Thursday, 31 January 2019

Who was Dr Guthrie?

Yesterday I was delighted to visit the 'Ragged School of Theology'.  Based in Niddrie Community Church and in partnership with 20 Schemes, the school trains local men and women in theology through a practical and active learning style.  It was good to meet old friends and chat with the local Pastor Mez McConnell author of 'Church in Hard Places' which is well worth a read.  It stimulates thinking around poverty, the Biblical response and the desperate need for churches in hard places.  While I was there a young man spoke to me.  He had been hugely helped by a some books I had arranged to be sent to a prison about 5 years ago.  He is now a bright Christian and learning some great theology.  It did my heart good to meet him.  I was delighted to do a Podcast with Mez about Dr Guthrie which will be coming out over the next few weeks.  Mez was keen to hear about Dr Guthrie so people were more aware of the background to name 'Ragged School'.  Below is a quick summary of Guthrie's life for newcomers.  Please pray for the folks at Niddrie Community Church and the great vision to plant healthy gospel churches in Scotland's schemes.  

Dr Thomas Guthrie’s statue in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh epitomises what many of us in the Christian church are seeking to achieve; with a Bible in one hand and his other hand resting protectively on a ‘ragged child’ Guthrie’s life combined the two great priorities of the church; truth and love.  Despite his great achievements, Guthrie is almost unknown today either as a preacher or social reformer.  Not a single book of his sermons or his famous ‘Seed Time and Harvest’ remains in print.  This is surely a tragedy and the study of Guthrie’s life and ministry reaps a rich reward for anyone who takes the time and energy to find out more about this great man.   

Standing at 6”4 Guthrie was an imposing figure.  Born in 1803 in the town of Brechin to the son of a local merchant and banker, Guthrie went on to study at Edinburgh University at the tender age of 12.  As he himself comments in his autobiography ‘beyond the departments of fun and fighting I was in no way distinguished at college’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 40).  Spending nearly 10 years at university and then a further 5 without a church prepared Guthrie in a unique way for the challenges ahead.  His sons comment in their Memoir of their father ‘these five years of hope deferred, however, afforded Mr Guthrie a profitable though peculiar training for the eminent place he was afterwards to fill.  His scientific studies in Edinburgh, his residence abroad, his experience of banking in his father’s banking-house, the leisure he enjoyed for enlarging his stores of general information, had all their influence in making him the many sided man he became’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 225).

Evangelist and Preacher
Guthrie was no ivory tower theologian and his common touch made him radical (and successful) in both his social reform and his evangelism.  He says in his autobiography; ‘If ministers were less shut up in their own shells, and had more common sense and knowledge of the world, they would cling less tenaciously to old forms, suitable enough to bygone but not to the present times’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 89).  He went on to prove this in his first charge in Arbirlot, Angus (1830-37) by abolishing two Sunday services.  They were replaced by a longer service at noon and an evening Bible Class for young people aged 15-25.  At the ‘Minister’s Class’ Guthrie would work through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, give a shorter, simplified version of the earlier sermon (‘abundantly illustrated by examples and anecdotes’) and test the knowledge of his students.  As Guthrie says in his autobiography; ‘None of the services and ecclesiastical machinery at work did so much good, perhaps, as this class’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 127).

This ‘knowledge of the world’ infused Guthrie’s preaching style.  He combined solid reformed theology with a simple, accessible (if somewhat flowery) style.  He says ‘…I used the simplest, plainest terms, avoiding anything vulgar, but always, where possible, employing the Saxon tongue – the mother tongue of my hearers.  I studied the style of the addresses which the ancient and inspired prophets delivered to the people of Israel, and saw how, differing from the dry disquisitions or a naked statement of truths, they abounded in metaphors, figures and illustrations.  I turned to the gospels, and found that He who knew what was in man, what could best illuminate a subject, win the attention, and move the heart, used parables and illustrations, stories, comparisons, drawn from the scenes of nature and familiar life…’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 130)  His great desire was to communicate the redeeming power of the gospel to those who were often shut out of the Scottish Church in 19th century Scotland through pew rents and an ‘elder brother’ spirit.  Like Thomas Chalmers Guthrie followed the parochial system of systematic visitation in defined districts and the Biblical use of the offices of elders and deacons.  His evangelism was relational, low key but always with a long term vision for the transformation of the whole nation of Scotland.

Social Reformer
While Dr Guthrie was one of the finest preachers of the Free Church in the 19th Century, his greatest legacy was surely as a social reformer.  This is summed up on his statue in Edinburgh which declares ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed’.  Even in his first rural parish in Angus Guthrie was a great friend of the poor.  He established a savings bank and library; ‘The success of the bank and the library I attribute very much to this, that I myself managed them.  They were of great service by bringing me into familiar and frequent and kindly contact with my people’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 113).  Guthrie believed that the minister should live and work amongst the people.  Writing while still in Arbirlot he said to a Mr Dunlop; ‘I have discovered from my own experience that the further the people are removed from the manse, the less influence has the minister over them: and if a man won’t live among the scum of the Cowgate [central Edinburgh] I would at once say to him ‘You can’t be my minister’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 309). 

Arriving in Edinburgh in 1837 he became an associate minister at Old Greyfriars along with John Sym.  The city Guthrie arrived in was growing rapidly with the industrial revolution and poverty, drunkenness, vice and all manner of degradation were never far from view.  There is a famous story told in Guthrie’s book ‘Out of Harness’ that describes how Guthrie stood on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh just after he arrived in Edinburgh.  Looking down on his new parish known as the Cowgate he describes ‘a living stream of humanity in motion beneath his feet’.  A hand was laid on his shoulder and he turned around to find the famous preacher and reformer Dr Thomas Chalmers.  Standing in silence for a few moments Chalmers eventually exclaimed ‘a beautiful field sir; a very fine field of operation!’ (Out of Harness, p 126).  This was the field that Guthrie was to labour in for the rest of his ministry.

