Pastoral Letter January/February 2016

Dear Friends,

Our New Year Text is the well-known conclusion to Psalm 19. It is an expression of heartfelt desire from King David, expressed so elegantly in our translation.

But do we share David’s desire? Indeed, do we ever consider what the Lord sees in our hearts or hears from our lips? There’s no doubt of course, that He is witness to every thought and word that we produce. This can be a terrifying thing. The Poet–King has just extolled the wonders of God’s law and His testimony, His commandments and His judgements, calling them ‘sweeter than honey’. Again, do we really believe that this is so, or are the character of God, and His Holy standards, matters of little consequence to us? Is it all just ‘water off a duck’s back’?

NY Text 2016

Perhaps, as we embark on another year, we need to humble ourselves. What do we hope to achieve this year? What might we hope to see? We will see nothing apart from God’s power to bring it to pass — and yet, it we’re honest, how little of God we have any patience or tolerance for! How easy it is to make anything our priority except spiritual things. How readily we will lay aside meeting with God’s people or studying His word, or even private prayer, when a distraction arises. I speak to myself as strongly as I speak to you all. Let’s examine ourselves, and ask, simply, do we truly worship, and desire to know, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The great I AM? Do we even care if our words and thoughts please Him? Do we ever stop to think that He is our ‘strength’ and without Him we are utter weaklings? Do we pause to reflect that He is our ‘Redeemer’ and without Him we are eternally lost?

As the New Year is come, may we turn with renewed desire to our God in the person of Jesus Christ, and seek His face, with true appreciation and deeper love, longing to be ‘acceptable’ not because we have to be, but because we long to be.

Pastoral Letter December 2015

Dear Friends,

As in the past, this month’s ‘letter’ is from Pastor C.H. Spurgeon. A very happy Christmas to everyone! — Jonathan

IT IS SUPERSTITIOUS to worship angels; it is but proper to love them. The one incident in angelic history, to which our text refers, is enough to weld our hearts to them for ever. How free from envy the angels were! Christ did not come from heaven to save their compeers when they fell. When Satan, the mighty angel, dragged with him a third part of the stars of heaven, Christ did not stoop from his throne to die for them. Yet angels did not envy men. Though they remembered that he took not up angels, yet they did not murmur when he took up the seed of Abraham; and though the blessed Master had never condescended to take the angel’s form, they did not think it beneath them to express their joy when they found him arrayed in the body of an infant. 
How free, too, they were from pride! They were not ashamed to come and tell the news to humble shepherds. Mere men — men possessed with pride, think it a fine thing to preach before kings and princes; and think it great condescension now and then to have to minister to the humble crowd. Not so the angels. They stretched their willing wings, and gladly sped from their bright seats above, to tell the shepherds on the plain by night, the marvellous story of an Incarnate God. And mark how well they told the story, and surely you will love them!

Friends, does not this verse, this song of angels, stir your heart with happiness? When I read that, and found the angels singing it, I thought to myself, “Then if the angels ushered in the gospel’s great head with singing, ought I not to preach with singing? And ought not my hearers to live with singing? Ought not their hearts to be glad and their spirits to rejoice?” Well, thought I, there be some somber religionists who were born in a dark night in December that think a smile upon the face is wicked, and believe that for a Christian to be glad and rejoice is to be inconsistent. Ah! I wish these gentlemen had seen the angels when they sang about Christ; for angels sang about his birth, though it was no concern of theirs, certainly men ought to sing about it as long as they live, sing about it when they die, and sing about it when they live in heaven for ever. I do long to see in the midst of the church more of a singing Christianity. The last few years have been breeding in our midst a groaning and unbelieving Christianity. Now, I doubt not its sincerity, but I do doubt its healthy character. I say it may be true and real enough; God forbid I should say a word against the sincerity of those who practice it; but it is a sickly religion. Watts hit the mark when he said,

“Religion never was designed — To make our pleasures less.”

Pastoral Letter November 2015

Immortal honours rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction and despair.

