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:

Pastoral Letter March 2015

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

John 2:19

 

Dear Friends,

How ridiculous these words of the Lord Jesus sounded to the cynical Jewish leaders and law-experts who questioned Him. They looked up at the grandeur of the Temple, made so spectacular by Herod the Great, and could not conceive of it being destroyed, let alone it being rebuilt in three days.

Herod's Temple - Museum of Jerusalem Model
Herod’s Temple – Museum of Jerusalem Model

The model in our picture is part of an extraordinary feature at the Museum of Israel in Jerusalem. You can see the central courts, and the holy place, which is distinctively huge. If you want some idea of scale, the building you see in the model would have been two times as tall again as today’s ‘Dome of the Rock’, which is a Muslim shrine (not a Mosque – that is a separate building on the Temple Mount).

Of course, Jesus was not talking about the temple, which took forty-six years to complete, but about His own body – as John tells us in the next verse. It is easy to miss the request that brought forth the statement, though. The Jewish Leaders said ‘show us a sign’. As we are going through John’s gospel on Sunday mornings, we see various people seeking signs. Still, today, people seek signs and wonders. They seek excitement and a ‘wow’ factor in every area of life.

Think about this. There is no greater sign than that Jesus of Nazareth died on Calvary’s Cross, and that within three days He rose again, all in fulfillment of prophecy. It is the greatest miracle and most marvelous event the world has ever seen. It reminds us that whatever man seeks to do, God always brings His plans to pass. It challenges us once more to consider whether our faith is genuine — because this is not a matter of sentiment or preference, but a matter of fact. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on Calvary’s Cross. He rose again on the first day of the week. He calls us all to follow Him.

What is your response to the Saviour, who has done everything for you? What is your attitude when coming out to Chapel on Sundays? Just tradition, or something to be endured? Or an opportunity to celebrate with God’s people the most amazing things this world has ever witnessed? Is it to seek some intellectual tidbit in the sermon or to search and to seek after Christ, to long for a ‘sight’ of Him ‘who loved me, and gave Himself for me’?

May God grant that not one of us should ever ‘lose the wonder of it all’.

Pastoral Letter February 2015

It is I; do not be afraid.

John 6:20

Dear Friends,

There are many things in life that can cause us to be afraid. Sometimes we have troubles with our health. Sometimes we may have to change our homes or our jobs — and we don’t always have much of a choice! Circumstances can seem to move so much faster than we can cope with, and threats to our peace, or faith, whether they are real or not, always seem so much worse once they are in ‘the news’!

2014-12-04 10.31.46
On Galilee December 2014. (c) Jonathan Hunt

The disciples were afraid when they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them — they didn’t know that it was Him, until He spoke. They heard His voice, they recognised Him, and they ‘willingly received Him’ into the boat with them.

I’m sure that you have assured friends or family with your voice before — perhaps you came home early or visited unexpectedly. It is only natural to call out something like ‘It’s me!’ You don’t have to say ‘It is me’, and then your name also, because your family and friends will know your voice.

When the disciples knew that it was Jesus, all was well. It was cold, and dark, and they had been rowing a long time and were tired, but everything in the situation changed because of the person who was now with them.

January has been a difficult month for many of us. Darkness, coldness, sickness, unexpected troubles and trials have troubled all of us in the fellowship in one way or another. But the Lord is with us. The voice that said ‘It is I; do not be afraid’ is the same voice that spoke all things into existence. The same voice that calmed the raging sea. The same voice that cried ‘It is finished’. The same voice who said, in the greatest promise I know: ‘I am with you always’.

In the best and the worst of times, we need to be close to Him, to listen for His voice and to hear His word. The knowledge of His presence and His power to change every situation is all the comfort we need.

Sovereign above the mighty flood,

The Saviour reigns, forever King;

But makes His Church His blest abode

Where we His glorious praises sing.

In gentler language, here, the Lord

The counsels of His love imparts;

Amid the raging storm, His Word

Speaks peace and blessing to our hearts.

(Isaac Watts on Psalm 29)

Pastoral Letter January 2015

I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16.17

Dear Friends,

We have entered another year, and we give God thanks for His goodness and mercy. Our New Year’s Text, which is ‘Pursue peace … and holiness’ (Hebrews 12) I am dealing with in our first meetings of the year, so I wanted to share something different with you here.

On my second day in Israel we were taken to modern-day Banias, which is an Arab mispronunciation of the correct name, ‘Paneas’. This place housed a large set of shrines to the pagan god Pan. In Bible times the area was known as Caesarea Philippi, because Philip the Tetrarch made it his headquarters and named it in honour of Caesar Augustus. To distinguish it from the other Caesarea, his name was added to the mix.

Here was located the temple of Pan, and a large cave out of which, at the time, flowed a river. The cave was known to the pagans as ‘Pan’s grotto’, but to the Jews as ‘the gates of hell’. Here is a photograph of this very place. Sacrifices were made there by throwing animals into the water. If they sank, they were deemed to be accepted by ‘the gods’.

The gates of hellJesus and His disciples were standing nearby this great and awful shrine to wickedness when He said that ‘the gates of hell’ would not prevail against the church that He would build. Without local knowledge, we would miss the reference entirely — but no doubt His disciples knew precisely what he meant to say. There is nothing in this world or out of it which can halt, slow, or reverse the building of the church of Christ. He builds it, and nothing will stand against Him. What an encouragement this is to us in our context!

Sometimes, everything seems against us. Sometimes, nothing seems to go right. Sometimes, we try very hard with particular outreach or effort and there seem to be no results. We need to hear His voice, uttered in defiance of all the powers of darkness and hatred of Him, call out: ‘I will build my church’.

It is His church, never forget it. He will build it, never doubt it. He delights to use us in His service, so don’t shirk it. We may step forward together, in confidence, and even if we are at the very gates of hell, we know, as our chapel’s motto reminds us ‘The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns’.