Monday, 2 January 2017

Daily Devotionals

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Happy New Year every one! May 2017 be your most blessed year ever! Two exclamation marks are enough, but allow me to enthuse a little. I sincerely hope that 2017 will prove to be another year of grace like 1859 when God moved mightily in revival blessing across parts of the UK  (Spurgeon's revival sermons here) and especially in my own little province of Ulster. (Reports here).

Yesterday, I started reading Samuel Rutherford's Letters again. Although they are not technically set out as a dated daily reading scheme, yet I intend to read one a day. If so, then they won't last the entire year, so I plan to move unto the select letters of John Newton which are also evangelical classics. Daily devotionals shouldn't replace systematic Bible reading (to state the somewhat obvious) but they can supplement it. Last year I used Spurgeon's Morning and Evening exercises, tweeting some of his more Calvinist statements included (with other stuff) under the #GemsFromSpurgeon  hash tag. The previous year, I used William Jay's intensely more challenging daily devotional (Morning Exercises) Mr Spurgeon's work is relatively brief and consists of 2-3 paragraphs at most. Some of Jay's devotional stuff ran to 2-3 pages. His whole book was the size of a volume of Spurgeon's sermons. But it was pure gold. My wife used it last year. His Evening Exercises are available too and maybe some day, if the Lord will, I will start into them too. I do have a couple of other daily devotionals waiting to be used i.e. Bishop Ryle on the four gospels (I have the set of commentaries from whence the daily readings are taken) and John Calvin on the Psalms. I also have dipped occasionally into the daily readings of James Packer too. It may be said, that the barns are full.

You can read about Rutherford here. He ticks all the right boxes for me: A persecuted Scottish Covenanting Presbyterian etc. You may have sang his hymn at one time or another: "The sands of times are sinking." Sometimes, the name of Mrs Annie Cousins appears at the bottom of the hymn. This is because Rutherford didn't actually compose the hymn (He would have been probably a Psalms only man) but his many spiritual statements were taken by the said lady and woven into metre and set to music. If you are familiar with the hymn, then you will invariably come across the original sentiments as you go through his letters. I am using an old edition of his letters which I picked up second hand in John Gowan's bookshop many moons ago. I think John was still operating out of a spare room in his house when I bought them. This Religious Tract Society edition isn't formally dated, but a previous owner ("George  Crew") dated his signature as 1853.

I have a modern reprint of Rutherford's catechism which is useful. Calvinistic to the core, expressing similar sentiments on the sovereignty of God as the Westminster Confession. Rutherford attended the Westminster Assembly, where (according to James Reid) "He was highly useful in that famous Assembly, and distinguished himself by speaking to good purposes in their debates."

So, this is where I am at the beginning in 2017. On the ministry front, I have been engaged to begin some door to door evangelism on behalf of Kilskeery FPC, starting tomorrow. Next week, I plan to attend the FPC ministers and missionary week of prayer. Just enjoying my last day of Christmas holidays (although I preached both Sabbaths - always a delight.)

Must run on...


Friday, 9 December 2016

BBC History Magazine

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Just a few lines of general appreciation about the BBC History magazine. I picked up several old editionsa while ago (some of which I have still to read) in a local charity shop at a very reasonable price and enjoyed them. This led to a very reasonable yearly subscription at 45% of the RRP in the shops and delivered to your door. (It sells for £4.95) As we say in Belfast, "You couldn't beat that with a big stick..."  By a yearly subscription, I mean 13 editions, because there is a December edition plus a Christmas edition. My good wife has kindly renewed the subscription for 2017 as a birthday present that I get the good of every single month. A history buff's dream. 

The articles are generally very good and cover a wide range of history periods. My favourite history period ranges from Henry VIII and the Protestant Reformation, through the struggles of the Puritans and Covenanters during the disastrous Stuart dynasty right up to the Glorious Revolution that led to the ascension of William III, of glorious, pious and immortal memory. Then after a break of nearly 50 years, I pay interest again to the failed attempt of Bonnie Prince Charlie to regain the throne which was wonderfully and decisively defeated at the Battle of Culloden. This last battle was basically a rerun of the Battle of the Boyne 50 years earlier, only fought this time on Scottish soil. 

Being the BBC, the content is largely secular, but still very instructive. Since we believe in God's Providence, whereby He raises up and casts down kings and empires at will, we should take an interest in what He has done in the great battles and the smaller things. I recommend it.

Friday, 25 November 2016

More on David Cloud and Calvinism

Much of what David Cloud writes generally is good. It is Fundamental and one discerns that he has indeed received help over the years from his use of Reformed Commentaries and Bible aids. We all stand in the debt of the great Reformers and those who seek to follow in their footsteps. Although Cloud is on record of declaring what he likes about Calvinism, he himself  is not a Calvinist and I have had to refute some of his stuff before:

Here is the latest offering from his pen which is easily refuted below. I really do wish that I had the time to refute it even further and deeper. This would simply necessitate looking up Calvin and other Reformed commentators on the Bible verses which Cloud references. Yet, even the simple things take time and I just don't have it to afford. However, the two examples below show that his criticism is misplaced and therefore, while of fodder significance for this blog, is really of little significance in the overall scheme of things.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Book Review - Heavenly Conference

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 Title of book: A Heavenly Conference
Author: Richard Sibbes
Publisher: Banner of Truth
Publisher’s Address or address where book may be obtained: 3 Murrayfield Rd, Edinburgh EH12 6EL, Scotland
Year of publication: 2015
Number of Pages: 167
Hdbk or pbk: Pbk
Price: £5.00
ISBN: 13: 9781848716339

 Reading a Puritan pastor opening up and expounding a text of Scripture reminds us of the Lord Jesus feeding the five thousand with just a few loaves and fishes.  Just as the Saviour dipped again and again into the physical smallness of the supply, so too the Puritan could oft return to one or two verses of Scripture and feed his flock with countless expositions of the doctrines it contains along with the practical lessons for life.

