We began our meetings yesterday by reading and singing Psalm 117 with its reference to all the nations - quite appropriate for us with at least 10 nations represented in a pretty small congregation. There were loads of people away but my wife and five sons filled most of the middle row and there were visitors too so we were not too bad for numbers. I carried on with 1 Corinthians 7 and the subject of marriage and divorce in the morning and the short series on heavenly crowns (the crown of righteousness) in the evening. Among the interesting people present were our recently converted South African friend who I may have mentioned before. He has been in Europe visiting his son and biking around Iberia for the last few months. It has been good to get to know him a little and be reminded of God's power to convert unlikely people. Also a visiting young German boy with excellent English who has discovered the gospel chiefly through the Internet (MacArthur, Piper, Washer). We live in exciting days.
The similar phrase 'Worldly Christianity' is one used by Bonhoeffer. 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.
Church was a little bit different yesterday in that we are on holiday here in the wilds of Brittany and so we decided to have church here. My father-in-law preached in the morning and I preached in the evening. We sang psalms unaccompanied. We are 17 altogether so decent congregation aged 5-74 (we would be 18 if my daughter-in-law could have been here too). Geoff took us to Romans 15:13 and I went for Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:7 given that half of us are young people. We were inside in the evening as summer storms threatened but it was best in the garden under a covered dining area in the morning. The sound of the birds and the sight of butterflies added to the experience rather than detracting.
One of the joys of systematic expository preaching is that you can get on to subjects you might never look at yet subjects very relevant to those who hear you. We started on 1 Corinthians 7 in the morning and I was very much aware of the impact of such a subject on different people. We also had an engaged couple there we'd not met before so that was interesting for them as well as for the rest of us I hope. In the evening we looked at the Crown of life mentioned in James 1 and Revelation 2. We had tea together before the evening meeting. Lots of people were away, several on various forms of mission but there were visitors and we especially enjoyed having our friend Liz Rajo and the children with us.
Not quite sure why this came to mind - probably some reference to the Tour de France. When I was a boy a JW lady who I can only vaguely remember used to visit my mother regularly for "Bible studies". Anyway I think she had been on holiday in Belgium (though may be not) and brought me a present - six plastic figures on cycles. I played with them for years despite having not interest in cycling and never having heard of anyone in it except Eddy Mercx. When I was a little older I went to Belgium myself on a school trip. My friend Gwilym saw the Panini albums for cycling stars and thought it would be the next big thing after the soccer stars that came out for the first time around then. I didn't think there would be any interest in Britain and for once I was right. When I was a student the Milk Race came through Aber and that's the closest I've been to a cyclist race.
London's multicultural nature is all around us but occasionally you notice it in particular. Last Saturday I walked past our nearest Hindu Temple and could hear music. There was obviously a big event going on there. I supposed the music must be Indian but on closer inspection I saw there was a pipe band in full regalia roasting under the sun. Apparently the band is South Asian and makes use of Indian Dhols with more traditional Scots drums.
Then today I saw in a local Costa (an Italian company founded in London that employs mostly East Europeans) a notice saying that they are opening until 10 pm for Ramadan, which begins today.
I was with some friends today having lunch in the Côte Bistro in Camden Town (I'd not eaten in such a place before but can recommend it - see here). This was probably the last time that I will be with this group, having come to the end of my Tuesday morning Art History classes. They will be carrying on next term but I don't think I will be able to do that. Anyway, thinking about my original goals I think I can say that, apart from helping me to have a day off each week, the course has helped me begin to learn several lessons, about
1. The basic history of art since the Renaissance
2. How to look at a picture
3. The art world - artists, dealers, etc
4. Teaching - how to do it more subtly (thank you Annette)
5. People and how they differ and don't differ
6. People and their views on theology and religion
7. People and their objections to the gospel
8. People and the way they bond
9. London and its many, many (often free) galleries and museums
10. The difficulty of witnessing and how hardly souls are won
It was my great privilege to preach last Saturday at a memorial service for our dear friend from Madagascar Ravaka Rajo. The meeting was in Trinity Road Chapel, Tooting. the church which with its neighbour and daughter church Summerstown Evangelical became Liz Rajo's home church after her move to London to study midwifery. The present pastor of Summerstown, Peter Bines, ably chaired and former pastor Colin Paris read Psalm 16. Liz was able to speak about Ravaka in a moving but composed fashion. Robert Strivens and Philip Margetts also spoke respectively on behalf of the LTS, where Ravaka studied 2002-2004, and the Tooting church. Liz's sister Susan read a piece headed The handkerchief. When I saw that title in our programme my heart sank as I thought it was going to be some sentimental Victorian poem but it was actually Spurgeon - see here. I was asked to preach and went to Isaiah 6 as it seems to me that a king has died and we need to look to God at this time, our only help. I thought it interesting to see how the chapter opens out into a call to repent and to preach repentance. I will put the sermon on my sermon blog soon and add a link below. It was good to see so many there, although I know several who wanted to be there could not make it. Liz gave an anecdote that struck me. At A level Ravaka apparently didn't get on too well with English and (being an engineer) asked for more maths instead. How ignorant we so often are of God's purposes and plans for us. We are in his hands every moment. The Tooting fiends kindly organised a tea to follow and it was nice to chat with various people. We hope Liz and perhaps the children too were helped. I noticed a video camera whirring so perhaps it will make its way back to Madagascar. I was very conscious of the folk there who really have lost a king.
