22 December 2007

The Essence of Christmas

Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumblingblock.

--Gregory of Nazianus

13 December 2007

A Troubling Statistic

Fifty years ago, unwed births in England numbered only 1 in every 20 live births. Now they number over half.

07 December 2007

A Series Worth Reading

The forth volume of Terence Crosby's 365 Days with Spurgeon series has just been released. I had the privilege of writing the foreword:

Certainly many will join me in welcoming the publication of the fourth volume of 365 Days with Spurgeon. On behalf of all who read this book, thanks goes to Terence Crosby for dedicating many hours to gathering a fine collection of Spurgeon gems. Through his evident editorial skill and diligent research, along with ready and able assistance from Day One Publications, he has laid in our hands a beneficial source of spiritual nourishment to add to the previous three gladly received.

A careful observer of these volumes of 365 Days with Spurgeon will note they follow the preaching of Spurgeon chronologically, each covering approximately six years of his ministry, with the daily readings drawn from sermons preached as near as possible to the actual dates. The present volume covers Spurgeon’s preaching ministry from 1873 to 1879.

Those were fruitful and happy years for C. H. Spurgeon. Behind him lie the varied taunts he received during the early days of his London ministry. His continued and maturing presence in the pulpit of the Metropolitan Tabernacle long silenced those who had prophesied the quick extinguishing of his brilliant star. Some years ahead of him waited the awful Downgrade Controversy. And approaching, just off the horizon, was the warring disease that would come with such fury it often struck Spurgeon from his gospel steed and finally silenced him at the age of fifty-seven.

Biographer Arnold Dallimore said of this middle season of Spurgeon’s life, “Between 1875 and 1885 Spurgeon’s ministry reached heights it had never attained before. Although the seeds sown in London had already brought a great harvest, during these years the fruit proved still more abundant, and it came with the richness and a steadiness that was new even to a work so blessed of God as his had been.”

Space doesn’t allow a full listing of the many efforts that prospered under Spurgeon’s care. A few of the more influential ministries were the Pastor’s College, the Stockwell Orphanage, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle Colporteurs Association. Other well-known ministries found first form during these years of Spurgeon’s life—the Pastor’s Aid Society and the Book Fund ministry to name two.

Many today know Spurgeon solely through his sermons published in many forms, including helpful books like 365 Days with Spurgeon. Nothing in English church literature can compare to the usefulness found from his preaching—it is a lasting legacy. But a fruitful bounty remains to this very day from his enthusiastic support of church planting. As early as 1859, he declared,

God sparing my life, if I have my people at my back I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey be covered with places of worship…. I announce my own schemes: visionary they may appear, but carried out they will be. It is only within the last six months that we have started two churches—one in Wandsworth and the other in Greenwich, and the Lord has prospered them. The pool of baptism has been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places I am about to do in a third, and we will do it not for the third or the fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our helper….We must go from strength to strength, and be a missionary church, and never rest until not only this neighbourhood, but our country, of which it is said that some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the gospel.

These excerpts from documents electronically preserved at www.british-history.ac.uk provide a snapshot of the fruitful blessing God poured upon Spurgeon’s church-planting labours:

“Enfield Baptist church was founded with help from C. H. Spurgeon in 1867, when services were held in a room over the Rising Sun, Church Street.” “Totteridge Road church was opened with help from Spurgeon in 1868.” “Hornchurch Baptist church: In 1877 the members of the mission formed a church…they sought the help of Spurgeon, who sent students from his Baptist college at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.” “Westminster Baptist Church: Spurgeon preached at the stone-laying and gave £100 to the building fund.” And another church had this record: “Closed 1865, but reopened same year by C.H. Spurgeon.”

Estimates of upwards of two hundred churches were started by Spurgeon, the people of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and the men of the Pastor’s college. In London alone, Spurgeon claimed that over forty churches were started. Of particular interest to Terence Crosby and me is the influence C.H. Spurgeon had on Trinity Road Chapel, Upper Tooting, London—the church I presently serve as pastor and where Terence holds membership.

Here’s the story:

William Winsford, a member of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, moved to then rural Upper Tooting and came across a few others with a desire to see an evangelical church established. Three Sundays after services began, C.H. Spurgeon invited Winsford to his nearby home on Nightingale Lane, relayed his approval of the work, and generously offered to help. His involvement in those early days set the trajectory of the church—an influence that lasts to this day.

When it was clear the growing church needed larger accommodations, Spurgeon came and preached, and issued an appeal to other churches to provide financial help for the church’s building project. His interest in the success of the church is clear when he wrote, “Our friends have made a good beginning, and if my purse holds out I will double all they can raise in the next year up to £250. I wish the friends every success.”

