that we can repent and be renewed in faith daily. Many Christians have little idea of the danger of ever-present sin, instead of warring against it everyday, they tolerate their personal sins.

7. Seek to memorise Bible verses. Maybe write a verse on a piece of paper and carry it around to meditate and memorise it, over a number of Days.

In conclusion, listen to the author of Psalm 119:9

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

General Means of Producing and Promoting Revivals

This may seem like an unusual blog post title. But, as Calvinists, we should believe that we must be much on our "knees in prayer". As the preacher Augustus Montague Toplady wrote in one of his hymns: "Thou must save, and thou alone". If it is the Lord who saves and him alone, which indeed this is true, then how can we promote a revival?

We are going through a book, over a period of time in our midweek meetings in Sheffield; one by W. B Sprague called "Lectures on Revivals". It is a highly recommended book founded on biblical orthodoxy. This is no Charles Finney erroneous author promoting revivalism. Far from it! The fifth lecture in this book (page 115-152) is delightful and a very thought provoking one, with the title of this blog post.

Sprague highlights five directions to promote and sustain a revival. His chief text is: "With one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" Philippians 1:27. He carefully emphasises that "we are to depend chiefly on the means which God himself has appointed; and we are to expect the greatest and best effect from them".

Sprague teaches five areas that should characterise the administration of the means of grace:

1). Seriousness: That is gravity, soberness. Levity is revolting in a revival of religion. There should instead be deep solemnity. Irreverent attitudes neutralise the message of the gospel and its claims.

2). Order should characterise the church's work

"But all things should be done decently and in order", 1 Cor 14:40.

3). Simplicity

4). Honesty

5). Affection: That is biblical emotions of heartfelt joy and love for the Triune God. It may seem like seriousness and joyful affections seem strange companions but Scripture joins them together.

These blog posts are to whet people's appetite to read further. Let us pray earnestly for a work in our churches that is characterised by the administration of the means of grace in the five directions and manner above. Let us pray that the Lord would raise up labourers who desire such an attitude in the house of God.

Then he [Jesus of Nazareth] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

Monday 10 September 2018

The Life, Works and Letters of John Newton

In recent months I have been praying for fresh reading material. In a measure I believe part of that answered prayer has been a look at the works of John Newton (1725-1807). He is best known for his dramatic Christian testimony as a godless Captain of a slave ship to becoming a born again Christian. Later he became a church pastor par excellence.

During a season of ministry in Olney, Buckinghamshire, he teamed up with William Cowper and they wrote some magnificent hymns together. Cowper wrote many such as "There is a fountain filled with blood" and "God moves in mysterious ways" among many. John Newton is most famous, because he penned the worldwide known hymn "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound". In the hymn book New Christian Hymns, there are 18 hymns recorded by Newton; ones which are firmly anchored in Scripture.

A delight to my own soul has been discovering "The Works of John Newton" published in four volumes by Banner of Truth. Let me whet your appetite. In Volume 1, there is an outstanding letter (number XIII, p 148) called "On Hearing Sermons". It is outstanding and it drips with pastoral and theological wisdom. Letters X-XII are on sanctification which expounds Mark 4:28 "The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear". It is peerless in its quality, do read it!

What more shall we say of Newton the anti-slave trade advocate and much more? I exhort pastors especially to draw from the well of wisdom from this 18th Century lover of Christ and lover of souls.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Is the idea of a "worship concert", actually a biblical concept?

The concept and practice of worship conferences increases in popularity year on year. But do we need to pause, step back and ask afresh some significant questions about their validity? Does our desire for so called worship concerts, reflect something of a desire for spiritual entertainment, rather than a holy approach to the living God according to the Covenant Lord's pattern and precept of worship?

I have so much to write on this matter, that I hardly know where to begin. I spoke to a retired minister friend recently, about the concept of worship conferences. He replied: "Somehow Kevin the two words "worship" and "concert" do not seem to belong together. What would you think?" he said, "if you and I hired the London Palladium and announced that we were going to have some 'preaching shows'". The idea of preaching shows is ridiculous and yet the biblical high point of worship is that of preaching, normally conducted by an ordained minister. Therefore the concept and growth of worship concerts needs addressing.

What questions should we consider? Here are some:

What is the biblical doctrine of worship?
How are we to worship God?
Who is to lead public worship?
Is a concert with orchestras and highly gifted musicians singing songs with Christian content, the biblical way to approach the Living God?
Could music be used as a mis-leading mediator into an experience that is advertised as worship, but in fact it may be nothing of the sort?

These are important questions, of which I cannot answer them all. Worship is normally conducted in the church under the oversight of formal leadership called elders. There is no gift or office in the New Testament church called worship leader, other than that of an elder. But you say, my elder cannot play the guitar. There lies the problem. Worship is not a musical experience or even really about singing. It is about hearing preaching, responding in prayer and the right administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

What did Paul do on his missions travels?

Acts 13;14-16 "but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.".

Do we ever find New Testament churches practicing the use of worship concerts? Never! Neither for the entertainment of Christians or as an evangelistic tool. Do we ever find Paul, Barnabas or the LORD Jesus Christ, assembling a musical entourage? No!. Then why has this concept, one without biblical warrant, gained such enthusiasm, momentum and acceptance?

My blogs are intended to make people think and consider. Music has quite a powerful hold over people and this blog post may raise your emotions, but if it does, then we can be thankful. At least it has stirred in you a response. Let us search the Scriptures to stay upon our Lord's narrow path.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

What should a student look for when seeking out a Church?

This is a crucial question! It may be a question that you have never considered. You may be going off to university, just simply assuming that the church you desire will be waiting for you, when you arrive. However, this may not be the case. Perhaps you can ask yourself, what criteria are important in choosing the right church to worship in? Your answer should be based on more criteria, than simply personal subjective taste.

