Thus far the Lord has helped us
— 1 Samuel 7:12
It is five years since our family came to Morton, but it now seems to me as though we have always been here. It is good to take a moment at the turn of the year to look back, and to look forward also.
Whatever our experience has been, if we love the LORD we can say “thus far the LORD has helped us”. It is good to place on record, as Samuel did when he set up the stone ‘Ebenezer’, that whatever the passing of time has brought, the LORD has helped us to this very place and time in our lives. He has not failed us, nor will He ever do so.
These five years have been hard for various reasons. Several dear friends have been called home to be ‘forever with the Lord’ and while we rejoice for their happiness, we miss them. Many of us have been very sick and suffered in mind and body. Yet, God has not failed us. We did not know if we would reach five years together as a fellowship without our resources being exhausted. Yet, we have, and giving has not fallen, but increased. We did not know what we could do to reach out to people, and yet the Lord has sent in a good number of new friends and has encouraged us with the best response we have seen for a very long time at our recent Christmas services. The baptistry had been dry for many years, but we have had cause to use it, and we have reason to hope we will use it again. We may feel that our meetings are insignificant and unnoticed, yet they are observed by Heaven itself. We may feel that few people are hearing God’s word, and yet each sermon is heard by at least three times the number of our congregation via the internet, and some are downloaded hundreds of times in dozens of countries. We have been able to distribute thousands of gospel invitations and items of literature on the doors, at the market and at the Carnival. We have seen magnificent answers to specific prayers. We have had the privilege of standing with brothers in London who are seeking God at work. There is so much more that we could lay out here!
We have every reason to be positive about the future — because it is the Lord our God who is our helper. We have every reason to pray more fervently for the salvation of souls — because the gospel is glorious and powerful, and Christ’s redemption is sufficient for all His people who have believed, and have yet to believe. We have been given a mission by the King of Kings, and we know that His kingdom cannot fail, and that He is building His church. We give God thanks for His faithfulness to us. We look back with gratitude and thoughtfulness. We look forward with excitement. He will not fail us.
His love in time past, forbids us to think,
He’ll leave us at last, in trouble to sink.
Each sweet ‘Ebenezer’ we have in review,
confirms His good pleasure to help us quite through.
May the Lord bless us all!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you. – Isaiah 43:2
As a struggling teenager, I would head out to school with a heavy heart. There are so many things to worry about at school, especially if you hate Maths, are not very good at P.E., and also fearful of being bullied! Occasionally, my Mum would call out brightly, as I went, ‘go out, and slay some dragons!’
I certainly didn’t feel much like the ‘Patron Saint’ of England when heading off through South London. In case you’re wondering, I thought that the month containing St George’s Day would be a good one to share the photo I took of the famous sculpture in Bethlehem! But I digress.
Life is hard, isn’t it? There seem to be ‘dragons’ everywhere for many of us. Great concerns about health, studies, family, friends, work, money, our society, our safety … the list goes on and on. We are find ourselves under varying levels of stress. Some of us cope relatively well, others of us struggle greatly and are prone to depression and anxiety. Some of us will also discover that whilst once we coped well with the demands of life, now perhaps the same things we formerly breezed through exhaust us, fill us with dread, or perhaps utterly defeat us.
Here’s what I want to say to everyone: We have to fight life’s battles, we can’t opt out. But we have someone with us — and He IS a real dragon–slayer! He says to each one of us ‘I will be with you’. Isaiah’s imagery is apt. We feel like we’re drowning in deep water. We feel the heat of the fire and it seems certain that we are going to be burned! Left to ourselves, we would be drowned, burned, beaten, and ultimately, eternally lost. But we are not left to ourselves and we have a great and glorious Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man. He once was fully dead. But we know that ‘He is risen’ and hence, fully alive. In Him is life, and He is life. He lives in and of Himself, and He lives in His people by the work of the Holy Spirit, and by the same blessed Dove His people live in Him. Brothers and sisters, He has not saved us in order to leave us ‘helpless until Heaven’. He says ‘I will be with you’, and He will be. Prove it.
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.”
“… 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!
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.