Guthrie was appalled by what he saw around him on the streets of Edinburgh.   Writing in 1872 Guthrie says; ‘Five-and-thirty years ago, on first coming to this city, I had not spent a month in my daily walks in our Cowgate and Grassmarket without seeing that, with worthless, drunken and abandoned parents for their only guardians, there were thousands of poor innocent children, whose only chance of being saved from a life of ignorance and crime lay in a system of compulsory education’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 438).  Inspired by a cobbler from Portsmouth called John Pounds who saved 500 ‘ragged children’ from a life of neglect and delinquency, Guthrie became the Scottish ‘Apostle’ of the Ragged School movement.  There was already an Industrial Feeding School in Aberdeen pioneered by a Sherriff Watson in 1841 but the key difference was that Guthrie’s Ragged Schools were always attended by choice rather than coercion or as an alternative to custody.  Inspired by the Aberdeen school, and a similar school in Dundee established in 1842, Guthrie began to gather those of like mind to rescue thousands of children who, as he says of one poor boy were; ‘launched on a sea of human passions and exposed to a thousand temptations…left by society, more criminal than he, to become a criminal, and then punished for his fate, not his fault’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 440).

The ‘Ragged School Movement’ was galvanised by the publication of Guthrie’s now famous book ‘Seedtime and Harvest of Ragged Schools’ which was revised and republished three times.  His great skills as a communicator were put to excellent use in this book and Guthrie powerfully put forward the compelling social, economic and spiritual arguments for Ragged Schools.  He argues that the schools harmonised the views of two of Scotland’s preeminent philanthropists; ‘Our scheme furnishes a common walk for both.  They meet in our school room.  Dr Alison [ William Alison, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh, who advocated social and economic measures to alleviate poverty] comes in with his bread – Dr Chalmers with his Bible: here is food for the body – there for the soul’ (Quoted in Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 457).   Children were fed, taught how to read and write, taught practical skills to help them to get a job but most of all they memorised the scriptures, the catechism and instruction was given on all the main Christian doctrines.  What were the results?  The statistics speak for themselves.  The Edinburgh prison population in 1847 (the first year of the Ragged Schools in Edinburgh) consisted of 315 under 14’s (5% of the prison population).  By 1851 the figure was 56 out of 5,869 (1%) (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 459). 

Guthrie was an outstanding preacher, a faithful pastor, a winsome evangelist and one of Scotland’s finest social reformers.  Guthrie’s legacy lives on in the provision that there is both in terms of welfare and education for rich and poor alike.  While Guthrie would be saddened at the secularisation there has been in the public school system, he would surely be pleased to see education being offered to every child free of charge. 

He died in the early hours of Monday 24th February 1873 with his faithful Highland nurse and his family at his bedside.  It is said that with the exception of Dr Thomas Chalmers and Sir James Simpson, Edinburgh had not seen a funeral like it in a generation.  It was reported that 230 children from the original ragged school attended his funeral and sang a hymn at the grave. One little girl was overheard saying ‘He was all the father I ever knew.’  Amongst Guthrie’s last words he was overheard to say ‘a brand plucked from the burning!’  His legacy was that he through his vision and love for his Saviour, the Ragged School movement was established which in turn plucked thousands of little brands from a life of poverty and crime, and brought them to know the ultimate friend of sinners.

Monday, 28 January 2019

The Whole Christ

There are some books that you read that are helpful.  Other books are memorable.  For me, The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson (Crossway, 2017) is in a whole different category.  This book is a game changer and has had a profound and lasting effect on me.  Reading it and listening to it on Audible often moved me to tears.  The book helped me to finally understand much of what I had experienced in my own Christian life and in the church.  I am profoundly grateful to Sinclair Ferguson who has helped me see the glories of God's grace much more vividly.  So much of our theology is linked to how we see God and The Whole Christ helped me to see God so much more clearly as he is revealed in the Scriptures.  This book is a beautiful gift to the church.  You can buy it here.

Nothing New
There is nothing new under the sun and the theological clashes of the 18th century have so much to teach us today.  Ferguson uses the controversy surrounding the publication of 'The Marrow of Modern Divinity' and the ensuing 'Marrow Controversy' to diagnose and offer remedies to the cancer of legalism that is in all of our hearts and is endemic in certain churches.  Like a master surgeon, Ferguson expertly diagnoses and takes a Biblical scalpel to what lurks in all of our hearts and is often present in so many theological disputes.  I've often thought that legalism is somebody else's sin but The Whole Christ helped to see how it seeps into my own heart and it is present, to a greater or lesser degree, in every church.  

A short blog post can't do justification to The Whole Christ.  Many of the issues that Sinclair Ferguson deals with in this book are deep, complex and multi dimensional.  It is important to acknowledge when we are out of our depth and I have no problem in acknowledging that I can barely skirt around the edges of many theological issues.  I am looking forward to my good friend Donald John Maclean writing a much fuller review of The Whole Christ with his deep grasp of the theological issues involved.  His work on James Durham (1622-58) has been a huge service to the wider church and he shows that the 'free offer of the gospel' is not some innovation but is in the rich and historical flow of reformed theology.  I hope to write more about this when I review Joel R. Beeke's wonderful book 'Reformed Preaching'.

Defining Legalism
What I find so helpful about The Whole Christ is that Ferguson weaves his in-depth knowledge of church history, brings Biblical theology to life and writes as an experienced, wise pastor.  Legalism affects so many areas of the Christian life: the way the gospel is preached, the assurance of salvation, the way we view and enjoy God, the way we view other believers and the extent to which we are humbled under the grace and mercy of God in salvation.

The thing is, nobody claims to be a legalist. No reformed Christian ever claims that the observance of the law will save them.  Legalism is often not a matter of doctrine as practice. It is not so much of a 'head problem' as a 'heart problem'.  This is what makes the issue so complex.  Men can preach correct doctrine for decades but yet lack warmth in their preaching, gentleness in their pastoral care and affection for their wife and children.  As Tim Keller says in the introduction: the legal spirit is marked by jealousy, oversensitivity to slights, 'metallic' harshness towards mistakes and an ungenerous default mode in decision making. (The Whole Christ, p 13).

In my own experience, legalists are almost always (very) angry, often highly sectarian or tribal and often tend to be focused on particular doctrines at the exclusion of the gospel.  Legalists tend to be always right so if you are wondering if you are a legalist maybe ask yourself when you last said sorry.  If we genuinely believe ourselves to be sinners, sorry should be a word we use on a weekly if not daily basis.  For some reason it sticks in the throat of the legalist.

