Illustration: The James Renwick Monument at Moniaive
Photo credit: see below
Wanted: Men with Vision, Conviction and Faithfulness
We seem to be in a stalemate in church and state today. Problems are multiplying. The situation becomes more confusing year by year and we are in danger of losing heart: people are at a loss what to do. There is a great deal of activity but where is the substance? Maurice Roberts has said: “Wherever and whenever a religious movement ceases to produce the spiritual mind and the God-fearing life it has become a spent force.” Those who may have a heart to do something about it are sometimes restricted by denominational barriers. If men with conviction and vision would join hands, who knows what might be achieved?
1) Men with conviction
We see in the history of the Church that the men who wrought the greatest good have been men of conviction – Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale, Owen, Whitefield, Edwards, Boston, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, to name a few. J Gresham Machen said: “The truth is, there can be no real progress unless there is something that is fixed. Archimedes said ‘Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world’. Well, Christian doctrine provides that place to stand. Unless there be such a place to stand, all progress is an illusion. The very idea of progress implies something fixed. There is no progress in a kaleidoscope.”
For that reason we must be unashamedly Reformed in doctrine, worship and practice. To quote Machen again: “Thoroughly consistent Christianity, to my mind, is found only in the Reformed or Calvinistic faith and consistent Christianity is the easiest to defend.” When Dr Lloyd-Jones pioneered a reprint of Calvin’s Institutes in 1949 he wrote of its doctrine: “It was ‘the iron rations of the soul’ of the Reformation martyrs, of the Pilgrim Fathers, the Covenanters, and many others who had to face persecution and death for Christ’s sake.” The Church must recover a love of the truth. We must believe with A A Hodge that “the last issue will be between Atheism in its countless forms and Calvinism. The other systems will be crushed as half-rotten ice between two bergs.”
Of the last great Covenanter leader, James Renwick, it was said by his enemies: “He was the stiffest maintainer of his principles that ever came before us. Others we used always to cause to waver one time or other; but him we could never move. Where we left him, there we found him. We could never make him yield or vary in the least. He was of old Knox’s principles.”
2) Men with vision
We thought that we had recaptured the Reformed vision in the 1950s and 1960s. Alas! we seem to have lost it again. Oliver Barclay in his Evangelicalism in Britain 1935-1995 observed: “Dr Lloyd-Jones set a pattern in his preaching that was new for many. He emphasized the doctrine about the character of God. In particular he stressed the doctrine of the Father in a way that was not common in evangelical circles: his holiness, his wisdom, his initiative in our salvation and his power and sovereignty. His preaching was intensely God-centred compared with the rather human-centred emphases that were common then, which had resulted in a stress on what we can get in the way of experience or other blessing.”
The Reformed and Puritan (not confined to England) ideal was to serve God in a Reformed Church that would be instrumental in reforming the nation. What dominates the Reformed vision is the glory of God. There is only one God and He is a God of matchless glory and transcendent majesty. His glory is displayed in the great redemption accomplished by Christ. B B Warfield put it in this way: “Calvinism, the product of an overwhelming vision of God, born from the reflection in the heart of man of the majesty of a God who will not give his glory to another, can not pause, until it place the scheme of salvation itself in relation to a complete world-view in which it becomes subsidiary to the glory of the Lord God Almighty.”
The redemption work of Christ will one day cover the whole earth. Nothing can thwart the progress of His kingdom and, in the wisdom of God, all that comes to pass actually serves to advance it. How much need there is to recapture Jonathan Edwards’ vision of the certainty of the ultimate triumph!
3) Men with faithfulness
There is a great pressure on the church today to aim for success in influence and in numbers. We are in the age of mega churches and high-powered media. Celebrity evangelists and pastors create their ‘empires’. There is a tendency to adopt measures that compromise the truth. The question is, How do you measure success? What lasting good is accomplished? Or are we prepared to be faithful and leave results to God?
In this respect we can learn a lesson from the life of Jonathan Edwards. As Iain Murray points out in his biography, Edwards’ influence was, paradoxically, that of a man who did not seek influence but rather put faithfulness to God before every other consideration. During the ‘Communion controversy’ in Northampton, New England, Solomon Williams made a case for retaining the status quo over qualifications for taking communion based on expediency. He warned that Edwards’ views would lead to a small, uninfluential church. Edwards replied that it was lack of holiness, not lack of numbers, which hindered the advance of the church. He was content to leave influence and results entirely to God. He knew that ‘success’ is not to be judged in the short-term. The Christian’s business is to honour God, and in His own time God will honour His truth and those who are faithful to it.
During the times of the Covenanters in Scotland William Vilant, minister of Cambusnethan, who wrote a defence of the complying ministers, was present on one occasion when someone referred to Donald Cargill’s faithfulness and diligence. Vilant, who could hardly have found the conversation to his liking, remarked impatiently, “What needs all this ado? We will get heaven, and they will get no more.” On learning of Vilant’s comment, Cargill said: “Yes, we will get more: we will get God glorified on earth, which is more than heaven.”