A few weeks ago I had the privilege of travelling around Scotland with four students as the culmination of our class on aspects of Scottish church history. It was a great time, and I hope to comment more on it.
One thing we did was visit several great book shops, chief among them James Dickson Books, with whom I’ve been doing business for quite a few years now. They have a wonderful array of books, and the owner is a wealth of information especially about the Covenanters.
On this visit, when he remembered I am a Baptist, Mr. Dickson wanted me to see some sermon manuscript pages he had from “Mr. Spurgeon.” In the end I purchased the one pictured here. Once home I had it framed at Graves Gold Leaf Gallery where Mr. Graves knows exactly how to handle and preserve old documents.
The page is from the sermon transcription done while Spurgeon preached with his own edits (in purple ink) before it was sent to the printer. That’s fun in itself. But, I like this page particularly for what it says. Spurgeon is preaching on 1 Cor 2:12 and at this page he is enlarging on the point that gospel truths have been “freely given to us of God.” Here is the sermon text from the page:
“He should give himself away because Jesus gave Himself for us. You should be of a large heart, for you serve a large-hearted Christ who has given you all things freely to enjoy. Next, be ready to impart what you know. If the Spirit of God has made you to know the things freely given of God, try to tell somebody else. Don’t act as if you had a patent, or a monopoly and wanted Divine Grace to be a secret. You have not the gift of God yourself if you have no desire that others should have it. The first instinct of a converted man is to try to convert others. If you have no wish to bring others to Heaven, you are not going there yourself.”
Yes! That is what I want to be about in the ministry the Lord has given me. Sharing the truths of God, passing along any understanding I may have, and pointing others to Christ.
While in Scotland recently I picked up a nice older copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s little book, The Body Snatcher. This is really a short story (originally published in 1881) but was published in a little volume as part of Merriam’s Violet Series in 1895.
This is a fascinating story which seemed in many ways to be a precursor to Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This was further confirmed when I saw that Jekyll and Hyde was published five years after this story. In the name of science the main character was taken in to the work of procuring human bodies for scientific study and teaching. Without the regulations and oversight we take for granted today and with an increasing demand for objects of study for a famous professor, the task of obtaining bodies takes a dark turn. What I found most intriguing was the case study the story provides for how sin entraps an individual, taking you further than you intended to go, and how one’s conscience can be seared. There is a clear progression from hating the sin, giving in, feeling sick over the sin, accepting it and then boasting in it.
The story ends abruptly and, to me, unsatisfactorily. Many loose ends are left. It seems like Stevenson needed to sell a short story, so cut this one off and sold it- as if the story itself, perhaps, grew beyond what he intended for it. It is quite worthwhile reading, but it would have been great for him to have brought the pieces to conclusion. Perhaps this is what led him to take up a similar theme and work it all the way through in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
This would make great short reading with any group wanting to probe the realities of the growth and danger of sin.
I was at a sports banquet tonight with one of my sons and the cross country coach gave a good challenge to his team. He told them the only way to improve in running was to run and to run often. He said, “There’s no magic trick to improving your running. You just have to run.”
It hit me, that the same is true for prayer. The Bible is clear on the importance of prayer in the life of a believer, and pastors are called to “devote” themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Yet, most of us struggle with prayer. Wherever there is a struggle- from weight loss to dating to prayer- there will be plenty of people offering a quick, easy solution (typically for a price!). But, there are rarely easy answers. Work is required and we’re just looking for lazy shortcuts. Similarly, in prayer the only way to learn to pray is to pray. You can use some instruction (particularly follow biblical prayers like the Psalms and our Lord’s model prayer), but then you must simply pray and pray often. As the Puritans said, pray until you pray.
For the last 20 years, April has been designated National Poetry Month. Any reader of this blog will know that I have an interest in poetry and seek to indicate its value for pastoral ministry. In fact, I hope to one day edit a volume on the value of poetry in pastoral ministry.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to draw attention to three works which highlight the connection between poetry and the Bible.
The Poets’ Book of Psalms, edited by Laurance Wieder, provides a poetic rendering of every Psalm drawing from poets from the 16th to the 20th century. The quality of the poetry varies, but it is fascinating to see these renderings from across five centuries. It is a reminder that the Psalter has been not only the bedrock of Christian worship but also the fountainhead of much of Western poetry.
