The power of the gospel
Preacher, never forget the power of the gospel to change lives. I was reminded of this by a story from the life of Archibald Brown, our first pastor at the Tab. He was a remarkable man who presided over an incredible growth – a church which was about 150 members when he went and within five years they were in a new building with 2,500-3,000 at every service. (You can read more of his story in the new Banner of Truth biography by Iain Murray). Anyhow, this is the story.
A local man was indignant that his wife had been converted. He didn't really understand what it meant, but he was almost certain it was not good and he determined to make an end of Pastor Brown. So one Sunday, he loaded his revolver and found a seat at the front of the side gallery (see picture). He waited until the sermon for his moment to shoot Brown dead. But just before he preached, Archibald Brown read from Isaiah 52-53, his text for the day. As he often did, he commented briefly on the text as he read it. He wasn't shot, and in fact he was visited in the vestry after the service by a repentant man who handed him his loaded gun. "I was going to kill you" he said. But now the gospel had taken hold of him.
It's a dramatic story! I'm not sure we will have anything quite the same (but who knows!). The point is this. Do you really believe the gospel you preach has the power to make that kind of change? Or, was your first reading of the story one of skepticism? Preacher, if you do not believe in the power of the gospel to transform lives, what are you doing?
Sermon or lecture?
This morning I've got part three of four sessions with the Cornhill students on the book of Numbers. I'm going to start the day by preaching to them a sermon based on Numbers 5-6. It's a relatively old sermon, some of which I would change were I to preach it in church tomorrow. But I have deliberately left it as it is so the students can think about what is good about it and what needs to be improved. These are useful exercises, though painful for the preacher! We also try to make it real – I get the students to reflect on it first, rather than launch in! This is, after all, the word of God preached, even if it is in a slightly false environment.
Large passages such as this are not easy to preach. Here's a possible outline.
- Purity in the camp (5.1-4)
- Purity in relationships (5.5-10)
- Purity in marriage (5.11-31)
- Purity in service (6.1-21)
All rather worthy and dull and in great danger of being a lecture – where the text is simply explained. Of course, preaching is not less than "giving the meaning" (Nehemiah 8.8), but it is much more. We are called to proclaim Christ, warmly applying the truths of Scripture to our hearer's minds, hearts and lives. So, whilst this outline could work (with a very pliant and forgiving congregation), my outline is slightly different:
My aim is to proclaim the holy Lord:
- The Lord is holy (I will pick up this theme which permeates both chapters)
- The Lord is present (again, this is strongly represented throughout the stories)
- The Lord is concerned (ditto)
This then allows me to preach Christ who is not only the holy Lord but the one who makes us holy (Heb 2.11). The blessing (Numbers 6.22-27) is the blessing of the holy Lord for his holy people. That sort of outline is harder in some ways to carry off, but is much more likely to be a sermon rather than a lecture.
Advent. Both comings.
It's difficult to read the OT advent prophecies without coming to the conclusion that both the first and second advent belong together in Bible thought. This is sometimes seamless, sometimes not so. But take, for example, Malachi 4:
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Both the first and second advent are here. And as we preach through advent perhaps we would do well to keep that in view?
Interestingly, one of the best known advent carols speaks exclusively about this second coming. In fact, in my hymn book, it's in the second coming section. I wonder how many people will sing it this Christmas and think (incorrectly) it's about Jesus' first advent? Many, I guess. John Cennick's words (adapted and added to by Wesley – how dare he!) are worth dwelling on:
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!
Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!
Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!
The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
Archibald Brown, my new hero?
Banner of Truth have got a new biography out. Written by Iain Murray (one of our best biographers), it's the story of Archibald Brown, our church's first pastor. He led the church through amazing times of growth and blessing and I imagine the story is captivating. I know this because Iain is coming to take a lecture at the Tab this Saturday to tell us more about Brown's work in the city. I'm excited – come along if you're free. There is a memorial stone to him in the graveyard at the bottom of our short street. I regularly take visitors there. It mentions several of his wives (not at once! They often died in childbirth). For Sarah, there are these beautiful words, I paraphrase:
They were only married for 1 year, but for the shortest of times she made him the brightest of homes.
I'll review the book once I get hold of a copy and have read it.
Dick Lucas on 2 Peter
Here's the video for Dick Lucas' sessions on 2 Peter at our recent conference. Session 3 is particularly useful. You can access audio only here.