He is my refuge in each deep distress;
The Lord my strength and glorious righteousness;
Through floods and flames He leads me safely on,
And daily makes His sovereign goodness known.

My every need He richly will supply,
Nor will His mercy ever let me die;
In Him there dwells a treasure all divine,
And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.

O, that my soul could love and praise Him more,
His beauties trace, His majesty adore;
Live near His heart, upon His bosom lean;
Obey His voice, and all His will esteem.

We all know the hymn ‘Immortal Honours’. It is a favourite for many at Morton. But what do we know about the man who wrote it? For the last four years I have attended an autumn conference at the Baptist Chapel in Charlesworth, on the edge of the Peak District in Derbyshire. The graveyard contains the grave marker of William Gadsby, and his wife, Elizabeth. Their bodies are not buried there. They are now under concrete in Manchester, and the stone was moved to the chapel to save it from destruction. Gadsby was fond of the Charlesworth Chapel and preached there on many occasions. But what do we know about him?

Gadsby’s Grave Marker

He was born in Attleborough near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, in 1773. He was the ninth of fourteen children. His father was a road-mender, which was a very poorly paid job, and the family had many struggles. He had a poor education, and by his late teens he could barely read. At thirteen he became an apprentice ribbon-weaver. He had a strong sense of humour, but he used it in profane ways, and was known for his foul mouth. He still attended the local independent chapel with his parents, even though he continually rejected the things of God and tried to lose himself in the pleasures open to him. Aged 17 he witnessed an appalling public execution, where three men were hanged, and one survived the drop, writhing in agony until the hangman pulled his legs to break his neck. As he turned away, the unease he felt about his rejection of God was growing and growing. He could not escape the thought of eternity and the justice of God. He began to try to live a better life, but he was horrified by his own sin, and could not see how God could ever forgive him. For some time, he attended church without any hope of his own salvation. By God’s grace, he came to realise that he could do nothing to save himself, and that he must cast himself upon God’s mercy alone, and he finally saw that Christ loved him and had died for him.

He knew many struggles in his early Christian life, as the disadvantage of not being able to read weighed heavily, and his own feelings of unworthiness often surfaced. He met a young assistant pastor, James Aston from Coventry who often preached in his village, and who became a mentor to him. Gadsby began to attend the Particular Baptist Church at Cow Lane in Coventry.  He was baptised in 1793, and began to gain in education with the help of his friend, the assistant Pastor. In his twenties, he slowly and painfully taught himself to read.

Gadsby often helped Aston in his visits to minister to a new church in nearby Hinckley, and there he met Elizabeth, who helped him when he had to give up ribbon weaving for health reasons and moved into stocking weaving. Elizabeth was able to pay off his debt to his Master and enable him to change careers. In 1796, when he was 23, he married Elizabeth, later joking that all they owned was an umbrella, which they sold to buy a table!

In time, three daughters were born. Now living and working in Hinckley, he transferred his membership there and began to share a few thoughts from the scriptures with others in the church. Simple working class folk, like him, were impressed with his straightforward explanations. Despite his reluctance, the Lord led him to preach, and his first sermon was preached in 1798. Life was tough as he combined low-paid hard work with ministry.

The Lord blessed the little flock in Hinckley despite local opposition, and churches were established in neighbouring villages as well. He was ordained in 1800, but didn’t like the idea of hands being laid on him and jumped to one side – he thought it was too Roman Catholic! The church he served spent a lot of money to build a new building, and to help pay it off he took many preaching engagements, one of which was in Manchester in 1803. After many visits, much acclaim, and heavy persuasion, he took the pastorate of Back Lane Chapel in 1805. A large minority of members left not long afterwards, due to theological differences, but the work slowly grew. Even after his death it would be the largest Baptist church in Manchester, with 800 attending the evening services (more than the morning).

Gadsby preached with great power, and it was said of him that he seemed ‘a preacher made for the working classes. The common people heard him gladly. His popularity with the factory people of Manchester was extraordinary’. He loved to speak of the grace of God, not holding back in exposing his hearers’ sin, and giving all glory to God. He was used of God in the founding of a number new churches around Manchester, mainly due to his willingness to preach the gospel wherever people would hear it.

