Monday, 13 June 2022

Mary King

 

Encourage young believers 

I don’t suppose the name of Mary King will mean a lot to you. She is described as a “big sturdy woman” who worked in John Swindell’s  school in Newmark in Suffolk
in the mid 19
th century. She was known to all who worked there simply as “cook” and might have died in poverty later on, except for the charity of one who had been a shy young usher in the school. This young usher had been under deep conviction of sin and Mary helped and impressed him greatly.

Mary was a fond reader of The Gospel Standard magazine, edited by JC Philpott and read by the stronger Calvinists within the Strict and Particular Baptist denomination. (So called because they were strict in who could partake of communion and particular in their views of the purpose and extent of the Atonement.) Being unable to find a church suited to her theology, she attended a somewhat liberal chapel where (she said) she had to scratch like an old hen in a pile of rubbish looking for corn. However, she claimed to have found this mental challenge and exercise to be of spiritual value to her because it exercised her spiritual faculties and therefore warmed her spirit.

The young usher who benefitted so much from her help was CH Spurgeon. He mentioned her with evident fondness on several occasions from the pulpit in later years. “She liked something very sweet indeed, good strong Calvinistic doctrine; but she lived strongly as well as fed strongly. Many a time we have gone over the covenant of grace together, and talked of the personal election of the saints, their union to Christ, their final perseverance, and what vital godliness meant; and I do believe that I learnt more from her than I should have learned from any six doctors of divinity of the sort we have nowadays.”

The final link in the chain in Spurgeon’s conversion was an old (and unknown) Arminian preacher in a well-known scenario often referred to when preachers expound Isaiah 45:22 (“Look unto me and be ye saved…”). However, the ground (under God) had been well prepared by this godly lady. From a human point of view, Spurgeon’s ministry could well have been rooted in Arminian/Wesleyan doctrine. However, God decreed otherwise. The seeds which Mary King sowed in her heart-to-heart chats with the young man led not only to his conversion, but his Calvinist ministry.  

The Gospel Standard ministry was a Hyper Calvinist one – denying the free offer of the gospel and the sinner’s duty to both repent and believe the gospel. Many Hyper Calvinists gave the young pastor a hard time when he preached both his Calvinist soteriology (all 5 points) and the free offer etc. They called him a mongrel Calvinist. However, Spurgeon made more of an impact for the teaching of sovereign grace than they ever would. He did not trim the doctrines – he would later complain about those who were Calvinist in the study but Arminian in the pulpit – but he possessed the great gift of making them accessible to the minds of his hearers. Perhaps he remembered his own struggle with them and the gospel in general as a young usher and the little known but kindly lady who evidently had the gift of simple communication. Every benefactor of Spurgeon’s ministry (under God) stands in her debt. 

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Monday, 4 April 2022

Bread enough and to spare

 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! (Luke 15:17)


Preached in the Martyrs Memorial FPC (Belfast)

Lord's Day 3rd April, 2022

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Tuesday, 1 March 2022

And if a sparrow



And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.  And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.  And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.  Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him. And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him. So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me? And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly. But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me. And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. (Acts 23:11-24)


