Not bad congregations yesterday for August. We were over thirty in the morning and over 15 in the evening. I did the third and last of three messages from Acts 12. I didn't think my opening was particularly stunning but our stand in recording operative forgot to record it, which rarely happens. He remembered in the evening when I preached from 2 Chronicles 20 on Jehoram, another one off. Most people were quite relaxed and not rushing off today, which was nice. Some missing, as ever. By preaching from these two passages I inadvertently set up a painful death by bowel disease theme (Jehoram and Herod Agrippa I died in similar ways as did the persecuting Roman Emperor Galerius, who I also mentioned).
Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.
We were very few last night but it was good to meet and to look at the opening verses of Deuteronomy 31. This includes the verse about God not leaving or forsaking his people. I drew on other similar verses to flesh out the idea. It was meant to encourage and I hope it did. We didn't pray for long being not many but we sought the face of the Lord.
I am often not here in Childs Hill for the third Sunday in August so it was a change to be preaching yesterday. As expected, many were way, including all the other officers (for evening communion I served the seven or eight present myself - we read the parable of the talents). We ended up around 30 in the morning and about 12 in the evening, I think. I turned again to Acts 12 in the morning, looking this time at the opening verses and looking at persecution, providence and prayer. In the evening we turned to John 14:2, always a great verse to consider.
As a footnote I add that there was a pigeon present in the morning. We knew one had got in the day before but couldn't get it out (someone had already got one of them out). It roosted in the eve above me for most of the service but then moved early in the sermon. Then suddenly toward the end of the sermon it decided to leave through the door. I asked the steward to quickly close it before it decided to return.
I like to do a bit of walking in the holidays and I persuaded two of my sons yesterday to accompany me up Cadair Idris, which I had not climbed before. We got up and down in the recommended five hours but I did find it a real struggle I confess. Unlike Snowdon, Cadair is uphill practically all the way and there are no cafes en route or at the summit. We took the Pony Path (Llwybr Pilin Pwn), which beginning in the north near Dolgellau. It is the easiest but the longest of the main trails. Its length from the mountain's base is 3.1 miles (5 k) with a 2,000 feet (600 m) climb. You start in a wood with a stream nearby but it is soon more exposed. It was a perfect day for it. The cool breeze was much appreciated as we ascended. The views on such a clear day were stunning. Plenty of people were coming up and down but it was hardly crowded. I notice that Matthew Parris went up recently. See here.
I was sitting in the pew (and it really was a pew) yesterday again, listening to my father-in-law Geoff Thomas. He preached on Mark 1:1 and Matthew 11:28 and had lots of good things to say that were very helpful. I was rather tired and would have appreciated more illustrations but one can't complain. Nice to chat with people, especially over a cuppa after the evening meeting. We also enjoyed the children's story in the morning with its sound effect. My son and his family were in the front pew. Their two year old and my mother-in-law (she has Alzheimer's) were both singing the hymns after their own fashion,as was I. Make a joyful noise, eh?
This year sees the anniversary of the birth of J C Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool. Iain Murray has researched and written a masterful account of Ryle's life that not only sets out the trajectory of his days but examines it with an historical and theological awareness that means this is not only a tribute to Ryle and a reminder of the providence of God but also a helpful analysis of what made Ryle great that at the same time frankly points to the limitations imposed by his Anglicanism and, without being dismissive, the far more difficult position those who are Anglicans today inevitably find themselves in. At the same time, rather than being dismissive of such views, Murray challenges us to think it through for ourselves.
One odd thing about the book is that although I read it from cover to cover at the end I was not entirely sure whether Ryle was a fully fledged Calvinist or not. Looking at it again it is pretty clear that Ryle was committed to the 39 articles which are Calvinistic and in agreement with Thomas Scott a five point Calvinist. I suppose I wanted a quote like the one American Charles J Ray unearthed in the commentary on John (1:29)
"Christ is an ALMIGHTY Saviour, and a Saviour for all mankind. He "takes away the sin of the world." He did not die for the Jews only, but for the Gentile as well as the Jew. He did not suffer for a few people only, but for all mankind. The payment that He made on the cross was more than enough to make satisfaction for the debts of all. The blood that He shed was precious enough to wash away the sins of all. His atonement on the cross was sufficient for all mankind,though efficient only to those who believe. The sin that He took up and bore on the cross was the sin of the whole world." (Italics added).
The conference continued yesterday with an excellent overview of Revelation 20 by Reformed giant Joel Beeke and then in the evening a look at Isaiah with the distinctive (and slightly taller) Mike Reeves. I heard them both in the afternoon, along with Bill Bygroves, very usefully looking at the subject of evangelism.
In a final letter to his wife before his execution Sir Walter Raleigh apparently wrote these sound words quoted in Aberystwyth this evening by Bill Bygroves
From thence to Heaven's bribeless hall,
Where no corrupted voices brawl,-
No conscience molten into gold;
No forged accuser bought or sold;
No cause deferr'd, no vain-spent journey,
For there Christ is the king s attorney;
Who pleads for all without degrees,—
And he hath angels - but no fees.
And when the grand twelve-million jury
Of our sins, with direful fury,
'Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads his death; and then we live.
Be Thou my speaker, taintless pleader,
Unblotted lawyer, true proceeder!
Thou givest salvation even for alms,
Not with a bribed lawyer's palms.
Then this is mine eternal plea,
To him that made heaven, earth, and sea;
Seeing my flesh must die so soon,
And want a head to dine next noon,
Just at the stroke of death, my arms being spread,
Set on my soul an everlasting head,
So shall I ready, like a palmer fit,
Tread those blessed paths shown in thy Holy Writ.