Archive for May, 2006

The Influence of Jacques Alexanian

May 29th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

One of the deep joys of the Christian life is that the Lord Christ uses his people to shape his people. “Iron sharpens iron,” as it says in Proverbs.

As I look back on the last thirty years of my own Christian walk, among the brothers who have shaped my life one of the first that comes to mind is Jacques Alexanian, now residing with his wife Loretta in Gatineau, Quebec. Jacques served for a good number of years as the President of SEMBEQ. His influence on me has been enormous. In many ways, he has been a father in the Lord Jesus. In particular, he taught me about the nature of true Christian leadership, its vital importance for the Church, and the joy of serving Christ humbly.

I am also deeply thankful for the hospitality he and Loretta showed me year after year when I came up to Montreal to teach at SEMBEQ. Those days are over now, but not forgotten and times of fellowship with Jacques and Loretta are woven into the fabric of my Christian life. May the Lord continue to make both of them a blessing to his people and an ornament of grace.

Eminent Christians: 10. Charles Haddon Spurgeon

May 27th, 2006 Posted in Eminent Christians

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born into a godly home in the heart of rural Essex on June 19, 1834. Spurgeon’s forebears originally came from the Netherlands, which they had left in the 1500s due to religious persecution. Both Spurgeon’s father, John Spurgeon, and his grandfather, James Spurgeon, were Congregationalist preachers, and it was during an extended stay over a number of years in the home of his grandfather that Spurgeon discovered a library of Puritan folios.

Despite Spurgeon’s tender years and the fact that as a young child he found it very difficult to lift these large and weighty Puritan volumes, he would later write that as a boy he was never happier than when in the company of these Puritan authors. In time Spurgeon would be rightly convinced that commitment to the Calvinism and the spirituality of the Puritans was vital for the orthodoxy and well-being of Baptist churches.

However, despite such godly surroundings it was not until January, 1850, that Spurgeon was soundly converted. Four months later, Spurgeon, with the agreement of his Congregationalist parents, was baptized in the River Lark not far from Isleham in Cambridgeshire. After his baptism Spurgeon found an unquenchable desire to serve Christ. He began to speak in more public settings, and his compelling preaching soon led to an invitation to pastor the Baptist church in Waterbeach, a small hamlet a few miles northeast of Cambridge. Spurgeon laboured here from the autumn of 1851 to April, 1854. In those two and a half years the membership of the small Baptist chapel more than doubled, going from 40 to 100.

Hearing of his scintillating preaching, the deacons of Park Street Chapel, an historic London Baptist congregation, invited him to preach on December 11, 1853. The congregation who heard Spurgeon that Sunday were thrilled with his preaching and the deacons quickly arranged for Spurgeon to return three Sundays in January, 1854. He was subsequently invited to supply the pulpit for several months, and in April of that year, at the age of nineteen, he accepted a call to be the pastor of the church.

The church was built to seat 1,200, but it soon proved far too small for the crowds that sought to sit under Spurgeon’s preaching. In 1855 the chapel was consequently expanded to seat 1,500. A year later, however, this renovated chapel had also been outgrown, and the decision was made to build what would become known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Completed in 1861, the Tabernacle could seat 5,000 and accommodate another 1,000 standing. For the rest of Spurgeon’s pastorate the Tabernacle saw an average of 5,000 at each Sunday morning and evening service. And while Spurgeon and his fellow elders were careful not to make a huge membership their goal—indeed Spurgeon had a healthy distrust of all such statistics—14,691 were added to the church during Spurgeon’s time there, of which roughly 10,800 were by conversion and baptism.