Q. What was the will of God concerning Paul at this time?
A. That he was not to  fear because he was to bear witness for God at Rome.
Q. Did God fulfil His will?
A. Ultimately, He did.
Q. Did any try to interfere with the will of God in this matter?
A. Yes – 40 men took a vow that they would not eat until they had killed Paul.
Q. How did they hope to achieve this?
A. By having the Jews ask the chief captain to produce the prisoner under the pretence of questioning him further and thus leaving him exposed to the danger.
Q. Was this desire of these cut throats wicked?
A. Yes.
Q. Wherein?
A. Because they sought to murder Paul through lying means and had they did so, then they would frustrated the righteous decree of God that he would bear witness at Rome.
Q. Was their opposition in this matter pre-ordained of God?
A.  Yes.
Q. Why would God ordain such an event as this?
A. For a number of reasons, not least, to show the lengths wicked sinners who oppose the gospel will go. Again, to show that His will is invincible and that He can deliver His people in the most extreme circumstances through the use both of weak and strong means.
Q. Did God put it in the heart of these wicked to so plan this murder?
A. It would be much more accurate to say that He drew it out of their wicked heart (wherein all evil thoughts originate) and made good use of it for His own glory.
Q. How did He achieve this?
A. By hardening their heart to give vent to such wickedness.
Q. How would God have so hardened their heart?
A. By withdrawing His restraining grace from them through which they had ceased to have been (up to that point) a danger both to themselves and others.
Q. Does this not mean that God authored their crime or was implicit in it?
A. No. The use of the word ‘grace’ indicates that He is under no obligation to bestow it and at perfect liberty to withdraw it as He sees fit. The guilt of the crime belongs solely to those perpetrated it i.e. the gang of cut throats. 
Q. Did God tempt them to sin at this time by so withdrawing this restraining grace?
A. No, God cannot be tempted. Neither does He tempt any man. (James 1:13)
Q. Did God control or direct their wickedness at this time?
A. Only in the sense that He restrained it from going further than it suited His own holy ends.
Q. Did God influence other hearts in this whole dramatic episode?
A. Yes. He positively influenced and enabled Paul’s nephew and the captain for good i.e. to see that Paul would remain unharmed.
Q. How did he do this?
A. By giving them courage and wisdom to thwart the plans of the wicked.
Q. Did this involve any operation of God upon their hearts?
A. Yes. He increased the grace already given by removing any fear or discouragement that probably would have existed in the circumstances. Removing it at least to the point where they decided to take positive action to save the prisoner.
Q. Did God at any time so control the wills either of the wicked or the good in this operation that it could be said that they were mere puppets?
A. No. Working in the will and influencing it does not rob either the wicked or good of their liberty to follow the dictates of their heart.
Q. To whom does any blame belong in this passage?
A. Solely to the wicked whose evil hearts moved them to willingly engage in the above crime.
Q. To whom is any praise due in the above scene?
A. Ultimately to God, who so wisely and justly arranged the circumstances that enabled Paul to escape the plans of wicked men.
Q. Is any credit due to Paul’s nephew and the chief captain?
A. Under God, there is in that they were faithful, as free moral agents, to their God given duty to seek means to preserve life.
Q. Any last words on this subject?
A. Yes. Any argument against Calvinism that ignores or seeks to tamper with the Calvinist fundamental of the freedom of man’s will (i.e. to follow the  dictates of his own heart) is based either on ignorance or (worse again) mischief and doomed to wallow in its own failure.



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Saturday, 22 January 2022

Stearns

 

THE CALVINISM OF SHUBAL STEARNS AND THE SANDY CREEK ASSOCIATION

Some names in Church history are better known than others. I am more familiar with the names of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield or Gilbert Tennant than with the name of Shubal Stearns. I must confess that I find it somewhat ironic that my first contact with his revered name came through some who constantly and viciously attack Calvinists as purveyors of damnable heresy and the doctrines of devils straight from the pit of hell etc., while lauding this Calvinist preacher as a great Revival preacher. Anyway, God makes all things work together for good for His people (Romans 8:28) and here is the fruit of my research into this great Calvinist pioneer.

(BTW: Shubal Stearns was a Baptist preacher too. With all due respects to my Baptist friends, I do not normally attach any great importance to the denominational associations of the great preachers. This may be seen at once when you run your eye back over the first line of this article where the names of a Congregationalist, Anglican and Presbyterian are mentioned without reference to their respective backgrounds. I would contend that I, as a Presbyterian Calvinist have more in common with Stearns than any of the “Calvinism is heresy” type Baptists who wouldn’t let Stearns within 10 miles of their pulpit if he was alive today.