Last Tuesday I managed to get time to see the Vermeer exhibition currently on at the National Gallery, Vermeer and Music. The exhibition was prompted by the fact that the Guitar Player, usually on display at Kenwood, has been loaned to them while Kenwood is refurbished. They also have two (matching) works of women at keyboards and were able to borrow a similar affair from the Queen plus one more small picture from somewhere else, making five Vermeers in all. Five may not sound like many but there are only around thirty about so its probably worth paying the fee just to see that many paintings in one room. With the Vermeers they have various other contemporary Dutch interiors featuring musical instruments. They also sought out examples of several of the instruments featured and they are displayed too. I particularly enjoyed seeing the lute and the guitar they have. I think they have people playing chamber music there some days but not when I went. With a detailed analysis of composition and technique and two short introductory films, this exhibition is well worth catching. It closes September 8. More here.
Why should I want to be forgiven for secret sins?
We do not know what sins David may have been guilty of but he wanted to be forgiven them all. We should also want to be forgiven our secret sins. Sedgwick suggests why.
1. They may become public sins otherwise
When you weed the garden you know the rule that you need to pull them up by their roots. Sometimes a serious fire starts with only a small spark. Unless the spark is extinguished there will be a great fire. James 1:15 describes how after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. The instinct of a baby in the womb is to be born; sin too wants to break out and act. If you indulge sin in your heart, do not be surprised if the next thing that happens is that it breaks out in your life. If you have thought about a sin, when an opportunity to commit it arises you are more ready to act. Spurgeon makes the same observation. One sin easily leads to another. When we sin a sin the first time it may be hard but the second time is easier and so on until we are used to it. Secret sin is especially dangerous in that way. We need to be done with secret sin before it becomes open sin. Sincerely seek forgiveness for that and you will not fall into the other.
2. They are the most likely to deceive us
All sin deceives us to some extent but secret sin the most! They are most likely to prevail because
- We do not judge secret sins as strictly and spiritually as open sins. We are often tempted to think of them as not being sins at all or small sins at most. We tend to think something like this. To stab someone dead or cause a wound is a great sin. It is not so bad but still a sin to speak in a nasty and unpleasant way so that someone is upset. As for thinking horrible thoughts about someone and raging against them in our minds, that is not really sin – or is it? Adultery is obviously sin as is looking at pornography. It is also a sin to fantasise in your mind about someone. Sin is always trying to excuse itself. Secret sin is the most likely to succeed. It should not.
- Many people are at least outwardly reputable. The truth is that most people learn by a certain age not to commit too many outward sins. We commit few in public, and perhaps not many in private. However, on our own and in our hearts we may commit many sins. Now we need in one sense to be most careful over the sins that deceive us most easily. We ought to be very concerned therefore not just to be forgiven our known sins but our secret ones too. Are we?
3. Sin's strength is inward
You are familiar with the fact that when you are ill the problem is often within ad so you need to get a drug into your system to be well again. In many cases simply rubbing on ointment will solve nothing. In a similar way, we need forgiveness for secret sins first and foremost.