Suspicious Symptoms
Ferguson spends the first six chapters of The Whole Christ outlining the marrow controversy, defining legalism, explaining the 'order salutis' (does repentance precede or follow faith?) and then very helpfully examines 'Suspicious Symptoms' in chapter six.  These can include a 'self righteous temperament' which is often the most common trait amongst legalists.  Ferguson very helpfully uses the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 v 9-14 to make his point.  As Luke says, this parable was to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt (Luke 18 v 9).  This contempt of other Christians is common in both traditional and modern churches and is a sure sign of the spirit of the Pharisee.  Some churches seem pathologically incapable of self analysis, humility and reflection.

The Grace Expose
Ferguson also talks about 'the grace expose'.  Parables such as the labourers in the vineyard (Matt 20 v 1-16) expose what is truly in their (and our) hearts: without the demonstration of grace, the true nature of their hearts would not have been revealed (The Whole Christ, p 127).  Often when legalists see grace it draws out their legalism.  Ferguson really helpfully quotes John Colquhoun;  When a man is driven to acts of obedience by the dread of God's wrath revealed in the law, and not drawn to them, by the belief in His love revealed in the gospel; when he fears God because of His power and justice, and not because of His goodness; when He regards God more as an avenging Judge, than as a compassionate Friend and Father; and when he contemplates God rather as terrible in majesty than as infinite in grace and mercy, he shows he is under the influence of a hateful temper.  (The Whole Christ, p 128).  This is seen so clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  The love for the younger brother exposes the legalism of the elder brother. He is angry, resentful and views his father us unjust in rewarding his brother who had 'squandered his living with prostitutes.'

Bondage under the Law
Perhaps the most helpful section in the chapter on Suspicious Signs in the section on a 'A Spirit of Bondage'.  Many of us will have met Christians who are paralysed by the bondage that legalism brings.  When everything is reliant on our performance and obedience to the law, our constant failures brings a spirit of bondage and fear.  The legalist, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, separates God's law from God's character.  Rather than seeing the law as loving laws from a loving God, the legalist is crushed by the law as he sees them as ways to earn merit with God.  They see God as a hard task master who only loves us when we follow his laws perfectly which we are incapable of doing.

Ferguson very helpfully uses the Pilgrims Progress in this section and shows Faithful's struggles with 'Adam the First'.  Using the imagery of Romans 7 Bunyan shows us how we keep going back to our first husband rather than loving our new husband Jesus Christ,  As Ferguson says: We cry to the law to show some mercy; but bare law contains no mercy.  It is powerless to pardon.  Moses, in this sense, can only beat us into a bondage frame of spirit (The Whole Christ, p 131).  What is the remedy?  Our only hope to escape the bondage of the law is to have a clear sight of the nail scars in the hands of Jesus Christ.  The answer to legalism is grace, but not grace as a commodity, grace in Christ. 'He is the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 2 v 2).

A Covenant of Grace or a Rule of Life?
No book on grace would be complete without a proper treatment of 'antinomianism'.  Very simply put antinomianism denies the role of the law in the Christian life.  There is so much confused thinking around this today as people take verses like Romans 6 v 14 out of context.  If you are not familiar with the Westminster Confession of Faith I would urge to to get a copy and study its teaching on the law.  You can order a copy here.

As Paul spent so much of his ministry arguing, the fruit of free grace is not sin or lawlessness, but loving obedience.  Grace does not dismantle the law but it is no longer a covenant of works for the Christian, rather the law is a rule of life.  As we see Christ in the gospel, as we are humbled by grace we delight to do the will of God, not to earn our salvation (which is by free grace) but to please our heavenly father.  This is why the confession says;

 Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God revealed in the law requireth to be done. 
Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Chapter XIX, VII

So many churches today see 'the law' as the problem.  They think people are put off by any reference to the commandments and any emphasis on holiness of life.  Many of these people continue to live lives of integrity and holiness and we mustn't caricature everyone who takes this view as living in unrighteousness.  They just have a wrong understanding of the law.  In Romans 7 Paul calls the law 'spiritual', 'good', 'righteous' and 'holy'.  In Romans 3 Paul says 'Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law.'  

The law is not the problem, it is indwelling sin.  The answer to sin is not legalism or antinomianism.  The answer is grace.  We must be united with Christ as Paul sets out in Romans 6 v 1-14 - no longer under law (for our salvation) but under grace (v 14).  This does not mean that the law does not remain a 'rule of life' and must play a critical part in the Christian life.  Ferguson helpfully says:  Commandments are the railroad tracks on which the life empowered by the love of God poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit runs.  Love empowers the engine; law guides the direction.  They are mutually interdependent.  The notion that love can operate apart from the law is a figment of the imagination.  It is not only bad theology; it is poor psychology.  It has to borrow from law to give eyes to love.' (The Whole Christ, p 169)

Blessed Assurance
The last three chapters of The Whole Christ deals with the subject of Christian assurance which is a big issue for many Christians.  The Bible teaches that it is possible to have both false assurance and lack of assurance.  As so many have experienced, it is possible to be a 'child of light walking in darkness' as it says in Isaiah 50 v 10.  We see this time and again in the experience of the Psalmist.  During many periods of church history, assurance of salvation has been viewed with  suspicion and a potential source of antinomianism.  The reformation was a rediscovery of the certainty of salvation in justification by faith.  This was reflected by the Westminster Assembly when they said; But the principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace (WCF, ch 14.2).  Ferguson deals brilliantly with the perceived conflict between Calvin and the Puritans on whether assurance of faith is of the essence of faith and shows that they are coming at the same subject from different perspectives but meet in the middle.  The fruit of assurance is not 'looseness' as the confession says but that 'his [the believers] heart be may enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duty of obedience' (WCF, ch 18.3)

The Whole Christ is such an important book.  Legalism has done so much damage throughout the church.  It has divided churches, split families and caused deep wounds that last for decades.  It has turned many away from the gospel and given the church a bad name.  It clouds our view of the gospel and encourages us to view the law in a way that God never intended.  So many live in bondage to legalism, never experiencing freedom in Christ.  The Whole Christ calls us back to see the gospel in all its beauty and clarity.  Ferguson says in his own conclusion to the book that through the Marrow of Modern Divinity Boston experienced a fuller realisation of God and his amazing grace.  This led to Boston's heart being bathed in a new sense of God's graciousness in Christ.  The whole tincture of his ministry changed as his preaching became an expression of Christs preaching.  

