Do we all come the same way?


Do We all come the Same WayProfessor Donald Macleod argues that we don’t

Or, in the language of Jonathan Edwards, that: ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love’.

Most of it is devoted, however, not to expounding this doctrine, but to a historical survey designed to prove that this has been the prevailing view in Reformed theology from the beginning (including Luther and Calvin), but particularly among English Puritans. Modern attempts by Perry Miller and others to show that significant figures diverged from this consensus are reviewed and (as a rule) refuted.

Historical discussions

At the same time Doctors Beeke and Smalley lose no opportunity to point out that this Reformed preparationism was completely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruent merit, according to which grace is infused as a reward for doing the best we can; and they are no less insistent that Reformed preparationism has to be distinguished from the Arminian idea that, once sinners are motivated by a sense of spiritual need, grace merely assists them to Christ, without any invincible input on God’s part.

These historical discussions have their undoubted value, but far the most important aspect of this book is the core idea itself. Regardless of the views of the Puritans, is it in fact God’s normal way of dealing with sinners to prepare them for conversion by awakening them, through the law, to a sense of sin and of imminent spiritual peril?

Biblical texts

When we turn to key biblical narratives, the ‘preparatory law-work’ pattern certainly did not always apply. John the Baptist never experienced the agony of soul experienced by his namesake, John Bunyan. Nor is there any hint of a preparatory law-work in the case of the first disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John (Mark 1.16, 19-20); nor again in the stories of Philip and Nathanael (John 1.43-49), Matthew (Luke 5.27-28) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10). Instead, there is instant compliance with the call of Jesus. Self-knowledge would come, of course, particularly in the case of Peter, but it would come later.

At first glance, the story of the Philippian jailer confirms the book’s thesis. Immediately after the earthquake, he appears trembling and suicidal. But this was hardly due to any law-work; or, if there was a law-work, it was of very short duration. And when he asks ‘What must I do to be saved?’, Paul and Silas do not first confront him with the law before presenting him with the gospel. They call him to faith in Christ, speak the ‘word about the Lord’, and baptise him: all, probably, in less than an hour.

The law our schoolmaster?

Even in those New Testament passages commonly appealed to in support of the idea of a normative law-work, all is not as it seems. The best-known of these is Galatians 3.24, which the KJV renders, ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ’. However, the Greek paidagōs was not a schoolmaster. He was a slave placed in charge of an under-age boy, and while one of his duties might be to conduct the boy to and from school he was not himself the schoolmaster. A further difficulty is that what Paul actually says is not that the law was put in charge of us in order to lead us to Christ, but ‘until Christ came’ (ESV) and the ‘law’ referred to was not the law in the narrow sense of the Moral Law, but the law that was introduced 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant (Galatians 3.17) – in other words, the Torah in all its breadth. In fact, this law did not lead the Jews to Christ; and today we are no longer under it.

The principle that Paul lays down in Romans 3.20 still stands, however: ‘through the law we become conscious of sin.’ Yet here, too, caution is required. What the Westminster Confession (10.4) calls the ‘common operations of the Spirit’ can sometimes produce serious conviction of sin in people who never actually come to Christ. How, then, can we tell whether the ‘law-work’ is the effect of a ‘common’ operation or of a ‘saving’ operation?

It can only be, as the Westminster Confession assumes, that those who experience it ‘truly come to Christ’. From this point of view, the intensity or otherwise of the conviction does not matter. It may appear quite unremarkable, but if it leads us to Christ it is sufficient; and, conversely, it may be awesome to behold, and yet if it does not lead us to Christ it is nothing. Here again the cross is the test of everything. Have we come to it?