4. God looks mainly on what is within
Psalm 66:18, 19s If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
Psalm 51:6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
In other religions you will find outward conformity is all that is required. The concept of hypocrisy is particularly Christian. This is because God looks at the heart. We sing a song about this with the children at our church. It begins
Girl so pretty, boy so smart, Man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart
Charming manners, friendly grin. Man looks on the outside but God can see within
Sedgwick: “The man is to God what his inside is. If you work wickedness in your heart, God will destroy you. Plaster your visible part with all sorts of pious expressions: if yet you can set up a form of sinning within, you are notable hypocrites. The Lord sees you to be false and rotten, and He will discharge Himself of you …”
Three horrible sins wrapped up in one
- The sin itself. Often the worst sins are committed in secret. Murderers usually murder when they think no-one will see. Adultery is usually secret. Some say the only sin that matters is getting found out. That is heresy. Spurgeon says “A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world … Do not measure sin by what other people say of it. Measure sin by what God says of it and [by] what your own conscience says of it …”
- Hypocrisy. The hypocrite can get little pleasure from secret sins. Spurgeon says “Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at: it is one deceiver against many observers; [certainly] it is a miserable trade that will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! Ye who have sinned without discovery, Be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23); and bethink you, it may find you out ere long.”
- Atheism. We seldom think of it like this but secret sin is a form of atheism. It is pretending God cannot see or that he is not there. Psalm 94:7-9 They say, The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice. Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? Spurgeon warns “There is no hiding it from God! Thy sin is photographed in high heaven. The deed, when it was done, was photographed upon the sky; and there it shall remain. … thy vices are all known, written in God’s book. He keepeth a diary of all thine acts.”
(We closed with words from Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs
“Take heed of secret sins. They will undo thee if loved and maintained: one moth may spoil the garment; one leak drown the ship; a penknife stab can kill a man as well as a sword. So one sin may damn the soul”.)
The current Grace Magazine has an article of mine on secret sins. No original content here but readable and challenging I trust.
If you lift a stone in the garden you find all sorts of creepy crawlies underneath. Sin is a little like that.
What are secret sins?
Psalm 19:12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. It is not entirely clear what these hidden faults or secret sins are. Secret sins are the subject of the first part of a book by Obadiah Sedgwick (c 1600-1658), an exposition of verses in Psalm 19, first published in 1660. He says that such sins are
1. Not hidden from God
There is no such thing as a sin hidden from God. It is impossible to hide anything from him. Remember Adam and Eve vainly trying to hide from God and Cain failing to realise that the blood of Abel was crying from the ground. Many verses show this
Isaiah 29:15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, Who sees us? Who will know?
Proverbs 5:21 … your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths.
Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
A children's catechism asks: Can you see God? Answer: I cannot see God but he always sees me.
2. But may be hidden from you
David may have in mind sins in his life he is not even aware of. It is possible to sin and not realise. In some situations you hear people use God's name thoughtlessly. You point it out but they often do not realise they have spoken God's name. An extreme example was Saul of Tarsus persecuting Christians thinking it pleased God. There are professing Christians who think they are serving God by pursuing a certain policy or lifestyle yet there is reason to think it is the opposite of what God wants. We need to recognise in all humility that we may sin at some point and not even realise. These sins also need to be forgiven.
3. Hidden from others
- Some are hidden because of how they are described. One way people try to hide sins is by disguises. People are pro-choice if they favour abortion on demand. They speak not of abortion but termination of a pregnancy. It is adult entertainment not pornography, having an affair not committing adultery, sexual liberation not unfettered lust. The word fornication has almost disappeared exist being covered by myriad euphemisms. Even for your prayers can in fact be gossip.
- Some are secret in the sense of being private. They are kept to a small circle of friends. You read of some politicians after the event and gain quite a different impression of their character. Sometimes people are outed when their private life becomes public knowledge. Gordon Brown was famously caught out when he commented adversely on a woman without realising his microphone was still active. Are you one person in public and another in private?
- Others are kept from all other human knowledge. Some sins are pretty much hidden from human view. The person who sins knows in his conscience he is sinning but pretends at least for that moment that they are not sinning or are unseen. Some sins are outward but occur when no-one else is around, others occur only in the mind and remain undetected for that reason. All sin, of course, begins there. Left to itself it will erupt like a boil and become visible. A child can be conceived but not born. So many sins die in the womb, as it were. Some deny that a foetus under 14 days is not human but it is. Sins that remain only in the heart are still sins. Sins that I hide, as best I can, from every other person, sins that remain only in my heart, are still sins.
Yesterday was quite a busy day in many ways with a good turn out morning and evening, though inevitably with some missing. I took two of my sons and their friend to Victoria first thing as they wanted to be in Yorkshire for a mission with South Craven Evangelical Church. (We are holding a mission ourselves in August). Then, being the first Sunday of the month, it was communion. We welcomed in a new member. The vagaries of the London transport system meant that she only arrived after the communion so we haven't exactly gone by our rule book. Childs Hill is a place of hellos and goodbyes and so it was not that unusual to also be saying goodbye, which we kept for the main meeting. Karl Gilliham has just finished at LTS and he and his Korean wife Rebekah will be heading for Korea this week. After the meeting we had our annual church photo, which was okay, although who appears in it is always a little random. As for the preaching, in the morning we looked at the rest of 1 Corinthians 6 and seven arguments against sexual immorality. In the evening we looked at the everlasting crown of 1 Corinthians 9:24, 25, the first of what I hope will be a series on heavenly crowns.