Spurgeon’s success as a preacher certainly owed little to his physical appearance, for he was of average height, fairly stout as he grew older, and had two unduly prominent front teeth. In the words of a certain Monckton Milnes: “When he went into the pulpit, he might be taken for a hairdresser’s assistant; when he left it he was an inspired apostle.” Augustine Birrell records that when he went to hear Spurgeon preach the only seat he could find was in the topmost gallery, between a woman eating an orange and a man sucking peppermints. Finding this combination of odours unendurable, he was about to leave, when, he said, “I heard a voice and forgot all else.” In the words of recent biographer Mike Nicholls, Spurgeon possessed one of the great speaking voices of his age, musical and combining compass, flexibility and power.”

Spurgeon, though, looked to quite a different source for the blessings which attended his ministry. In a speech which he gave at a celebration held in honour of his fiftieth birthday in 1884, the Baptist preacher forthrightly declared that the blessing which he had enjoyed in his pastorate “must be entirely attributed to the grace of God, and to the working of God’s Holy Spirit…Let that stand as a matter, not only taken for granted, but as a fact distinctly recognized.”

Spurgeon died in 1892 at Menton, a resort on the French Riviera not far from the Italian border, where he had annually taken vacations since the mid-1870s. Spurgeon had come there as an ill man with his wife in October of that year in the hope that a change of scenery and weather would facilitate a recovery of health. It was not to be. The Prince of Preachers died in the last hour on the final day of January, 1892.

And although Spurgeon’s voice was stilled in 1892, through the ongoing publication of his sermons the Holy Spirit continues to honour Spurgeon’s ministry and to draw sinners through them to know and to worship the Triune God. Little wonder that the twentieth-century Lutheran preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke once suggested with regard to Spurgeon’s sermons: “Sell all you have…and go buy Spurgeon.”

Indigo Decision

May 27th, 2006 Posted in Current Affairs

A news item today reported that the Canadian book chain Indigo has pulled Harpers magazine since the most recent issue of this magazine “contains reprints of 12 cartoons that sparked outrage in the Muslim world earlier this year” (“Indigo pulls Harper’s magazine”).

Interesting, eh? The blockbuster The Da Vinci Code also contains outrageous material: blasphemous ideas about the blessed Lord Jesus. But there is not a thought about pulling that or the other trashy pulp that makes similarly ludicrous claims. The difference? How sincere Muslims and sincere Christians react to blasphemy. The first are ready to slay the infidel that mock the Prophet. The latter are set to pray for those that ridicule them.

Carl Trueman at Toronto Baptist Seminary

May 27th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

It was our delight as a seminary community at Toronto Baptist Seminary to have Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary as our guest speaker last night at the Principal’s Banquet in Toronto and then this morning for three lectures on Trinitarianism, creedal confessionalism and Reformed piety at the 3rd annual Jonathan Edwards Centre for Reformed Spirituality lectures.

Carl Trueman’s talks this morning were really superb. They combined an historical depth with a passion for edifying the Church. They were a good balance of scholarship and piety. He pled for a greater Trinitarianism in all of our thinking and piety. One lecture I found particularly helpful as he showed how the covenant of peace arose from Calvinists thinking about how salvation was related to the Trinity in eternity past. But they were all very good stuff.

Here is a very brief report of yesterday evening’s talk by Kirk Wellum: Unashamed of the Gospel. And here, on Ian Clary’s blog, is a report of the lectures this morning: Spirituality Conference with Carl Trueman.

Samuel Pearce on the Duty of Churches Towards Their Pastors

May 26th, 2006 Posted in 18th Century, Theology

Among the shining names from the history of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that of Samuel Pearce (1766-1799), who was the pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, for the ten years before his death. He was an engaging preacher who had a profound impact on many who heard him.

Here is a portion of one of his sermons, The Duty of Churches to regard Ministers as the Gift of Christ, in which he is speaking on Ephesians 4:11-12 at an ordination, that of W. Belsher of Worcester. It is a text that is very relevant for today when pastors can be lightly esteemed. Pearce first emphasizes that pastors are a gift from Christ and why God has given them to the Church.

