Is waiting a waste of time?


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‘Time is money’, or so we are told.

In the West we have turned time into a commodity. We talk of ‘spending time’, ‘making up for lost time’ and ‘wasting time’ – all conveying the sense that it is a currency we trade in. In such a context one of the big draws of mobile devices is that they are ‘time-saving’, there to make our lives more efficient (where efficiency is productivity/time). So any moment that you are waiting, and therefore not maximising your productivity, your hand reaches for your phone to check your messages, emails, Facebook or Instagram account. And what’s the problem with this, after all, isn’t God in favour of productivity? Aren’t we told in Ephesians 5:16 to ‘make the best use of time’? While there are of course many verses in Scripture to warn against laziness, one of the casualties of our pursuit of saving time is the art of waiting well. Notwithstanding the fact that much of our frantic activity is actually not very productive (for example there are numerous studies that show multitasking is actually not as efficient as working on one task at a time), waiting time is not a waste of time.

Here are four ways in which waiting, just waiting, without nervously checking messages, emails or social media on your phone, can be a blessing.

1. Waiting cultivates patience

Patience is one of the nine virtues of the fruit of the Spirit and a rare virtue today when we expect everything instantly. 1 Corinthians 13 famously reminds us that ‘love is patient’, Ephesians 4 calls us to be ‘patient, bearing with one another in love’, Romans 12 exhorts us to be ‘patient in affliction’. But how can we be patient, waiting on God and His timing, if we can’t wait. Why not try next time you are waiting for someone or something just to wait? Don’t think because you are not doing something that there is no benefit to you: you will be ingraining the virtue of patience.

2. Waiting gives space to meditate on Scripture

We are told that the blessed person is one who meditates on God’s word (Psalm 1:2) but if our phones are always filling every bit of space in the day then when will we do this? Why not use the next time you are waiting to bring to mind Scripture, perhaps from your daily reading or from the sermon on Sunday, and use the time to mull it over and reflect on its implications for your life?

3. Waiting enables us to be mindful of God’s presence

David wrote in Psalm 16:8 ‘I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken’. God is always with us by His Spirit, but one of the challenges we have is to be conscious of that and letting it shape our lives. Life can be busy and in the busyness it is easy to forget this foundational reality in our Christian walk. Waiting can be a great opportunity to press reset and remind ourselves that God is with us by His Spirit, to be attentive to Him and what He is doing in our lives.

4. Waiting provides space for others

Sociologists note that we live in a monochronic culture where time is seen as one continuum and great emphasis is placed on meetings starting and finishing ‘on time’.

While there is much that is good about this, polychronic societies (like African and Latin-American cultures) emphasise relationships over time. One of the ways we can soften the hard edges of our focus on being ‘on time’ is to make use of the gaps. Think of waiting at a bus stop or in a queue. Today most people will be on their phones and as with all decisions there is a cost, supremely the cost to the relationships you are not forming with those you are waiting with. Why not wait without looking down at your phone and engage in a conversation? Perhaps the Lord will use it to deepen a friendship, start a new relationship or to give you a context to share Christ with someone.

Getting over feeling awkward

As with anything that is new and unfamiliar, waiting will probably feel odd at first. Don’t let that put you off, you are just getting used to a new norm. You may feel awkward and find insecurities exposed, and it may highlight to you that you are actually a bit (or a lot) addicted to your device. That would be a good thing. Either way stick with just waiting and give yourself time to habituate a new virtue, remembering that in Scripture waiting is not just what we do until God gives us what we want, but waiting is often the process by which God makes us into what He wants.

Pete Nicholas is co-author of Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital age. For more resources visit www.virtuallyhuman.co.uk

The master weapon of discouragement


Mike Mellor discusses how to fight the blues in an era of social media ‘success’

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The overemphasis upon externals in our age affects us much more than we would care to admit.

The emphasis on image is enormous. The pressure – especially for preachers – to look and sound like the real deal is massive. We have the luminaries of the church coming to us via the Internet and through social media, and we rejoice in so much that is good – but we take a look at our paltry efforts, and slump. The means of encouragement can often be a double-edged sword. We are just not media material. How could we possibly have any impact when possessing ‘the perfect face for radio’, alongside fears that we struggle to impress even our own Sunday School kids?

