‘Woman, behold your son…….Son, behold your Mother.’

From a sermon preached on Mothering Sunday, 2017.

Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.’

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

Taken from a sermon preached at a Mothering Sunday service at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, 2017.

Usually on a ‘Mothering Sunday’ service, we break off from whatever series we are doing, and look at a special ‘Mothers’ Day’ text.  But at present we are preaching through the words of the Lord Jesus spoken from the cross, and it seemed to us that the verses John 19:25-27 which were read just now are very suitable material for ‘Mothers’ Day’ because they show to us very clearly the heart of a mother, and also how the Lord Jesus kept the fifth Commandment, ‘Honour your father and mother.’  So let’s read those verses once again.

It will be good first of all to look at the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Like her Son, she was already well-acquainted with grief.  Right at the start, when the angel Gabriel was sent to give her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, we read that she was ‘troubled’ (Luke 1:29).  And no wonder!  A great honour it was to be sure, but it was fraught with difficulty and even danger.  She was betrothed to Joseph, and this pregnancy could be construed as adultery for which the law of Moses specified death.  So her response to the angel is both obedient and courageous.  “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Then ten or eleven months later, she and Joseph come to the Temple to present the baby Jesus to the Lord, and an old man named Simon approached them and made this prophecy. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  Strange words, signifying great privilege but also great sorrow.  At the cross they became, for Mary, tragically true.  Just a short time later, they became refugees in Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intentions.  Then, as her Son began His ministry, she must have witnessed the virulent opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious hierarchy, that would lead Him to the cross.

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother………’  How can we imagine the grief of Mary as she saw her Son hanging on the cross?  The sword had indeed pierced her own soul.  She was the one who had first planted kisses on the brow that was now crowned with thorns.  It was she who had held those hands and guided those feet which were now nailed through to the cross.  And here she is at the foot of that cross, powerless to save, unable to help.

Yet what she can do, she does.  She doesn’t run away and hide; she doesn’t scream or yell.  She stands by the cross.  Whatever comfort she can give to the Lord Jesus in His agony by her presence, that she will give.  The crowds are mocking, the thieves are taunting, the priests are jeering, the soldiers are callous and unfeeling, but she will be there for her Son.  All but one of the disciples have deserted Him and run away, but while He has life, nothing will take her from Him.

Yet we need to note that Mary is just an ordinary woman.  She knew perfectly well that she was a sinner like the rest of us and needed a Saviour (Luke 1:46-47).  Mary would have been the first to object to the adoration and semi-divine status given her by the Church of Rome.  We may observe and learn from her character, her submission to God’s will for her and her love for her Son, but we should certainly not be induced to worship her in any way.

In this connection, it might be as well to mention something remarkable in the Scripture.  The Lord Jesus never addresses Mary as ‘mother.’  I’m sure He did in private, but if so, it is not recorded, and the reason for that is plain to us who live 2,000 years after the event.  It was not for any lack of reverence or affection, but rather to give no Scriptural basis for giving to Mary that pagan title, “Mother of God.”

Vs. 26-27.  ‘When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom Jesus loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

I want to look now at how the Lord Jesus, even in His dying agony, kept the Fifth Commandment, and the example He gives us.   The Commandment is found both in the Old and New Testaments.  ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you’ (Exod. 20:12, repeated and expanded in Eph. 6:1-3).  This command goes far beyond simply obeying one’s parents’ bidding, though that is certainly included.  It embraces love, affection and gratitude, exemplified by respect and care.  It is by no means only addressed to young people.  It is to them first, but the word ‘honour’ looks beyond the obedience required of the young to the love, care and devotion to be given by grown-up children to their aged parents.  In these verses, we see the care given by the Lord Jesus to His mother.  Mary was, no doubt, a widow by this point.  We read nothing of Joseph after the end of Luke 2, and it would have been very odd if Mary had been invited to the wedding at Cana without her husband, had he been living.

There was, of course, no Social Security in New Testament times, and life could be very difficult for widows unless they could be cared for by family members (Hence the poignancy of the plight of the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11ff).  However, God makes clear several times in the Bible His concern for widows and orphans, and the poor in general (eg. Psalm 68:5; 1 Tim. 5:4, 8).  The Lord Jesus sets us a divine example in this respect; first as a child (Luke 2:51), and now as an adult.  Knowing that He must shortly depart from the world, He makes arrangement for the care of His mother.

Why does our Lord’s choice to look after Mary fall upon John?  For we know that Mary had had other children with Joseph after our Lord was born (cf. Mark 6:3).  Well, where were they?  None of them came at this terrible time to support their mother in her grief.  Also, we read that at this point ‘Even His own brothers did not believe in Him’ (John 7:5), although it appears that at some point before Pentecost (Acts 1:14), they came to faith, and one of them, James, went on to become a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19) and is generally believed to be the writer of the NT letter that bears his name.  But now they were nowhere to be found.  The Lord Jesus had declared, ‘Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and My mother’ (Mark 3:35).  The will of God was that they support their mother in her time of trial and they were not there, but someone else was- the disciple whom He especially loved.

A modicum of Bible detective work will reveal that John was Mary’s nephew, and therefore first cousin to Jesus.  Look again at v.25 and then compare it with Matt. 27:55 and Mark 15:40, and you will see that Mary’s sister who stood by her at the cross was called Salome, and she was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  Salome and John were there for Mary at her time of greatest need, so Jesus knew that they would be the ones to care for her afterwards.  We might add that John’s family appears to have been reasonably prosperous and therefore able to add Mary to the household.  They had a fishing business that was large enough to employ others (Mark 1:19-20) and were people with connections (John 18:15).  But no doubt John’s spiritual qualifications were the most important.  All the apostles had fled the previous night (Mark 14:50).  Not one had stayed and supported Him at the hour of His greatest need.  Yet there was one who had repented of his cowardice and had returned to be present at the foot of the cross to show that he was not ashamed of his Master.  All te apostles were forgiven for their desertion, even Peter, who denied three times that he even knew Jesus;  but John, who first returned was given the honour of caring for his Lord’s mother.

Furthermore, because ‘From that hour the disciple took her into his home’ (v.26), he would have had the joy, a little later, of running back from the empty tomb to tell his aunt the amazing news that her Son had risen from the dead (John 20:3, 10).  The last time we hear of Mary, she is with the disciples, her other sons and the women, no doubt including her faithful sister Salome, ‘Continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1:14).

To close, there is a verse in connection with motherhood which is especially precious to me.  It is Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you.’  The love of a mother is a very wonderful thing, and one would suppose that it is impossible that she would forget her own child, but that was exactly my experience.  My mother suffered from a virulent form of vascular dementia towards the end of her life and could recognize neither me nor anyone else.  I don’t know how people cope with that sort of grief who don’t know the Lord, but I was comforted and sustained, not least by this verse.  However deep a mother’s love may be, God’s love towards His adopted children is greater.  ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and though the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour’ (Isaiah 43:1-3).  The love of God is not there as a lucky charm, but as a love that will see you through the very hardest part of life, will never leave you not forsake you, and at the end will bring you to Himself and wipe every tear from your eyes.