Creating a stereotype

Faith is indeed born of need, and to divorce it from repentance is, as Bonhoeffer argued, to preach ‘cheap grace’. But the Puritan model of preparatory grace carries its own dangers. One of these is that it suggests a stereotypical pattern of conversion, including not only the same elements but the elements in the same order. Beeke and Smalley are aware of this danger, but nevertheless, as Mark Noll points out, the conversion narratives which Jonathan Edwards recounts in his Faithful Narrative (1737) ‘rapidly became templates for the way many others would picture the normative spiritual journey’; and prominent in these narratives was self-despair and intense conviction of sin.

In reality, no two Christians come to the Lord in the same way.

Once we create a stereotype, anyone whose experience is different may well lose all assurance of salvation, either because she did not begin where others began, or because she never experienced the terrors of the law as others did. We then lose sight of the fact that all that matters is whether we have come to Christ.

There is a danger, too, of linking repentance too exclusively to the law. In the very nature of the case, the law can produce only a legal repentance, in which fear of punishment predominates and in which there is no inducement to return to a heavenly Father. Such a repentance may certainly be an element in the journey to faith, but not all Christians experience it, and not all who do experience it become Christians. In fact, there is no outside-of-Christ state from which there is a guaranteed progression to the one place of safety: ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3).

Evangelical repentance always includes a turning to God, and as such it is a result of faith, not a preparation for it. In David’s case, for example, his broken heart (Psalm 51.17) comes after God’s declaration of forgiveness (2 Samuel 12.13) and reflects his confidence in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 51.1). The Shorter Catechism sounds this same note (A. 87): the sinner turns to God not only ‘out of a true sense of his sin’, but also with ‘apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ’. His mercy is there before our repentance; and it is because we have faith in his mercy that we cast ourselves upon it.

Three offices of Christ

We have tended to see Christ primarily as the answer to guilt, the one who brings relief to troubled consciences.One result of this has been to throw his priesthood into special prominence. But Christ is not only priest. He is also prophet and king, and while faith will eventually attach itself to all three offices, it seldom does so all at once. It usually begins with one. That one is often his priesthood, and the sinner’s starting-off point is often a tormented conscience. But that is not the only point of entry into the Christian life, because sin has brought more than guilt. It has also brought ignorance and anxiety. While many, then, will first come to Christ to find peace for their troubled consciences others will come because he is the answer to their quest for the truth; and others because they seek assurance that someone has the world in his hands.

They set off from different points and they will tell different stories. But each will have the Son; and she who has the Son has life.

Donald Macleod is former Professor of Theology at the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh, now retired. The full version of this review is available on Donald Macleod’s blog at www.donaldmacleod.org

PREPARED BY GRACE FOR GRACE
THE PURITANS ON GOD’S ORDINARY WAY OF LEADING SINNERS TO CHRIST.
BY JOEL R. BEEKE & PAUL M. SMALLEY.
REFORMATION HERITAGE BOOKS. 297 PAGES. £15.10 ISBN 978 1 601 782 342

 

This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Five points of encouragement


5 Points of encouragement

John Piper explains how the doctrines of grace encourage and stimulate his Christian faith

The five points of Calvinism are not unimportant.

Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship and missions.

Somewhere along the way (nobody knows for sure when or how), the five points came to be summarised in English under the acronym TULIP. — Total depravity (that we are all helpless sinners unable to save ourselves). — Unconditional election (that God chose a number that no man can number of sinners to be saved, not for any good in them but totally of his grace). — Limited atonement (that Christ died specifically for these sinners and atoned for their sin). — Irresistible grace (that those whom God has chosen will inevitably be brought to faith in Christ). — Perseverance of the saints (that none of these shall be lost).

Let me explain something of how these biblical truths impact my spiritual life.

These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.

I can hardly read the newspaper or a Google news article or look at a TV ad or a billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing. When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I am still able to be shocked. Are you? Many Christians are sedated with the same God-ignoring drug as the world. Some think it is a virtue that God be neglected, and invent cynical names for people who speak of God in relation to everything.

