Thursday, 7 March 2013

Marriage Really Matters

To see the latest installment on Marriage Matters, please click here.

John Jones - Reformed Pastor par excellence

Dr Alan C. Clifford wrote this excellent piece:

Although John Jones had been preaching for several years, and had become famous throughout Wales and beyond, he had not received full ordination at this time. However, this occurred in the Bala Association in June 1829, when five others were ordained with him. At the close of the ordination service, John Elias delivered the charge. In the same Association, in the evening of the last day, John Jones preached on the words, ‘The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the mul titude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne’ (Psalm 97: 1-2). He was aware of the deep and solemn importance of ordination to the full calling of the Christian ministry. ‘His own sensitive spirit was deeply moved’, wrote Owen Jones, ‘and his sermon that night was delivered with great power. The Revd John Hughes, Wrexham, preached after him. In speaking of the event, Mr Hughes said, “It would have been disheartening even for John Elias to rise up after him”’.

Ever since the first ordinations of 1811, the Calvinistic Methodists were aware of the high privileges and responsibilities of an ordained  ministry. Freed at last from the shackles of Anglicanism, they were able to develop, establish and express a truly Reformed view of the Church. From a Continental perspective, the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists were truly ‘The Reformed Churches of Wales’, later known as the Presbyterians of Wales - without denying that other branches of Welsh Nonconformity share some characteristics of Reformed churchmanship. The Confession of 1823 outlined the ethos and duties of the people of God, which John Jones and his brethren promised solemnly to uphold, teach and maintain: 

Christ the head of the church, has instituted ordinances, means of grace, and an order of worship, to be used in the church by all his people, - in private, in the family, and in the congregation. Through these ordinances, God gives grace, and nourishes and increases the grace given. They are the ordinances of preaching, reading and hearing the word, prayer, praise, mutual instruction, conversation [cydymddyddan], the exercise of every part of church discipline, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Whatever biblical reservations John Jones entertained about the ‘Owenite’ features of Article 18 ‘Of Redemption’, he was fully committed to Article 37.  In his high views of the sacraments, he was neither Baptist nor Anglican. Furthermore, ‘he was anxious to keep these high in the estimation of the people’.

Regarding baptism, John Jones’s own family experience - as a son of godly parents and now a father of a growing family - was a constant reminder of God’s covenant mercies. Owen Jones creates a beautiful picture of John Jones’s understanding of the ordinance of covenant baptism:

And whenever the Sacrament of Baptism or of the Lord’s Supper was administered by him, he always performed the duty with the solemnity that was due to the occasion. In the case of the Sacrament of Baptism, he would deliver an appropriate address upon the duties which parents owe to their children, upon the profession of Christ made through baptism, the importance of bringing up the young in the church; at other times he would speak of the meaning of the Sacrament, and of the great change that was signified by it. Some of these addresses were very thrilling, and his prayers were always fervent for the blessing of God upon the parents and the children.

Owen Jones’s account of John Jones’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a narrative of exquisite rapture, and deserves to be quoted in full:

His administration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was more impressive still. This is done in Wales generally at the close of the service. After prayer and consecration the minister goes round the members with the bread and wine; and while doing so he speaks words appropriate to the occasion. Mr John Jones always took some special point in connection with the death of Christ: His love, His humiliation, His self-denial and obedience to the will of God; the sufficiency of His sacrifice, the cleansing through His blood, &c.; and he dwelt upon it, and expressed his thoughts until gradually he became warmed by the subject; his ideas flowed as from a fountain; his mind was thrilled; those emotions passed from him to the congregation; the people became absorbed in the same great subject; and they forgot themselves at last, and seemed lost in a sea of gladness and Divine joy. We have heard it said that his addresses at the Communion table were at times so fervent, so glowing, so heavenly, that the people could hardly venture from a feeling of awe and reverence to take the elements from his hand. 

A uniquely-glorious experience of such heavenly joy was felt when John Jones was preaching at the Tabernacle, Bangor one Lord’s Day evening in the early summer of 1835. Again, Owen Jones paints the wonderful picture:

The service commenced at six o’clock. The sermon was not over till half past eight. Nevertheless, the people were not tired; under the spell of his oratory time was forgotten. On this occasion there was a Communion service to be at the close. The sermon itself was impressive; and the congregation had been worked up to a high pitch of emotion. It was felt at the Communion table that the service went on with great ease. The preacher was in a most elevated mood, and grace was evidently being poured into his lips, and a live coal from the altar of the sanctuary had touched them; so that they glowed with peculiar eloquence that evening. The preacher had gone round the large chapel with the bread, and was now returning for the wine. He took the cups in his hands, and held them up with the wine in them, and with his sweet voice he said, “Do you see, my friends, how the wine begins to redden?” These words, with those beautiful notes of his, ran electrically through the multitude. The tears rushed to the eyes of many, as if to see what was the cause of such a shock, and they gave vent to their emotions in words; and probably there was not a man who did not feel that moment something creeping shudderingly over him. After a while there was perfect silence again, and he went on speaking upon the “precious blood of Christ.” The time had gone; no one thought of looking upon the clock. Their minds had been absorbed. It was after ten o’ clock when he commenced praying in order to close the meeting. He said, “Indeed, Lord, we would have praised Thee to-night, only that it has gone late. Blessed be God, because we have hopes of going into a country where there will be no record of time to disturb our worship; and because we can hope for the day when we shall never become tired of the house of God.” Before he had gone any farther, the feelings of the people became too warm again; and their voices drowned the voice of the preacher; and there they remained till it was eleven o’clock.

