New Prime Minister?


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With Theresa May stepping down, Boris Johnston was elected Prime Minister by the members of the Conservative Party and took up his new position on 24 July.

But the question on everyone’s mind is ‘Is Boris good enough?’ (pardon the pun on Mussorsgsky’s opera). Despite his two terms as Mayor of London and his short period as Foreign Secretary, the country appears to have been presented with an unknown quantity of vast proportions at a delicately balanced time in our history.

Why Boris is not Churchill

Those among the Tory faithful who voted (2 to 1) for Boris, like to imagine something of Winston Churchill in him. There is no doubt, like the great war-time leader, that Mr. Johnston has a certain charisma – an ability to electrify a political meeting and a grand rhetoric.  His first speech as PM outside 10 Downing Street had a real passion, eloquence and determination about it which many found inspiring – with the liberal media looking on simply desperate for him to make a gaff which he didn’t. He too is a wordsmith and has written for the Times and the Telegraph. His personal life, like that of Churchill, does not bear scrutiny – he has children by different relationships. During his time living in Islington, with its leftist intellectuals, Boris embraced the idea of LGBT rights.  He has often, like Churchill, been known to ‘fly by the seat of his pants’ in politically dangerous situations. But there is one crucial area where the parallels cease.

Recently we picked up a second-hand copy of Churchill’s four volume History of the English Speaking Peoples. The groundwork for this opus was done in the 1930s (with the threat of Nazism looming) but was not published until 1956. Reading Churchill’s unfolding of the story of our nation and its worldwide influence, it becomes clear that he had a view of both the legimtimacy and in some senses the superiority of a Christian civilization. For example, with St. Patrick in mind, of the fifth century he writes:’ It was from Ireland that the gospel was carried to the North of Britain and for the first time cast its redeeming spell upon the Pictish invaders.’ As he describes the struggles of the later ninth century, he has obvious admiration for King Alfred. ‘The Christian culture of his court sharply contrasted with the feckless barbarism of Viking life. The older race was to tame the warriors and teach them the arts of peace, and show them the value of a settled common existence. We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.’

And of course, this same vision was to the fore in Churchill’s mind in the darkest days of WWII. His ‘Finest Hour’ speech from June 1940 contains the memorable reference concerning the forthcoming battle of Britain: ‘Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions.’

Times have obviously changed, but that vision of a society deeply influenced by Christianity is unlikely to be found as part of Boris Johnston’s hopes for the ‘golden age’ he hopes to build. In this he could not be more unlike Churchill.

Can Boris change?

Yet our Lord calls us to pray for those in government, 1 Timothy 2.2. Prayer has power. And history teaches that sometimes being put into positions of great responsibility, like that of Prime Minister can change people.

Interestingly Churchill’s history refers to this. He mentions Thomas Beckett, once a courtier given to pomp and show, Henry II felt sure he had his own man in office when he appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. But he changed, decidedly. Shakespeare highlights a similar transformation which changed rollicking ‘Prince Hal’ into an august hero- king, Henry V, almost overnight, upon his accession to the throne of England.

Responsibility can change people. Let’s hope such a change is still possible in our own day.

Revelling in Ryle


file_mjle5req2xmzdhmocsdy2hp6wfofq6rrInterest in JC Ryle continues, with many of his works still being republished and a couple of recent books on his life. Why, then, is there need for this new volume? In the preface, the author explains his purpose: ‘to produce the first intellectual biography of JC Ryle’ (page xiii), an undertaking that he has found easier due to some important new studies on Anglican Evangelicalism.

Does this mean the book is for academics? Not at all. While it certainly is a well-researched and scholarly production, it presents a most readable and illuminating insight into the ministry of this clergyman who became the leader of the evangelical party within the national church of England and Wales during the late Victorian period. By the close of the book, readers will be much better informed than previously as to who Ryle was.

Through Ryle’s life

In seven chapters of varying length, Pastor Rogers takes us through Ryle’s life, analysing in each chapter particular aspects of his thought and work, and concluding with a final assessment of his ministry. The first chapter covers his early life through to his first ministerial appointments. It indicates that the content of all his messages and writings, and the whole character of his ministry as an independent thinker and actor, were shaped by his own lack of spiritual support during most of this period. Chapter Two presents Ryle as a popular preacher in East Anglia and compares his sermons with those of Spurgeon and John Henry Newman. Years later he produced Simplicity in Preaching to help young preachers avoid some of his own early mistakes. His work as an author arose out of his early pastoral ministry and Chapter Three considers Ryle’s evangelistic tracts, his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, and closes with a most intriguing and lengthy analysis of the neglected subject of Ryle’s interest in hymns and his published hymnbooks.

Controversialist

The following three chapters are more lengthy, but certainly not boring. Chapter Four is devoted to Ryle the controversialist. He opposed three movements that he considered were detrimental to the true gospel: ritualism, that sought to introduce Roman Catholic practices into church services; ‘neologianism’, that undermined the authority and inspiration of Scripture and rejected dogmatic theology and eternal punishment; and Keswick spirituality. Out of this latter controversy came Ryle’s book on Holiness. Ryle’s indebtedness to the Puritans is noted, but nowhere does the author explain the reference in the closing chapter to his being a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (p.313).