These teachings are a great antidote against that neglect and that cynicism. Christians exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life. We are therefore in need of a great awakening. These truths keep me aware of that and impel me to pray toward it. For only a sovereign work of God can make it happen.

These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish — both globally and personally.

The truth that God will use all his sovereign power to keep me for himself is supremely precious. I know my heart. Left to itself my heart is proud and self-centred and an idol factory. Few prayers are more needful for me than these words from a hymn: ‘Let thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee’. Yes, I need — and I want — him to chain me to himself everyday. To seal me. Capture me. Keep me. Hold on to me.

And the doctrines of grace are the perfect satisfaction for these desires. This is exactly what God has promised to do for me. ‘I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me’ (Jeremiah 32.40). ‘I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41.10). I go to bed at night quietly confident that I will be a secure believer in the morning not because of my free will, but because of God’s free grace. This is worth more than millions of dollars. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes — that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.

Through the lens of these doctrines I see that all of life relates to God and that he is the beginning, the middle, and the end of it all. There’s no compartment where he is not all-important. He is the one who gives meaning to everything (1 Corinthians 10.31). Seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that ‘[he] works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 1.11) make me see the world this way. Reality becomes supercharged with God. He is the all-pervading glory in all that is. Everything is from him and for him.

These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.

The warrant for prayer is that God may break in and change things — including the human heart. He can turn the will around. ‘Hallowed be your name’ (Matthew 6.9) means: cause people who are not hallowing your name to hallow your name. ‘May your word run and be glorified’ (2 Thessalonians 3.1) means: cause hearts to be opened to the gospel. This is what God did for me in answer to my parents’ prayers. It is what I now gladly do for others. I take the new covenant promises and plead with God to bring them to pass in people’s lives and among all the mission frontiers of the world. And the reason I pray this way is that God has the right and the power to do these things. No human autonomy stands in the way.

Prayer is where most Christians sound like Calvinists. Most sincere Christians pray with the assumption that he has the right and power not only to heal human bodies and alter natural circumstances, but also to sov-ereignly transform human hearts. In other words prayer is based on God’s ability to overcome human resistance. That is what we ask him to do. Which means that the doctrine of irresistible grace is the great hope of answered prayer in the lives of people for whose salvation I plead.

These truths remind me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.

The doctrines of grace make evangelism among spiritually dead sinners possible. Without the sovereign grace of God we may as well be preaching in a cemetery. Because we are preaching in a cemetery. That is what this world is. The truth of total depravity means that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the natural man, and ‘he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2.14). So evangelism only makes sense in the light of the doctrines of grace. We really believe God can raise the dead. And we know he uses the human means to do it. ‘You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Peter 1.23). The sovereign work of God in giving new life to the dead human heart is ‘through the word of God.’ And Peter adds, ‘This word is the good news that was preached to you’ (1 Peter 1.25). It’s the gospel. This is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1.16).

Therefore the doctrines of grace give hope for evangelism in the hardest places. Dead is dead. Muslims or Hindus or hardened European post-Christian secularists are not more dead than any other ‘natural man.’ And God does the impossible. He raises the dead (Ephesians 2.1-6). When faced with the hardheartedness of the rich young ruler Jesus said: ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19.26). As I look out on the remaining task of world missions, I do not despair. Rather I hear Jesus say: ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice’ (John 10.16). Not: they may. But: they will. So I say: this cannot fail. The doctrines of grace enflamed world missions in the lives of William Carey and David Livingston and Adoniram Judson and Henry Martyn and John Paton and thousands of others. And that is the effect it has had on me, as I have tried to do my part in promoting the great work of frontier missions.

These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”’ (Isaiah 46.9-10). The sum of the matter is that God is God. He is absolutely sovereign. And he is gracious beyond all human analogy. He has planned, is performing and will complete a great salvation for his people and his creation. He has done it so that he gets the glory in us and we get the joy in him. And it cannot fail. ‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever’ (Psalm 33.11).