For example, as a student you may want a church that is the same as the one you knew back home, but what if the church back home did not display a biblical basis for a church? Sometimes it is sad to see professing Christians wanting a church with the largest band, no matter what the the content and quality of the preaching is like (Did New Testament churches have large bands to attract people? The answer is a firm no.). So let us look briefly at some biblical criteria for choosing a church.

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve".
(1 Corinthians 15:1–5).

1. The church should be Gospel focussed. This is sometimes a slogan about being "gospel focussed", but what does the term mean biblically? The gospel is to be preached and to be centred around the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Is Christ and this message spoken of during preaching?

2. Pastoral care. Does the church desire to pastor people? This can be a difficulty with large churches where you come and go without accountability. We need to be pastored as sheep of the Lord. You need to be planted where elders will watch out for your soul, especially during a time of ferment and temptation which can happen, while being at university.

3. Warm-hearted. A biblical church should be serious minded in its worship (not entertainment driven), but also warm-hearted. Welcoming should not be a method run by a well organised team, but part of the life of the church.

4. The Lord's Supper must be administered properly if a church is to be a true church. Feel free to take time to ask the elders some questions before you make your final decision.

5. Do not just follow the crowd and necessarily go where all the other students go. A church needs a robust statement of faith in order to defend the faith. I am a Reformed minister and we hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is our guide for preaching and for the church.

6. Hopefully, the church where you will worship will have a prayer meeting and that you will go to it regularly.

7. Above all, pray for the LORD to direct you, but do not look for mystical confirmations of guidance. If you pray for a doctrinally sound and godly church, we can be confident that our Lord will answer, even if it means you have to travel a little bit further on Sundays.

Monday 20 August 2018

Are you a student coming to Sheffield and looking for a church?

We would like to invite you to come and worship with us at Sheffield Presbyterian Church. Our website is:

Our aim is to be warm-hearted and serious minded. We have students every year from Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield University, both undergraduates and post-graduates. We have a car park and we are a few minutes from the Sheffield Arena tram station which is only around 9 minutes ride from the city centre.

This year we have a ministry intern who would be delighted to meet with you. Just go on to the church website and send us an email through the contact page. Why not listen to some of the sermons on the website also? This will give you a taster before you come.

Monday 13 August 2018

Hearing Sermons Properly!

We think much about sermons because if we go to a church that is committed to preaching (Is there any other kind of church?) then we will hear sermons often. So the question is, how do we listen to sermons? My wife and I sat in an excellent seminar recently on listening to sermons and this theme needs emphasising. I am preaching from Mark's Gospel currently in Sheffield Presbyterian Church and yesterday I preached from Mark chapter four on the parable of the sower.

What title do you think I gave that sermon? It was a single word from Mark 4:3 where Jesus gives an imperative "Listen". However, when we examine this passage note the stress is placed by our Lord Christ on hearing. Look at the list of verses.

Mark 4:3 "Listen" (second person plural imperative).
Mark 4:9 "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (this is a third person singular imperative).
Mark 4:12 "so that they ... may indeed hear but not understand".
Mark 4:15 "when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown".
Mark 4:16 "When they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy ... and they have no root".
Mark 4:18 "They are those who hear the word, but the cares of this world ...".
Mark 4:20 "But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold".

Seven examples of teaching on the importance of not just listening but "hearing" the word taught. Letting the Word of God address you as it is, God's word. Then we need to accept what it says. For some people reading this blog, you may be going to a church that is not committed to preaching. Therefore, you need to seek a church that is wholly committed to preaching sound doctrine. The high point of biblical worship is not singing, but sitting under the preaching of the Word of God.

May we listen carefully and diligently. Mark 4:24 "Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you".

Saturday 4 August 2018

Lincoln: Exploratory Church Planting Studies

Lincolnshire has around one million people across a very large and mainly rural county. The capital is Lincoln with around 100,000 people, with two universities. Lincoln itself is a beautiful city and well worth a visit. With the magnificent castle housing the Magna Carta and the splendid architecture of the cathedral.
Sadly, the gospel is not seemingly flourishing in this large county. It takes around 2 hours to drive from north to south in the county, from Grimsby/Cleethorpes in the North to Boston and Spalding in the south. It is very flat in many parts of the county, one with a huge coastline. And there is even an area in the south of the county called South Holland. However, there are parts of Lincolnshire which have some of the lowest church attendance rates in England. What a spiritual challenge!!

Sheffield Presbyterian Church ( have been enjoying people coming to worship with us regularly from the Lincolnshire area. As a result, we began in early 2018 exploratory church planting studies. These are on Friday nights each month from 7.00pm for 7.30pm at the following venue.

Bud Robinson Community Centre,
Maple Street, Lincoln, LN5 8QT.

The dates for the remaining of 2018 are:

Friday 7th September
Friday 12th October
Friday 9th November
14th December

Please forward this blog post to all who may be interested and pray for this church planting work. Please pray for the Lord to raise up labourers for Lincolnshire. A dry and spiritually needy county, one with historic towns, such as Boston, Louth, Market Rasen and many others.

Zechariah 4:6-10: "Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel".

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Why do we sing metrical Psalms in public worship?

Well here are several reasons as to why all churches should desire to sing metrical Psalms..

Ephesians 5:19-20 "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".

1. It is biblically commanded in Scripture
2. It is required by those who are committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith
3. It strengthens the church in their understanding of true Christian experience
4. Singing psalms provides a much needed gravitas for the church in public worship
5. The Psalms teach Christ, reveal Christ and honour Christ. Why? The Psalms speak of Christ and he sang the Psalms in his earthly ministry.

One of the best discoveries in my Christian pilgrimage has been the singing of metrical Psalms. They come with different metres for the Psalms and you can then choose a tune in that same metre. One that fits the right mood. It takes time and practice but you can search on your computer Psalm tunes for a particular Psalm.