I hope that in reading this book it has proved a catalyst to me to wrestle with key theological issues of what the gospel is and how we should live it out in this world.  Grace must have an effect on everything we do: our preaching, pastoring, evangelism, parenting, our marriage and our relationships.  The book is a 'litmus test' for those of us who don't think we are legalists.  Could there be any legalism lurking in our heart?  To quote Calvin The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself (Institutes of the Christian Religion).  The Marrow Men and the Marrow of Modern Divinity exposed a latent gospel hardening that was in the church in the 18th century.  God in his providence used the controversy to expose a practical legalism that had come on the church.  I fear a similar hardness has come on many in the church today and we desperately need to be called back to see the glory and wonder of grace.  The Whole Christ can help us to do that and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

He knows what is in the Darkness

This year I have been challenged to make a few changes in my life.  If last year taught me anything it taught me that life is fragile and unpredictable. I've already posted about my desire to engage much more seriously with prayer (you can read the post here).  I would love in 2019 for prayer to be my steering wheel rather than my spare tyre (I have enough of those already).  At the start of a New Year it is good to be honest.  I waste far too much time, I lack discipline and too often don't achieve what I claim are the goals of my life: to know God, to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads and to love the people who most people want nothing to do with.  I am too often derailed by circumstances.  Last year I attempted to do less, better.  I'm going to continue that this year.  I want to read more (possibly even finish a book), pray more, say 'no' more often, take care of myself and treasure the relationships that mean most to me.  Being a good brother and son have become really important over the last year, but being a good Dad to 5 boys and a husband remain my full time job.  I am resolved to 'wrestle with Romans' this year and I am really enjoying John Pipers sermon series which is majestic and deeply humbling at the same time.  You can listen to it on Audible or here.  I am reminded of John MacArthur's quote that 'the heart can only go as high in worship as it can go deep into theology.'  I plan to dive deep this year.  

One of the best books I received last year was 'New Morning Mercies' by Paul D Tripp.  I got the book as a gift from Donnie G Macdonald at the end of the Skye Shinty Camp.  I don't use a lot of daily devotional books but there is something different about New Morning Mercies.  Almost every day there is something fresh and different and I come away with a fresh appreciation of God's grace in the gospel.  

The reading for the 4th of January hit me right between the eyes.  Paul Tripp very movingly talks about the day his daughter was hit by a drunk driver.  She had eleven breaks in her pelvis and massive internal bleeding.  When he heard the news he was 6 hours away but when he eventually walked into her hospital room he says 'its as if the whole world went dark.'  I can empathise with his experience over the last 10 months.  Sometimes we experience this darkness for months or even years.  Quite rightly we ask 'where is God?'

Thankfully Paul Tripp's daughter has recovered.  In his devotional he used these interesting words which really stuck me: 'I held on to the thought that our lives were not out of control.  We were comforted again and again with the thought that when it came to Nicole's accident, God was neither surprised nor afraid.  You see, there is no mystery with God.  He is never caught off guard.  He never wonders how he is going to deal with the unexpected thing.'  

Paul Tripp then quotes the verse from Daniel 2 v 22 which I must have read on numerous occasions but this time it just hit me like a train.

20  Daniel answered and said:
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21  He changes times and seasons; 
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22  he reveals deep and hidden things; 
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

Wow!  What comfort.  As we grope around in our circumstances, disappointments and tragedies, God knows exactly what is in front of us.  To us it is darkness, but not to him.  He sees the end from the beginning and is working all this for his glory and our good.  As Paul Tripp says:

'God is with you in your moments of darkness because he will never leave you.  But your darkness isn't dark to him.  Your mysteries aren't mysteries to him.  Your surprises don't surprise him.  He understands all the things that confuse you the most. Not only are your mysteries not mysterious to him, but he is in complete charge of all that is mysterious to you and me.'

None of us know what this year will hold for us.  But we can take incredible comfort by putting our trust in the one who dwells in perfect light and who know exactly what is in the darkness.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Iolaire - A Sore Visitation wrapped in Mystery

Much has been written on the tragedy of the Iolaire.  This article was written by Rev Nigel Anderson, Minister of Livingston Free Church particularly focusing on the churches response to the events of 1st Jan 2019.

On 1st January 1919 a tragedy occurred in Lewis that for generations has cast a dark cloud over the island. HMY Iolaire had left Kyle of Lochalsh late on December 31st to ferry troops back to their homes, their families, their loved ones. The ship never made it to Stornoway harbour. At  1.55am it struck the Beasts of Holm, the dangerous rocks near the shore and entrance of Stornoway harbour. 205 men out of the 283 on board (including 174 Lewis men and 7 Harris men) perished in sight of land, having survived the horrors of war only to lose their lives so close to home.

Much has been written in recent months on the tragedy: the centenary commemoration held in Lewis on 1st January 2019 has, in particular, brought to a wider national attention the tragic personal accounts of the lost and bereaved. Also, there has been a renewed understanding of the devastating social and economic impact on the island which the catastrophic loss of life contributed to. However, there has been little mentioned regarding the attitude of the churches at the time, as local clergy tried to bring comfort to the bereaved and bewildered as they sought to reconcile what had happened with the providence of God.

Indeed, the whole aspect of the mystery of divine providence in relation to the tragedy was, in many ways, highlighted in the response of the Free Church to the Iolaire disaster especially as many of those who lost their lives were from Free Church congregations. In his Sunday sermon, following the tragedy Rev. Kenneth Cameron, minister of Stornoway Free Church, preached from Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. He spoke of the dark and mysterious happenings in the providence of God, mentioning the “sore visitation...wrapped in mystery” which brought a “heavy cup of unlooked for sorrow” but that “out of the darkness is heard the voice of Him whose way is in the sea.” Without denying the catastrophe of the events of 1st January 1919 he pleaded with his hearers to contemplate the majesty of God, to bow before his sovereignty, to believe in his righteousness and have recourse to his mercy.

One might have imagined that the deeply religious island would have turned away from faith in a sovereign God after the tragedy. Instead we find the opposite. Murdo Macleod from the village of Leurbost tells of the traditional New Year’s service held on the morning of 1st January when the villagers attended worship to give thanks for peace after four years of war. It was only later that day that the news was heard of the Iolaire sinking and the great loss of life. Later, that evening, the same villagers visited each of the homes of the bereaved and held services of worship.

The recorded response of the grief stricken people across the island who had lost family in the tragedy is that they “reconciled themselves to God.” Even the non-Christian poet Iain Crichton Smith wrote that “In some places such a tragedy would have destroyed the credibility of a loving God: in Lewis it only strengthened their faith in him.” 