Serving Undiluted Wine
I am working slowly through 2 Corinthians in my Quiet Times in the mornings, and was this morning reading chapter 2, verses 14-17. The scholars struggle with the transition from the end of verse 16 to verse 17, and I can see why. At the end of verse 16, in response to the awesome responsibility of being a minister of the gospel, Paul exclaims, "who is equal to such a task?" ("Who is sufficient for these things?"). Who indeed, if our words are an aroma among those who are being saved, to move them on from life to life, and an aroma among the perishing, to hasten them on their way to perdition? What an extraordinary burden and responsibility! What eternal consequences hang on our preaching!
New staff appointment at PT Cornhill
I am very pleased to announce that Dr Jonathan Griffiths will be joining the PT Cornhill teaching staff in September 2012, in time for the next Cornhill year. After studying theology in Oxford, Jonathan did a Ph.D. in Cambridge in New Testament. Jonathan is Canadian and is married to Gemma. They have two children, Teddy and Arabella. Jonathan and Gemma belonged at Spicer Street chapel in St.Albans. For the past three years Jonathan has been assistant minister at Christ Church, Westbourne. We look forward to welcoming them to a period of service with the Proclamation Trust.
How to convey information without showing off
I preached 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1 this last Sunday. There's a curious sentence: "What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?" Who is this Belial? Some study work required. First of all, in Greek it is Beliar, not Belial. And a good commentary is going to help you.
The term Βελι?ρ (for this form, see Textual Note b.) is found only here in the NT. Paul’s usual word for the devil is (?) Σαταν?ς (10 uses; e.g., 2:11; 11:14; 12:7), but 4:4 (? θε?ς το? α??νος το?του) shows that his usage is not rigid. Βελι?ρ or the variant spelling Βελι?λ represents the Hebrew term belîya‘al, which means “worthlessness” or “destruction.” It is probably never a proper name for Satan in the OT, although it personified the forces of evil and chaos, so that the expression benê belîya‘al (“sons of worthlessness” = “wicked men”) is used of the homosexuals at Gibeah (Judg. 19:22; 20:13) and the wicked men who seduced people to worship other gods (Deut. 13:14; EVV, 13:13). In the Qumran texts belîya‘al is the angel of enmity whose domain is darkness and who counsels evil and superintends angels of destruction, “the lot of Belial,” who fight against the sons of light, “the lot of God.” “In the Pseudepigrapha (esp. in the Martyrdom of Isa. and XII P. [Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs]), Beliar is primarily the tempter who lures man into sin by his spirits and rules over sinful man.” Although Beliar is sometimes identified with the Antichrist in the Pseudepigrapha,44 there is no reason to assume that the antithesis in 6:15 is between Christ and Antichrist. Rather, as the embodiment of righteousness Christ is set over against Beliar as the embodiment of iniquity; Christ, the ruler in the kingdom of light, is contrasted with Satan, the ruler of the domain of darkness (cf. the two preceding antitheses, and Col. 1:12–13). As in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (e.g., Testament of Levi18:12), Βελι?ρ is here the name of the devil, the enemy of God. (Harris, M. J. (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians : A commentary on the Greek text (502–503). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press.)
Belial, by the way, is simply an old-fashioned Jewish name for Satan.
Some useful links for Bible translation help
According to the Times last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the 400th anniversary of the KJV, warned "against making Bible texts more accessible." He is quoted:
What is a good translation? Not one that just allows me to say, when I pick it up, 'Now I understand'….[but] rather one letting me say 'Now I understand' one that prompts the response, 'Now the work begins.'
As is often the case, I've absolutely no idea what he's talking about! My generous side says the quote is taken out of context and if I'd heard it all I would have understood…..
But I am concerned that a translation is understood….and accurate. It's that balance that makes choosing a translation less than straightforward. For those thinking about changing from the NIV and wondering what to do, here are some useful, independent links. I've posted some of them before, but one or two people have asked for them again.
- There is a very helpful article in the new edition of Themelios reviewing the new NIV
- There is also a good article in this month's Briefing
- The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (!) does very detailed analyses of Bible translations which are careful and conservative. Read their evaluation of the ESV here, the HCSB here and the updated NIV here, with a summary of six translations here.
Carl Trueman on preaching and the Trinity
Carl gave us three sessions on the Trinity last week at our autumn ministers conference. Session 1 was some historical background – 500 years of history in 45 minutes, a useful recap. You can watch it here. Session 3 were Carl's practical applications of the doctrine of the Trinity and preaching. You can watch it here. But best of all was the link between the Trinity and preaching, session 2 (below). It's an exceptional defence of the priority of preaching without becoming either too mystical or, on the other hand, too cavalier about preaching.