Three Psalm books (Psalters) that I use are:

Sing Psalms (Published by the Free Church of Scotland)
The Psalms for Singing (published by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland)
The Book of Psalms for Worship (crown and Covenant Publications, USA)

I am reading an excellent book currently, called "Anthems of a Dying Lamb" (Psalms 113-118) by Philip S. Ross. It is very helpful on many levels and I commend it to be read. In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we sing two metrical Psalms in each service and by doing so adds gravitas and reverence to our approach to the Triune God in worship. This is what the Christian minister Martin Luther wrote of the Book of Psalms in the Bible:

"It could well be called a “little Bible” since it contains, set out in the briefest and most beautiful form, all that is to be found in the whole Bible".

"The sum of all is that if you wish to see the Christian church depicted in living colours, and given a living form, in a painting in miniature, then place the book of Psalms in front of you; you will have a beautiful, bright, polished mirror which will show you what Christianity is".

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Reformed Dogmatics by Geerhardus Vos: Volume 1 Theology Proper

These new series of books by Lexham Press are most welcome. Most pastors have loved Vos's book called "Biblical Theology" and have longed for more of his thought in print. This series is well presented and volume 1 is where I am beginning with personally.

I love the word "dogmatics" for the description of systematic theology. Our world at this moment in time, seems to repudiate the idea of dogmatism, but propositional truth from Holy Scripture is dogmatic in many places. It is also unyielding to the currents of culture and postmodernism.

“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25.

My attention has gone immediately to the chapter on "Creation" and Vos holds a straight six literal day view of Genesis Chapter 1. He rules out a mythical and an allegorical view and instead he proposes the historical view that Genesis 1 is simply historical narrative. It would follow then, that Vos would also reject the literary framework view that has recently been proposed by Meredith G. Kline. Every systematic theologian has to have a clear view on Genesis 1. Furthermore, they can be Reformed and hold to a literal six day approach, without being labelled a fundamentalist.

The recent book by Richard D. Phillips "The God of Creation" walks on the same pathway as Vos. I am reliably informed that the two Old Testament teachers at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia hold to a historical six day view.

May this new series on Dogmatics by Vos strengthen the church on many levels.

Monday 23 July 2018

Use the "Search" facility on this Blog

I began this blog around 2008 and there have been many posts since then. There are blog posts and book reviews on this blog which may answer spiritual questions for you.

If you type in your search request, in the top left corner of the front page, then see what comes up. For example, type in a favourite preacher or church group or a specific subject. They could range from:

The Westminster Standards
Are women permitted to preach and hold office as a minister?
The sufficiency of Scripture

Or almost any topic that you are interested in ...

I hope this search facility can help you,

Kevin J Bidwell

Monday 2 July 2018

Living with the "River Jordan" in Sight

Psalm 114:1-8
When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

This majestic Psalm is sandwiched by Psalms 111-113 and then followed by Psalms 115-118 which emphasises the theme of "Praise the Lord". The phrase "Praise the Lord" interestingly is a plural Hebrew imperative to praise, spoken by the covenant Lord Himself. It is, in other words, a call to worship. Every time you read that phrase, ask yourself, am I praising because it is habit or in obedience to the Person of the Covenant Lord himself?

We notice two main themes of redemption described here, both of great importance.
I. The Red Sea was supernaturally parted
II. The River Jordan was supernaturally parted.

These two historical events paint for us on the canvas of redemptive history the two events for the salvation of every person. First we must be delivered from sin, death and judgment through the new birth which is likened to the parting of the Red Sea; Second we pass through the River Jordan as we die in the Lord (assuming that we are born again and in the Lord). That means that our lives in this world are likened to the journey by faith between the Red Sea and the parting of Jordan.

My application is that we need to spend more time in the church through preaching, pastoring and encouraging one another to prepare for the day of our death. None of us know when that will be. Think of some of the great hymns.

The last verse of Henry Francis Lyte's (1793-1847) "Abide with Me":
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heaven’’s morning breaks, and earth’’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Or the hymn "Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah" by William William's:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’'s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’'s side;
songs of praises
I will ever give to Thee.

Notice how long ago these hymn writers lived, they had death as a greater reality than we do today. We must think and prepare for the final day of judgment. May this note be found in the preaching we hear, the exhortations we give, the songs we sing.

Romans 14:8-9 "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living".

Tuesday 26 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and the Church

The doctrine of the church is as important, as it is exciting. Exciting you may respond. "I have never thought of the doctrine of the church being exciting" many may react. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Scriptures, then you will know that the church is central to all of His contemporary purposes. Contemporary has become a new buzz word in the church. My question is: should a church be seeking to be contemporary or biblically faithful?

Ephesians 5:25-27 "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish".

Colossians 1:17-18 "And he [the Lord Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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".

Jesus Christ is the head of the church, which is his body; now that is significant. As we would expect the Westminster Confession has much to say on the doctrine of the church. Three foundational chapters are Chapter 25 "Of the Church" with 6 different sections. Also Chapter 26 "Of the Communion of the Saints" and also Chapter 30 "Of Church Censures". The chapter on Church Censures teaches the third mark of the church, which is church discipline. I suggest that we all read these three chapters, in order to refresh our minds upon the centrality of the doctrine of the church with the gospel.

It has become a buzz word to talk about "gospel ministry" without this phrase being explained. But in a New Testament sense can we talk about gospel ministry without talking about the doctrine of the church?

Three subjects need to be discussed today.

What is a biblical doctrine for public church worship? What is the church's theology for worship?

What is a biblical doctrine for church government?

What is a biblical doctrine for the doctrines that we hold on every theological subject?

In sum, doctrine, worship and church government are the "big 3" truths for the church.

A book to recommend is the Glorious Body of Christ by R. B Kuiper, through the front cover is poor, the content of the book is excellent. The chapter by Guy Prentiss Waters on Church Government in the book "The Westminster Standards for Today" is excellent also.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

The Westminster Standards do not Support Arminianism or Hyper-Calvinism

The church, in order to be biblical and orthodox, she needs to be committed to the two "O's". What are these two "O's"?
They are:
Outward-moving in vision

It is not enough to be orthodox in doctrine, but the church must be outward-moving in her vision. Not static! Never static! It is possible to hold orthodox doctrine, so you think, and yet be unorthodox, because you are static and failing to show interest in reaching out to the lost. My two suggested "O's" are not perfect, but they get us all thinking, I hope.