In today’s secular society such a reaction is inexplicable, but to those who trust in a sovereign God whose purposes are beyond human understanding, it is an understandable response. Those who have experienced grievous loss have echoed the words of Job in response to his personal tragedy across the centuries: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Monday, 31 December 2018

Steering Wheels, Spare Tyres and the Secret Place

I received a lovely email this morning from a dear friend who I only met a few short months ago.  His friendship and fellowship over the last few months have been such an encouragement as I have passed through some of the darkest valleys I have ever journeyed through.  I hope his words are as much an encouragement and challenge to you as they were to me:

As we come to a New Year and reflect on the one that has just passed, I pray we can see The Lord’s goodness and His hand of mercy and compassion.

In 2018 God has shown His kindness to us and His companionship even in the deepest of trials. Not everything has been good, but God has been good in everything. There have been times to celebrate but there have also been very sad moments. Even in the toughest of these storms the Captain of Salvation has steered us through our rough water and for some of us is still steering us through. I would rather hold onto Jesus in the most terrible storm, than find myself lost on quietest of seas without him. What joy is ours to be able to access such love and grace at our time of need. 

Corrie ten Boom asks the question, “Is prayer your steering wheel or is it your spare tyre?”  I am going to have to work on my spare tyre, in more ways than one!!  This year I am setting my course to understand prayer more than in any other year of my life. It has been something I do, but not so fervently and consistently so as to think of myself as a prayer warrior.  I don’t understand it well enough, it so often appears hit or miss. I know the problem isn’t God, it lies in my understanding of God and my unwillingness to press in. 

“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things, ‘above all that we ask or think’. Each time, before you Intercede, be quiet first, and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His redeemed people. Think of your place and privilege in Christ, and expect great things!”
Andrew Murray

Why did Jesus so often in the most critical of times, go to a quiet place and pray? Why did the Healer of the World, the Miracle Maker, find it necessary to pray and gave time to prayer, especially at critical moments? John 5:19 So Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, 'the son can do nothing of his won accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the father does, that the Son does likewise.” 

Imagine such an open door to The Secret Place (Ps 91) to know through prayer what The Father is doing, and what He would have us all to do. Imagine an engine room where such faith could be built that we could believe that we are capable of doing the will of God, through the power and authority that is ours in Christ. 

I think it was Oswald Smith who said, “when we work, we work, when we pray, God works.” Interesting also to see that his disciples didn’t ask him to teach them to do the great miracles, but instead they asked him, “teach us to pray.” They had observed The Master in action as he worked out his ministry here on earth, a ministry founded in prayer.  Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know.” 

These followers of Jesus who walked with him daily watched as he got up in morning early to converse with The Father. Jesus would settle down in the close of the day and pray. It was a lifestyle. Throughout the day he would pray. The miracles were testimonies of who Jesus was. The feeding of the thousands and raising of Lazarus from the dead, before any of these, he publicly prays. Neither one of these acts could be done in the physical realm by physical power. No amount of work could have made the fish and bread to multiply when there was no bakery or water in close proximity. Baking bread takes time and so does fishing. Great preparation would be required for such a banquet. Christ had prepared the table in prayer. No amount of medical science could breathe life back into a body dead after four days, but Jesus had breathed such life, it was his atmosphere through prayer. These acts are not just physical acts they are spiritual, miraculous acts of God. We all want to see the physical manifestation of God’s Supernatural Power, but such things are wrought through prayer. 

God can supply that which we cannot in our own strength produce, but He does it in the incubator of prayer and in the one He trusts to faithfully carry out what He says for us to do, calling out for the impossible knowing that with our God, “all things are possible!!”

My prayer is that this year we all might know Him more intimately, serve Him more fervently and trust Him more faithfully to see His Will flourish in our lives and that we can be the Salt of the earth and the Light of the world.  Samuel Chadwick reminds us that, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

As we go about doing good, desiring to see God more in our communities. In our fellowships, I pray we do so in the humility of prayer. We need to stop trying to make the Church more acceptable to the unsaved and realize that we are the opposite of what the world offers. We do not offer a shadow, we offer light. And this light hurts the one who sits in darkness when first we look at it, it is counter cultural, but in time we welcome the transformation it gives us, so we never want to sit in darkness again. If we attempt to offer a similar darkness, where is the light? 

I understand people wanting to make it easy with music and lyrics that could just as easily be in the charts. With smoke machines for effect and teachings on positive topics that could just as easily be made for the corporate world. I honestly can see why people would want to do it, to “build the house,” but the reality is that to follow Jesus there is a price, a cost. 

To build anything you need a blueprint and having built it no matter how good it looks to us, if it is not built on The Rock, it is going to sink. True faith costs, in time, energy and commitment. True Faith is built on him, has him running through the core and stands because he the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our strategy for reaching the lost and the least and the last may change but the core must remain. True faith costs, it cost Jesus everything!!  As Leonard Ravenhill says:

“The true man of God is heartsick, grieved at the worldliness of the Church…grieved at the toleration of sin in the Church, grieved at the prayerlessness in the Church. He is disturbed that the corporate prayer of the Church no longer pulls down the strongholds of the devil.”

May this be our year of asking. May this be our year of knocking on bended knee, to see more and to do more that His Will be done here on earth even as it is in Heaven. 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

John J Murray: An Enduring Legacy

At the service to mark my fathers 40 years in the ministry (see blog article here) I said that I thought my father had left me six enduring legacies.  These are personal reflections and much more could be written.  I will leave that to others but these are my own reflections.  

1.  The Legacy of a Big God.  When I came back from university in 1995 and launched out into the choppy seas of social work I was so thankful to be under my Dad's preaching.  As I saw the horror of abuse, trauma, violence and brokenness in my career, Dad directed me towards a God who was sovereign, in control and who had a purpose.  He preached God in all his fullness, majesty and glory.  It was impossible to sit under Dad's ministry and not hear the Westminster Confession and Catechisms coming through in his preaching.  His theology was God centred.  He cared little for fads and trends in Christian theology.

I have recently been reading 'Lloyd Jones - Messenger of Grace'  by Iain H Murray.  Under a section 'Christianity is God-centred Religion' he quotes Lloyd Jones as saying:

The Bible is the record of the activity of God. God is the actor.  God is the centre.  Everything is of God and comes from God, and turns to God.  It is God who speaks.  It is God who acts.  It is God who intervenes.  It is God who originates, who plans everything everywhere.