Posted by: stpowen | February 14, 2017

Petition to Ban Abortion on the NHS

Proverbs 24:20 (NIV). ‘Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who guards your life know it?  Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?’

Jeremiah 1:5. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’

There is an on-line petition to stop abortions being performed on the NHS.

Whilst I don’t imagine for a moment that such a petition will be successful, it is an opportunity for Christians (and others) to show their opposition to the mass-slaughter of unborn children.  It would be wonderful if a million signatures could be obtained so that the petition might be discussed in Parliament.


Posted by: stpowen | February 11, 2017

Why do You Speak to Them in Parables?


Matthew 13:10-17.  Why  do You Speak to them in Parables?

Psalm 78:1-2.  ‘Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ear to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.’

Matthew 13:9.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.  www.scottdrivechurch.org

I am taking verse 10 as my text:  ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’   Matthew 13 contains seven parables, at which we shall be looking over the next few weeks, but we thought it might be helpful to ask the question that the disciples ask:  “Why parables?  And what on earth is a parable anyway?”  Also, since the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is mentioned quite often in Matthew 13, it might be good to take a look at what that term means.

So what’s a parable?  You’ve probably hears the saying, “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”   That’s not a bad definition.  Parables take themes with which ordinary Israelites would have been familiar- farming or fishing, for example- and use them to illustrate a spiritual point.  Some are very short- the parable of the hidden treasure in verse 44 is just one verse- and some, like the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel,  are much longer.  Some are allegories- one thing represents another.  For instance, in the Parable of the Sower, the seed represents the word of God, the pathway is this and the thorns are that; one thing corresponds to another.  But others aren’t allegorical and if you press the details too hard you will miss the point of the parable.  Someone might listen to the Parable of the Sower and think to himself, why is that sower so stupid?  Why is he chucking the seed on the pathway and in amongst the weeds where it’s never going to grow?  The farmer would sack him in five minutes!  If you want to know why, you’ll have to come back next week when we look at that parable in detail, but the point is, if you agonize over the details, you will miss the point.  But the simplest definition of a parable is that it is a story that illustrates a teaching.

The next question is the one posed by the disciples; “Why do You speak to them [the people] in parables?”   I suspect that the disciples themselves didn’t understand the Parable of the Sower.  Mark’s Gospel records the Lord Jesus as telling them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?”  (Mark 4:13), and in a moment He explains the parable, but it seems that the disciples were ashamed to admit their ignorance, so they ask a different question; why are You speaking in parables?  They had also heard the close of the parable:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” and perhaps were thinking, what’s that all about?

So here’s the question for you:  do you have ears to hear?  Sunday by Sunday, as the word of God is preached to you, do you have ears to hear?   To be sure the preacher has a duty to explain things clearly and simply, but are you taking it in?  And if you aren’t, do you come and ask the preacher about it afterwards, or get a book out of the church library and study it for yourself?  Are you bothered whether you hear or not, or does the word go ‘whoosh’ over the top of your head, or in one ear and out the other, and you don’t get it and it doesn’t trouble you that much whether you get it or not?  Do you have ears to hear?

Now this isn’t a question of intelligence.  You’ve heard of William Wilberforce, the man who helped bring an end to the slave trade.  Well he was very good friends with the Prime Minister, William Pitt.  Pitt was a man of colossal intellect, having become Prime Minister at the age of only 24.  Wilberforce was a Christian, but Pitt was not and Wilberforce longed for him to be saved.  Hearing that a well-known evangelist would be speaking in London, he invited Pitt to go along with him to hear the man.  As the evangelist spoke, Wilberforce was thrilled- surely now his friend would be saved.  But as they left the auditorium, Pitt turned to his friend and said, “You know, Wilberforce, I have no idea what that fellow was on about.”  He had the brains to understand, but he didn’t have ears to hear.  He didn’t understand and he didn’t care enough to find out.  For ’the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he understand them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14).

So as the crowds walked away, perhaps they asked one another, “What did you make of those stories?”  “Well, I couldn’t make it out.  It was all about some mad sower chucking seed all over the place.  I’d be out of business in five minutes if I carried on like that!”  He doesn’t get it, and it doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t get it.   Parables are a judgement on those who heard the wonderful teaching, saw the amazing miracles and still did not react.  They didn’t want to believe.  We read in 12:24 that the more miracles the Pharisees saw, the more they hated Jesus and ascribed His works to the devil.

We read in John 1:11 that ‘He came to His own’– His own Jewish countrymen- ‘but His own did not receive Him.’  They were interested for a short while, but then they turned away.   ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.’  Is that you?  Have you heard the wonderful teaching of Jesus and has it struck a chord in your heart?  If so, give God the thanks, because it is all over Him.  ‘For to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.’  It is God who has opened your eyes and caused you to see, and you have been born again, ‘not of blood……’  It doesn’t matter if your parents were Christian or not; ‘nor of the will of the flesh……’  It’s not something you could do by the strength of your own fallen will; ‘nor of the will of man…….’  No human third party- not the words of the preacher, the incantations of the priest not the ministrations of the social worker- can get you right with God.  ‘But of God.’  It is He who has opened your blind eyes, un-stopped your deaf ears and caused you to see and hear the Truth.  So ‘blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear…..’  (V.16).   Blessed are you for coming into this little church with no great resources and no fancy music, because you hear the word of life here and you know it’s the word of life, and you keep coming and you’re learning and you’re growing in the faith.  In John 6:66-68 we read of many of Jesus’ disciples turning away, and He asked the twelve, ‘“Do you also want to go away?”  But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”’  Is that your position today?  That in Christ and no one else are the words of life?  Then blessed are your eyes and blessed are your ears for they have seen and heard the truth and believed it.

So there is an element of judgement in the parables.  Because people deliberately close their eyes and ears, Jesus is going to make it even easier for them not to listen.  ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…….’ (Romans 1:18-21).  They are without excuse, because the very world they live in should tell them something about God, but they are not troubled to find out, ‘and their foolish hearts were darkened.’  The result is that ‘…..Whoever has [a God-given desire to know God] to Him more shall be given and he shall have abundance, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him’ (Matt. 13:12).