To find out more about how these doctrines have changed John Piper’s life, read the book Five Points (ISBN 978 1 781 912 522, £5.99. Christian Focus).

 
This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Church – born again!


2013_12 Dec Cover

A church plant that almost failed has taken off and goes independent in January.
Billy, Justine, Gill, Emma, Gary, John, Maggie, Amy are just a few of the many who have come to faith over the past six years at Shepherd Drive Baptist Church on the Chantry and Pinewood estates in Ipswich. If you have never been to the ‘far east’, Ipswich is a historic sea port on the river Orwell with a couple of large marinas full of posh yachts. Now just over an hour from Liverpool Street station in the City of London, it is also a rapidly growing commuter town.

Making a mark for God
Situated at a key point on this expanding housing development, the church is starting to make a real mark for God among the many young families who live round about. It was, however, back in the 1970s that a Christian nurse living on the estate first felt a burden to reach the local children with the gospel. In due time this led to a church plant, which, in spite of sincere efforts and a good building, never really impacted the area as it might have. After a closure of around three years, the fellowship was re-launched in 2007 with a specific aim of reaching the un-churched.
To head up the work with suitably gifted people, the overseeing church at Cauldwell Hall Road had invited Simon and Christine Robinson from Caterham in Surrey and also sent Matt and Sheryl Brett from its own leadership to work alongside them.

Focused on evangelism
Simon’s brief was specifically to focus on bridge building and evangelism rather than assume the role of a traditional pastor. From the outset of the new mission, this was and remains his and Christine’s priority. Incidentally, Matthew, himself a local lad who attended the children’s events in the early days, had subsequently been converted and eventually became an elder at the sending church.
As these things were taking shape, John and Marion Skull, who had just retired from many years in full-time pastoral work, moved to their new home a few minutes walk from the Shepherd Drive building and threw in their lot as well. The leadership team has now grown further with the addition of Peter Newton as a pastor/teacher and his wife Sheri who was previously a UCCF staff worker in the area.

Surprises
Finance for the mission has been generously supplied from a number of sources, specifically the Particular Baptist Fund and the East Anglian Grace Baptist Association, as well as other churches and individuals. From January onwards it will be a self-supporting independent local church.
It is evident that behind the scenes the invisible hand of God has been at work bringing people to himself, and together, in some surprising ways.
The work has advanced through a combination of straight gospel preaching and down to earth friendship evangelism backed by numerous Christianity Explored courses of all shapes and sizes. There is a massive and vibrant Tots and Tinies group as well as frequent events for the men, usually involving sport and food. A smart sixth form college has also opened a few hundred yards away and a new community centre shares the same car park as the church. All these things, in the providence of God, dovetailed around the same time and give many reasons to press forward.

People converted
With around 90 regularly meeting together on a Sunday morning, it is the new converts who give the greatest cause for the church’s thanksgiving.
Here is Gill: ‘My Christian journey started a couple of years ago when my friend Maggie asked me if I wanted to read her granddad’s book about his missionary life in India. It was an amazing story. She then invited me to Shepherd Drive and I felt at ease with everyone right away, as they were so welcoming and friendly. Then, one Sunday morning in 2012, as another friend was giving her testimony, I knew that God was calling me too’.
And Gary: ‘Initially it was money and a good job with a shipping company that led me away from my early church interests and not until 20 years later when my wife brought our son to the Toddler group at Shepherd Drive that everything changed. Here I too found the friendship very real and in due time joined a Christianity Explored group, where I really began to see the wonder of grace.’
Then we have Billy and Justine, an army couple who were initially helped by the padre on their base, but, having moved to Ipswich where Justine (who had once been a dancer on a cruise liner), became friendly with Christine started coming to the newly formed fellowship. Both were powerfully touched with a sense of their sin, baptised and, while now serving in the forces overseas, are looking forward to serving an even higher cause on their return.