He knew sadness in his life, as his wife Elizabeth descended into madness. He refused to commit her to an asylum, and kept her at home for twenty five years. She outlived him by a further six years, and gave a clear profession of faith before she died, proving the truth of what Gadsby had said years before ‘She is in the Lord’s hands, and whether she is sick or well, deranged or in her right mind naturally, I am sure she is on the Rock, and it will be well with her at last’.

At sixty eight, Gadsby fell and broke his leg. It was a hard recovery for him. Indeed, he never fully recovered, and would often lose entire nights of sleep due to pain. As the years passed, everything became a struggle, until even walking a few paces left him out of breath. He began to think about the seeming certainty that he would soon die. This did not trouble him, but instead, he had a great hope and expectancy. As 1844 began, he presided at the annual congregational tea in the school room of the chapel, and he preached the next day on Hebrews 13:8: ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever’. His breathing was more and more difficult, but he managed three more weeks’ ministry, preaching for the last time on 21st January. That day it took him four minutes to climb into the pulpit. He was only seventy-one, but within a week he was confined to bed and his strength ebbed away.

As friends and family gathered round, and cared for him, he lamented his weakness, but commented that it would soon be followed by victory. When it was clear that his race was nearly run, the family were called for, and he asked for Romans 12 to be read. He had a few moments relief when he was able to sit up and pray for the church and for his family, then he sank back to his pillows and was heard to say “There is nothing too hard for Christ, He is the mighty God, from everlasting to everlasting. He was precious. He is precious.”

He smiled, and entered the presence of the Lord. His funeral was held soon after, and thousands of people lined the streets of Manchester. On the next Sunday, John Kershaw of Rochdale preached a memorial sermon in the chapel. 1500 crammed in and hundreds were turned away. That service closed with the solemn but resounding sound of our beloved hymn ‘Immortal Honours’.

The memorial stone, which stands at Charlesworth Chapel today, records that Gadsby’s last words were ‘I shall soon be with Him, shouting Victory! Victory! Victory! For ever. Free Grace! Free Grace! Free Grace!’ It also records that after his death a piece of paper was found in his desk, directing that these words be inscribed upon his stone:

Here rests the body of a sinner base
Who had no hope but electing grace
The love, blood, life and righteousness of God
Was His sweet theme –
And this He spread abroad.

His wife’s side of the stone carries a line from our beloved hymn:

In Christ there dwells a treasure all-divine
And matchless grace has made that treasure mine

Dear readers — in our congregation and beyond — do you know the Saviour? If you sing the words of Gadsby’s hymn, can you do so sincerely? Is your life truly dedicated to Christ? Have you repented of sin and believed the gospel? I am not bound by the limits Mr Gadsby placed upon gospel preaching, and so I call you directly — come to Jesus Christ, as He invites you. He is everything. Nothing and no-one compares to Him. He truly is that ‘treasure all-divine’. Lay hold upon the boundless, matchless grace of God.

Pastoral Letter August 2015

‘Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart’ – Proverbs 3:3

We have been considering the book of Proverbs on some midweek evenings. Proverbs 3 begins with a series of charges from a father to a son, and each one comes with a promise attached.

I want to share with you briefly one of the things we have been looking at. ‘Mercy and Truth’ must never be far from us as followers of Christ. What does this mean? ‘Mercy and Truth’ here are a reference to God’s promises. His mercy in making them, and His truth in keeping them. So we need to make much of God’s promises, and live by them, but how? The answer is before us — we need to wear them like a necklace and write them on our hearts. Perhaps that doesn’t help to answer the question very much, so let me expand a little!

Think of the picture–language that is being used. It is pretty graphic, and that helps. We need to do three things. First, we need to glory in God’s promises. A necklace is a way of displaying something — precious metal, or stones, or perhaps something of sentimental value. So we should display God’s promises, we should speak of them, and give Him the glory for all His keeping of them in our lives. Are you displaying your jewellery?