There is another reason for these parables.  The last six in Chapter 13, and several others, begin ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…..’  These are called, appropriately, the ‘parables of the kingdom.’  So first of all, what is the kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God)?  The Bible teaches that there are two ‘ages.’  This present age, and the age to come (cf. Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:29-30 etc.).  The age to come is the kingdom of heaven.  But with the coming of Jesus, the age to come has broken in upon the present age.  ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Matt. 4:17).  The kingdom is constantly expanding (Matt. 11:12), and if you are a Christian today, you are in the kingdom (Col. 1:13; Phil. 3:20).  This is what theologians call Inaugurated Eschatology.  Already the kingdom is here, but it’s not yet evident to all.  We are still living in Britain or wherever, and we obey her laws and pay her taxes.  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s……..’   But as Peter says, we are ‘sojourners and pilgrims’ (1 Peter 2:11) in this world; our citizenship is in heaven.  And however it may seem in Britain today,  the kingdom of heaven is steadily advancing all over the world- in China, Africa, South America, and even Iran.  Even in the midst of the most brutal oppression, forceful men and women are laying hold of the kingdom.  At the present time, the Gospel is making the greatest strides in history.  The mustard seed s growing into a mighty tree.

But at the time that the Lord Jesus Christ was on earth, people were puzzled; they had questions:  if the Kingdom is here, where is the sign of it?  Why are so many people rejecting it?  Why is it so small and insignificant?  Why are there still wicked people about?  Why are the Romans still ruling Israel?  What benefit is there in being in the kingdom of heaven?

So these parables are there to answer these unasked questions.  Why are people rejecting the Kingdom?  Well, it’s like the parable of the sower; only certain people come and stay.  Why is the Kingdom so small?  Well, it’s like a mustard seed or like yeast.  Why isn’t the Kingdom ruling in power?  Well, it’s like a field with crops and weeds, or like a fishing net, and things don’t get sorted out until the end.  What’s the point of being in the Kingdom?  It’s like finding treasure or a pearl of great price.  I won’t go into any more detail because I don’t want to spoil the next few sermons, but maybe you have similar questions.  Why are there so few people in church?  Why doesn’t God just come and sort everything out?  What’s the point of being a Christian?  Why don’t I feel happy? If you have questions like these, God willing, these parables of Matthew 13 will give you the answers.  But you will need to have ears to hear and eyes to see.  A long time ago, Gene Pitney sang a song called “Looking through the eyes of love.”  You need to be looking through the eyes of faith, not to see something that isn’t true, but to see the truth- to see Jesus, crucified, risen, acended, and reigning in heaven so that not one hair will fall from your head without His say so.  He is the One of whom all the prophets speak.  There are dozens and dozens of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Him.  From Isaiah’s Suffering Servant made a sin offering for His people, to Jeremiah’s Seed of David who is the Lord our Righteousness, to Ezekiel’s david Shepherd of the Lord’s flock.  And you can look at Jesus with the eyes of the world and say, ‘Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55).  Or you can look with the eyes of faith and hear His teaching with the ears of faith, and fall down at His feet like Thomas and cry, “My Lord and my God!”

Listen to this prophecy of Isaiah in Matt. 13:14-15. Hearing you will hear and shall not understand;  and seeing you will  see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing and their eyes they have closed……..’   Is that you?  Do you hear but it doesn’t go in?  Do you see Jesus as a great teacher but nothing more?  Are you just going through the motions and it’s all just going in one ear and out the other, and it doesn’t both you that it does?  “Well, I couldn’t make quite make out what Martin was saying today, but the hymns were very nice and so was the coffee and the chat afterwards.”

Or are you blessed because they really do see the Saviour and your ears blessed because they hear the words of life?  You have such wonderful advantages over the people in O.T. times. (v.17).  The O.T. prophets saw Jesus dimly (1 Peter 1:10-12); they had all the information ut they didn’t have the full picture.  When they looked more deeply, they saw that their prophecies were not so much for themselves as for us, that we should see this amazing picture of Christ in all the Scriptures.  And they longed to see the reality of it- they longed to see the Messiah they spoke of- but they didn’t in their own lifetimes.  But we look back where they were looking forward and we have the full picture in our Bibles.  Woe to us if we fail to find the Saviour with all the information we have been given!

Lastly, is there someone thinking, “I really want to become a Christian, but I just can’t get my head around it all; things just don’t seem to fit into place.  Maybe I’m not one of the ‘elect’ and no matter what I do, I won’t be saved.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Listen to the Lord’s promise in Deut. 4:29.  ‘You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul,’ and again in Matt. 7:7ff.  ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you….’  So take Him at His word; seek, ask, knock; be one of those who is not content to leave your church not having understood the sermon.  Stay behind and ask your minister about what puzzles you.  Pray for understanding, get a commentary out of the library;  ‘Be transformed,’ says Paul, ‘by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2) and sure enough, you will find the Saviour, and with Him, eternal life.  For ‘if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’ (Luke 11:11).





Posted by: stpowen | January 28, 2017

Some Thoughts on Holocaust Day

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
What makes a man living a perfectly decent life in Germany in the 1930s become an S.S. guard in a Death camp? And then, if he isn’t caught and tried, become again a decent sort of chap once again for the rest of his life? What makes a Hutu living in Rwanda suddenly hack to death his Tutsi neighbours with whom he has lived peacefully for years? What caused the genocides in Ottoman Turkey and Bosnia? The answer is found in Jeremiah 17. The Holocaust needs to be remembered, not because it is unique, but because it isn’t. The veneer of civilization over the world is remarkably thin, even in the West, and if we think something similar couldn’t happen here, we do not know our own hearts.  Indeed, something similar is happening here; over eight million unborn children slaughtered since 1967, and how few there are who raise their voices in protest.
The antidote is found, not in another veneer- that of ritual Christianity- but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the New Birth where God promises nothing less than a Divine heart transplant: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them’

Posted by: stpowen | December 24, 2016

‘See He Lies there in a Manger…..

……..Who once made the earth and sky.

Down from heaven He’s come a stranger;

Newly born, yet born to die.

Hands almighty, now lie helpless

Round His mother’s finger curled;

Lips so gracious, now yet speechless,

Soon will speak to all the world.’

[Graham Harrison]


First of all, may I apologize to my longsuffering reader, for the lack of posts these last many months.  I had expected that retirement would give me the opportunity to increase my output on this blog, but alas!  The opposite has happened.  Over the past year or so I have increased my responsibilities in my church and also within the Gideons organization.  Also, to my shame, there is no doubt that I have slowed down somewhat in my activities to match my slower way of life.  However, I do not intend to abandon the Marprelate blog, so I hope to be posting regularly once more in the coming year.

The past year has been one of many surprises in the world.  The hearts of many people  seem to be failing them for fear (Luke 21:26), especially at the prospect of ‘Brexit’ and President Trump, yet the Christian should not be shaken by earthly events, especially at this time of year.  ‘For this reason the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8), and there is no doubt whatsoever that He will in God’s good time.


A very merry Cheistmas to all who visit this blog!