This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Journey home


Journey HomeVijay Menon tells of becoming a Christian from a Hindu background.

Kerala is the smallest, most beautiful state in India, yet, in area, it is bigger than Britain.

I was born there in a very devout Hindu family. As far as I can remember, I always loved God, believed in God and was willing to serve him in whatever capacity. I always prayed to him and asked his guidance before any major decision in my life.

Christianity’s triple offence

If anyone had come to me then and said that I would be reading the Bible and following Jesus, I would have panicked and given any contribution to a Hindu temple to stop me from becoming an untouchable and to rescue me from becoming a Christian, such was my ignorance about Jesus.

Christianity was offensive to me because of Christians, the cross and the cost, in that order.

First, I was ignorant of the fact that children of Christians are not automatically Christians and that they have to make up their own minds to follow Jesus and be added into the family of God, by God himself, before they become real Christians. So I was looking at nominal Christians and saying to myself, ‘In no way am I going to be one of them!’

Second, I looked at the large, tall statue of the crucifix outside the Catholic College at the university in Kerala and I felt sorry for the poor bloke hanging up there. I had the revelation of someone being crucified, but no one interpreted to me that he died for me, in my place, so that God could forgive me, even me, a bad Hindu, and still be the just God. If someone had explained to me that he suffered all that in order to take the punishment I deserve, I would have immediately bowed down to him, worshipped him and been willing to do whatever he wanted me to do. My question was: How is a mere man hanging dead on a cross going to solve the problems of the world? To me that was ignorant idolatry — worse than Hindus.

The third offensive thing about Christianity was the cost. For a Hindu to become an untouchable, it was unthinkable. Not only me, but the whole family would be down-graded unless they threw me out of my home and refused to let me come back.

I did my engineering studies in India and worked my way to England to be better qualified, to then go back to India for a better job. I was ten years at sea, rising from Junior to Chief Engineer and then I got married. So I had to leave the sea to gain my extra first class engineer’s qualification at Newcastle to take up the prime job of Senior Engineer Surveyor with Lloyds Register in London at their head office in 1961. I became a member of the British Nuclear Energy Society and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, a Chartered Engineer, and also a fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers. I have worked in London ever since.

Following the crowd

It was in March 1965, when I was doing a spot of shopping in my lunch break, that I happened to walk along Bishopsgate at 1.00 pm, right in the centre of the City of London. To my surprise I saw hundreds of city gents in their pinstripe suits, bowler hats (you don’t see a bowler hat in London now!) and ‘stiff upper lips’ all rushing through a cubby hole at Great St. Helen’s. I followed them out of curiosity and landed up in a big packed hall with hundreds of men, some even sitting on the concrete steps. They ushered me in and all I could see in the corner was a big table with sandwiches, fruits, cakes and delicious food. So I sat down, wedged between the city gents, wondering ‘what next?’ Then I realised that I was in a church and I panicked! You wouldn’t have seen me dead in a church; but I couldn’t get out and had to sit down and suffer for half an hour! Can you imagine over 500 people coming to a church in five minutes, managing directors, brokers, underwriters, bank managers, solicitors, accountants, clerks, engineers and others. Men and women listening to a 20-minute talk from the Bible and then lunch.

Jesus died for me

I sat down and heard for the first time that Jesus died for me, the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, those who go to church and those who don’t, so that I may know God today and all I had to do was to come to him and receive it as a free gift. It is not what I can do for God that is important, but what God has done for me.

I knew, if I had died on that night as a Hindu, I would have to face God as my judge, ending in reincarnation. A chink of light gave me the hope that I could avoid all that. I didn’t have to sit for a final exam with God (I hated exams and have nightmares about them sometimes). I can get a pass mark now and avoid my final! So I prayed then and there, ‘I will have a try’ — I didn’t know any Christian prayers.