The other two works- The Poetic Bible, compiled by Colin Duriez and Chapters into Verse (2 vols.), edited by Robert Atwan and Laurance Wieder- have a similar premise: compiling poems in English that arise from every section of the Bible. Both of these works draw from poems across several centuries. Since Chapters into Verse has two volumes it of course can be more comprehensive. Volume one covers the Old Testament, and volume two covers the New Testament. I particularly like Duriez’s introduction with his contemplation of the connection between the poetic and prosaic and how the Bible encourages symbolic thought.
Each of these volumes makes its own contribution, and I enjoy dipping into them when studying a specific potion of Scripture to see if there is a poem connected to my text. It is enriching to see how people across the ages have expressed these passages in verse.
I commend these to you in an age which has largely lost its poetry. We do well to reclaim this gift which God saw fit to use extensively in the Scriptures. Reawakening the poetic will help us better understand, proclaim and apply these Scriptures and, it seems to me, probably help us to grow towards being more fully human.
Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so I am reposting an item from 4 years ago in honor of the heroic efforts of Scottish Baptist pastor John Harper.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. This terrible tragedy was also the occasion of some very heroic deeds as men by and large supported a “Women and children first” policy. Sadly the heroic aspect has been obscured by a dubious movie. On this anniversary there is one specific story especially relevant to the theme of this site which I would not want us to miss. My friend Mark Donaldson pointed me to the story of John Harper, a Scottish Baptist preacher from Glasgow. Harper demonstrated the heart of a pastor and evangelist in this desperate situation. This brief video from BBC news includes comments from the current pastor of Harper Memorial Baptist Church and Harper’s grandson. It is well worth watching.
Knowing the ship was going down, Harper, a widower, calmly placed his young daughter on a life boat along with his niece ensuring their safety while knowing he would likely not see them again. When the ship went down he was in the icy sea with a life jacket. Survivors reported that Harper called people to Christ aboard the ship and while in the sea. Upon encountering a man without a life jacket, he asked if the man had trusted Christ. When the man said, “No,” Harper gave him his lifejacket saying the unbeliever needed it more than he did. This other man was later one of just a few who were rescued. John Harper died at sea, but the man who received the life jacket came to faith and later told the story.
Harper, like his Master, came to seek and to save the lost.
(Story on the website of Harper Memorial Baptist Church, Glasgow)
I am pleased for the Ryan Center at Union University to be hosting a public lecture by my friend, Jeremy Walker, this Thursday, April 14, at 3pm in Jennings 325. Jeremy serves as a pastor in Crowley, England and is the author of several books including The Brokenhearted Evangelist. I met Jeremy when we were both speaking at a pastors’ conference in Edinburgh several years ago. I greatly appreciated his preaching and followed up with him.
This will be a great opportunity to hear from someone from a different context, with years of faithful pastoral ministry experience.
The lecture is free and open to the public.
The response to the new edition of Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy has been encouraging. I hope readers find it edifying.
After releasing the book a friend helped me to update it in some ways which make it more user friendly, particularly by hyperlinking the table of contents so that with one click you can go directly to any sermon you want.
Anyone who has purchased the book can go to the “Manage Your Content and Devices” tab at Amazon, and you can update your version (no cost).
Saturday, the settled gloom
Speaks only doom
Our Lord sealed in the tomb.
Our hopes were high.
Why did he have to die?
Was it all a lie?
Stumble through Sabbath, weak,
Everything so bleak
What to do at the 1st of the week?
Pause to perceive the pain,
sit with the sorrow,
contemplate the cruelty
of the condemnation of Christ,
the substitute of the sinless Son
My poem of the week this week has been one of my favorites from Frank L. Stanton (February 22, 1857- January 7, 1927), who was the first poet laureate of the state of Georgia. I appreciate the “down home”, everyday life themes of his poems which are often sprinkled with what used to be common sense wisdom. This one is great on perseverance.
If you strike a thorn or rose,
If it hails or if it snows,
‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine
When the fish ain’t on your line;
Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’―
When the weather kills your crop,
Though ‘tis work to reach the top,
S’pose you’re out o’ ev’ry dime,
Gittin’ broke ain’t any crime;
Tell the world you’re feeling’ prime―
When it looks like all is up,
Drain the sweetness from the cup,
See the wild birds on the wing,
Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
When you feel like urgin’ sing―