Hebrews 11:26, 38.  ‘Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked for the reward………Of whom the world was not worthy……’

Around the middle of the 14th Century, three events occurred which had deep effects upon the people of England and their religious worldview.  The first and most impacting of these was the Black Death.  Beginning in August 1348, this terrible epidemic spread across the land until, by the time it began to decline around the middle of 1350, between 30% and 45% of the population had perished.  In London, a new cemetery at Smithfield was hastily opened but soon ran out of places.  A local landowner donated more space at Spittle Croft, but it became hard to find sufficient people to bury the dead .  The corpses of the common people were packed together in rows and on top of each other five deep.  However, the plague made no distinction between rich and poor, noble or common; among those who died were three Archbishops of Canterbury.  The law courts were closed, Parliament was suspended for a season. In the countryside, whole villages were depopulated.  When a landowner enquired why no one from a certain village had come to pay rent to him, he was told that there was no one left to bring it.

Needless to say, the plague had the deepest effect upon the nations it afflicted.  For a while it seemed as if the end of the world was imminent.  Contemporary writers tell us that the people tended to respond in three ways.  Some threw off all restraint and partied as if there was no tomorrow, as indeed for many, there wasn’t.  Others reacted in suspicion and anger.  Lepers were suspected of spreading the disease, and Jews or gypsies accused of deliberately poisoning the nation.  The Jews had been expelled from England a hundred years earlier, but in various parts of Europe whole Jewish communities were massacred.  But others drew close to Christ in their fear and despair, and it is evident that some of these did not find the comfort they longed for from the rituals and sacraments of the Church.  Such people began to look more deeply at their faith as they sought an eternal refuge from the judgement they saw all around them.

The second event, in 1365, was the revival by Pope Urban V of the claim for 1,000 Marks a year (£667 sterling) from England by way of ‘rental’ for the right of the nation to rule itself.  Readers will recall (1) that back in 1213, King John had capitulated to Pope Innocent III, effectively resigned his crown to the Papal Legate and agreed to hold the realm in ‘feud’- that is on acknowledgement of the Pope as his overlord.  The annual payment of 1,000 marks was a sign of the fealty owed by the English crown and Parliament to the Papacy. The agreement stated that if ever John or his successors should break the agreement, they should lose their right to rule. In fact, the money had not been paid for many years.  Masterful kings like Edward 1 and Edward III had no intention of acknowledging the Pope as their secular master, and the agreement had become a dead letter.

Indeed it is hard to know why Urban might have thought asking for this money would be a wise move.  The Papacy was no longer as dominant as it had been in the days of Innocent III.  In 1302, the French king, Philip the fair, who had had numerous disputes with Pope Boniface VIII, had him  kidnapped and imprisoned, and after his death the French faction of Cardinals succeeded in getting a French Pope, Clement V elected.  Clement never set foot in Rome and after a while, in 1309, Philip installed him in Avignon, then part of the independent state of Provence, but heavily under the influence of France.  There the Papacy remained for the next sixty-eight years, and all Clement’s successors were French, as were most of the cardinals.  The Papacy had become a French poodle.

This was hardly likely to endear the Papacy to the English who were in an almost continual state of war with France.  Urban’s demand for money was met with almost total hostility.  Edward III summoned Parliament in 1366 to consider his demand.  It was only twenty years since the famous English victory over the French at the Battle of Crecy, and one after another the barons and other nobles rose to condemn the Pope’s request.  King John had had no right to give away his kingdom without the consent of the nation, and if Urban wished to subdue England again, let him buckle on his sword and try it!

‘Forasmuch as neither King John, nor any other king, could bring his realm and kingdom into thraldom and subjection but by the common consent of Parliament, the which was not given, therefore that which he did was against his oath at his coronation, besides many other causes.  If therefore, the Pope should attempt anything against the King, the King, with all his subjects, should, with all their force and power, resist the same.’(2)

Another cause of discontent against the Church and the papacy was the custom of the Pope to appoint foreigners to lucrative Church offices and benefices over the heads of the rightful patrons, and the flow of Church revenues out of the country to Avignon.  To prevent these abuses, the famous Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire were passed by Parliament in 1351 and 1353 respectively.  However, these statutes did not end the practices until the Reformation despite further laws being enacted in 1365, 1390 and 1393.  There was a suspicion among many that some of this money found its way to help fund the French army.

Into this time of growing discontent against the Church came John Wyclif (c. 1325-1384).  He is too famous to be covered in depth in this history (3), but some detail is needed to set the scene for what followed.  Wyclif was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and as a young man he would have witnessed the devastation caused by the Black Death, and seems to have been particularly affected by it.  He had gone to study at Oxford University at some time around 1340, and studied under Thomas Bradwardine, briefly Archbishop of Canterbury.  Wyclif seems to have undergone an evangelical conversion around the time of the Black Death.  He is thought by many to have written an anonymous treatise in 1356 entitled ‘The Last Age of the Church’ in which the writer claimed the plague to have been the righteous judgement of God upon the world and the Church for its wickedness and wondered if the 14th Century would not be the time of Christ’s Return.  His conversion to Christ does not seem to have pleased his parents.  Several of his writings allude to the hostility of his family to his beliefs.

Wyclif first came to prominence in 1365, when Pope Urban was trying to extract the 1,000 marks from England.   It was claimed on Pope Urban’s behalf that ‘as vicar of Christ, the Pope is the feudal superior of monarchs, and the lord paramount of their kingdoms………all sovereigns owe him obedience and tribute.’  Wyclif was called upon to reply.  Styling himself ‘the King’s peculiar clerk,’ he replied, ‘Already a third and more of England is in the hands of the pope’- he referred to the estates and accrued wealth of the Church- ‘There cannot be two temporal sovereigns in one country; either Edward is king or Urban is king.  We accept Edward of England and refuse Urban of Rome’ (4).  Wyclif put forward an early version of the doctrine of the Separation of Church and State.  He taught that neither Church not state was the only true source of authority; only God was.  God, said Wyclif, had delegated some of His authority over secular things to the state, and over spiritual things to the Church, but this authority was given to either only on condition that they served God faithfully.  Therefore, if Bishops failed in that duty, the state, having dominion over secular things, was entitled to strip them of their wealth and privileges.

Wyclif had earlier (1360) attacked the abuses of the begging friars.  Increasingly, he then moved his attack onto the Pope.  In the 1370s, in public lectures at Oxford, he was describing the Pope as ‘Anti-Christ, the proud, worldly priest of Rome.’  His particular venom was reserved for the ‘draw[ing] out of our land poor men’s livelihoods  and many thousand marks by the year of the king’s money for sacraments and spiritual things that is cursed heresy and simony’ (5).