The money was soon raised, Spurgeon kept his promise, donated the £250, and offered to preach at the stone-laying. The preacher Winsford purchased the property, but soon fell ill and couldn’t conduct the services. Spurgeon heard of the church’s need, surveyed the property, and encouraged the church to get on with building the chapel. On June 6, 1877, Spurgeon laid the memorial stone and gave what was described as “a wise and happy address.” That evening, his sons joined him—Charles led in prayer and Thomas delivered an address.

On Thursday, September 27, 1877, the new building opened with Spurgeon preaching from Ecclesiastes 8:4 “Where the word of the king is.” The sermon is found in volume 28 of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (sermon 1,697). He closed with this charge, “Preach the King’s word, for it will give you power in private prayer, power in the Sunday School, power in the prayer meeting, power in everything that you do; because you will live upon the King’s own word, and his word is meat to the soul.”

Spurgeon stamped an indelible mark on Trinity Road Chapel that has continued long after his death. One pastor was a student at the Pastor’s College and another, Henry Oakley, supported Spurgeon through the Downgrade Controversy and maintained Spurgeon’s model for biblical, Christ-centered preaching.

In the 1940s, Ernest Kevan kept the church closely in line with its past by writing an article on the church’s faith and practice as set out in its trust deeds. Explaining that document, Kevan wrote, “The accurate interpretation of these requirements with regard to the life of the Church and the character of its ministry seems to be summed up by saying that as a Baptist Church, it is required that the minister who is called shall be a convinced Baptist, and that his views shall be Calvinistic, or, rendered in more modern terms, along the lines of teaching such as we have come to associate with the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.”

A quote of Spurgeon found in the church’s magazine, The Witness, summarizes what that means, “As the hammer comes down on the anvil ever with the same ring, so we will preach Christ, Christ, Christ and nothing else but Christ.”

May God empower us to do that! And through reading 365 Days with Spurgeon, may you be inspired and equipped to hold high the gospel torch among our generation, just like C.H. Spurgeon did so wonderfully in his.

Doug McMasters
Pastor, Trinity Road Chapel
Upper Tooting, London

04 December 2007

The Greatest Gift of Christmas

What do you love about Christmas? From my early childhood, my first loves were the gifts under the tree for me and the rest of the family. In time, I learned to love other parts of the season—special Christmas television specials and cartoons, decorating the tree, putting out special items around the house, helping my dad string lights outside, reading all the greeting cards, gathering with extended family, the large meal. And mother’s homemade chocolates! But the gifts under the tree were central.

For years, those gifts were the highlights of Christmas. But since Christ came into my life, gifts under the tree, as well as other Christmas accoutrements, have come to mean far less. I still enjoy those things, but they’ve been superseded by another Christmas gift that now occupies the highest place in my heart—the gift who is Jesus. Here are some special things to treasure about Jesus, the greatest gift.

His presence. There is nothing so sweet as the intimate closeness of Christ in His incarnation. Ever since Jesus came to earth, none of us can think of Him as distant. He has come near to us, He is Immanuel. He is with us. And in His presence are joys forevermore.

His understanding. Coming in human form, Jesus our Saviour brings to His own person all the troubles, trials and temptations we can experience in order that He might feel them and their weight as we do. Just when you might dare whisper, “No one cares, no one understands,” call to mind the scriptures that reveal that Jesus does care and He does understand.

His obedience. Not only did Christ come to identify with our temptations, He came, wonderfully, to overcome in them for our benefit, never succumbing to their pressure to disobey or doubt. He always followed the Word, always pleased the Father. And so now He stands as our perfect surety against our condemnation in every weakness and sin we commit. What a gift!

His death. Deserving punishment, the thought of death brought us terrible fear. Who can stand in God’s holy presence? No one. No one that is except Jesus, who obeyed in all aspects and who gave Himself up as our substitute in our judgment. He was cursed so we will never be. He was despised, rejected, and died, so that we might be received, embraced and live.

His life. Now believing on Him, we live. And we live in Him. All He carried out, we are united in. And so when Christ stepped from the grave in victory, ascended into the heavenlies and took the honoured place in glory, we through our union with Him share in that same glorious life of victory. Death holds no grip. And sufferings in this life are only passing and preparatory for the eternal life that is really living we’ll enjoy in the presence of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This year at Christmas, our family will enjoy our own special traditions, including some new ones like viewing the lights on Oxford Street. And we’ll exchange gifts. Those things will be special and delightful. But the greatest gift we’ll share together and among our church family is the inexpressible joy we know in the gift of Jesus. May God renew and increase your love for Jesus this Christmas!