Somehow a whole week has slipped away and I have found not time to mention last Saturday's event in Finchley. It was an excellent time with good chairmanship from South Africa based Irving Steggles, chairman of the board and a streamlined service that is still on the long side but is done very well. The Principal's report From Robert Strivens is kept short, with names of visiting lectures now on a hand out. The sheet with all the students pictures and names is a good innovation, although I seem to have lost mine somewhere. David Green interviews each man in turn. The men leaving this term were as diverse a bunch as ever.
We were particularly interested in Karl Gilliham who with his wife Rebekah, who is Korean, will be off to Korea this next week. Exactly what lies ahead is not clear. Karl and Rebekah (whose father is a famous sculptor in Korea) were placed with us for the two years and we have enjoyed getting to know them. Karl and I would not see eye to eye on several points but a more gracious Christian I have yet to meet. Similarly, Andrew Lolley from Leeds with his wife Jill have been with us over these two years. We have got even closer to them as they live in our church buildings and have actually become members of the church. Andrew is working with me for the next couple of months and may be more as the future begins to shape up.
We also got to know a little young Emediong Samuel from Port Harcourt in Nigeria, on placement with us earlier in the year, and another London based Nigerian Kehinde Omotoye from Hackney who we know, I guess, from the Aberystwyth Conference.
The other men were all interesting too (Canadian, British, Korean, etc). We also had an excellent sermon from Rupert Bentley-Taylor from Bath from 2 Timothy 4. Taking the second part was a pleasant and refreshing change. Tea on the lawn in the sunshine and chatting with old friends is always a joy, of course. LTS is a real blessing.
I should have added that time was also found to make presentations to retiring lecturers Robert Oliver and Basil Howlett. Basil has lectured on pastoralia for several years and Robert on church history for even longer.
I should have added that time was also found to make presentations to retiring lecturers Robert Oliver and Basil Howlett. Basil has lectured on pastoralia for several years and Robert on church history for even longer.
I'm not sure how to get good photos of shadows (don't explain) so you'll have to trust me on this one but I looked up from my bed last night and what should I see but the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock. My wife was not impressed but I called my son in and, fair play to him, he agreed with me. Life is always interesting.
Underhills, Raines (the Raines are in our front room, of course, or may be not)When I was a boy we didn't have many visitors and when any did come it was always a special occasion that I enjoyed. I've tried to think why. It's not just that we would often have cake I'm sure. It was more the novelty of having someone fresh in our home talking away about different things. There is an argument to say that time more or less stands still when you have visitors. You have to catch up eventually, of course, but while the visit lasts it's "magic time".
I say this following two welcome visits last weekend from overseas visitors. First, last Saturday we had our friends Mark and Abby Raines here with their children. Mark studied at LTS some while ago and then served as an assistant here for a year before heading to America, where they have been for the last 10 years. Abby is from the Philippines and they met in London. Mark works in the Reformed Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan. They have been over celebrating his parents fiftieth anniversary. it was great to see them.
Then last Monday we had a welcome visit from Keith and Priscilla Underhill from Nairobi, Kenya. Keith was a student in Aberystwyth once upon a time but has spent his life preaching the gospel in Kenya and is a latter day Apostle to Kenya, if we can use that phrase without any non-cessationist overtones. It was my privilege to preach there the year before last. They have been visiting their grown up children and others in America and the UK and very kindly popped into visit us en route from Hayes to Southend. They seem to be thinking of retirement back here in a couple of years time
I've hardly seen any of it but I am pleased to hear that the British and Irish Lions (as we call them in these days of PC) have won the test series in Australia with a 41-16 demolition of the Aussies in Sydney today with four tries. Lots of things have made this a very sweet victory (16 years since, an emphatic victory, etc). All honour to Warren Gatland. More here.
It was good to be back in Childs Hill again after a Sunday away. We had a good attendance morning and evening, congregations being swollen by having our students home again and one or two visitors. We carried on in 1 Corinthians in the morning (6:9-11) and in the evening I took a single strategic text - John 14:6. One family came in the evening for the first time and that was a joy. We have three different families who have begun to attend in the mornings in the last few months, all from different continents originally. None of them have a tradition of attending the evening service so it was good to have at least one lot of these out.