Sitting behind me

So I went back to my office and asked my Australian colleague how I can get one of his religious books to know all about Jesus. To my surprise I found out that he went to St. Helen’s Church every Tuesday. He had been sitting behind me at work and praying for me for two years and he didn’t have the guts enough to ask me to go with him. I am glad he didn’t ask me, because if he had asked me that would have been the end of the story, because Hindus don’t go to church. He gave me a Bible with a bookmark in John’s Gospel, advising me to read it from there. I am glad he did, because if I had started from the beginning I would have soon given up.

100% convinced

It took me a long time to fully understand the gospel, but, as an engineer, I was curious, so what I understood I accepted, but what I didn’t I waited for an explanation and prayed. After 42 years I am still learning, but I am following Jesus today because real Christianity is true, and Jesus has never let me down once, even though I have had to go through some tough times, including suspected cancer of my spine.

If I was not 100% convinced that Jesus lived, died, rose again from the dead and that he is fully God and will one day come again to destroy all evil and establish his Kingdom, I would have given up Christianity a long time ago. Everyone is free to find out. If it is true we can accept it, if not, we must reject it. But, for me, to be threatened with death is to be threatened with heaven. As a Hindu I knew about God, but, as I now follow Jesus, I know God personally. You may fool everybody else, but you cannot fool yourself. I know God as my Saviour, Friend and Master.

This article first appeared in Men of this age, produced by Christian Vision for Men, and is used with permission of the author.

Vijay Menon

(This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Called to go – the true story of a young English nurse and her work with the Paumari


Called to goAs the single engine Norseman flew over the treetops, Shirley gazed out of the window. Mary Ann was sitting beside her, and every so often exchanged a few words, but it was hard to talk above the noise of the engine.

The view was mostly of tree tops from the thick jungle below them. From time to time they caught sight of the winding Purus river, a tributary to the majestic Amazon. It was the 1960s and, on the five-hour flight from Manaus, there was plenty of time to reflect.

Her thoughts went back to particular moments of her own surrender to God. But what did the future hold for her now among the Paumari people? How would they react to two single white women? She had studied the survey reports and knew that the Paumari lived on the edge of Lake Maraha. The whole geography of the area, however, changed with the seasons. Over time, some of the loops of the Purus had become cut off from the main river as oxbow lakes. The village to which Shirley and Mary Ann were heading was on the furthest edge of an oxbow lake, about three miles from the river.

On their own
Her stomach churned. Although by now she had worked in a number of villages with other colleagues, each of them had some contact with the outside world. The Paumari village was different. There was no road, no air strip, no two-way radios. There was no electricity, no running water or sanitation. Their only contact would be with river traders and local inhabitants. Once the pilot took off, she and Mary Ann would be on their own. They had a small transistor radio and hoped to pick up some messages which were broadcast to people in the area. The battery power, however, was a fragile resource and would they get any reception? For three months they would be isolated. The Paumari would be their neighbours, and she hoped they might also become friends.

Excitement began to rise within her as the pilot called out and she realised that they were nearly there. She had rehearsed in her mind dozens of times what she planned to say as her introduction to the Paumari. There was no more time to be scared. As the pilot circled the lake they could see the villagers coming out of their houses to stare at the sky. She guessed they had never seen a plane before.

She caught sight of a few small children who clung to their mother’s skirts. The plane would be an awesome sight for them, and she knew that this was an historic moment for them and her.

The pilot now brought the float plane down and it skimmed over the lake’s surface before stopping somewhere in the middle. He then taxied slowly to the edge. Shirley and Mary Ann remained seated while he shut off the engine and opened the door. There was one fixed step and from there a slightly tricky manoeuvre to stand on the float as the plane rocked on the water. They edged along the float and then stepped onto land.

As the pilot secured the plane, some of the villagers edged a little closer, very apprehensive. The children’s faces showed both fear and fascination. Shirley and Mary Ann gave their greetings in Portuguese and were relieved when they seemed to be reciprocated. The pilot helped them to make small talk, all the while keeping a close watch on the children touching the plane as they chatted to themselves.