Sibbes is the classic example of the observation which we have just made. His ‘Heavenly Conference’ took place between the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene who was first at the tomb on the Resurrection morning as recorded in John 20.  This is the occasion when she was ministered unto by the angels and on seeing Christ, supposed Him to be the gardener. However, when he addressed her by name, she responded “Rabonni” that is to say “my Master”. He forbade her to touch Him because He would be ascending to “my Father and your Father , my God and your God.”  (v16-17)

Personally, I found the doctrinal part concerning the relationship within the Trinity and its effect upon the believer a little difficult to follow at times, but the applicatory parts were good, especially seeing that Mary’s commission to go and tell the disciples is linked to their recent forsaking of the Saviour. The Puritan always excelled in ministering to hurting saints. 

The book is well presented and up to the usual standard expected from a Banner of Truth production. It is also available in Kindle (.mobi)  and EPUB for those equipped to read it in a more modern format. While the price remains the same, yet (if registered with the Banner of Truth) the book really is yours for life, even when your Kindle reader etc. goes the way of all the earth. 

Colin Maxwell. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Updated audioboo index


Please take time to visit our WhatThinkYe audioboo page. These podcasts are usually around 1 minute long. Please make them known to your friends.

Latest podcast:

* By faith Noah - Hebrews 11:7 #4 (21st February 2017)
* By faith Noah - Hebrews 11:7 #3
* By faith Noah - Hebrews 11:7 #2
* By faith Noah - Hebrews 11:7 #1

More podcasts below

Friday, 9 September 2016

CS Lewis

I had opportunity to read two books last week, with the first leading me to look at the second. The first book was Ravi Zacharias' "The real face of atheism" which I found very good and helpful. On a number of occasions, he quoted (as many modern Evangelical writers are wont to do) from CS Lewis and particularly from Lewis's autobiography "Surprised by Joy." Lewis was a hard boiled atheist before coming to embrace the Theist position. As providence would have it, I discovered the second book in a charity shop where the bargain was 3 books for £1, so the costs was negligible. I read the book last Friday evening, finishing it off on Saturday morning. Here are a few thoughts.

The only other books which I read by Lewis were "Mere Christianity" and a few chapters of his Screwtape letters, where the bookmark still lies half way through the unfinished book. Maybe that tells you something about the latter, or something about me. 

CS Lewis was not an Evangelical Christian. David Cloud characteristically digs the dirt on Lewis here, drawing partly from an article about him in Christianity Today which effectively does the same thing, even if only with less conviction. 

To be positive, CS Lewis (who taught at Oxford) is a powerful writer. He has a way with words that engages you and even, at times, leaves you filled with admiration. All is good, but only as far as it goes. It makes his books a joy to read - see above for my diminished list of books I have actually read - but the experienced reader knows that this is not enough.  To keep myself right, I certainly would not recommend the reading of CS Lewis' books to any one, but articles like this can still draw out the enjoyable parts and share them. If you feel you should read Lewis for more, then go ahead. (It is still a free country.) But do read with care, and remember that the shortcomings are not easily dismissed.  

In the first 14 chapters of Surprised by Joy, Lewis tells us how he came to embrace atheism and then reason himself out of it and into Theism. He commences chapter 15 with the words: "It must be understood that the conversion recorded in the last chapter was only to Theism , pure and simple, not to Christianity."  He had found atheistic books generally entertaining but shallow and came slowly to see how philosophy demanded the existence of a Deity. He uses some powerful word pictures to describe the journey. Near the end of his atheism, he makes powerful allusion to the "Great Angler" who he said "played his fish and I never thought the hook was in my tongue." (p.163) I assume that the Great Angler was God Himself. He uses the countryside allusion once more when, again near the end of his atheism, he likened himself to a fox being chased by hounds. The moment of the kill was surely near because the fox was out of "Hegelian Wood" (Hegel being the atheistic philosopher) and "was now running in the open" with the "hounds barely a field behind." (p175) More powerful imagery changes the metaphor to a chess game where, as he surveyed his atheistic reasons for not believing in a Supreme Deity, he observed: "All over the board my pieces were in the most disadvantageous positions. Soon I could no longer cherish even the allusion that the initiative lay with me. My Adversary began to make His final moves." (p168) (He calls the chapter describing his limited conversion "Checkmate"

What tends to be worrying is that he describes his limited conversion as a response to the "absolute  leap in the dark" that was "demanded." Certainly no recognition here of the word of God shining its light etc (Psalm 119:105/130) That said, he does talk about his struggle with the Almighty. He had been using, in his last days of atheistic struggle, language that avoided giving the impression that he was now starting to believe in God's existence. He spoke about the "Spirit" (which, I suppose, could mean whatever you want it to be mean) and any actual references to God were qualified with the snide "the God of popular religion." However, God wasn't having it. I must admit I like the way that Lewis puts it: "My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. he would not argue about it. he only said, 'I am the Lord'; 'i am that I am'; I am.'"(P177) His actual (limited) conversion is described in these words: 

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted, even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." 

After this conversion to Theism, Lewis toyed with what God/god he was going to believe in.  This is hardly the language of one who has been convicted and led into truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that he was left with a virtual choice between Hinduism and Christianity and opted for Christianity. But, as we have referred to already, a Christianity that was sadly very defective with a chronic denial of the inspiration of Scripture and even the penal atonement of Christ. 

So that's that. Who knows, but I might restart or reread the Screwtape Letters again and see some flashes of literary genius there with some spiritual lessons?