This has been my Dad's emphasis.  The gospel brings us back to God.  If God is who He says He is then He must be at the centre of our worship, our preaching our family life and our nation.  

2.  The Legacy of an Attractive Saviour.  It is only as I have been reading and re-reading Sinclair Ferguson's book 'The Whole Christ' that I have come to realise some of the issues that my Dad has been contending with over the last 40 (and particularly the last 18) years.  Dad is a 'Marrow man' to the core (the Marrow of Modern Divinity).  He has strongly resisted the emphasis that has come in over the last few years (sometimes unconsciously) that teaches a conditional grace like the Pharisees taught.  This tincture has infected some ministries and has resulted in a harshness in pastoral care and a strong emphasis on non essentials.  Being seen to do the right thing is often more important than doing the right thing.  Unfortunately I hear all too often from the victims of these ministries.

Christ must never be separated from his benefits and must always be offered fully and freely to every sinner as 'deed of gift and grant, or authentic gospel offer' (Fisher, Marrow of Modern Divinity).  I don't doubt that God is dealing in judgement with our nation but the Free Church I grew up in has been guilty of often preaching a very unattractive gospel and unappealing Saviour.  So many of my contemporaries have been driven from church by a rigidity and coldness that is not Christ-like.  Wherever grace is preached there should be warmth, love and hope.  Too many ministries have lacked these characteristics and instead preached a cold orthodoxy.  Perfect love casts out fear and wherever there is fear there is painfulness (I John 4 v 18 - Geneva Bible).

I am thankful my father preached free grace.  He loves Thomas Boston and the Erskine brothers and their emphasis on the 'free offer.'  Grace originates from the heart of God the father in an eternity past therefore our salvation is secure.  The father does not love us reluctantly and is persuaded to save us by Christ.  God's love for sinners flows from this eternal will and when this pervades a ministry it makes all the difference.  As John Owen says:

How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love!  With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon Him!  What fears, what questionings are there of His good will and kindness!  At the best, many think that there is no sweetness at all in God towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus.  It is true, that that alone is the way of communication: but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the father (1 John 1 v 2).

The gospel is not only true but in Jesus it must also be beautiful.  Grace makes a person kind, loving, patient and beautiful.  Too often Christians we can be harsh, twisted and 'sanctified be vinegar.'  I am thankful that my father always presented a beautiful Jesus through his preaching and example.  This lead him to love everyone who loved the same Saviour.  My Dad is largely free of a partisan and sectarian spirit and was grieved at younger men who in their zeal for the truth seemed to confuse what were primary and secondary issues.

3.  A Legacy of Love for the Truth - My Dad has always highly esteemed the word of God.  I don't think I've ever heard my Dad preach without being well prepared.  The Bible is important to him both for his life and for his preaching. The Authorised (King James) version has become one of the great points of orthodoxy over the last 20 years yet we were brought up on the NIV which my Dad enthusiastically read at family worship to help us understand the scriptures.  I have a deep love for the King James version (and an even greater love for the Geneva Bible) but this has never been a defining issue for my Dad.  How many of my own generation were brought up with the Scriptures being read and preached who had little or no understanding?  I am so thankful that Dad taught me the Bible with understanding and love. 

Dad and I have often discussed the essence of preaching.  Dad would often say to me that preaching is very different from lecturing.  With the former you are aiming primarily at the will, with the latter you are primarily aiming at the head.  He often spoke about preaching being like a hammer striking a nail into the heart.  You strike it again and again throughout a sermon to drive it in to the heart as you seek (by the Spirit) to move the will.  A great love for truth means that it must be preached with passion and understanding.

4.  A Legacy of Family Religion - Only now as a father of 5 boys do I understand how difficult parenting is.  During these last few months my Dad has spoken of regrets that he didn't spend more time with us growing up.  Life in the manse was busy, Dad was always needed somewhere.  But Dad always prioritised family worship.  It was a time to catch up as a family.  The Bible and prayer were at the centre of our family life and it is something I have continued with my own family.  Watching my father get down on his knees to pray every night has left an enduring legacy of the need for daily prayer.  Our home was also a place of hospitality and many generations of students remember our manse with great fondness as a second home.

It is easy to be critical of our parents but when you become a parent you realise how complex parenting is.  As a father, work demands our time, church can demand endless responsibilities, we must balance the books and we must spend time with our wife.  To maintain this over 40, 50 or 60 or years is a huge challenge.  My Dad would be the first to admit his regrets but he is an example of patient consistency both as a husband and a father. I wish my father had invested in a hobby, embraced music and wider culture.  Like so many of his generation her found theatre, the cinema and public sporting events to be places incompatible with a consistent Christian walk.  He may have a point but how we have wished as a family in this last year that our father had a hobby or interest to distract him during a time of great stress.  

Perhaps the greatest compliment is that the faith my Dad has preached so faithfully has now been handed on to his grandchildren which is perhaps the greatest legacy any father and grandfather can have.

5.  A Legacy of Good Books - Growing up in Oban I used to go in to my Dad's study and look at all his books and feel so sorry for him.  I used to hate books and wondered who Dad would give them all to when he was older.  All this changed when I was around 19 and Dad gave me the Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne before I went to university.  Over the next few years I came to love many of the books my Dad has been so involved in republishing since the 1960's.  I came to see that the doctrines of grace were in fact Biblical Christianity. Books (and particularly old books) are now a huge part of my life.  I don't have any empirical evidence but I suspect I have the largest selection of Dr Thomas Guthrie first edition books in the country!  This is down to my Dad's legacy and love for for books.

6.  A Legacy of Endurance and Consistency - Dad believes the same truths at the end of his ministry as he did when he set out all those decades ago.  He has resisted the ebb and flow of different theological fads, contemporary man centred worship, evangelistic gimmicks and the slide towards ecumenical compromise.  He embodies 2 Timothy 4 v 7 - he has finished his course, he has run the race and kept the faith.  Dad is his own harshest critic.  He would be the first to recount his weaknesses and inconsistencies. Dad has tried to point people to a glorious God, to invite people to a wonderful Saviour and to call a church back to the truths that once made it great.