“None of God’s gifts are bestowed without design—the falling shower, and the clear shining of the sun after rain, the wintry frosts and the summer heats, have their respective uses; nor can you suppose that the great Head of the Church hath called our brother by his grace, put him into the ministry, and given him to you as a pastor, without having in view some important end. It will now be your wisdom, as it is your duty, to consider seriously what that end is, and to be practically concerned to have it answered.

“Plainly is this design unfolded in the words following the text, “for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:12,] that is, not for your increase in numbers only, but also for your improvement in wisdom and goodness. Now your duties, my brethren, are consequent on your pastors: if he be a teacher, you must be learners; if he have a building to erect, you must be fellow labourers; and, unless you be wanting in the duties of your stations, you may be assured that the divine blessing will not be withheld.”

He then rightly points out the first and greatest need of pastors is that their people pray for them. This point is very much in line with the great sense of dependence on the Spirit that marked out Pearce and his friends, men like Andrew Fuller and William Carey:

“If you would have the design of the pastoral relation answered, you must be much in prayer for your minister: His work is great, and the necessary qualifications for the discharge of it, are neither unimportant nor few. It requires much wisdom to understand the Scriptures; much fortitude to oppose the errors, the indifference, and the impurities of the times; much zeal to labour extensively and habitually for Christ and souls; much prudence to advise and act in difficult cases, and much personal religion to impart a savor of Christ to all his conversation, his discourses, and his prayers.

“Here then is scope for your petitions; the furniture of a Christian minister must come from above, and from thence it must be sought. “Brethren, pray for us,” said the apostle of the Gentiles. Brethren, pray for us, we also say: Men of like passions with yourselves—exposed to temptation from numerous quarters—as prone naturally to depart from God as you—liable to stupidity, carnality, and vanity—O, if you have any desire to see us holy, spiritual, active, honourable—pray for us.”

Pearce then outlines the key challenges before the preacher of the Word and reiterates the need for the sovereign power of God to accompany the pastor’s labours and as a means to this the faithful praying of God’s people:

“You are not unacquainted, brethren, with the difficulties which lie in the way of our success. …Not merely to inform the judgments—to excite the passions—to conquer the prejudices of education, and to reform the manners of men, are before us—a more arduous talk presents itself. My brethren, our point is not gained without a change of heart! A renovation of the whole soul! A conversion from the power of Satan unto God! But who is sufficient for these things? Can human energy effect them? Nay, my brethren, we are compelled to own that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to do any thing as of ourselves—all our sufficiency is of God.” Were all the moral virtues, and supernatual endowments, which have ever adorned the saint, or distinguished the apostle, concentrated in one Christian pastor, neither will believers be improved, nor sinners converted, without the presence, the power, and the grace of Christ! In vain we enter the pulpit—in vain we persuade, we exhort, we beseech, we reprove, we warn, or we invite—the word will never come with a saving power, unless it “come in the Holy Ghost.” …Our only encouragement to labour, and our only hope of success, arise from the promise of God, and as a mean of enjoying it, the prayers of our people. My dear brethren, you had better dispose of your pastor to some other church, unless you have a heart to pray for him.”

Words for our day indeed.

NOTE: Andrew Fuller would later draw up the life of his friend Pearce. One of the reasons he wrote his life was to illustrate the piety that accompanied genuine Calvinism, as opposed to what Fuller regarded as the “false Calvinism” of certain Antinomians of his day. These Antinomians tended to reject inviting sinners to Christ—or offering Christ indiscriminately to all and sundry. It is noteworthy that Pearce, near the end of the last section of this sermon cited above, describes the work of preaching thus: “we persuade, we exhort, we beseech, we reprove, we warn, or we invite.” This is a fabulous window into his thought about the content of faithful, biblical preaching. Note especially the presence of the phrase “we invite.” Biblical preaching invites sinners to come to the Saviour.