Extraordinary

Yet, when we turn to scripture, church history and Christian biography, we are presented with an array of characters who make us feel almost normal.

If we look at the mighty leaders of the 18th century, we see the squint-eyed George Whitefield, and the dapper, diminutive John Wesley, of whom it was said: ‘He could fall out with his own shadow’. In the next century we see one of the greatest Welsh church-planters, Christmas Evans, who had a glass eye! It is reported that halfway through his sermon the socket would fill up with fluid, so he would remove his eye, wipe it with a handkerchief and pop it in again!

The ugly apostle

Then, of course, the great apostle Paul, according to tradition, was no oil painting. One ancient writer described him this way: ‘He was a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and nose somewhat crooked.’1

There were undoubtedly times when Paul would have heard the taunts of our cruel enemy whispering: ‘Just look at you. Who on earth would listen to you?’ He knew what it was to have ‘conflicts on the outside, fears within’ (2 Corinthians 7:5). In his letters to the church in Corinth we see him having to deal with the divisions that were driven by pride. Revealing the secret of his bold humility, he tells them: ‘I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes’ (1 Corinthians 4:3–5).

There was nothing of that brash ‘I couldn’t care what people think’ attitude about the apostle. He knew what it was to feel the pain of being misunderstood, accused and unappreciated, and we mustn’t think that somehow he was above having to do battle with discouragement. Far from it: there were plenty of reasons for him to want to quit. It must have been rather depressing, for example, for him to look at the church he had planted and see such dreadful behaviour – drunkenness at church meals, members suing other members, sexual immorality, some denying the resurrection – and on top of that to detect their boasting about how spiritually gifted they (the church in Corinth) were. But this man of God refused to allow himself to be overwhelmed by such displays of ice-throwing.

Victory in praise

There may well be occasions when a ‘spirit of heaviness’ comes upon us – perhaps due to pressing circumstances, or a ‘cloud’ may simply descend and remain for no apparent reason. At such times we need to look to Him who came ‘to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair [‘heaviness’, KJV]’ (Isaiah 61:2–3).

Whilst seeking to avoid a ‘silver bullet’ mentality in coping with such experiences, we have to admit that there often is inexplicable power and release to be found in God-focused praise.

Praise decentralises self

Praise lifts us away from ourselves and our circumstances and concentrates our thoughts upon Him. Praise honours God, therefore God honours praise. Note how often in the Psalms the writer moves from lamenting to praising. In Psalm 31, for example, David seems to find sweet release from the burdens that weigh upon him and the snares that encompass him. We were created for worship, not worry; therefore, our souls thrive in gladness, not gloom.

Let us beware of being a slave to our feelings. ‘But I don’t feel like it!’, we so often object. However, our feelings have nothing to do with it. We must praise God! Praise is a sacred duty and privilege – a ‘sacrifice’ we are to offer ‘continually’ (Hebrews 13:15). God always expects His redeemed people to bring Him praise and thanksgiving. ‘I tell you’, said Jesus, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

Praise is a mighty weapon

In 2 Chronicles 20 we see the armies of Moab and Ammon making war against Israel. King Jehoshaphat calls on the people to seek God, and word is sent back: ‘The battle is not yours, but God’s … stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you’ (vv.15,17). As the people ‘began to sing and praise’ God, He dealt with the enemies that threatened to oppress them (v.22). Praise was an essential ingredient in their victory, and victories are still won and dark powers can still be put to flight when God is praised. He is able to break the chains that bind us, remove the dark cloak of heaviness and give us the oil of joy in place of gloom and mourning.

Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find, May Jesus Christ be praised! Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this, May Jesus Christ be praised! . . . The powers of darkness fear When this sweet chant they hear: May Jesus Christ be praised! 2

Music may be a help to us

CH Spurgeon, preaching on the text ‘Now bring me a minstrel’ (2 Kings 3:15), spoke of the effect music can have in bringing relief in times of darkness and oppression. Elisha was passing through a particularly difficult period: ‘The prophet’s spirits were depressed.’ Spurgeon then spoke of this being a common human experience, and how God has provided a means of relief through music: ‘Our minds are disarranged, the machinery is out of order, the sail is furled, the pipe is blocked up, the whole soul is out of gear … “Bring me a minstrel,” said the prophet, for his mind was easily moved by that charming art. Music and song soothed and calmed, and cheered him … Among our own helps singing holds a chief place; as saith the apostle: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” ’

Spurgeon continued: ‘Note how he connects it with peace in his epistle to the Colossians: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts … ” ’3

We need all the help we can get, so, to assist you in your praise, use a good hymnbook (what could be better than the Psalms!) or worship recordings. Praise God, no matter how hard your heart feels or how oppressed your spirit may be.