Such were the amazing labours of the Revd John Jones, Talsarn. For all the joys of heaven poured out in such abundance, his Lord’s day travels denied him any rest. He often had to preach in three places, many miles apart, each service concluding with the Lord’s Supper and sometimes a baptism. Clearly his ordination as a minister of the Gospel had a profound influence upon him. His biographer appropriately describes this period in the preacher’s career: ‘He consecrated his energies, his talents, and his genius more than ever to the great cause of Christ. And though his toil was incessant and his labours excessive, yet he was employed with the work he delighted to be in; and he enjoyed times of most thorough refreshing and happiness. His ministry advanced in power, and his popularity became greater still’.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Minister to be Ministered to.

You might be wondering why I spend so much time and effort in preparing these ‘sermons’ for you, but there are two very good pastoral reason why.  

First, I am so painfully aware how great a battle prayer is, so those who pray need to be encouraged and challenged in order to keep them on track.  If their prayer is to be intelligent, it must be informed about the current situation, which, as you know, can change from day to day, at times from hour to hour. 

Second, I am seeking to minister to myself in order to keep my spiritual fires burning brightly.  Prayer is when you really enter the battle-field with the devil, and the forces of evil, and he will contest every step you take in approaching the Throne of grace.  I, like you, find prayer both a delight and a challenge.  There’s is simply nothing to compare with having an audience with the King, and know you have been there.  For too often when I pray, it is merely words and little heart.  It is so true: a hearty prayer without words is better than a wordy prayer without heart.  Mere words just do not cut it.  So I need to be reminded of the very basics of prayer, and be taught that “there is a wicked spirit watching o’er you still, and he tries to tempt you to all harm and ill.  But you must not hear him though ‘tis hard for you to resist the evil and the good to do.”  How frequently I fall at this hurdle.  So these updates minister to my sinful heart as well as to yours.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The God Who Speaks.

One of the distinctive things about the Christian faith is that in it (and in it alone), we have the God Whom we worship actually speaking to His children.   Now think on that for a moment!  Unlike every other God, our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the speaking God.  Do you hear Him?  What is He saying to you?  Have you heard Him speaking to your heart as you read the Scriptures?  When you sat in church listening to a sermon, have you heard God speak to you personally?  Our God is the speaking God. 

To sit and listen to the Lord talking right into our hearts is as strange as it is astonishing.  It’s not strange that God speaks, but it is somewhat strange that He should speak to the likes of us.  Yes, He speaks!  And every time He speaks to us, He accomplishes something significant in us – He either softens our hearts to love Him more – and that’s what we want; or, He hardens our hearts so that when we read His Word, we do not hear Him speaking to us – and that’s what we do not want!  It all depends upon our attitude when we approach Him in the Scriptures.

In His providence, He brought my mind to Habakkuk 3:17-18, and through these verses, He spoke to me.  For the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls.  But I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation.” 

The prophet had to learn the lesson that despite our circumstances, if we lose everything, we can still rejoice in the Lord.  We also need to learn that same lesson.  Yet, it’s a lesson we do not want to learn.  We are so desirous of our possessions and the things (and people) we hold dear that we want them more than we want the LORD.  Totally understandable, of course.  We do not even want to dare the Lord to take everything from us, in case He might take us at our word and grant us just that!  Yet once we learn this valuable lesson, we will be truly liberated, and enabled to rise above our circumstances, for that’s where Jesus actually is.  And we will “joy in the God of [my] salvation.” 

The KJV brings this out beautifully when it translates the first word as “Although” and the beginning of v.18 with “Yet.”  This highlights the “although” and the “yet” of Christian faith.  “Although” for one reason or another, we are currently going through tough times, “yet” we will rejoice in the Lord...  We must refuse to allow the ‘although’ of adversities to quench our faith or extinguish our living hope in Christ.

How wonderful are these words. If nothing in life flourishes and no fruit comes of our labours; and although the animals fail to produce, this is not the end of the world for us.  If we lose all that’s precious to us, our relationship with our precious Saviour is not one whit diminished.  If the worst happens, “yet” will I “rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Only the true Christian can say this from the heart.  Can you?

I mentioned recently the disturbing thoughts Margaret had regarding her cancer and her brain condition.  Such disturbing thoughts came to me, too. I told her that I was being plagued with thoughts that the Lord is preparing me for being on my own, for widower-hood, and for life without having her with me.  That may or may not be true, I don’t know; but because I have no evidence that this is what is happening, I had to put such annoying thoughts right out of my mind, and put on again the “helmet of salvation” (Eph.6:17) to protect my mind from such disturbing thoughts. 

Praying has been difficult for both of us, due to the weakness of the flesh and the sinfulness of our hearts.  What a re-assurance it is to know that you, and many others, having been ‘holding the ropes’ of prayer during this time.  We have tried to keep up our praying, but at times it has been so difficult, a struggle.  Yet, the truly amazing thing is that God, by His Spirit, has given me the urge to pray at different times, and I have followed this urge and found myself having greater liberty in prayer at such times.  When you feel the urge to pray, then pray; for this is God’s Spirit at work.