Second, we need to meditate on God’s promises. This is touched on by both pictures. If we carry something of God’s goodness with us day by day, we will think about it. A ring on our finger leads us to reflect on what it signifies — so often, the promises made to a loved one. We need to think about God’s promises and all He has done for us, and when we pray, plead His promises, giving Him thanks for all the promises He has kept. We need to have these things written on our hearts, deep within us, so it is vital to keep on turning to God’s Word to mine out more and more promises, and to hold them in our hearts, engraved!

Thirdly, we need to act by God’s promises. Has He promised? Then we must believe, and so live. We can trust Him to deliver. Has He delivered? Then we must give Him glory, and seek His further blessing as we encourage those around us with the account of what great things He has done for our souls! May He help us in all these things.

Pastoral Letter June & July 2015

Dear Friends,

“ I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End ”

— Revelation 1.8

Our photo is a picture of the ‘Golden Gate’ as seen from the Garden of Gethsemane. Your artistically–minded photographer included some of the ironwork which adorns the front of a church building at the Garden. You can see it displays the first and 2014-12-07 09.01.58last letters of the greek alphabet — Alpha and Omega. When you think about it, this expression, used by the Lord Jesus to describe Himself in the first chapter of Revelation, is extraordinarily simple. It is an almost everyday expression (think ‘A to Z’), yet it is an enormous claim. None of us (I hope) would ever say anything like this of ourselves. The recent General Election campaign highlighted (brutally, in some cases) the frailty of humans, especially when put under pressure. Nothing of the ‘comprehensive’ nature of God is found in us, and yet in Jesus Christ, the God–Man, it certainly is.

Our Saviour is the ‘Beginning and the End’. He was there at the dawn of time. He made all things, as we see plainly in John 1. He is the Creator. He will be there at the end of time, too, indeed, as He is God and one with the Father, time will end upon His command. As He was Creator at the beginning, so He will be Judge at the end. Perhaps you know these things well. Perhaps you wonder why I mention them here.

The reason is that I think it is perfectly Biblical to say that our Saviour is Beginning, End, and everything in between! Whilst we need to understand the Beginning, and we certainly need to be ready for the End, what occupies us now is the ‘in between’. Whilst we seek to ‘set our hearts on things above’ we still have to live here in this world, and make our way. How can we do it? It helps to know that our Lord is Creator of all, but He is also Sustainer of all things, and the Saviour of the world which He has made! He shall be the Judge of this world too, but we may know His pardon and have eternal life because of His perfect life once–offered at Calvary. Friends, in the ‘Alpha and Omega’ is all that we need for now, and for then. His sufficient, comprehensive nature also speaks to us of how He knows all things, and has a plan for our lives even when we cannot see the way before us.

Whatever lies ahead, right now, we can trust the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega.

‘Where we stand’ – Lead Magazine Article May 2015

“… you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out”

— John 6:36-37

We have been studying and preaching through the gospel of John for some time. Recently, we arrived at the words of Christ which are on our front cover this month, and I want to share here what we considered then, for the benefit of all. Doubtless, the ‘pastoral letter’ will return in future, but for now, this is the matter that has been laid on my heart.

On the back cover of this magazine you will find our ‘Statement of Faith’. This is what all members of the Church assent to as part of joining the membership, and we believe that it is absolutely in line with the Bible’s teaching. You will see that the second article refers to ‘Sovereign Grace’, and the seventh to ‘the Sovereignty of God in Creation, Providence, and Redemption’. God is Sovereign over all things, and this has a clear meaning and profound implications.

Sometimes, people will ask why there are two Baptist churches in Thornbury. We don’t have to go into the history, (which you can read about in a free booklet if you want), but we can understand why it might be asked, when there is a large church just up the road, why should we persevere, hidden away among the farms and fields of Morton? Indeed, our questioner might continue, there are four or five other churches nearby — hasn’t the out of town chapel had its day? One of the most important answers is this: that we believe in the Sovereignty of God in Creation, Providence and Redemption, we believe that this is the plain teaching of God’s Word, and that truth matters. Whilst we hear alarming reports, we cannot form judgments on what other churches may or may not teach. What we can judge plainly is this: that we have a glorious gospel to proclaim, and that this distinctive message is needed in our community. Truth matters, and doctrine matters.