The houses, such as they were, stood on stilts about three feet off the ground with a notched log acting as steps. There were about five or six of them in a row near the water’s edge. They were devoid of furniture and the living areas was open on all sides. It looked as if families did everything together in full view of everyone else. It was a daunting prospect, but Shirley and Mary Ann knew that if they were to be accepted by these people, they would have to live like them as much as possible.

Faux-pas
She turned to one of the leading men and asked if it would be possible for him to build them a house. It was only much later that she recognised she had made a major faux-pas. Perhaps it was just as well she didn’t realise at the time. When she did learn the truth it was to discover that men only ever built houses for their wives — not for strange single women who had only just arrived! Fortunately, however, the man let the mistake pass, and the group suggested that they could buy a house. They pointed to one and said the owner was away. This in itself seemed to be a precarious arrangement and fraught with possible misunderstandings, but they finally persuaded the ladies that the owner would be agreeable to the idea.

The pilot started to unload the plane and asked for help. He realised that the Paumari would not touch what belonged to another person for fear of being accused of stealing, but were happy to help if they were invited. Once this cultural nicety was out of the way, it was ‘all hands on deck’.

The house
The main floor of the house was about ten feet square. Shirley and Mary Ann, tired after the flight, now found themselves entertaining the whole village. Their luggage took up a lot of space but it was apparent that the villagers were not going to miss a moment of this extraordinary event. They clearly had not had so much fun in a long time. As Shirley quickly realised that her whole life was going to remain under constant scrutiny from this moment on, she decided to make a start at unpacking. It was a time-consuming affair, as each item was examined carefully and passed around. She felt alienated from the process as they spoke to each other in Paumari, but, nevertheless, it proved a useful bonding session. Everyone sat on the floor or on their haunches and no one was in a hurry to go anywhere.

Some of the men offered some firewood and the pilot got a small fire going. It was awkward to cook with the rest of the village watching, although by now some of them had retreated to their own houses, popping back every few minutes to make sure that they were not missing anything exciting.

As night fell that first evening, Shirley and Mary Ann realised the urgency of getting some water from the lake. With a bucket and a torch they made their way gingerly down the log which acted as steps to the house. They wanted to collect some water away from the edge of the lake in the hope that it would be a bit cleaner. It came down to using a canoe which sank under them! It was some while before they finally made their way back to the house, soaking wet but with their precious water. Many of the villagers were still waiting there and Shirley hoped that the darkness had obscured their exploits. They did appreciate, however, that they would be the main source of entertainment for a long time to come!

Fitful sleep
Their uninvited guests continued to stay. Shirley and Mary Ann found their air beds and rigged up their mosquito nets. The pressure lamp was causing much late night fascination for the villagers. The people wanted to see how to put it out. Once that was done, they took their cue and departed. The pilot left as well, to sleep in one of the Paumari houses.

Shirley and Mary Ann were exhausted, but their minds were too full of the day’s events for them to sleep. It felt very strange to be exposed to the whole village. Eventually however, the night-time sounds of the jungle lulled them off to a fitful sleep.

This article is an edited section of Called to go: the true story of a young English nurse and her work with the Paumari by Margaret Gee with Shirley Chapman, recently published by Lastword Publications. It is used with permission.

You can buy the book (£10.00 inc. p&p) from Margaret Gee (020 8594 0771 / margaret.h.gee@googlemail.com) or Shirley Chapman (020 8554 4338 / shirley.a.m.chapman@gmail.com). £5.00 will go to the work of translating the Bible into Paumari.

This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

 

 

In the light of an assured future


In the light of an assured future‘For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (Job 19.25-27).

‘I believe that when I die I shall rot and nothing of my ego shall survive’ (Bertrand Russell).

The only characteristic these two well-known statements share is their expression of certainty. The nature of that certainty is, of course, in each case, massively different.