Knightswood FCC were incredibly generous to my mother and father and we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who contributed.  For all the greetings that were sent to Dad we want to say how hugely grateful we are as a family.  This last year has been difficult for us and we value your prayers.  We give thanks for my Dad's rich legacy to us as a family and to the wider church.  Dad is acutely aware that we are all unprofitable servants but we serve a God who is able to use earthen vessels to draw sinners to Himself and bring glory to His name.  

When I visited my Dad just prior to coming to receive his presentation I asked if he wanted me to share a verse.  He asked me to share Psalm 16 v 8 'I have set the Lord always before me: for he is at my right hand therefore I shall not slide' (Geneva Bible).  My father can testify to the goodness of God upholding and blessing his ministry and keeping him from slipping.  For those of us who follow him we hope we can be worthy of his legacy which he handed down to us.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Milestone in the Ministry

On the 7th of December 2018 around 60 folks gathered in Knightswood FCC, Glasgow on a dreadful night to mark my father's (Rev John J Murray) 40 years in the ministry.  The star attraction of the night unfortunately couldn't be there but wasn't far away.  He was about 3 miles away in Gartnavel Hospital having suffered a stroke and a fall the day before.  The event could have been rescheduled but it was decided to go ahead and the family received the presentation on behalf of my Dad.  This blog is a slightly expanded version of what I said after I received a very generous presentation on behalf of my father.  

As I write Dad is back home but is looking all of his 84 years.  He is being lovingly cared for by my Mum who has been a rock over many years.  Her cheerfulness and generosity are an inspiration to all of us.  As I said in my speech on the night sometimes the Lord first melts down those who he wants to mould and that has certainly been the experience for us as a family over the last 40 or so years.  

A Crofting Life
My father was born in Lonemore, a little village outside Dornoch on 11th September 1934. The middle son of three boys, my father grew up in a very traditional Highland home where church and family religion would have been very central. His brother Willie still lives in the family home which has hardly changed since my father was a boy.  It was a working croft until about 10 years ago and a place where we regularly holidayed as a family over the years.  It is a place of books piled high and deep!  My father and his brother have always kept a very close relationship and have spent a lifetime distributing Christian booklets around the world.  I often have a wry smile when I think of people in some far flung location who receive a few booklets from the 'distribution centre' in Lonemore.  Thankfully Willie has his own system and seems to be able to find even the most obscure booklet or magazine at a moments notice.  

Like many Christians of his generation my Dad doesn't talk much about himself but I have probably learned more about my Dad in the last few months than I have in the last 46 years.  During months of bedside discussions with my Dad in hospital in Edinburgh and Glasgow he has spoken about various events in his life including his conversion.  He talks vividly of an experience in an out house on the croft when he was a teenager where he had an 'overwhelming experience of Christ crucified.'  He has often gone back to this event during a severe bout of depression over the last 8-9 months.  

Eternal Truth 
Around the age of 18/19 Dad headed off to Edinburgh where he worked in insurance for 5 years.  Towards the end of this time he started publishing a little magazine called 'Eternal Truth'.  While it was only published for around 3 years it had a remarkable reach and all sorts of people I meet remember it with fondness.  It was full of short and pithy articles and quotes from the Reformers, the Puritans and the Covenanters.  It was pointing people back to a Christianity of substance and grandeur from a former time.  It was both doctrinal and experiential.  Many of the key themes in this little magazine became the foundation blocks of Dad's ministry: the sovereignty of God, the centrality of God's grace, the need for holiness in the Christian life and a deep reverence for the sufficiency and finality of the Bible. Even by the 1960's Dad was standing against the modern tide of mass evangelism, weakening doctrinal standards and ecumenicalism.  My father believed even in those early that the issue was not how to 'woo the world' but how to reform the church and call it back to the simplicity and spirituality of New Testament times.  As Iain Murray says in Lloyd Jones Messenger of Grace: 'From the New Testament onwards, a vibrant, praying, witnessing church has always been the strongest authentication of the gospel...The biblical order is 'God shall bless us; and all ends of the earth shall fear him' (Psalm 67 v 7).'  This was the purpose of Eternal Truth - to call the church back to the truths that had made it great.  The magazines have been bound into two volumes which I hope to reprint when funds allow.

The Bright Lights
Eventually Dad was asked to join the Banner of Truth in London in 1960 and became the Associate Editor from 1960 - 1973.  He became very involved in London Free Church and was an elder from 1962 - 1973.  It was during this time that my Dad regularly sat under the ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones which led to a life time love for his preaching and theology.  I have never quite appreciated Lloyd Jones in the way my father has but I think he was primarily a preacher and powerful preaching can't be conveyed through books and commentaries in the same way.  Lloyd Jones himself was not enthusiastic for his sermons to be reproduced outwith the context of a worship service and was concerned that they might be misused.  As I will go on to say in my second article on my Dad's legacy I do think that Lloyd Jones gave my Dad a life long emphasis on the centrality of God in the gospel and in the Christian life.  It also gave Dad a life long love of hymns which he regularly quoted in his sermons.

While he was in London Dad met and married my Mum in 1966 (originally from Lochaber but working as a nanny in London) and in 1967 my sister Lynda was born, in 1968 my sister Anna was born and then in March 1972 a cheeky wee red headed boy was born in Kingsbury Maternity Hospital, Honey Pot Lane, Wembley.  [If I had only realised my early footballing potential I could have played for Scotland or England at football!]  Dad has never lost his love for London.  When we would occasionally go down to the Westminster Conference in December Dad would almost revert back to his younger self darting in and out of underground trains and dashing down busy streets with me trailing behind him!  Dad often spoke about these exciting days in London and the genuine belief that God would send revival.  He said many believed they were on the cusp of a renewed awakening of Christianity.  Many of the relationships that Dad forged at the Banner in the 1960's have lasted for many decades.

The Ministry and a Busy Manse
In 1973 Dad and Mum moved North with the Banner of Truth and relocated to Baberton in Edinburgh.  In the same year Dad started at university and was accepted to the Free Church ministry.  These were my earliest memories: attending Juniper Green Primary School, going down to the newly opened Wester Hailes Shopping Centre and attending St Columba's Free Church under the wonderful Rev Donald Lamont.  A minister's demeanour and tone are so important and I remember Rev Lamont as a lovely, warm hearted pastor.  I remember sitting in the balcony with my Dad feeling like a big boy because I had attended the evening service without fidgeting my parents into embarrassment.  Pandrops were consumed at an industrial rate sometimes supplemented by some fluffy fruit drops from the jacket pocket of several octogenarians.  They were happy days.  The Free Church in the 1970's had changed little in 70 years.  There was a sense of gravity, reverence and grandeur in the worship.  I still can't understand how people come in to church and laugh and gossip as if they are attending a football match.  I guess we are all products of our upbringing.  