Uniter

Chapter Five, entitled ‘A National Ministry’, concentrates on Ryle’s influence within Anglicanism, especially his endeavours to unite the different factions within the evangelical party, to encourage evangelicals to be more active in church affairs and, finally, to initiate reform within the Church. This section will be of particular interest to members of the Church of England, but for non-Anglicans too, it will give a clearer understanding of the mindset of their Anglican friends, as Rogers engages sympathetically with Ryle’s belief in a state church and his rather suspicious and sometimes condescending attitude toward Christians of other denominations. The chapter also gives a brief glimpse into Ryle’s political views.

Bishop

In the final main chapter, Ryle’s time as bishop of the new diocese of Liverpool is considered, concentrating on his vision for an effective witness in such a challenging situation as the second city of the British Empire posed. Rogers also shows how Ryle’s new office gave him a stronger platform from which to oppose the disestablishment of the state church, ritualism and theological liberalism while always abiding by the law, which included dutifully consecrating churches for ritualists. Ryle’s views on the need for a cathedral are explored, as well as his relations with his favourite son who embraced the latest critical views on the Old Testament.

There are two appendices that list Victorian Periodicals and Ryle’s Church Congress Participation, a bibliography that includes all Ryle’s publications and a general index.

No one can read this biography and not be in some way uplifted and challenged.

Last Word: Seduction


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In July 2017, in the mountains of Europe, all was going well for the Freedom Party. Austrian political activists had done all they could to curse their right-wing enemies. But from the heights of Vienna the Freedom Party could not be touched. Adversaries could not lay a glove on them, and their leader would soon be the Austrian Deputy Chancellor.

Yet, at that precise moment, all was not going well on the European beaches. For, on a warm July 2017 evening somewhere in Ibiza, a Mercedes Maybach pulled up to a private villa, and an elegant woman in a black designer dress got out. Sea bass carpaccio was served behind closed doors; and there Heinz-Christian Strake, the leader of the Freedom Party, was seduced. Hours later the woman had him worshipping her own political gods.

Fast forward two years… and Strake’s enemies struck! Last month, on the eve of European elections, a condemning video of the lady in the black dress was released. Despite his protests of ‘abuse of privacy’ and ‘a honey trap,’ the Promised Land of greater political power for Heinz-Christian Strake (and his Freedom Party) was over.

Same story

In Numbers 22-24, Israel were on the verge of the literal Promised Land. Their enemies, also, peered over the cliff, saw their huge numbers, and were terrified. For seemingly nothing could stop these freed people. King Balak hired a pagan spin doctor (Balaam) and had told him to curse them. To figuratively go to the media outlets and ruin them. But every time this greedy sorcerer was told to curse them he could only pour forth blessings.

Accordingly, in Numbers 25, God’s people march on… except they don’t. Because whilst the brazen air strike from the mountains fails pathetically, Balaam’s devious ground attack in the woody plains creates utter devastation. His plan was simple. Balaam told the Moabite women to covertly entice the Israelites to be unfaithful to God (Numbers 31:16).

The arrow that felled Israel was, hence, the same arrow that felled the Freedom Party in Austria. The arrow was a sexual seduction that led to a scandalous defection.

Private war

The conditions in which such arrows flew was striking. In Numbers 25:1 Israel were in Shittim – literally ‘in the acacia groves.’ They are not yet in the Promised Land of milk and honey (and grapes, melons, and cucumbers) but they do enjoy the canopy of this umbrella-like vegetation. For with such trees came not only shade from the desert sun, but privacy. Feelings that one was being watched under wide desert skies (by the neighbours) no doubt started to ebb away. And so, under newfound darkness novel soldiers approach. The eyes of an Israelite boy and a Moabite girl meet. Except this is no Romeo and Juliet story of star-crossed lovers and the firing of Cupid’s arrow.

The wives and daughters of Moab put on military ‘high-heeled’ boots and the war paint of eye shadow and lip gloss. They to go into the front line to commit sexual immorality. And Israelite men forget God’s clear warning (Ex. 34:15). Soon they are sleeping with the enemy. Soon they eat sacrificed food. In fact, just days after battling bravely under the banner of the true and living God, they are now found bowing to Baal. Arrows of seduction had pierced their hearts. They no longer worshipped the one who had freed them.

Satan’s weapons

The weapons employed against God’s people (both male and female) have changed little over the centuries. The arrows of the Evil One are many (Ephesians 6) – but as we look across Christian history we see that one of Satan’s most effective weapons is seductive sexual immorality. For sex is the arrow of ‘oneness’ which pins ‘two’ together. Sex is the yoke between two horses; the wooden beam that tethers two animals for work – something that sets a committed pair in a particular direction together.

Hence, one of Satan’s best methods of attack is to yoke two people who are not married. And, ideally, to yoke together a Christian (who marches with the church, and with their God, towards heaven) and a non-Christian (who walks with the world, and with their gods towards the here and now). Israel literally yoked themselves to Baal (Numbers 25:3).

On guard

Satan doesn’t fight fair… does he? Certainly, he is doomed to destruction. Certainly, the ultimate battle has been won at the cross. Certainly, we are no longer slaves to him. But in the fight on the edge of the Promised Land he will aim for our hearts!

Accordingly, we are not to be naïve to that weapon of seduction. Instead we are to be alert. We are to recognise that Satan may seek to employ such tactics at any time – at times when: we feel as though we have made it through a dry period; or when we feel untouchable (as Israel no doubt did); or when we feel at liberty to ignore God’s word and not pray ‘Lord lead me not into temptation’; or perhaps most likely when we are metaphorically under the cover of acacia trees without accountability.

The enemy aims at a private sexual seduction that ends in public scandalous defection. Guard your heart.

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London