In John 6:36-37, we can see all five of what are called ‘the Doctrines of Grace’. This is our position as a Church, this is our profession, that God is absolutely Sovereign in the salvation of man. Some call these truths ‘Calvinism’ or ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’, and list them under the acronym ‘TULIP’. It should be pointed out that John Calvin never created this phrase, and it should also be said that these are not Calvin’s doctrines — they are the Bible’s!

We do not stand for the defence of John Calvin, nor do we write to that end. For more commentary on this, download the sermon on this text or pick up the CD. We have before us the Word of God, not the words of men, and may the Lord grant us light as we examine what He says.

In John 6.36, the Saviour has just invited those around Him to come and believe on Him for eternal life. But, He says, “you won’t”. They have seen Him, they have heard His voice and witnessed signs and wonders, but they are unmoved. Yet, He is not baffled, or disappointed by this. He knows why they will not believe, and He explains the reason in the next few words.

Here is the first of the ‘Doctrines of Grace’, known as ‘Total Depravity’, and perhaps better expressed as ‘Total Inability’. The men do not believe because they are dead in trespasses and sins  (Ephesians 2.1). We are on slippery ground when we think that our salvation has something to do with us — that somehow we earned God’s favour. No, the reality is that without God making us alive (Eph. 2.1) we will not respond. We may see and hear wonderful things, and yet remain unmoved. We positively reject the things of God, left to ourselves, and we bear the blame for that, without question. We are without excuse (Romans 1.20)

In John 6.37, the Saviour makes two further statements, and the first one follows on from what has just been said, and helps to explain it: All that the Father gives Me will come to Me. Our Lord is not worried about the unbelief of those around Him, because all that have been given to Him will come to Him. Those who are not, will not. God is Sovereign, and our Heavenly Father has chosen and given a definite people to His Son. Many become uneasy at this point, and begin to try and reason around the plain meaning of scripture. “Well”, they say, “God looked down the corridors of time and He saw all the people who would believe on Him, and He elected them”. Friends, if that is the case, then we are selected on some form of merit. But the scriptures say otherwise: What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9.14-16). A people have been chosen, and they will come.

The more acceptable we try to make the doctrine of election, the less biblical it becomes. We have to face the reality that here before us is the second of the five points, ‘Unconditional Election’. It is the Father’s gift to the Son, and the Father’s choice: He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4)

Here also is the third of the five points, the one with with most people struggle more than any: ‘Limited Atonement’. I prefer the expression ‘Particular Redemption’ far more. We read the Scriptures and we see many times over that the Saviour died for ‘the world’. It is here in John’s gospel again and again. How then, we are asked, can there be a ‘limit’ on what Christ has done? We need to understand these things, because these are the deepest foundations on which our hope is built, and these are the deepest wells from which assurance and blessing are drawn. We will be told, very emotionally, ‘But He died for all!’ We say ‘yes’. ‘But He died for the world’ We say ‘yes’, again. ‘But whosoever believes will be saved’ … and we say ‘Yes, yes, and yes’. What the Saviour did on the Cross was to pay a perfect and all-sufficient price. It is because of this that we can say without hesitation ‘God loves you, Jesus died for your sin, He is the Saviour of the world, His sacrifice is full and complete, full salvation is offered to all, so why would you refuse such a genuine and sincere offer?’

Some people say that we cannot talk like that. Well, if they want me to stop they will have to stop me by force — what my Saviour has done is all–sufficient! Here, in the text before us, is something remarkable. The greek that translates as ‘all that the Father gives’ refers not to a group of individuals but to a single object, one thing. The Father has given to the Son one, defined, gift comprised of all His people. It is not open for negotiation, it is an unchanged and unchanging ‘group’.