We do not lose heart

Standing like bookends at the beginning and end of Paul’s great chapter on ministry in 2 Corinthians 4 is the phrase ‘we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16). It is clear that he was often tempted to lose heart, but he tells us that the great motivation that kept him going like an express train, in season and out of season, was his eternal hope in Jesus Christ. He then spurs on those who share in that hope by concluding: ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). Thomas Brooks said: ‘Hope can see heaven through the thickest clouds.’4

This article is an extract from Ice and Fire by Mike Mellor, recently published by Day One, ISBN 978 1 846 256 462, £9.00, and is used with permission.

FOOTNOTES

1. Acts of Paul 3:3, in E Hennecke and W Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2 (trans. and ed. RM Wilson)
2. ‘When Morning Gilds the Skies’, translated by Edward Caswall.
3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon, ‘The Minstrel’, 7 August 1881, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 27, The Spurgeon Centre
4. In John Blanchard, Gathered Gold, Evangelical Press

Hong Kong: Christians at the forefront of protest


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Hong Kong’s population has been in fer-ment during June, with protests by millions against an extradition bill proposed by the autonomous city’s own administration.

The situation was triggered by the murder in Taiwan of a 20-year-old Taiwanese woman. She was allegedly killed by her boyfriend, a citizen of Hong Kong, who fled there after the murder. In the absence of an extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong, the suspect was unable to be extradited to Taiwan to face trial.

The Hong Kong Administration, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, proposed a new extradition bill to Hong Kong’s Assembly to enable extraditions to mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, to supplement other such agreements with 20 other countries.

At this point, other complicating factors came into play. Mainland China, of which Hong Kong is a part, has a dismal human rights record, with widespread persecution of Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups. Such persecution has been reported by human rights agencies. Over 1million Muslims in the west of China are currently incarcerated in re-education camps, while raids on underground Christian gatherings and demolitions of churches are widely reported. These activities are designed to ensure that the dominant secular creed of state communism shapes the primary identity of Chinese from all its diverse ethnic groups.

Christian concern

In Hong Kong, with its contrasting approach to freedom of religion, there is concern that the proposed bill will enable communist Chinese authorities to circumscribe religious freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, but denied to mainland Chinese residents.

Christians number around 900,000 in Hong Kong, or around 12% of the population. They hold significant positions of influence. Chief Executive Carrie Lam is a practicing Catholic, while there are very active Protestant mega-churches from a variety of denominations.

Christian protest

In the wake of the announcement of the plan to introduce an extradition bill, Hong Kong residents protested in their millions regularly during the month of June, with the protests taking a distinctly Christian flavour in certain ways. Poster boy of the protests, Joshua Wong, is a devout Christian, and many Hong Kong churches have organised prayer events in support of the protests and opened their doors to protestors fleeing police activity.

A distinctive feature of the protests has been the image of crowds of protestors, both Christian and non-Christian, all chanting the 1970s American Easter hymn ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’, written by Linda Stassen in 1974.

Hong Kong law requires that organised protests must be notified to the authorities in advance, but a religious demonstration needs no such advanced approval. Hence such public gatherings which on face value can present themselves as religious assemblies may be less vulnerable to police action.

Nevertheless, the response by the authorities has been strong. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been used to disperse some of the protests. After the level of public protest reached its peak in mid-June, Lam announced that the proposed extradition bill would be dropped, a significant concession.

Uncertain future

However, Pandora’s box has been opened and the protests have continued, suggesting that the issues at stake are not limited to the issue of the extradition bill alone. On 1 July, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s unification with China, there were violent protests throughout the city. On this occasion, ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’ was not the catch-cry of the protestors. Rather, pro-democracy motivations were at play. This points to a deep-seated anxiety among many Hong Kong residents about the future of the city and its enjoyment of civil liberties and wide-ranging freedoms. Hong Kong’s autonomy status is due to lapse in 2047.