As a younger Christian I read two terrific books by Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth. They were about Spurgeon being against Arminianism and also Hyper-Calvinism. These twin dangers are always around when there is any kind of Reformed recovery. We need to be aware of both. For example you can say that you tick all the boxes about Reformed doctrine and yet hold to sub-conscious hyper-Calvinism where due to a certain view of the doctrine of election that you do virtually nothing to make Christ known. Similarly, you may hold to particular redemption and yet be an Arminian in practice, in thinking that the kingdom of God will expand by the use of man-made methods. The dangers are very subtle for all of us.

However, the character of the Lord is outward-moving. The Lord our Father sent his only-begotten in His love and then the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost to spread the gospel and build up the church around the world. The Westminster Standards (the Confession along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) provide a biblically balanced theology. We should read the chapter in the confession on the Eternal Decree, but then pray the Lord's Prayer with the explanation of the Westminster Larger Catechism. Here is Question 191 to explain the second petition.

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, (which is, Your 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 fullness 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,18 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.

We need to pray and work as the Lord spoke through Haggai in 2:4 "Work for I am with you declares the Lord of Hosts".

Monday 11 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 2)

How do we delight in the Lord for the whole day?

The Lord’s Day is the whole day and not the Lord’s half day or even less the Lord’s quarter day. This day is a gift from the Lord and we are expected to labour to turn our foot from doing our pleasure on this holy day. It is a day to set aside our worldly pursuits and recreations. This day is different to the other six days. Do you live on this day differently to the other six days? Being planted in a church that is committed to preaching in two services helps us to structure our day around the Lord and his ordinances. These include preaching, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. We need to take extra time whwre possible to nourish our soul spiritually. This may include reading some good Christian book, to take time to recharge by devoting this day to extra Bible reading or personal communion with the Lord in prayer.
Christian fellowship can be a means of strengthening our soul as well. However, we need to heed the Creator’s teaching that this is not a day to “talk idly” (Is 58:13). On this day especially, we should put away converation that does not upbuild, or that is frivilous jesting, or unwholesome arguments or in boasting foolishly. It is not that we cannot discuss normal matters, but mere chit-chat is to be avoided. The “rule of thumb” to uphold this holy day of the Lord as honourable could well be Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”.

How can families delight in this day?
The correct definition of the visible church is “a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world, do profess the true religion, and of their children” (Westminster Larger Catechism question 62). It has been the common practice of the church over 2000 years to have children with their parents sitting through worship services together. It would be wrong to starve children from the primary instrument of communication from heaven, which is preaching. The Lord’s Supper needs to be seen by children, it is a visible sign and portrayal of the gospel. The breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine is a wonderful gift for children as well as all, to understand better the significance of the sufferings of Jesus.
There are some practical matters that could be covered in this subject. Elders, preachers and parents, all need to think through how this day can be maximised. I have heard over the years that some father’s keep their family at home to catechise them, instead of going to the evening service. I am not sure I understand the logic of this decision. I have often maintianed that it would hard not to grow spiritually, if you sit under two well prepared sermons each Lord’s Day. I hope to discuss this whole matter more, in another article, as to how families can delight in this day

Do we call this particular day the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath?

The Westminster Larger Catechism is in my view one of the best Christian documents produced in the history of the church. I would love to see it read, taught and used far more. Earlier I cited question 59 in the Shorter Catechism, but the answer is amplified in question 116 in the Larger. The question asked is “What is required in the fourth commandment?”. Immediately we learn then that this day is seen to be the application of the fourth of the Ten Commandments to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Catechism’s answer then, emphasises that this day is “one whole day in seven” and it explains that it is “the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord’s day”. Thereofre we see that these terms are interchangeable to explain the same blessed gift from heaven. The church are to feast spiritually every seven days on the gospel of Christ, to meet together according to the Lord’s appointment in His calendar and to congregate publicly.

What better for us to close, than with Psalm 92, the Song of the Sabbath (in the Psalm title): “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (92:12-13). You cannot flourish by staying at home on the Lord’s Day, but by being planted in the church, worshipping with the Lord’s people.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 1)

Delighting in the Sabbath
What comes to your mind when the phrase “delighting in the sabbath” is read or heard by you? Depending on your upbringing, your background, and whether you are a Christian or otherwise, a whole variety of thoughts may well spring into your mind. For some, the very idea of a sabbath, maybe completley foreign, for others it may conjure up thoughts of a dry form of Christianity. How do you consider the practicing of the Christian Sabbath? Have you considered the Lord’s command and invitation to delight in the Sabbath?

Let me lay a biblical basis at the outset and then let us move to considering some practical thoughts as to how we can mazimise our delighting in the LORD through the whole sabbath day. Sadly, an American Presbyterian minister who is a personal friend of mine, lamented to me recently. He said that “this is the first generation in the history of the USA, that the whole church in the USA has not practiced the Lord’s Day”. The Christian Sabbath is also commonly known as the Lord’s Day and they mean the same thing. Imagine that! In one generation a whole nation has undergone a sea-change in religious practice.

Has our nation, the United Kingdom fared better? Sadly no. My father grew up in northern Sheffield in the 1940’s. It was a time when chapel buildings were everywhere. Many people professed a commitment to the local chapel, but few went regulalrly in reality. The Sunday School movement continued at that time, with some fervour, and children like my dad, were joyfully sent to this. For many the parents motive was most often to provide a brief respite for the parents. This is not entirely suprising though, when many husbands worked six days down a coalmine. However, in recalling those days, my dad would retell that Christian religion on Sunday was more a matter of what you could not do. You could not play as a child, or ride your bike, or enjoy the day. It was a day to be endured. But as to what this day was really to be about in a Biblical worldview, very few knew, let alone practicing this day as a spiritual delight.