Bertrand Russell regarded death as the means by which both body and ego were extinguished forever. For him, this was not a matter of conjecture, but certainty. Theology was rejected as ‘a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance’ (see his History of Western Philosophy). Life’s questions were to be addressed against the background of ‘the terror of cosmic loneliness’. In other words, no divine source of information exists which can reveal answers to mankind’s deepest questions, or offer certainty in an uncertain universe. Wisdom in this world is to be found within the realm of philosophy. Beyond that are merely the bleak certainties of a Creator-less universe and the finality of an unavoidable death of body, ego and all conscious existence: ‘….when I die I shall rot…’

Continuing influence

Of course, one of the remarkable things about Russell’s brand of humanistic philosophy is that it continues to shape the thinking of many people, notwithstanding his death over 40 years ago. We live in a world dominated by temporal preoccupations and the arrogance of human intellect, dismissive of God, divine revelation and matters of eternal destiny.

We just have to do our best to make sense of the world around us, in the cold certainty that there is nothing else to cling to. That is the basic point, according to this perspective.

Stark contrast

In stark contrast, however, stands the Book of Job, offering us certainty and hope amidst the many sufferings and uncertainties of this life. Indeed, the certainty and hope articulated in the verses above provide a model for Christian faith.

First, there is the certainty that ‘my Redeemer’ lives. Job’s Redeemer God is a living God and, in Christ, he supplies the way of redemption from sin for fallen mankind and conquers death. For the Christian, the resurrection is a foundation stone. This is clear from the logic of 1 Corinthians 15.17-19 (‘And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! …If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable’). Bertrand Russell would have regarded any notion of resurrection as pure fantasy, but for the Christian, his own resurrection is founded entirely upon the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.

Second, there is the certainty of the future completion of God’s salvation plan with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Book of Job, this is prefigured in Job’s realisation that ‘…at the last he will stand upon the earth’. Job’s living Redeemer — the Christian’s Redeemer too — will one day present himself ‘upon the earth’ as Lord of all things and supreme judge, at the end of the present age.

Third, Job has assurance that physical death does not bring annihilation, but a transformed relationship with the living God: ‘…yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another’. Job’s relationship with his Redeemer is the basis of this assurance, enabling him to look beyond his own death to the remarkable prospect of seeing God face to face. Confidence of this kind also lies within the Christian’s grasp. ‘Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2). ‘They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads’ (Revelation 22.4).

Our response?

These great truths do not simply form the bedrock of our future hope; they call for a response now. We should be spurred on in the Christian life, knowing that eternity can be embraced with confidence. The despair of Russell’s ‘cosmic loneliness’ is dispelled by the firm assurance of an everlasting relationship with the Lord. That should lead to a life of resolute Christian obedience in this world.

1 Corinthians 15 concludes with the following exhortation: ‘Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’. In other words, confident of the knowledge of an assured future, in which, like Job, the Christian will see his all-powerful, holy, Redeemer God face to face, the Christian should not waver or give up, but should persist in the Lord’s work, knowing that it is purposeful and will lead to the eventual privilege and glory of seeing the Lord.

Our world

We live in a world full of conflict and social unrest, family breakdown, economic uncertainty and moral and spiritual confusion. Indeed, these are the hallmarks of its fallen state. As biblical truth seems to be pushed ever further from our country’s understanding of itself, the Christian is called to stand firm and be steadfast in the work of the Lord, knowing that a certain future has been secured: ‘…yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another’.

As evangelical Christians, we should pray that we are spurred on by these truths to live for Christ in opposition to the lies and emptiness of humanistic philosophy. We should also pray that the Church of England will once again be captivated by them too, for our nation’s sake.

James Crabtree, 
Chairman of the Church Society Council

This article was first published in Church Society’s CrossWay magazine, and is published with permission.

(This article was first published in the April 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)