The Papacy was not slow in responding.  In February 1377, in obedience to a papal ‘bull,’ William Courtenay, Bishop of London, summoned Wyclif to appear before him at a tribunal, but the protection of John of Gaunt, younger son of Edward III, prevented Courtenay from bringing him to trial.  In May, Pope Gregory XI summoned him to Rome, charging him with 19 different heresies.   Wyclif declined to go.  The following month, Edward III died after a fifty-year reign to be succeeded by his eleven year-old grandson, Richard II.  However, John of Gaunt and Richard’s mother (widow of Edward the Black Prince) were regents and continued to protect Wyclif when  Archbishop Sudbury tried to put him on trial in January 1378.

Worse was to follow for the Papacy.  Gregory XI had returned from Avignon to Rome, but in March 1378 he died.  Most of the cardinals were still French, but the populace demanded an Italian Pope.  Under pressure, the cardinals elected Urban VI, but a few months afterwards, they declared the election null and void because it had been carried out under duress.  They elected another Frenchman, Clement VII, as Pope and returned to Avignon.  Now there were two rival Popes each excommunicating his rival and hurling anathemas at him, and touting for support amongst the nations of Christendom.  The prestige and authority of the Papacy had hit rock bottom.  When the legates of Urban and Clement came seeking the support of the English Crown, Wyclif declared, “It is not necessary to go either to Rome or Avignon in order to seek a decision from the Pope, since the triune God is everywhere.  Our Pope is Christ.”

At this time Wyclif published a book called The Truth of Holy Scripture.  In it he declared that the Bible was the only source of Christian doctrine and that all the teachings of the Church, the Church Fathers, the Papacy and church councils must be tested against the word of God.  All Christian should have access to the Bible, and it should therefore be translated into the various languages of the people.  He also argued, following in the footsteps of men like Robert Grosseteste and Thomas Bradwardine (6), that preaching, not performing the mass or other sacraments, was the true work of a priest.

Later in 1378, Wyclif wrote On the Church. In this book he declared that the Church was not an outward organization controlled by the Pope and his cohorts, but a spiritual body comprising those eternally elected to salvation.  At any given time it was the body of true believers worldwide.  It was therefore infallibly known to God alone, and its head was not the Pope but the Lord Jesus Christ.  The pope, he said, could be head only of the outward church that existed in Rome.  The following year, Wyclif followed up his theme with The Power of the Papacy, in which he argued that the papacy was of only human origin and that it had no power over any secular government.  Only a pope who imitated the apostle Peter in his holy living and humility could claim Peter’s authority.  A pope who failed to do this was in reality Antichrist.

In 1380, came On the Eucharist.  Here Wyclif laid his axe to the very root of the Church of Rome’s theology, rejecting the doctrine of Transubstantiation which had been officially promulgated at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and going back to the earlier teaching of Augustine in the 5th Century and Retramnus in the ninth.  The bread and wine, he argued, were not miraculously changed at the word of the priest, but maintained their own nature.  The believer (and only he) does indeed feed upon Christ, not physically with his teeth, but spiritually in his heart by faith.   ‘The consecrated host which we see on the altar is neither Christ nor any part of him, but the efficacious sign of him.’

Transubstantiation had become the core doctrine of the Church.  The power and prestige of the priesthood was based on the priests’ supposed ability to summon forth the very body and blood of Christ.   Denial of this doctrine is what the martyrs suffered for all the way through the Reformation.   Wyclif did not die, but the book cost him the support of Oxford University and his patron, John of Gaunt.

At around this time, we begin to hear of supporters of Wyclif.  At the beginning they seem to have been Oxford University scholars who had, perhaps, sat under his teaching.  Nicholas Hereford, John Purvey and John Corringham were early disciples and helpers.  Around 1380, or a little before, Wyclif had begun to send out itinerant preachers through the land.  These ‘Bible men’ or ‘poor priests’ were Wyclif’s repost to the Friars who deceived and robbed the people with their relics and indulgences.  They were quickly given the derisive name of ‘Lollard’ by their opponents.  The term seems to mean a ‘mumbler’ or one who sings in a low voice.  Since the two famous medieval books, Piers Plowman and The Canterbury Tales each contain a brief reference to ‘Lollards’ it seems that the name must have become current very quickly.

In 1381, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out.  A mob marched on London, captured Archbishop Sudbury of Canterbury and executed him.   Wyclif was in no way involved with this, and he had taught very firmly that people should obey the powers that be (Romans 13:1ff).  Both he and the Lollards who followed him held that the people owed complete loyalty to the secular power, even to the point of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 2:13ff).  However, one of the leaders of the revolt was a priest called John Ball.  Under interrogation, Ball confessed to being a Lollard, though there is no other evidence that he was any such thing.  As a result, the authorities became increasingly suspicious of Wyclif and his followers.  Also, William Courtenay, Bishop of London and a great opponent of Wyclif, now succeeded Sudbury as Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was not slow in using the power of the Church against him.

In 1382, Sudbury convened a Synod of the Church at the monastery of Blackfriars in London.  Often called the ‘Earthquake Council’ because as it commenced, a small earthquake caused some damage to castle walls and church steeples, the synod was a virtual trial of Wyclif.  Twenty-six propositions from his writings were read out including his proposal that after Urban VI, no further Pope should be appointed; ten of them were pronounced heretical and the rest erroneous.  Under pressure from Sudbury, the young Richard II gave him authority ‘to confine in the prisons of the State any who should maintain the condemned propositions.’  This was the start of the persecution that would eventually drive Lollardy underground.  A further meeting, this time at Oxford, focussed its attention on Wyclif’s condemnation of transubstantiation.  Refusing to recant, Wyclif was forced out of Oxford University and retired to Lutterworth where he was Rector.  His last two years were spent completing his famous translation of the Bible with his colleague, John Purvey.

Shortly before this, in 1378, Pope Urban VI promised indulgences for anyone who would fight against ‘schismatics,’ by which he meant supporters of his rival, Clement VII.  This led to the ‘Norwich Crusade,’ named after Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich.  Despenser not only preached the crusade, but actually led it.   It was supposedly to be against Flanders, but in fact he got little further than Calais, and the whole enterprise ended in confusion and disaster and with Despenser being impeached.  Wyclif wrote against the crusade, and Nicholas Hereford, in an Ascension Day sermon at Oxford in 1382 declared that peace would only come if monies collected by the Church remained in England.  Many Lollards were furious at this aggressive war launched in the name of Christ.  William Swynderby, in a letter to the Bishop of Hereford wrote, “For whereas Christ’s law bids us to love our enemies, the pope’s law gives us leave to hate them and kill them and grants men pardon to war against heathen men and kill them……..whereas Christ’s law teaches peace, the pope with his law assails men for money and gathers priests and others to fight for his cause.”  Walter Brut, on trial before the same Bishop in 1393, declared, “Christ, the King of peace, Saviour of all mankind, came to save, not to condemn and by giving the law of charity to the faithful, taught us to show respect, not anger, and not to hate our enemies……..But the Roman pontiff promotes wars and the killing of men in war in exchange for worldly goods.”