As Hong Kong negotiates its uncertain future, the churches and its active Christian minority will have an important role to play. This has been seen in the prominent role played by Christians in the extradition bill protests. Hong Kong’s status as a former British colony means that British churches have a responsibility to watch developments closely and to stand with their Christian brothers and sisters in Hong Kong in the uncertain times that lie ahead.

Professor Peter Riddell, Vice Principal Academic at Melbourne School of Theology and Senior Fellow of Kairos Journal

We are all Augustinians


Augustine

The Ancient Church gives us three great gifts: the doctrine of the Trinity, the canon of the New Testament, and the works of the African pastor-theologian Augustine (354–430).

Some might be surprised to see the last in this list, but the truth of the matter is that we, who are heirs of Western Christianity, are all Augustinians, so profound has been his influence.

One gets an idea of his impact when one realizes that 95% of his written corpus survived his death when the Vandals, originally from Denmark, took the city of Hippo Regius at the time of his death in 430. Of his City of God, for instance, there are some 375 manuscript copies from late antiquity that can be used to establish the text of this work. So, what then is his theological legacy and how has he shaped us?

The Confessions

We know so much about Augustine because of his Confessions, which is actually one extended prayer of thanksgiving for the grace shown to him as a sinner by the Triune God. It establishes a new genre, that of the conversion narrative. Thus one sees its influence in such works as John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and John Newton’s An Authentic Narrative. Through the account of his life, Augustine also establishes a theology and spirituality of grace. Augustinian theology and piety are strongly shaped by a perspective that does full justice to human depravity and therefore the necessity of sovereign grace for conversion. This is developed at greater length in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian treatises (411–430) but, in a non-polemical form, it is fully present in his Confessions.

The Confessions also set forth a perspective on God that has had enormous influence on Western thought: God is a being of ultimate beauty. At the very onset of his Christian life, Augustine was deeply concerned about the question of beauty. What is it? What is its impact on the human frame? The Confessions, in a number of its prayers (see, for example, Confessions 10.27), is Augustine’s answer in part, as it develops a vision of God that will enthrall Christians down to the close of the 18th century.

The Trinity

Augustine’s second major work is On the Trinity, which clearly establishes the full deity of the Son and the Spirit from scripture. Because the West by and large did not read Greek, Augustine’s Trinitarianism was what was read and pondered down to the Reformation, and even beyond that to the close of the 18th century.

Most helpfully, Augustine avoids modalism because of his emphasis on the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal generation of the Spirit. Sadly, the rediscovery of Trinitarian thought by evangelicals in the late-20th century was not a return to Augustine, for eternal generation and eternal procession have been questioned and even rejected, and the distinction of persons found in the authority of the Father and so-called eternal submission of the Son. But this move fails to adequately distinguish the Spirit: how does his submission differ from that of the Son? And, more importantly, this move separates the will of the Son from the will of the Father. But if we look at the incarnation we see that will is tied to nature: there are two natures in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth and therefore two wills. But if we apply this to the Father’s relationship with the Son, then we must have two divine natures, and thus at least two – and probably three – gods, or tritheism. No: the Augustinian distinction of eternal generation and eternal procession is the only way to distinguish the persons.

Then, the Augustinian conception of the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son gives rise to (to name but three good examples of Augustinian influence): (a) the defence of the double procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father by Anselm of Canterbury in the 12th century; (b) the spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as found in his sermons on the Song of Songs; (c) and the Trinitarian thought of Jonathan Edwards in hisEssay on the Trinity. This is a tremendous vision of the inner life of the Godhead: it is one ruled by love (note: the emphasis on the eternal submission of the Son presents us with a vision of God in which the keynote is power).

The City of God

Finally, Augustine’s third major work, The City of God, gives to the church a full-blown theology of history in which the church, ruled by love for God and humility, runs its course through history as a pilgrim body. It also develops a very important way of reading culture and politics – through the lens of love. Cultures and political structures are defined by what they love.

To be sure, not all of Augustine’s thought is helpful – one thinks of his view of human sexuality – but there is so much that is gold, that we should never be ashamed to own that our Christian faith is profoundly Augustinian!

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

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