After study at the Free Church College my father was called to Oban in 1978.  The Rev James Beaton sent greetings from the Oban congregation to Dad's commemoration and attached a picture of a very fresh faced Dad with Principle Macintosh opening Oban Free High Church Hall which was being completed as we arrived.  Little did we realise in those happy days filled with expectancy and hope that tragedy lay just around the corner.  In the summer of 1980 the family toured Europe with the Scottish Reformation Society in a William Hunter coach with another 50 or so folks.  I have vague memories of the trip but vividly remember the reformers wall in Geneva.   When we came back my sister Lynda became very ill during the summer of 1980 and eventually died of a brain tumour.  She died at home in the manse in Oban on 4th Dec.  It is hard to understate the effect this had on my parents and my father's ministry.  I have no doubt that at least part of his frenetic energy which has continued almost unabated until early 2018 was to avoid dwelling on my sisters death.  He should have sought help in his grief but like so many of his generation his grief remained private and I fear largely unresolved.

Oban was far from a quiet, rural outpost.  The manse was a busy staging post for ministers and visitors passing through.  As a popular tourist destination we were constantly hosting visitors from far and near.  I have vivid memories of the Missionaries from Mull staying with us when the ferry was delayed or cancelled.  Men like Iain Macleay had a big impact on me with is brand of very down to earth, practical Christianity.  My father, contrary to his caricature in later years, was passionate about mission.  There were numerous Highways and Byways Missions in Oban with a long running 'Good News Club' for children.  People often came to the manse door looking for help and my Mum would prepare them a little doggy bag for fear that money might go on drink.  My Mum was an Auxiliary Nurse in the West Highland Hospital so the family were well known in the community.  

The communion season was often a poignant time in our lives.  Men such as Kenny Macdonald, Hugh Cartwright and Douglas Macmillan had a huge impact on me as a young lad.  They were warm, approachable men who made time for me and (in Kenny's case) even played football with me.  These were the heady days of Free Church Camps with 20 boys on wafer thin mattresses on Primary School floors and the same pair of shorts for a week.  One particular camp in Arran and an exposition of Ecclesiastes 12 had a powerful effect on me.  Many of the dots were joining up and I eventually became a member in 1986.

A Difficult Decade
In 1989 Dad moved to St Columba's in Edinburgh.  I was at university in the early 1990's but came back to Edinburgh in 1995 and sat under Dad's ministry as I started work, bought my first flat and married a beautiful girl from Lewis who was based in East Kilbride but at university in Edinburgh at the time.  My own experience of St Columba's in the 1990's couldn't have been better.  In many ways it has been some of the happiest times in my own spiritual development with large youth fellowships, amazing hopsitality and good relationships with many local evangelical ministers.  Some of the weekends away were real milestones in my own Christian walk and were wonderful times of fellowship.  It was at one of these weekends that a young lady from East Kilbride sat beside me on the minibus and well, the rest is history.

The 1990's were a difficult time for the Free Church and Dad (for better or for worse) was at the centre of much of the controversy.  History will have much more to say about the events that took place but suffice to say that Dad wasn't and isn't comfortable with conflict.  I believe that there were fundamental issues at stake during these years but the way people handled them was far from Christ-like.  Even before the split during assembly week groups were meeting separately to discuss strategy.  It didn't take a genius to realise that the situation couldn't continue but when the split actually came I was genuinely taken aback.  Dad always talked as if it could have been avoided and I never heard him speak negatively of anyone in the house.  It was a challenging time given that our family went in two different directions and were it not for a lot of grace and determination things could have been very different.

It is the mark of the man that almost nobody who found themselves on the opposite side of the divide in 2000 speak negatively of my Dad.  Many were and are grieved that  they are separated from men like my Dad by a denominational divide. I was sorry that many of these relationships didn't continue (at least in the same way) after the split.  True friendships endure despite differences of opinion and we are so thankful that Mum and Dad maintain a wide circle of friends from various periods in their life.

A Fruitful Retirement
Legacy is allusive.  It is for others to judge what our legacy is.  Often we labour in difficult and dark times and yet we are vindicated by history.  My Dad's great hero Prof John Murray never ministered to vast numbers when he came back to Scotland but his godly witness and writings have been blessed to countless thousands around the world.  In many ways I wonder if my Dad's most fruitful years have been in retirement.  He was Interim Moderator of numerous congregations and was out at endless Kirk Sessions, Deacons Courts and Presbyteries.  He seemed to be a wise and restraining influence on some of the younger men who seem to make everything a principle and struggle to embrace those who are slightly less reformed than themselves.  Their view of the ministry seemed to have more in common with the Aaronic priesthood than the foot washing of Jesus.  Dad has always remained very humble and has eschewed the trappings of clerical dress. While Dad loved the old writers he has greatly benefited from men such as Alistair Begg and John Piper and other modern preachers and writers.  Dad was Moderator in 2003 and wrote books such as Catch the Vision (EP),  a book on his great friend John Marshall (Banner of Truth), John Knox (EP) and much earlier he wrote Behind a Frowning Providence which has blessed thousands in reprint after reprint.  The book was forged out of the white heat of grief and continues to do great good.

The Final Lap
When I told my parents of my sister Anna's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in March 2018 my father took it stoically but it gradually hit him over the next few months.  He entered a deep depression and had a spell in hospital in June, July and August.  These were difficult days but there were many precious moments which rightly remain with us as family. Despite always looking 20 years younger it felt like over the last few months age has caught up with my Dad.  He has fought a good fight and like any soldier deserves his rest.  His active ministry is at an end.  We don't know what is ahead of us as family but as Spurgeon once once said 'when I think of my own weakness it makes me shrink, but when I think on the promises of God it makes me brave.'  We are incredibly proud of what my Dad has achieved over 40 years and we hope that many people have been blessed through his ministry.  As always Dad would want to focus everything on the Lord and these words would seem appropriate to end with.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truths sake Psalm 115 v 1.

In my next blog which you can view here, I will look at my fathers six legacies.