 * Shubal Stearns was converted, under God, through the evangelist preaching of Calvinist preacher, George Whitefield in 1745. Obviously this does not automatically make Stearns a Calvinist, but he certainly saw warm, evangelistic Calvinism in action and the rich blessing of God resting upon it. Unlike that of Whitefield, there are no written sermons of Stearns extant. However, it is significant that, like his father in the faith, he was noted as insisting regularly on the necessity of the New Birth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

* In 1758, Stearns set up the Sandy Creek Association with other men of like faith. Unfortunately, the SCA did not issue a formal Confession of Faith until 1816, long after Stearns was dead. This was partly because they were not originally noted for their adherence to any form. (They seemed to be somewhat "laid back" as they say in these parts. ) An example of such informality can be seen in the fact that their Association had no formal moderator for a number of years. Even their 1816 Confession lacks the depth of the earlier 1689 London Confession of Faith and the 1742 Philadelphia Confession, but is modelled on the 'one liner' type statements of the Mississippi Baptist Association Articles of Faith from 10 years earlier. As will be seen, the 1816 Confession is distinctly Calvinist in its belief, especially lines numbered III and IV:

Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association 

I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.

II. That Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.

III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.

IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.

V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.

VI. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.

VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.

VIII. That baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.

IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.

X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord's table.

 

* While it is true that the SCA had some issues with another Calvinistic body, (Particular Baptists) the issue was not over doctrine, but some of the CSA practices. In 1758, the body in question (Philadelphia Association) sent a respected and trustworthy investigator (John Gano) who complained that the CSA was "rather immethodical." Some of these practices included the ordaining of female elders and deaconesses and a toleration of "dancing in the Spirit" on the basis that "there was a genuine work of grace among the people." While he ruefully noted these somewhat disconcerting matters, the investigator concluded that "the root of the matter was in them" thus judging favourtably both their professed conversion to Christ and soundness of theology. It is inconceivable that such a detailed report from Gano would omit to mention any major differences in doctrine, especially on those doctrines commonly called Calvinism. Gano's report did much to strengthen the relationship between the two bodies which again indicates basic agreement on the Doctrines of Grace. This was not the first time that Stearns and the Calvinists round him had come under the scutiny of the Calvinists of the Philadelphia Association. The said Association in 1752 considered a query "Whether a person denyng unconditional election, the doctrine of original sin, and the final perseverance of the saints, and striving to affect as many as he can, may have full communion with the church?" and concluded that they could not. They were very firm about the matter. I quote:

"Upon which fundamental doctrines of Christianity, next to the belief of an eternal God, our faith must rest; and we adopt, and would that all the churches belonging to the Baptist Association, be well grounded in accordance to our Confession of faith and catechism, and cannot allow that any are true members of our churches who deny the said principles, be their conversation outward what it will."

 
With these sentiments in mind, the PA sent an Evangelist called Benjamin Millar to investigate the scene at Opekon where Stearns worked along with his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall. This was because some complaints had been received. Benjamin Millar was suitably impressed and spoke highly of the spiritual state of the people. So much so, that in 1754, only two years after the Calvinist query had been raised in the Association, the church at Opekon (and also at Ketocton) was received into the Philadelphia Association. This would not have been if they could not have honestly subscribed to the Philadelpia Confession of Faith with its statements on the key Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election, the doctrine of original sin, and the final perseverance of the saints.




So Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek men were almost certainly Calvinists. Like Whitefield before them and others like Edwards, they nail the lie that Calvinism kills both evangelism and Revival.  This is not so and it need not be so. Calvinism DEMANDS evangelistic endeavour. Contrary to the unwarranted attacks made upon Calvinism, we do NOT believe that God will save His elect, no matter what. We believe that God gathers in His decreed elect through the means of evangelism. This is why Calvinists evangelise. John Calvin himself was a great evangelist and encouraged others to be so as well.   


Additional information:

* The Baptist Encyclopedia gives details of one of Shubal Stearns converts. One name that crops up is that of Rev. Murphy William. It says of him that he was...

"Rev. Murphy William was led to the Saviour and baptized by the celebrated Shubal Stearns. Mr Murphy had not only a sound Christian experience, but his doctrine was that of Calvin, Augustine and Paul. ... In the year 1775 when the churches were agitated by the Arminian controversy, Mr Murphy with great ability defended sovereign and efficacious  grace." (p825)