Wyclif died at the close of 1384.  The translation of the Bible which he had overseen was complete, but was found to be very literal and rather hard to read.  It was revised by John Purvey, and almost all the copies that we have today are Purvey’s revision.  Although it was a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible and contained that version’s errors, it was a fine effort and Purvey, whose name is all but forgotten today, should be recognized as one of the Fathers of the English language alongside Langland and Chaucer.  With a modicum of effort, it can still be read today.   Here is John 3:16 in his translation:  Forsothe God so louede the world, that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in to him perische not, but haue euerlastinge lyf.’ And here is John 6:35-37: ‘I am the breed of lyf; he that cometh to me, schal not hunger; he that beleueth in me, schal neuer thirste’ (7).

Wyclif’s followers may have felt that they had good cause for optimism as the 14th Century drew to a close.  The Lollard movement was growing strongly with itinerant preachers spreading the evangelical message all over the country and the English Bible finding its way into an increasing number of homes.  At the same time, however persecution began to bite.  William Swynderby was charged with preaching heresy in 1382, and recanted.  Like the apostle Peter, he soon bitterly regretted denying his Lord and retracted his recantation.  When we hear of him last, he was in hiding in 1391.  Walter Brut was tried before the Bishop of Hereford in 1393.Although a layman, he was extremely well educated, answering his accusers in latin and demonstrating  a great command of Scripture, asserting that those who were judging him were not nearly so wise as “sinners, lay persons and simple people to whom God has chosen to reveal Himself.”  Brut appears to have died in prison in 1402 after being convicted of treason.  John Aston, a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, was another Lollard who briefly recanted when arrested in 1383 and faced with long years in prison.  However, he later returned to the faith and was expelled from Oxford University, being denounced by the Bishop of Worcester as a dangerous heretic.

The saddest story of these early Lollards is that of Nicholas Hereford.  He was a Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford and Chancellor of the University in 1382.  He was an outspoken critic of the Pope and of the Church of his day.  “In time of Christ and the apostles,” he wrote, “Many heathen were converted to Christianity……..[but] now in time of antichrist….” The opposite was happening.  “As now men say that they should of love of their faith war on Christian men, and turn them to the Pope, and slay their persons and their wives and children and sever them [from] their goods and thus chastise them.  But certainly, this cannot be the chastisement of Christ, since Christ saith He came not to lose lives but to save them” (8).  However, Hereford was jailed in 1385 by Archbishop Courtenay in Saltwood Castle.  Somewhere around 1389, he recanted completely and became a theological inquisitor of suspected Lollards.  He was rewarded for his treachery by being appointed Chancellor of Hereford cathedral in 1391 and of St. Paul’s in 1395.

Nevertheless, the Lollard or Protestant cause seemed at this point to be advancing.  We hear of a number of ‘Lollard Kinghts’ who supported Wyclif before his death, and his cause immediately afterwards.  These included Sir Richmond Sury, Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir John Clanvow, Sir John Cheyne and various others.  They were sometimes dubbed the ‘hooded knights’ because they failed to remove their hats in the presence of the ‘host’ or consecrated bread.  These men allowed the Lollards to meet on their lands and supported the copying of the Wyclif Bible and other tracts.  In  1395, the Protestants felt confident enough to publish their ‘Twelve Conclusions.’  These were presented to Parliament and attached to the doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.  These are most interesting.  The preface reads:    “We poor men, treasurers of Christ and his Apostles, denounce to the Lords and Commons of the Parliament certain conclusions and truth for the reformation of the Holy Church of England, the which has been blind and leprous many years by the maintenance of the proud prelacy, borne up with flattering of private religion, the which is multiplied to a great charge and onerous [to] people here in England.”  The Conclusions are summarized as follows (9):

  1. The state of the Church. The first conclusion states that the English Church has become too involved in affairs of State, led by the bad example of the Church of Rome.
  2. The Priesthood. This asserts that the ceremonies used for the ordination of priests are without Scriptural basis or precedent.
  3. Clerical celibacy. This claims that the practice of celibacy has led to homosexuality among the clergy.
  4. This states that the doctrine of transubstantiation leads to idolatrous worship of the communion wafers.
  5. Exorcisms & Hallowings. The claim is that these practices as carried out by the priest are a form of witchcraft and incompatible with Christian doctrine.
  6. Clerics in secular offices. This conclusion asserts that it is not proper for Bishops and others to hold secular positions of power.
  7. Prayers for the dead. This declares that prayers for specific deceased people is uncharitable and the payment of clergy for making prayers or masses for the dead is a form of bribery  because it excludes all other blessed dead who are not being prayed for.
  8. Here it is asserted that pilgrimages and veneration of relics and images have no spiritual benefit and are at worst idolatrous in that they worship created things.
  9. Here the writer declares that the practice of confession for the absolution of sins is blasphemous, since only God can forgive sins, and that if indeed priests had that power, it would be cruel and uncharitable of them not to forgive everyone even if they refused to confess.
  10. Wars & crusades. Here it is asserted that Christians should not go to war, especially those promoted by the Church, such as crusades, which are blasphemous since Christ instructed men to love their enemies.
  11. Female vows of chastity, and abortion. Here it is claimed that women who have taken vows of celibacy are breaking their vows, becoming pregnant and then seeking abortions to conceal the fact.  This is strongly condemned by the writer.
  12. Arts & crafts. Christians, claims the writer, are devoting too much time and energy in the making of beautiful artifacts for the churches, and would do better to devote their lives to godliness and simplicity.

This document is likely to have been written by John Purvey since it is alluded to in the General Preface of his revision of Wyclif’s Bible.  The Conclusions seem to have been well received by the Commons, but badly by the King, Lords and Church.  Richard II, influenced, it seems, by his bride, Anne of Bohemia, had originally been supportive of Wyclif’s teaching, but after Anne’s early death in 1394, Richard seems to have come more under the influence of the clergy.   He was persuaded to condemn the Conclusions in harsh terms, speaking of “damnable errors repugnant to the faith…..which would bring ruin…..if not resisted by the arm of the king’s majesty….lest the wickedness of the lurking enemy thereby infect the people of the whole realm.”  Sir Richard Sury, one of the ‘Lollard knights’ was accused of attaching the conclusions to the doors of St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey and was forced to swear an oath of abjuration under threat of execution.  But generally, Richard would not approve the Church’s desire for the death sentence to be imposed upon the Lollards.  Such a law would not be long in coming, however.

(1) See my previous article https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/the-peoples-reformation-1-setting-the-scene/

(2) Quoted by David Fountain, John Wycliffe; the Dawn of the Reformation (Mayflower Christian Books, 1984. ISBN 0 907821 02 2).

(3) There are several biographies of Wyclif. A good general book is the one by David Fountain referenced above.

(4) Wylie: History of Protestantism.

(5) From a Wyclif tract. Quoted by David Fountain op cit.