Such memories by many are common. The light and zeal of the church was at a very low ebb, as nominal Christian allegiance remained. As far as delighting in the Sabbath, that idea would have meant little. However, this biblical truth must be recovered, that is, if Christianity is to uphold the vitals of true Christian religion.

Before we go much further, let us briefly look at Isaiah 58:13-14 and we note that this instruction comes “from the mouth of the Lord” and it begins with the tiny English word “If”. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These two Bible verses are full of truth. They are worthy of much meditation. The heartbeat of this message is that an attitude change is required which then will lead to a change in the way you live. It is the same principle in that right doctrine leads to right practice which leads to godly living. Are you preared to have an attitude change? One whereby, as a godly man or woman, you will “call the Sabbath a delight” and “the holy day of the LORD honourable”. Do you do this? Let us examine briefly, five simple questions to help us to understand this truth.

Which day is the Christian Sabbath?
The day, we now call Sunday, was formerly known in Bible times as the first day of the week. The early Christians moved their day of worship, one day forward from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) because this was the day that the Son of God, Jesus Christ,was risen from the dead. The Bible testifies to this: “And very early on the first day of the week” several women went to the tomb and they found the stone rolled away. The angel said to them “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:2, 6).
The early church set about to meet on the first day of the week, by divine command and to remember the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They gathered together to hear the Word of the gospel preached, to enjoy the Lord’s Supper, and to give to the Lord in collections (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2). John the apostle was banished to a remote Greek Island as a punishment for preaching the gospel, and he called this day in the book of Revelation, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10).
As the church grew and matured, their understanding of the Christian Sabbath also grew. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it simply in question 59: “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath”.

How do we delight in the Sabbath?
The starting point tp delight on the sabbth is to have a love for good and sound preaching. The high point of worship is preaching. Preaching does something to our soul that no other activity in the church can do. A love for preaching will drive you to find a church that will offer you the spiritual meals that you need to live a godly life. On a side note, never move to a new area without first checking out if there would be a church there for you to grow and thrive.
Remember that Jesus of Nazareth announced that “ the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). He loved the Sabbath, he looked forward to it and he practiced it rightly. Rightly meaning with an inward spiritual attitude and not simply a wooden or outward conformity. This contrasted with the Pharisees who were simply concerned with rules. Let us learn of Christ and follow his example.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Reverent-Simple Public Worship

The New Testament teaches a style of worship which is reverent, simple and full of thankfulness. The high point of New Testament worship is the preaching and reading of the Scriptures, in order to elucidate the gospel of Christ. Here are seven principles necessary, if we are to be biblical in a New Testament sense and therefore in a truly Reformed approach to public worship.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
This question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism is a helpful reminder for us in public worship.

1. Simplicity
"For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you" 2 Cor 1:12.

2 Cor 11:3 "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ".

It is amazing how the fallen-ness of mankind struggles with the beauty of simplicity, especially in worship. When will we learn that public worship is not according to our personal taste preferences, but according to the Lord's divine worship pattern revealed in Holy Scripture.

2. Reverence and awe
Hebrews 12:28-29 "And thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".

3. Without distractions and gimmicks
When we observe the instructions given by Paul to Timothy the emphasis is on preaching. Nothing can replace preaching to pass on the content of the faith. How often churches seek extras to compensate for preaching, but nothing can replace Holy Spirit empowered preaching "out of the Scriptures".

4. Centred on the holy character of the Lord and the one mediator Jesus Christ

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time", 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

5. Thankfulness in prayer
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship" Hebrews 12:28-29.

6. Anchored in Scripture read and explained through Preaching
"And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”, Acts 17:2-3.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
1 Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching".

7. Led by qualified ministers who are called and qualified men meeting the biblical qualifications of elders
Titus 1:5-9 "For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it".

Perhaps you may go through my small list and think that some things are missing. What about singing you may say? Good point! Singing has its place but the NT makes very little mention about singing in the NT church. Sometimes singing is disproportionately emphasised in sections of the church. Let us keep things in balance. May we desire public worship with preaching as its high point but an approach that resonates with simplicity, reverence and awe.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Family Worship

I first learned about family worship from the relatives of my Dutch wife. Observing families The Netherlands read the Bible, sing and pray together, after the evening meals, set me on a new course for life. It has been a joy for our family to read, hear and discuss the Bible after evening meals and this time has been one of the places our children have learned to pray. It is important that children learn to pray and not only listen to the parents pray. This is a safe environment for learning.

An ideal document for family worship is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In the new book called "The Westminster Standards for Today" , there is an excellent essay by Rev Chad Bailey called "The Westminster Standards and Family Worship: Maintaining True Religion in the Home". Chad humbly and clearly explains the blessing of such historic practices and the book is worth the price for this essay alone.

We must pray for the joyful recovery of family worship in our own generation. Family worship must never replace involvement in the church and fathers must not absent themselves from public worship services by excusing that they are stopping at home to catechise their children. Children belong to the Lord and the church has its place to instruct children, beyond the family structures, to support, encourage and disciple children under the oversight of elders and parents.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" Ephesians 6:1-4.

' “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates' Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Let us pray with faith for a global recovery of family worship for covenant parents and children, for the glory of God!

Monday 14 May 2018

Recovering the Lost Art and Practice of Catechising

What do think of when you hear the word "catechise"? Perhaps for some they think of nothing because they are located in a part of the church which does not use the word "catechise". For others, what do they think? For some this is something restricted to family worship, where parents pass on the Westminster Shorter Catechism to children, but is catechising primarily for children? The answer is no, it is not primarily for children, though they are not excluded.

The church needs to recover the passing on the Christian faith by teaching the faith. We have two magnificent catechisms, the Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms and "the dust needs to be
blown off them", as it were, metaphorically speaking. With the new edition of the Westminster Standards for Today published by EP, there is a new format which is fresh, accessible and easy to use. Let us all "jump into the river" of catechising, no matter what kind of church you are part of. This includes catechising for yourself. The question and answer format of the Westminster Larger Catechism means we can examine ourselves more clearly and objectively and enjoy the process as you learn more of the Christian gospel.