Lord Acton’s Principle for Historical Scholarship

May 24th, 2006 Posted in Church History, Historians

Lord Acton (1834-1902)—Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton—was one of the great historians of the nineteenth century. He was the holder of the Regius Chair of Modern History at the University of Oxford. Amazingly, he was appointed to the Chair in 1895 without a single book to his name, but he had written some of the most remarkable scholarly articles of the day.

Among his principles was an insistence on the primacy of primary sources, which usually means archival sources, for sound historical scholarship. As he said:

“To renounce the pains and penalties of exhaustive research is to remain a victim to ill informed and designing writers, and to authorities that have worked for ages to build up the vast tradition of conventional mendacity. …By going from book to manuscript and from library to archive, we exchange doubt for certainty…”

Would that many wannabe historians and other historical pontificators would learn this vital principle! Even theologians would do well to heed this advice. All of those vacuous generalizations about church history and our culture with nary a shred of evidence! The ultimate result is vapidity. How easy it is to pontificate—but we want proof of assertions.

Recent F.I.R.E. Conference

May 24th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

I am just back home from the national conference of FIRE: Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals, which was held this year in Hudsonville, Michigan, near Grand Rapids. What a delight to be there for the day and a half I was there. The host church, Grace Community Church, Hudsonville, did a superb job of hosting the event. Thank you, Pastor Krogh, and you, the brothers and sisters of this church!

The conference concluded this evening, but I had to leave after breakfast and missed hearing Jason Deutsch and Jim Newheiser. It was a joy to hear, though, Erroll Hulse on Monday evening and Jim Grier last night. Last night was especially precious as Dr Grier expounded Isaiah 6. An anointed word!

It was also a delight to make the re-acquaintance of some dear friends and meet new ones. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the sweet communion of his people! May the Lord bless this fellowship of churches richly—what a joy to be a part of it.

Remembering Francis Schaeffer

May 15th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

I was at a Central Baptist Seminary faculty retreat in the Muskokas in May of 1984—Dr George Bell had become the President of the school that year and one of my best friends, Mr. Keith Edwards, had come on board to help me as my assistant registrar (what a joy to be working with him again!)—when I heard news of the death of Dr. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). He died on May 15, 1984.

Schaeffer, along with C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), were my two earliest Christian mentors as authors. Schaeffer helped me realize that honest questions deserved honest answers. He showed me that being an intellectual was a definite Christian calling and indirectly helped confirm my calling as an historian, though the latter took years to work out. And he gave me a distinct preference for presuppositional apologetics, the only reasonable approach to apologetics for a Calvinist. I still have great admiration for his work, though I recognize that some of his discussion of philosophers like Kant and Kierkegaard was not terribly deep.

Manitoba Ministry

May 14th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

This past weekend I was in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, at Bible Baptist Church, where Larry Bird is the pastor. I spoke at the church three times and at the annual convention of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches (FEBC) in Canada, Manitoba Region, on Saturday twice. The convention was also held at Bible Baptist Church. What a delight to be with these brothers and sisters. The fellowship and hospitality was tremendous. There are eight or so churches in the Region—the smallest of the FEBC regions. Again, it was a privilege to be with these Baptist brothers and sisters and meet a number who knew men that I knew.

It is amazing to think that I have lived in this country for forty years and when it comes to going west I had never been outside of Ontario. The farthest west I had ever been was Blind River, Ontario! I have been much farther west in the US but not in my home country. So it was a privilege to fly into Winnipeg, where a brother, Ed Price, picked me up and drove me to Portage. Pastor Bird loves the doctrines of grace and it was a privilege to meet him again and minister to his people.

Sembeq

May 14th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

One of the greatest privileges of my life has been teaching at SEMBEQ, the French Evangelical Baptist Seminary in Montreal. The students that I have taught have taught me as much as I have them. And it is through my times at this school that I have made some deep and lasting friendships for which I will thank God for eternity.

I thank God for so many of the brothers who are labouring in Baptist works in Quebec.