(6) See previous article.

(7) There are several more examples in David Fountain’s book.

(8) Lollard Sermons No. 41.

(9) The full text in modern English is available at http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/varia/lollards/lollcon.htm



Posted by: stpowen | August 22, 2016

The Aberystwyth Conference & the Bible League


Proverbs 10:20-21.  ‘The tongue of the righteous is choice silver……..The lips of the righteous feed many.’

Romans 14:4. ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant?  To his own Master he stands or falls.  Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.’

Earlier this month, I was once again at the Aberystwyth Conference run by the Evangelical Movement of Wales.  What a blessed time this was!  It is the fifth such conference that I have attended, and while each one has been excellent, this one, in the opinion of many to whom I spoke, was the very best.

The main speaker was Joel Beeke from Grand Rapids, USA.  His four morning talks were expositions of the last four chapters of Revelation.  These were wonderfully blessed to us all.   Beeke’s warmth and earnestness raised us up to heaven while simultaneously warning any unbelievers present of the dreadful fate of the lost.  I hope that the recordings are made widely available as these talks deserve the greatest possible audience.

The Monday evening talk tends to be evangelistic and Bill Bygroves was right on target as he spoke on 2 Cor. 5:17.  The following evening, he was in expository mode as he dealt with 2 Cor. 5:21.  The other speaker was Mike Reeves who spoke on Isaiah 61:10 – 62:5 and 2 Cor. 3:7-18.  I did not care very much for Reeves’ style of speaking which I found rather histrionic, but his content was excellent.

However, Aberystwyth is about more than listening to talks.  The prayer meetings are always very blessed and this year was no exception.  As usual, I opted for the early morning meetings (8-15am) led by the excellent Chris Rees, minister of the Baptist church in Narberth (wherever that is!).  Chris provides just the right amount of leadership to point us in the right direction so that the prayers follow a broad theme.  For an hour each day, there was scarcely a moment’s silence as fervent prayer ascended to God.  It was a privilege to be part of it.

As one would expect from a welsh conference, the singing is always a highlight, being both rousing and tuneful.  Certain developments have taken place over the past two years which may upset some but which I have found a blessing.  The words are now put up on a screen and we are no longer entirely restricted to the contents of Christian Hymns.  Each evening, before the start of the meeting, there is the opportunity to practise a new song, carefully chosen by the conference committee.  These were excellent and I look forward to singing them in my own church.  The accompaniment is still a single piano, which I personally prefer to the ubiquitous praise bands.  Most of the hymns sung were traditional, and I agree with the speaker from the Christian Hymns committee that churches must certainly not allow the stream of new material to supplant the old.  Some modern hymns will survive the test of time and find a place in the repertoire of conservative churches.  Most however will not, and we will be greatly impoverished if we allow the current fad for modernity to rob us of our traditional hymns.


So, having been so very blessed and uplifted by the conference, I was disappointed to read an article written over a year ago in the Bible League Quarterly {1}  attacking the E.M.W. for inviting Dr. Paul David Tripp to the 2015 conference.  The article, written by Dr. E.S. Williams, declares that Dr. Tripp should have been considered persona non grata to Aberystwyth for two reasons:  firstly because Tripp has had some sort of dealings in the past with Mark Driscoll, and secondly because of his teaching concerning the believer’s identity in Christ.

Dr. Williams and I have crossed swords before on the subject of Mark Driscoll {2}, not because we differ in our assessment of the man- readers will search this site in vain for any recommendation of Driscoll from me- but because Dr. Williams appears to believe that any contact whatsoever with Driscoll causes one to contract a sort of moral leprosy which disqualifies one from any further work in the Church.  In this case, it appears that as the allegations surrounding Driscoll and Mars Hill Church began to grow, Tripp was asked to join the church’s ‘Board of Advisors and Accountability,’ presumably to try to sort out the mess.  It seems that after six months, Tripp decided that there was nothing he could do to help and pulled out.  I fail to see how this means that he is contaminated by Driscoll’s errant theology or anything else.

The second claim concerns Dr. Tripp’s teaching on the believer’s identity in Christ.  Here is Dr. Williams:

 ‘[Tripp] claims that the identity you assign to yourself dictates the course of your life. “You never escape the identity that you assign to yourself, ever.” And so come Tripp’s big questions: “Who do you think you are? Where will you look today, for identity?” Referring to the first five verses of Psalm 27, Tripp describes the characteristics of the Lord — the Lord is light; the Lord is salvation; the Lord is stronghold. Then he says, “What I’ve just given you is nasty, dangerous, bad theology — but it’s the theology, I’m convinced, that has infected the Church of Jesus Christ. Because what I have done is violence to the gorgeous identity comfort of this Psalm.” Tripp then emphasises David’s use of the personal pronoun, because David says, “The Lord is MY light, MY salvation, MY stronghold.” He makes a profound statement: “I want to say, enough of abstract, impersonal, distant, isolated, informational theology, it’s not the theology of the Word of God; it doesn’t help us it hurts us … the theology of the Word of God, properly understood, never just defines who God is, it redefines who you are as His children … that two letter word my makes all the difference.” Tripp is saying that theology is not about understanding the character of God, but about the needs and comfort of man — theology does not just define who God is, it defines who we are. So the last thing we need is more informational theology about God.’

Now I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, but I know enough to know that believers can be depressed.  Fifty years or more ago, Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons on the subject that have come down to us as a book called ‘Spiritual Depression.’  Way back in the 18th Century, the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper suffered grievously from mental illness and depression.  His problem was not a lack of Biblical information, it was an inability to apply the promises of the Bible to himself.  He knew that the Lord Jesus Christ had died for sinners, but he could not believe that He had died for him.  He knew that He was the Saviour, but he could not believe that He was his Saviour.  It is one thing to believe, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, that the Lord is a Shepherd, but unless someone can say,  “The Lord is my Shepherd,” he is unlikely either to follow the Lord or take comfort in Him.  It is the one who can say, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1) who has the assurance that the Lord is really on his side.  So I am on Paul Tripp’s side here:  mere Biblical information will not help the downcast Christian unless it teaches him about his identity in Christ Jesus.

Finally, I was present at the 2015 Aber conference and I heard Paul Tripp speak.  I heard nothing that caused me alarm as to his theological soundness.  I strongly commend the Aberystwyth Conference to my readers, and especially to Dr. Williams, as the best conference that I have ever attended.


{1} http://www.bibleleaguetrust.org/beware-of-paul-tripp/

{2} Mark Driscoll was the controversial Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a vast megachurch.  For some years he was hugely popular with an enormous following. Sadly, the whole edifice came crashing down around the end of 2014 amid allegations of improper accountability.



Posted by: stpowen | July 2, 2016

Prayer in Uncertain Times

Psalm 61:1-2.  Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer.  Frome the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed.  Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.’

