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.