Lamentations 5:21-25 is a timely prayer: "Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us".

We want to return to the ancient paths. John Calvin when he published the Catechism of the Church of Geneva stated that in its dedication that this catechism was "nothing else than the use of things which from ancient times were observed by Christians and the true worshippers of God, and which were never laid aside until the Church was wholly corrupted".

The Rev Ronald Christey recounted: "There was a day in Scotland — the best days, some folk think — when a minister or a catechist gathered families together in a home and catechised them — probed their understanding and experience of Scriptural truth, encouraged them to express themselves. Such catechetical instruction was a source of spiritual strength. Where is that done now? Hardly anywhere".

Jeremiah 6:16 'Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’ ".

Monday 7 May 2018

Teaching the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms

One of my life goals is to disseminate the Westminster Standards as widely as possible. By this I am especially referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith along with the two Catechisms. Without doubt, one of the greatest needs today is for doctrinal teaching. This also includes the need for reformed churches to teach the people in the church the truths of the Westminster Confessions.

People can never be expected to simply imbibe truth, but we all need constant positive teaching. Indeed the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church requires this as he gave his commission at the end of Matthew's Gospel:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Make disciples ... and teaching go "hand in hand" and teaching means to actively and positively instruct. Preaching is part of worship and indeed it is intended to be the high point of worship. However, there is the need for the church's office bearers to pass on the content of the Christian faith to the church in detail as well. This is why there are many different words for preaching and teaching in the New Testament.

Some of the main verbs for passing on information by authorised office bearers are:

To preach (kērussō)- which means to declare or to herald the truth of God like the representative of a king. This word occurs more than 60 times in the New Testament.

To evangelise (euangelizō)- this word means to bring good news or to announce good news. It is commonly used in connection to the bringing forth of the gospel (Romans 1:1, 1:9, 1:16).

To witness (martureō)
- this verb means to bear witness to facts and it is from this Greek word that we also get the word martyr. However, this verb is concerned with testifying to the facts of the gospel, namely the facts of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming of Jesus Christ.

To teach (didaskō) - as already mentioned this is a different word from the verb to preach. To teach means to spell out in no uncertain manner, the truth of the gospel, so that people can understand. It is not simply heralding, but in explaining truths.

To preach and teach using a catechetical method (katēcheō): This is found in Luke 1:4 which records "you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" and the word taught is the word to catechise. This important Greek word means "to impart information" (Luke 1:4, Acts 18:25, 21:21, 21:24) and "to instruct" (Romans 2:18, 1 Cor 14:19, Gal 6:6). It is the work of the church in relation to this Greek word that I most want to highlight in this blog post.
Here are some questions for all of us to consider.

What are we doing in the church to impart the information of the church's apostolic doctrine, as summarised in the Westminster Standards?
How can we find avenues to impart this information in the church?
What opportunities can we create in the church's monthly calendar to impart the information of the Westminster Larger and shorter catechisms?

This is my prayer for the rich content of the Christian faith to be passed onto church members. Let us pray for this to happen in our own generation.

Monday 30 April 2018

Learning to Promote Good Christian Books

Since around 2001, I have been involved in promoting and selling good Christian books. When I have read excellent Christian and Reformed books, I often thought that these books were so good that they needed to be read by others.

There is power in the printed page. Of course this means the Bible as well, but when I refer to the printed page, this also includes excellent Christian books. The question for all of us then is, how can I promote good books? We need to grow as Christians beyond just thinking about ourselves and indulging ourselves only in good reading. How can we encourage others to grow in Christ through quality reading choices.

Sometimes in a conference good books may be offered at a good price and we need to think how perhaps we can give away books to other people, rather than only thinking about our own personal library or reading list.

Here are a few pointers, in order to grow in promoting good Christian books to others.

1. Pray about how you can grow in this area.
2. Recommend books to others verbally and do so with passion and enthusiasm.
3. If you are a pastor, have a quarterly book of month that your church sells. It is better to focus on one book than to have a table of books with a wide choice. We do not want a church book table to look like a jumble sale.
4. The best way for books to be bought and read is by a recommendation, especially publicly. Just ask Iain Murray or George Verwer, men who have moved more books than anyone I know.
5. Buy good books and give them away. Generosity is a Christian grace, one that we can all grow in.

"By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others" 2 Cor 9:13.

6. If you have access to Facebook or Twitter or another forum, including newsletters, use these to promote books. And dare I say do not use them to simply promote yourself!

I hope that in this small blogpost, that it can envision you to change the world through promoting, selling and giving away excellent Christian literature. Go to it and enjoy it!

Wednesday 11 April 2018

"The God of Creation": a great new book by Richard D. Phillips

The God of Creation: Truth and Gospel in Genesis 1 (192 pages), published by Evangelical Press

There are other books on Creation and dealing with the issues of Genesis 1, but this one is different. Rick Phillips takes us through the first chapter of Genesis with an absolute confidence that this is the plain, accurate Word of God, describing creation in six literal days of 24 hours. He looks at the alternatives offered and explains clearly and simply why they are inadequate. The science-based criticisms of the Word of God are considered and dealt with. The language used is accessible to most readers, and at each stage the Gospel is clearly explained.

Christians generally will find this book a great encouragement amidst the deluge of pro-evolution propaganda, school students will find themselves strengthened to take a biblical stand against the pressures of the education system. If your evangelistic outreach leads you to someone who wants a clear and rational explanation of why the Bible should believed over against the common understanding of evolution presented in the media, this is the book to give them.

Richard Davis Phillips has been the Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina (PCA) since July, 2007. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, and a master of business administration degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Prior to entering the ministry, he commanded tank units as an officer in the U.S. Army and later served as an assistant professor of leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He came to faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 30, and was soon was leading evangelistic Bible studies at the college where he was teaching. A few years later he received God’s call to enter the gospel ministry, and received a master of divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

Monday 9 April 2018

"The Earth Hangs on Nothing"

I hope that this blog post will be pastorally encouraging. Several thousand years ago Job wrote this in chapter 26:7 "He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing". Isaiah in 40:22-23 under the direction of the Holy Spirit declared the earth to be round though many people thought it was flat for a long time.

"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness".

I was reading a book by a man called Charlie Duke who walked on the moon on the Apollo 16 space mission. Afterwards he became a Christian and he has travelled all over the place to testify to the gospel and he lets people know that the earth looks beautiful against the blackness of space. Our God created all of this!

You can check out Charlie's testimony by visiting YouTube.

Charlie Duke is from Lancaster South Carolina and his book pointed me to Job 26:7. What a magnificent truth that the earth hangs on nothing and yet it fulfils its perfect circuit year after year being upheld by God's word and power. If the Lord upholds the earth by hanging it upon nothing, how much more our lives and the details of our lives.

My grandma always wanted to go to the moon and obviously she did not. Otherwise you would have heard of her. When she was 74 she heard Charlie Duke give his testimony and she gave her life to Jesus Christ. Who could have arranged that providence for my grandma, except the Lord who holds all things together?

Monday 2 April 2018

The Westminster Standards in Modern English

Mark 12:37 "And the common people heard him [Jesus of Nazareth] gladly" (NKJV).

Why is this project so exciting in my view? It is very important that sound theology is placed into the hands of church members. It is never enough for ministers and elders to have a delight in and an access to, sound doctrine and not the wider church also. This could potentially produce a new form of clericalism where the leaders have additional "inside knowledge" if truth did not get disseminated into the pew, as it were. Paul the apostle wrote to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:2 "But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God".

Did you notice the phrase "by the open statement of the truth"? It is vital that Christians can have access to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Two Catechisms in plain English and in a format that is easily readable; this is what this paperback without the essays provides. We want children as well as parents to have a copy of the Westminster Standards in Modern English in this paperback version. This new publication by Evangelical Press should serve the church well. It does not tamper with the original text produced by the Westminster Assembly except to change antiquated English phrases with understood words.

It includes no revisions at all,but where difficult words are found we have included square brackets occasionally with the modern English equivalent. Here is short quiz for lovers of words. Can you guess what these ancient words mean which are found in the Westminster Standards: Vouchsafes, supererogate; contemn,
oblation; keeping of stews. They mean: promises; go beyond duty; disdain; offering; and keeping of brothels. This updating of language should “iron-out some wrinkles” and enhance their usability.

Our denomination ( have a church in Berlin and they are now working hard to publish the Westminster Standards in modern German. Again, these documents are the property of the whole church and such a work of the Holy Spirit to widely distribute them, can only serve to strengthen the church in the years ahead. The previous blog post gives an indication of prices of this book, but let us continue in steadfast and expectant prayer for the establishment of sound doctrine in the English speaking world.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

The Westminster Standards for Today: Recovering the Church and Worship for Everyday Christian Living

After about four years worth of work, Evangelical Press are about to publish the work we have done on the Westminster Standards. They are offering a wonderful pre-order price for the two editions. There is a hard back version which will be in what we call a British Racing Green colour with gold letters and the paper back will have the same colour features.

Hardback: This contains seven essays, along with the Westminster Standards and the contents of that are given below. It will be called “The Westminster Standards for Today: Recovering the Church and Worship for Everyday Christian Living”. The price is £11.00 or $15.00 per copy. These are compared with retail prices of a much higher price which equate to around half price.

Paperback version: This will contain the Westminster Standards (without essays) and it will be called “The Westminster Standards in Modern English”. The pre-order price is £4.99 per single copy or £2.99 for one hundred or more; in dollars it is $6.99 or for orders of 100 or more $3.50. If you would like to pre-order then please email me. If you know me personally you will have my email address. Ideally for hardback, a minimum of three copies would be best and you could buy an order to set up for a church book table or perhaps a book of the quarter for the church.

What is unique about this book with the Westminster Standards? There are three things. First, it is the original texts of the Confession and Catechisms with the proof texts unaltered; Second, the editing is very light which simply seeks to replace any antiquated language into modern English, without changing the substance of the text (for example Holy Ghost is changed to Holy Spirit); and Third, the publisher have formatted the Standards into a really attractive format. One which draws you to want to read its content, in my opinion.

Our aim is to spread the readability and usage of the text of the Westminster Confession and the two Catechisms as widely as possible. Joel Beeke has written a Preface and we have commendations from:

*Chad Van Dixhoorn
*O. Palmer Robertson
*David Hall
*Joel Beeke

I spoke to a professor of the African Bible University in Uganda where O. Palmer Robertson is based and they have requested 120 copies of the paperback for their students and 40 copies of the hardback to give as a gift to the students graduating in May 2018 and for each of the staff members. We will raise support for these to shipped out to Uganda with some additional copies for a nearby orphanage and Christian school. Do pray that this book will be a real blessing to the church at large.

I aim to speak with Graham Hind (managing director of EP) next week to submit pre-orders for the UK and the USA. If you would like to email me a pre-order amount then do email me back, if possible by next Tuesday 3rd April or let me know that you need more time to think. They will be shipped to your church address.

Your prayer is valued for this work,

Kevin Bidwell
Sheffield, England


Preface to The Westminster Standards in Modern English

Essays About the Westminster Standards


Extraordinary Providences of an Enduring Standard (Richard D.Phillips)

The Westminster Standards in the Making : Stanley Gower, a Westminster Divine (Kevin J.Bidwell)


The Westminster Standards and Public Worship (David E.Gilbert)

The Westminster Standards and the Christian Sabbath (George Swinnock, with an introduction by Kevin J.Bidwell)

The Westminster Standards and the Sacraments (Andy J.Young)

Family Worship and Church Government

The Westminster Standards and Family Worship: Maintaining True Religion in the Home (Chad T.Bailey)

The Westminster Standards and Church Government (Guy Prentiss Waters)

The Westminster Confession of Faith in Modern English

The Westminster Larger Catechism in Modern English

The Westminster Shorter Catechism In Modern English

Thursday 22 March 2018

Stanley Gower—A Presbyterian Minister and Westminster Divine

The Westminster divine Stanley Gower (bap. 1600?-1660) wrote an attestation for John Owen, for his essay The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This fact alone should “whet our appetite” to know more of this presbyterian minister, one who was esteemed to be a “puritan divine of considerable eminence” by William H. Goold, the editor of The Works of John Owen. Gower’s life and ministry appears to have been one of growing stature and influence throughout what was a turbulent timeframe. This was seventeenth century England.

Early Days and Preparation (1600–1629)
His entering into University life as a scholar at Trinity College, Dublin in 1621 led him to graduating with a BA in 1625. His simultaneous association with the famed James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh was hardly insignificant. Ussher showed a keen interest in Gower’s progress and he oversaw his ordination in 1627 and installed him as his chaplain. Ussher’s anti-Arminian principles are well documented and upon his appointment as archbishop in 1626 he surrounded himself with advisors of a similar persuasion.
Ussher’s theological mentoring and role as a future sponsor clearly set Gower upon a puritan trajectory from which he never deviated. The seeds for Anglican ministry with presbyterian tendencies, Calvinistic convictions and simplicity in public worship were undoubtedly confirmed in Gower’s mind by Ussher. Prior to Gower’s encounter with Ussher, he had already written the Irish Articles of Religion (1615) when he was professor of divinity at Trinity College, Dublin. “It is widely recognised” according to Robert Letham that Ussher “had a strong influence on the Westminster assembly through the Irish Articles”.

Hill Top Chapel, Sheffield (1630-34/5)
The Hill Top Chapel still stands today in Attercliffe, Sheffield, with the inscription over one of the doors dating the completion at 1629. Joseph Hunter’s History of Hallamshire records that “in the yeare of our Lord God 1629 certaine of the chiefe of the inhabitants being by God’s providence mett togeather, they had a conference about building a chappell”. The opening sermon was the 10th October 1630, and “being the Sabbath-day, divine service was read and two godly sermons preached by the Revd Mr Thomas Toller, vicar of Sheffield” from Jeremiah 7:8-9. This was followed by a collection for the poor.
Stanley Gower was “elected an assistant minister in the church at Sheffield; and in 1630 he was nominated to the curacy of the newly-erected chapel at Attercliffe”. He served there from 1630–35 and therefore he was the founding minister of this new work. There would undoubtedly have been strong puritan sympathies in Sheffield for them to consider calling a disciple of Ussher and most likely he would have provided a prized reference for any new ordinand. However, in the providence of God we should summarise that this was a season of preparation for Gower; he was a Westminster theological divine “in the making”.

Brampton-Bryan and Herefordshire (1635-43)
Stanley and his wife Sarah must have found the Herefordshire countryside refreshing from the moment they arrived. It is apparent from historical records and letters that Gower demonstrated clear principles for public worship, Christian ministry and presbyterian church government at this time. The building blocks for these elements were firmly fixed before he became a member of the Westminster assembly; Robert and Brilliana Harley (his patrons) were just as arduous as Gower in working for church reform. Gower was a non-conformist who repudiated all of Archbishop Laud’s moves regarding episcopacy, worship and preaching.
The non-conformity of Gower was not hidden from the state authorities and in 1637 (maybe 1638) a range of charges were made against him. Eales comments of this document in the state papers which charged him with wide-ranging practices and that Gower’s actions were “long standing non-conformist practices”. Gower had been shaped, moulded, and strengthened under the patronage of the Harley’s and the exercise of his reformed ministry had flourished. He was chosen with John Green of Herefordshire as one of two representatives to the assembly of divines in London, and he moved there in autumn of 1643.

The Westminster Assembly (1643-48)
While Gower is not famous to us today, there is every indication that he was a very well respected and prominent minister at the time. During his time in London “he was appointed as preacher in the staunchly presbyterian parish of St Martin Ludgate and was invited to preach before the houses of parliament on several occasions”. The work of an Assembly member was to be extremely busy for Gower, as it was for many, combining parish ministry with long week days of theological debate and discussion. Chad Van Dixhoorn states: “Of the three main tasks of parliament’s assembly, the first two were revolutionary in nature: ‘setling ... the government and liturgy’ of the church ‘as shall be most agreeable to the Word of God’ ”. Van Dixhoorn clarifies that the “third task of the synod was stated with sharp difference in tone. The assembly was to ‘vindicate’ and ‘clear’ the church’s doctrine”. Gower’s work was set, along with 119 other divines.
Gower was specifically involved in the examination of ministerial candidates and he was an assembly member throughout the time that oversaw production of all the Westminster documents. He was actively involved in the Catechism committee: There were eleven sub-committees appointed to work on the Ten Commandments and Mr Profitt and Mr Gower laid out the general rules for expounding the 3rd Commandment.

Holy Trinity, Dorchester, Dorset (1649-60)

Gower had been called to a place, one which Underdown described as the “the most ‘puritan’ place in England”. In this season of ministry Gower enjoyed a measure of stability, as much as those times probably allowed, and he could lead the people of God to worship in an acceptable manner before God. In Dorchester, the “familiar liturgy had gone. Instead of Common Prayer, Gower ... used the presbyterian service book, the Directory”.
Additionally, the eleven years of stable ministry afforded Gower the opportunity to publish and three works are certainly worthy of mention. These are his preface to the posthumous publication of James Ussher’s Eighteen Sermons Preached in Oxford, 1640: Of Conversion unto God, Of Redemption and Justification by Christ (published in 1659): His preface to Davids Psalms in Metre: Agreeable to the Hebrew by Rev. John White (published in 1655): and last but no means least, his preface to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (published in 1650).