2 Samuel 30:6. ‘But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.’

The referendum is done and Britain is on her way out of the E.U.  The economic and financial hob-goblins that the pundits forecast would be unleashed upon us do not appear to have afflicted us as yet; on the contrary, the Stock Market is booming as I write this, and the Pound, having fallen steeply in the first few days, is steadily rising against other currencies.

Of course, on the other hand, Britain has hardly started on her journey as yet, and we are all in uncharted waters as we look forward to the negotiations to leave the E.U. in the friendliest and most beneficial way possible.  Indeed, who knows if the E.U. will survive in its present form?  The political repercussions have been most remarkable as both main political parties are embroiled in leadership elections, and those who were thought to be the main candidates have ruled themselves out.  Everything seems most uncertain.  The Lord Jesus spoke of ‘Distress of nations with perplexity’ and ‘men’s hearts failing them from fear…..’ (Luke 21:25-26).

Is not now the very time that God’s people should be deep in prayer to God, asking Him to use these uncertain times to draw men and women to Himself?  The next Concert of Prayer meetings are scheduled for next Saturday between 10-00am and 12 Noon.  Churches all over the UK will be praying for God to forgive this nation for its grievous sins and to bring us revival.  Why not see if such a meeting is scheduled for your town, and if not, why not call your Christian friends together and start such a meeting yourself?  At the same time, make sure that you are ready to point to Christ those of your non-Christian friends who speak to you of their fears concerning these difficult times.

Posted by: stpowen | May 13, 2016

Referendum Blues

Psalm 4:6.  ‘There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?”  LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.’

Psalm 131.  ‘LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty, nor do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.  Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever.’


Once again the whole nation is agog waiting for Martin Marprelate to tell it how to vote in the forthcoming election.  Well, he will keep you in suspense no longer; he believes that Britain should assert her independence by leaving the E.U.  This is not for religious reasons, though some have written to claim that the Nation State is God’s will for mankind.  Possibly so, but what God demands of the nations is godliness, that seems to be in short supply throughout the world.  No, Martin’s view is simply that Britain should be responsible for her own destiny, should set her own laws, control her own borders and make her own trade deals.  Not everything that comes out of the E.U. is evil- some of it has been beneficial- but Britain and Britons should be the ones who decide what we should do.  In short- we want our country back.


The idea that all our trade will disappear and our economy crash the moment we leave is a nonsense.  The day after the referendum we shall still be in the E.U. with all the treaties in place.  Withdrawal would take place slowly over the following two years.  Even more ridiculous is the suggestion from the Prime Minister that war in Europe is more likely if Britain leaves the E.U.  Whilst all the nations of the E.U. remain in NATO, war between them is unthinkable.  The real threat to peace and stability in Europe is the Euro and the European Central Bank.  Nations like Greece, Spain and Portugal have the most terrible unemployment, especially among the young, and no hope of any real improvement because they cannot devalue their currencies to stimulate trade.  Martin is amazed that there has not been much more violence on the streets in these countries, but we are seeing a rise in extreme politics in several of them, and who knows what the results of endless years of austerity will be?


But Britain’s real need is not freedom from Europe but freedom from enslavement to sin.  As one who goes into schools from time to time, Martin gets the opportunity to speak to teachers, and the portrait they paint of our young people is very worrying.  Depression and self-harming is endemic; a third of children between 11 and 15 have had thoughts of suicide; many young girls (and increasing numbers of boys) are suffering from bulimia and anorexia; the practice of ‘sexting’ is causing even more distress.  So many children have messy home lives, with their parents (often unmarried) changing partners with dizzying regularity, that many of them find their only structured existence in school.  And to cap it all, they are told (implicitly, if not explicitly) that they are nothing more than accidents of nature; that their lives have no ultimate purpose; that they evolved from slime and to slime they will return.  Is it any wonder that our children are bewildered and depressed?


Families, if they are not breaking up altogether, are living with colossal quantities of debt.  The open advertising of various forms of gambling along with galloping consumerism have seen to that.  Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant, with some of them becoming resistant to anti-biotics, and finally, the knowledge of Jesus Christ has almost disappeared from the land.  Children are more likely to know the meaning of Eid or Diwali than that of Easter.  They have not the faintest idea that there is a God who loves sinners like them so much that He sent the Lord Jesus to suffer and to die to take away their sin.


None of this will change whether the U.K. leaves the E.U. or stays within it.  The pressing need of our nation is revival.  By all means let the reader vote for his choice in the coming referendum, but let us not fool ourselves that the result will give Britain the change she really needs.  Let us make it our priority to attend the church prayer meetings and put the emphasis, not on Uncle Charlie’s sprained wrist or whatever, but on beseeching the Lord to send the Holy Spirit down on this land again.  The next Concert of Prayer meetings are scheduled for thee second Saturday in July.  Would it not be wonderful if hundreds of people came to these meetings up and down the country to spend two hours praying for revival?

‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, ssaying, ‘Let us continue to go and pray to the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts.  I myself will also go'”‘ (Zechariah 8:20-21).

Posted by: stpowen | April 23, 2016

Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

May 10th will be the bicentenary of the birth of J.C. Ryle, the great Protestant Bishop of Liverpool.  The May issue of Banner of Truth is dedicated to him and is well worth reading.  I have drawn the quotation below from its pages.

Many of my readers come from the USA or elsewhere where he may not be as well known as he is among British Reformed Christians. His great book, Holiness and his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels should be on every Christians bookshelf (or on his Kindle!).

Writing of the vital principles of Christianity, he declared them to be:

The extreme sinfulness of sin, and my own personal sinfulness, hopelessness and personal need.  The entire suitableness of our Lord Jesus Christ by His sacrifice, substitution and intercession, to be the Saviour of the sinner’s soul.  The overwhelming value of a soul, as compared to anything else.  The absolute necessity of anybody who would be saved being born again, or converted by the Holy Ghost.  The indispensable necessity of holiness of life, being the only true evidence of a true Christian.  The absolute need for coming out from the world and being separate from the vain customs, recreations and standard of what’s right, as well as from its sins.  The supremacy of the Bible as the only rule of what is true in faith, or right in practice, and the need of regularly reading and studying it.  The absolute necessity of daily private prayer and communion with God, if anyone intends to lead the life of a true Christian.  The enormous value of what are called Protestant principles, as compared with Romanism.  The unspeakable excellence and beauty of the doctrine of the Second Advent of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.  the unutterable folly of supposing that Baptism is Regeneration, or formal going to Church Christianity, or taking the sacrament a means of wiping away sin, or clergymen to know more of the Bible than other people, or to be mediators between God and man by virtue of their office.

I have often had hard things to say about the Church of England.  J.C. Ryle was an Anglican through and through, but before that he was a Protestant Christian.  May God send us men like him in these days, Anglican or otherwise.


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