This certain truth does not hold us back in our evangelism or mission. There are those who see that God is Sovereign in Salvation and then sit back and say ‘well, I can’t change anything, so I won’t do anything’. But when we see something like this, it should drive us forward! There are still people to be saved, to be reached with the Word of God. So we cry out boldly whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2.21).

That text is very definite, and so is our text here. Those whom the Father gives to the Son will come to Him. That is why the sermon I preached was titled ‘Heaven’s gates open wide”. There is no narrowing of God’s mercy in these things, only the glorious opening of gates which would otherwise be shut. This is the fourth point, known as ‘Irresistible Grace’. Salvation is all God’s work, and His work cannot fail. Our Church cannot fail to accomplish precisely what God wills for us, and nothing we do can be in vain. No preaching of the gospel can be void. No outreach work is wasted. No personal witness is a waste of breath.

It may be that you come to this point (and well done for reading this far!) and you say ‘well, how can I know if I am elect?’. Remember, the Lord has spoken of a bloc of people given to the Son by the Father. If you ask ‘am I in it?’ you ask the wrong question. If you look back to verse 35 you will see that what you need to ask is not ‘am I elect?’ but rather ‘have I come to Jesus, and have I believed on Jesus?’. That is the only real question for serious minds!

Now we have the second part of verse 37: ‘the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out’. Notice how the language has changed. The Lord has moved from speaking about the elect as one defined group, to speaking about individuals, one by one. Because this is how we come to Christ — one by one. Then, when we come to Him, we won’t be turned away, thrown out, or rejected. Are the gates of heaven shut? By no means! Sovereignty of God in Salvation means that they are wide open. When you come is not an issue. Past failure to come is not an issue, all that matters is to repent, to believe, and to come to Him.

Here we have the fifth and final point of the Doctrines of Grace — Perseverance of the Saints (perhaps better expressed as Preservation of the Saints). Those who come to Him, He keeps! God’s grace is far greater than our sin and our unbelief. If we come, whenever we come, He will save us, and keep us. Heaven’s gates are open wide. It is man, with his man-centred theology, that would shut them. To say that we have any part in our salvation is to deny the very character of God, and yes, to shut forever the gates to eternal life. Why? Because if any of it depends upon us, we will fail! But it does not. We have a promise–making, covenant–keeping God who has elected a people from before the foundation of the world. This is the gospel we proclaim — with none of the weakness of man, but with all the power and authority of the One True and Living God. Why does it matter if we hold to the Sovereignty of God? Why must we stand fast against those who call election a false teaching? Because, to put it as bluntly as possible: No Sovereignty, No Salvation.

For Thou art our Shepherd divine,

Whose word on our hearts we shall keep—

‘This flock has the Father made Mine;

I lay down My life for My sheep…

‘Tis life everlasting I give;

My blood was the price My sheep cost,

Not one that on Me shall believe

Shall ever be finally lost.’

This God is the God we adore,

Our faithful, unchangeable Friend!

Whose love is as great as His power,

And knows neither measure nor end!

Joseph Hart

THIS God is the God we adore. Not the god of man’s convenience or his imagination. Not the god who overlooks sin. Not the god who stands wringing his hands hoping against hope that we might turn to him in faith. This month we celebrate the 181st Anniversary of the Chapel and the 31st Anniversary of the Church, here at Morton. May we do so with full confidence in our Sovereign God, and be resolved to stand for His truth, and to give Him the glory which is due to His name. We preach and we declare together ‘the Sovereignty of God in Creation, Providence, and Redemption’. Together we adore Him, and we call all to humble themselves, and to repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven’s gates are open, and they are open wide. Amen.

Eastcombe Conference 2015

We are happy to host the audio for the Eastcombe Conference held on 4th April 2015:

High Quality Files:

Union and Communion with Christ – Rev. Daffydd Morris:

The Presence of God in the Congregation – Rev. Malcolm H. Watts

The Hope of Heaven – Rev R. Jeremy Brooks

Low Quality (Smaller filesize, faster download):

Daffydd Morris:

Malcolm Watts:

Jeremy Brooks: