He Giveth More Grace: The Life of Annie Johnson Flint

An Early Christmas present!

Annie Johnson was born in Vineland, New Jersey USA on Christmas Eve 1866. Her parents, Eldon and Jean rejoiced in the gift of their early Christmas present daughter! Nearly three years later, all the joy of that Christmas disappeared in a flood of sorrow, as Annie’s Mum died at the age of 23, soon after giving birth to Annie’s sister. Her Father was not well and for two years the bereaved family of three lived with a widow friend of Eldon’s. She had children of her own and it became evident that Annie and her sister were not really welcome in the home, they were simply an added burden.

By a remarkable providence, a local school teacher, who the children came to know simply as “Auntie Susie”, saw the distressing situation and recommended a childless Christian couple in the town, Mr and Mrs Flint, as a possible solution. It would, of course, require Eldon to be willing to allow them to be adopted as their own. He was willing to do this on two counts, firstly his serious illness, which resulted in his own death not long afterwards and secondly the fact that they were Baptists! Annie’s Father had long hoped that the children would be brought up in a Baptist tradition!

The couple offered a loving and warm-hearted Christian home to the two girls and after the adoption, their surname was added to Annie’s. Through their childhood years the girls were taught the Christian gospel and the teaching of the Bible framed every aspect of life.

Saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

At the age of eight, two great changes took place in the young life of Annie. The Flints moved from their rural home in the countryside, into the small town nearby. Despite this, Annie always retained her love for the natural world around her and it coloured the rest of her life. In God’s providence, the move coincided with a number of evangelistic meetings taking place in the town. She was taken along by her adopted parents, and there, at the age of eight, she was brought to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In later life she testified of the reality of that experience and although she was so young, she was convinced that God had truly saved her that day.

Before she became a teenager, Annie began to develop a keen interest in reading and writing – particularly poetry. This was fuelled by Mr Flint’s extensive library. She and her friend from school formed a two-member literary society! Every Saturday afternoon they met together to read material by their favourite poets; and then to attempt to write poems themselves.

Her life was fairly frugal but it was in a loving home where she was encouraged to learn the virtues of good housekeeping, making her own clothes and general economy. Her character was naturally cheerful and optimistic which is remarkable, in view of the sadness and loss that she had known as a younger child.

Her powers of observation were particularly keen. One contemporary speaks of her comment much later in life that Annie had noticed that the robin outside her window had changed its song. “We are going to have rain today. My robin has just changed his note. He never sings in that tone unless the rain is coming” Sure enough, the rain came!

Sanctification – through life’s experiences

The Lord was working in her heart, sanctifying her through her life’s experiences. She did have troubles with a flaring temper at times but over the years learned the lessons of grace in overcoming this sinful tendency. She speaks of her impatience and her tendency to persist at something without waiting patiently for the outcome in the appointed time. The Lord would need to teach her much in this area of her character. Deeper trials were to come which would test both persistence and patience to the extreme.

An indication of those trials manifested itself quite soon into her working life. She began her first position as a school teacher in her home town, teaching at the school where she had once been a pupil. There, symptoms of arthritis began to appear. These grew steadily worse, causing her to have to give up her post, as she was almost unable to walk.

Then tragedy struck again when both of her adopted parents died within a few months of each other. Annie was left overwhelmed with sadness and loss. Her own health continued to deteriorate rapidly and it was not long before the Doctors sadly had to tell her that she would soon become a helpless invalid, crippled by the advancing arthritis running through her body. In her sadness, her illness and her desperate financial predicament, Annie was cast upon God.

A contemporary writer says, “Annie was in a condition where she was compelled to be dependent upon the care of others… In after-years she always stated that her poems were born of the need of others and not from her own need; but one knows full well that she never could have written as she did for the comfort and help of thousands of others if she had not had the background of facing those very crises in her own life”.

Those poems, notes and letters were wonderfully the means of her sustaining by the Lord. The very best of her God-given gifts of writing, poetry and prose were drawn out of her in her deep trial. She could not properly hold or use a pen, but her dogged determination forced her to somehow push her pen into her swollen and bent fingers and despite her wrists being in great pain she wrote of her deepest spiritual experiences. At first it was for her own solace but she began to make hand lettered cards, gift books, and cards with verses beautifully written on them.

A world-wide fellowship

Remarkably, two national Christian publishers began to publish and distribute her work in their magazines and periodicals. They became hugely popular; many letters of appreciation came in to the publishers from those who had been blessed by her work. A little book of her poems entitled, “By the Way – Travelogues of Cheer” was published. Through these ventures, two things happened, firstly her financial troubles were eased through their income, but secondly, she became connected with a world-wide fellowship of believers who were helped by her writings.

That wider fellowship brought her into contact with some who believed that Christians should not suffer illness and restrictions in this life. They impressed on her their convictions that the Lord would grant healing to her – if only her faith was strong enough! Annie did not immediately dismiss such things but searched the Scriptures thoroughly for herself to see what they said.

Having done so, she declared such an understanding of the Lord’s dealings with His children in this life to be in error. Again, we quote a contemporary writer, “…she reached the conclusion that, while God can and does heal in this way in some cases, in others He does not; that He has seen fit to leave some of the most triumphant saints deeply afflicted. She saw too that many of those who pressed their theory were themselves afflicted with infirmity, and while telling others that they ought to claim healing, bore in their own lives the failure of their theory!”

Strength made perfect in weakness

Annie became thoroughly convinced that God intended to glorify Himself through her – in her weak, earthen vessel. Like the Apostle Paul there came to her, with real assurance, the promise which said, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” She reached the place where she could also say with Paul, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me”. (2 Cor 12:9)

No one can tell what suffering she endured as the disease became worse with the passing of the years, but through it all her faith in the goodness and mercy of God never wavered. There were many times, no doubt, when her soul would be burdened with the mystery of it all and the “why?” of what she was called to endure. For more than forty years there was scarcely a day when she did not suffer pain and she became increasingly helpless. Her joints had become rigid, although she was still just able to turn her head. In great pain she could write a few lines on paper. The one picture of her that remains shows her at a relatively young age but confined to a rather primitive looking wheelchair.

On September 8th 1932, her last words before she died were to her doctor in front of a visiting couple who knew her well. He asked if there was anything she wished to say before he gave her a painkilling injection. “I have nothing to say, it’s all right” she said. In a few minutes, she had gone to be with the Saviour who she loved and served so well. In a life that seemed to have so much “all wrong”, she was given remarkable grace and strength to proclaim, in fact it was, “all right”.

He giveth more grace

Among her collection of poems that remain, “He giveth more grace” stands out as a wonderful statement of her Biblical theology of pain, trial and suffering and of the boundless store of grace that is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul urges Timothy, his son in the faith, to “be strong” (2 Timothy 2v1), it is in this grace alone that he will be able to endure the hardships that he will face. It is no different for us as Christians today, Annie’s lovely hymn has a timeless message!

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that your need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father, both you and your load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

10 Important Things You Need to Know About Spiritual Gifts

“I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you…” 2 Timothy 1 v 6

2 Timothy 1 v 6 is the urgent pastoral instruction of Paul to Timothy. Paul is in the ultimate ‘lock down’ of prison in Rome. Timothy is in the relative freedom of Ephesus but under great pressure from the culture around. The contemporary relevance of the whole book to our current situation is
quite startling.

The NKJV uses the words “stir up”; other versions use the expression, “fan into flames”. The picture is very clear, Timothy needed to do something to get the fire going again! Things were burning low, the heat was being lost, the fire was not very effective!

In the previous verse Paul tells the reader that he is reminded of Timothy’s “sincere” or “genuine” faith. Other passages in Paul’s Epistles make it plain that such faith is not earned, not inherited and not simply something you learn, it is a gift of God. If we are true Christians, we too have been given this precious gift. Nothing can remove that gift! What concerns Paul is that the gift of God that Timothy has been given alongside that faith, is burning low!

Timothy had been given the necessary gifting by God to be recognised by the Eldership in Ephesus to be full time in the role of Pastor / Teacher. This is clearly expressed by the allusion to the “laying on of hands”. This act did not “gift” Timothy, God had already done that! It was something done to commission him and set him going in this great task.

Timothy now must “stir up”, “fan into flame”, the gift and ensure it was used to the full. The difficult days and circumstances that surrounded him required him to use his God-given gifting to the full.

This instruction reaches down from Scripture to every one of us – not just the Pastor or the Elders! It is particularly relevant in our current ‘lock down’ situation when many avenues for Christian service are not possible.

In 1 Cor 12 v 1 Paul writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant”. So that we are not similarly lacking in understanding about this subject, here are ten vital things that you need to know about spiritual gifts in our context today.

  1. Spiritual gifts are given by God the Holy Spirit to every Christian believer.
    Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor 12 v 7 that they are given “to each one for the profit of all”. They are given, alongside saving faith, to be exercised in our “new life that is in Christ Jesus”, not for selfish use, but for the profit (the good) of all.
  2. Spiritual gifts are not the same as “natural aptitudes”.
    In Daniel 1 v 17 we are told that God gave “knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom” to Daniel and his three friends. Unbelievers as well as believers are blessed with such things. God is the giver of all good gifts. Everyone blessed with them must study and work hard to develop such aptitudes. Such things are then useful to the society around and the world at large. We thank God for unbelievers who teach us, nurse us, govern us and function in many other aspects of society.
    It is to the Christian, however, that God gives “spiritual gifts” which are specifically for service for Him and for His people. In Daniel’s case we read that he was given the gift of being able to understand visions and dreams! That gift was certainly used in special ways for the ongoing of God’s purposes in his days. Read the rest of Daniel to find out!
  3. Spiritual gifts are given individually.
    1 Cor 12 v 11 reads “… but one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills”. No one else will have exactly the same gift or range of gifts as you!
    We are never to be jealous of others or covet their gifts – you are gifted in a way that God sees just right for you! No one else will be gifted in exactly the same way.
  4. Spiritual gifts given by God for today are called “ordinary” gifts. They are no longer the “extraordinary” gifts of Apostolic times (sometimes called “charismatic” or “miraculous” gifts).
    This does not mean that the spiritual gifts that God gives to every believer today are in some way second class or inferior. Nothing that God gives can ever fall into that category!
    The gifts given to Daniel that we have referred to above were “extraordinary” indeed! So too the ability of those in Apostolic times to prophesy, heal and speak in other languages (without having learned them!). What we might term “ordinary” gifts are just right for His church today. Our extraordinary God uses them for His purposes, through His people.
  5. Spiritual gifts are to be exercised – to be used!
    They are not to lay dormant! That is clear from what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim 4 v 14. Paul told him that he must not “neglect” the gifting that God had given to him. In Rom 12 v 6 Paul says, “Having gifts differing according to the grace given to us, let us use them”. To neglect to use the gifts that God has given us is not right.
  6. Spiritual gifts are many and various!
    In Romans 12 we read one of a number of lists of spiritual gifts that appear in Scripture. That list includes; preaching, teaching, serving others, exhorting, encouraging, giving, leading others, showing mercy, showing kindness. Other New Testament lists includes practical gifts relating to organisation such as administrations and simply that of helps. The total list is huge – and various!
  7. Spiritual gifts are given in the context of every Christian being part of a church fellowship.
    They are given by God to be used by every individual within, and working out from, the church into which God has called you by grace and in His providence.
  8. Spiritual gifts are individually given so that the body of each church might function fully and effectively under Christ as the Head.
    Reading the letters that Paul wrote to the churches in Rome and Corinth is instructive. Both use the picture of the church being a body, and every member contributing to the functioning of the whole. Every member brings gifts to that church. Timothy was to exercise his God given gifts in the context of the church of which he was Pastor – the church at Ephesus. If we do not use our gifts well, the church cannot be as effective as it could be.
  9. Spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the whole church.
    They are to profit others and profit the whole through “edification”. This is a key expression in what Paul writes to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts. Edification means building up, strengthening and helping to grow. They are not for selfish use to draw attention to them, or us!
  10. The greatest spiritual gift is that of self-giving (agape) love
    All other gifts are to be used and exercised in the context of this gift. Paul is quite clear about this in 1 Cor 13 v 1. He stresses that he might be able to demonstrate that he has wonderful spiritual gifts but if they are not exercised with self-giving love they are as useful as an empty can being kicked down the street! Paul says, in effect, I am nothing and have nothing to give to others, or to the church as a whole, without Christ-like love.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: The Story Behind the Hymn

Isabella Lilias Trotter (1853–1928)

This devotional hymn was written in 1918 by Helen Lemmel, an accomplished hymnwriter and soloist, the daughter of a Methodist Minister. She was moved to write the words and music after reading a small booklet by Lilias Trotter entitled “Focussed” and hearing of her life story. She titled the hymn “The Heavenly Vision” but it is best known by the first line of the refrain, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”.

Both the hymn and the booklet that inspired it have been a challenge to the focus and devotion of Christians over almost a century. The life of Lilias Trotter is of great interest. Her own devotion to her Saviour, faith and labour of love speak volumes in our day of easy going Christianity.

In her biography of Lilias Trotter, Patricia St John describes the home life into which Lilias was born in 1853 as, “… the happy disciplined life of the Victorian upper classes; godly, serious, kind to the poor… sheltered… a stable home surrounded by beauty and culture.” Lilias wanted for nothing. She had a good education, travelled widely, she had a bright and inquisitive mind and loved the beauty of plants, flowers and nature. Her father was a wealthy banker and they lived in high society in the very best part of London.

Sadly, when Lilias was only 12 years old, her Father died and she was devastated at this great loss. However it was through this time of sadness that she was cast upon God for comfort and consolation and came to know Jesus Christ as her Saviour and friend. One biographer says that, “Through the very hardest thing in her life God brought her soul into blossom.” The change in her life through her conversion to Christ saw her develop a great gift of love and sympathy that was boundless in its expression.

As she grew into a young woman, that love for others was channelled into work in London with the YWCA among many unfortunate women who found themselves alone, penniless and exploited.

At the age of 23 she travelled with her mother to Venice and by God’s providence came into contact with John Ruskin, the famous writer and art critic. Ruskin was tremendously impressed with her ability to draw and paint and she spent time in his company at his home in the English Lake District. He was convinced that, “if she would give her life to painting she could become the greatest painter of the nineteenth century and do things that would be immortal.”

After the death of her mother in 1878 and considerable wrestling of heart, Lilias became convinced that God was calling her to serve Him. Interest in foreign missions was high following the Moody and Sankey missions and the remarkable commitment of seven Cambridge graduates to pioneer missionary work in China. It was at a missionary meeting that she felt the clear call of God to go to bring the Gospel to the Arab tribes of Algeria.

Despite a heart condition diagnosed prior to her departure, on the 5th March 1888 she left for North Africa and spent the remaining 40 years of her life working among the Arab Muslims of Algeria. Her work was truly remarkable. As a European white woman working mainly with other female colleagues in a pioneer mission among strongly traditional Muslims, the chances of her achieving any success were considered impossible. One biographer remarks that two words characterize Lilias’s work “inexhaustible and indiscourageable”.

Eventually using up all of her own wealth, she founded and maintained the Algiers Mission Band. Her ability in drawing and painting became an integral part in the communication of the gospel, illustrating tracts and booklets specifically designed to reach the Arab culture. Her incredible ability to learn languages, breakdown cultural barriers, organise, write and travel long distances across difficult terrain put her into the same category as other “unique” female missionary names such as Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward etc.

An extract from her booklet “Focussed”, which inspired this hymn, is quoted below and in reading it we might ask ourselves just how focussed on Jesus Christ we are today. How great is our need to turn our eyes fully upon Him.

“… if the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon our hearts, there is an ocean of grace and love and power lying all around us, an ocean to which all earthly light is but a drop, and it is ready to transfigure us…Gathered up, focussed lives, intent on one aim – Christ – these are the lives on which God can concentrate blessedness. It is “all for all” by a law as unvarying as any law that governs the material universe.

We see the principle shadowed in the trend of science; the telephone and the wireless in the realm of sound, the use of radium and the ultra violet rays in the realm of light. All these work by gathering into focus currents and waves that, dispersed, cannot serve us. In every branch of learning and workmanship the tendency of these days is to specialize – to take up one point and follow it to the uttermost.

And Satan knows well the power of concentration; if a soul is likely to get under the sway of the inspiration, “this one thing I do,” he will turn all his energies to bring in side-interests that will shatter the gathering intensity.

And they lie all around, these interests. Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focussed, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Does this test not give the clue? Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way. Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed, good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.

What does this focussing mean? Study the matter and you will see that it means two things – gathering in all that can be gathered, and letting the rest drop…

Are we ready for a cleavage to be wrought through the whole range of our lives… All aims, all ambitions, all desires, all pursuits – shall we dare to drop them if they cannot be gathered sharply and clearly into the focus of “this one thing I do”?

Will it not make life narrow, this focussing? In a sense, it will – just as the mountain path grows narrower, for it matters more and more, the higher we go, where we set our feet – but there is always, as it narrows, a wider and wider outlook, and purer, clearer air. Narrow as Christ’s life was narrow, this is our aim; narrow as regards self-seeking, broad as the love of God to all around. Is there anything to fear in that?

And in the narrowing and focussing, the channel will be prepared for God’s power – like the stream hemmed between the rock-beds, that wells up in a spring – like the burning glass that gathers the rays into an intensity that will kindle fire. It is worthwhile to let God see what He can do with these lives of ours, when “to live is Christ.”

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine “attrait” by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you. For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win”.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more has dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

(Refrain)

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

(Refrain)

Words & music by Helen Howarth Lemmel based on the writing of Isabella Lilias Trotter (1853–1928) – pioneer Christian missionary to the Arab Muslims of Algeria & founder of what is now known as Arab World Ministries

Six Essentials for a church in ‘lock down’ (& beyond!)

“Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come —and the books, especially the parchments”. 2 Timothy 4 v 13

Please read 2 Timothy and especially note v13 in the context of chapter 4 v 6 – 18. 

When we read Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we read the last remaining letter of the Apostle. He is in ‘lock down’; literally! He is writing to his dear young friend Timothy who is the Pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul is in prison in Rome and believes that soon he will face the Roman court once again – and this time the end of his life will come. 

His writing is full of pathos and feeling, yet realism and instruction. Luke seems to be in Rome and able to visit Paul but his request is for Timothy to come, if he possibly can. His request for Timothy to bring with him the three “essentials” mentioned in v13 is very instructive. 

Using this verse, its context and the wider reminder of other Scriptures, we can apply this request pertinently to ourselves at Castlefields in our ‘lock down’ in these days. Whilst there are many other things that we would love to have, here are six ‘essentials’ for us to ensure that we have in place as our ‘lock down’ eases. 

1. A right perspective of the ‘big picture’. Paul had been in prison in Rome before – but not quite like this! Note Acts 28 v 30/31. This time it was serious (v6). All around him things were changing & normality was crumbling (v10- 16). That is just what has been happening in our days of lock down. But Paul had an awareness of the “big picture” (v17/18). It needs to be the same for us. It is essential that our eyes look in faith beyond the present trials to the big picture of God’s sovereignty & His purposes for the church. “Mission Unstoppable”, begun in Acts, still goes on and will be completed, we should not lose sight of that truth. 

The Prophet Habakkuk lived in desperate days but in Hab 2 v 1 we read that he went up into a ‘watch tower’ to wait & see what God would do. There he received the encouraging word of Hab 2v14: “For the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”. 

Personally, we must not forget that the Lord is progressively sanctifying us so that we might be “blameless” at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 5 v 23/24). It may be, that through our ‘lock down’ that is being achieved in specific ways – so we must recognize that and thank God for it. 

2. A right love for the local church. God has brought us all here to Castlefields for His purposes and we are to love the church into which He has placed us. It is very easy to become dissatisfied and envious of larger, more ‘tech savvy’ & prosperous churches. We can easily ‘church hop’ on line but this can result in us becoming critical and ‘picky’ with the leadership and with the way things are done here. Excessive comparisons can leave us feeling that Castlefields is a very ordinary sweet in a bag of other church goodies that are on offer. We all need to place ourselves into the spirit and practical outworking of Romans 12. Timothy was reminded by Paul that in Ephesus, the local church into which he had been called, he was to “hold fast” (1v13), “be strong” (2v1) and there to faithfully “preach the Word” (4v2). All that was to be “in season and out of season”. In other words, at all times, whatever the circumstances; even in ‘lock down’. 

3. A right involvement in service for the Lord. Paul was a man who had travelled many miles, preached to thousands, pastored, mentored & taught to great effect. He was a man of massive ability and usefulness; and yet, now he is ‘locked down’. Was this a time to give up and give in? No! Paul calls for “books” – so that he can read and learn yet more of God, and “parchments” – paper to write on. Maybe further Epistles were in his mind, to Timothy and other churches. He saw that ‘lock down’ was still a time to serve! How Timothy must have benefitted from this wonderfully encouraging & practical letter. How we still benefit from it today, as inspired Scripture. We are glad that Paul did not give up on serving the Lord in ‘lock down’.

Our preaching series in Acts chapter chap 8, impressed upon us how we might come alongside someone – although not in a chariot these days! – and share the gospel with them. We could ask them, about the Bible they are reading, “Do you understand…” just as Philip did to the Ethiopian Eunuch. We could guide them into reading Christian literature and biography. 

By writing as he does in v13 Paul is saying what we must say, “I’m not done serving yet – despite being locked down!” 

4. A right awareness of the dangers that surround us. For the Christian there are always dangers to beware of. Every period and phase of life presents its own temptations, pitfalls and trials of faith. A period of ‘lock down’ is no different! In chap 2v3 Paul reminds Timothy that he is a “good soldier of Jesus Christ”. Soldiers are for fighting, for warfare and for winning battles. As Christians we should never forget these truths. 

The temptations of ‘lock down’ are many, here are just a few: Selfishness; Idleness; Over-work; Introspection; Doubt; Anxiety; Boredom; Time wasting; Moodiness; Hard heartedness (towards your spouse, your children, your parents, the Government, church leaders); Internet sinfulness; TV bingeing; Xbox gaming (too much!) 

We need to pay special attention to the Lord’s Day and ensure that we do not lose the blessings of Isaiah 58 v13/14. Self-discipline in “attending” the services at the set times (as we always would have done) will help us to keep a good structure and discipline to the day for our spiritual good. This will particularly help with the raising of children and profitable family life. 

A ‘lock down’ is wearing, and that is a strategy that Satan loves – to wear us down so that we lose our spiritual sharpness! We need to watch out, because he wants to “devour” us (1Peter 5v8). Take action now – before it is too late! ‘Lock down’ can, and should be for profit – pray that it certainly would not be for loss! 

5. A right balance of praise & worship. Maybe our attitude is, “we’ll sing when ‘lock down’ ends”. We might feel like the Old Testament people of God in Psalm 137 v 4, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”. We see ‘lock down’ as a foreign land and we just want to be free of it! Until then, how can we really praise God? 

Paul longed to be joyful – we can see that in chap 1v4. If Timothy could come to visit him, he would be filled with joy. Sometimes we take that to an extreme and say “if only… then I will sing” but that is not right. God has not changed; Jesus has not changed and everything that is true about our salvation has not changed – every Christian needs to sing – now! 

Everything about the coronavirus is horrible, fearful and terrible. What a contrast in Psalm 147 v 1, it tells us that singing praises to our God is “pleasant” and praise is “beautiful”. In the previous Psalm it tells us that we should sing praise while we have life and being! Even in ‘lock down’ we have those things and we need to balance the difficulties, fears and worries with praise! 

We must not forget how to sing! ‘Lock down’ may end, but the opportunity for Christians to sing praises in a corporate, church setting may not be allowed for many, many months to come. Seek out good resources – the Internet is full of them – to enable you to praise and worship the Lord in prayer and in song – it will do your soul good! 

6. A right dependence on the Lord. How very alone Paul must have felt in his ‘lock down’. How sad to read that “all forsook him” in his hour of need. So, in v 17/18, how much he was helped by the Lord standing with him, strengthening him and in knowing that in the end He would deliver him and preserve him right 

through to his final place in God’s heavenly kingdom. There was no one else he could depend on now; he was cast upon God. 

For us, as individuals, the future is totally unknown. There may well be many job losses in Derby and the practical, emotional and spiritual fall out from this ‘lock down’ may be massive. 

As a church we are faced with the tremendous logistical problems of a small building and a large congregation! What are we to do? How are we to “do church” in all its aspects (Sunday Services, The Lord’s Table, Baptism, Youth work etc)? 

Our dependence on the Lord for help in all these things is essential. Humanly speaking we have no quick and easy answers. Our dependence is to be individually but it is to be corporately too. 

There are many things that we will want to do and experience after ‘lock down’ has ended but here are six essentials that we must have right now. If they are right today, then with God’s help, they will be right during the easing of current restrictions and right when we come right through. 

Click here to download this article as a PDF document.

Man of Granite with a Heart of a Child: J C Ryle

J C Ryle

John Charles Ryle was made the first Bishop of Liverpool in 1880. He was greatly loved, and many affectionately referred to him as “the working man’s Bishop.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon called him an “Evangelical Champion…One of the bravest and best of men.” His writings are so very topical, and to many it appears that they were only written yesterday, as they are so up-to-date. (taken from SermonAudio.com)

Here is a talk on the life of J C Ryle by our pastor, David Fielding, from the 2016 Stanton Lees Bible School.

Mission Unstoppable: An Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles is the companion volume to Luke’s Gospel. Both books are addressed to Theophilus (see Luke 1v3 & Acts 1v1). Some would like to rename the Book, ‘the Acts of the Holy Spirit’, because, as they point out, the Holy Spirit is mentioned sixty-one times! But this might give the impression that Jesus’s work is over & He ceases to be central. Rather, Acts tells how the ascended Jesus continued to work through His Spirit-empowered apostles & people.” Rodger Crooks – One Lord, One Plan, One People

The Writer

The writer of the book is Luke, a physician and historian of remarkable ability. In his book, Church on the Move, Peter Williams says, “It is not difficult to see what we owe to Luke. Without his history, we should know little, if anything, of the origin and progress of the church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the organisation of the church and its methods of evangelisation. Also, in a more general way, Acts serves as a link between the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.”

Contents

Calvin describes The Acts as “a vast treasure”. Peter Williams’ book is called “Church on the Move” and the IBS Study booklet calls the Book, “Mission Unstoppable!”. The NIV Study Bible refers to it as “a bridge that ties the church with each succeeding age”. All of these descriptions are helpful to us in getting to grips with what the Book is going to tell us.

Luke, in his Gospel, shows what Christ began to do on earth; Acts shows what He continued to do by the Holy Spirit through the disciples. The ascension of our Lord is the closing scene in Luke. It is the opening fact in Acts.

  • The Gospels set forth the Son of Man, who came to die for our sins. Acts shows the coming of the Son of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Gospels tell of the crucified and risen Saviour. Acts portrays Him as the ascended and exalted Lord & Leader.
  • In the Gospels we hear Christ’s teachings. In Acts we see the effects of His teachings on the Apostles.

Acts is not a record of the acts of all of the Apostles, as no extensive accounts are given of any of the Apostles except Peter & Paul! It records the acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. His name is mentioned about seventy times. Look for some of the Holy Spirit in every chapter of this book.” H. Mears – What the Bible is all About

Timeline (All dates are approximate)

Acts 1 – 8:

  • 30AD Ascension of Christ. Pentecost and beginnings of the New Testament Church.
  • 32AD Martyrdom of Stephen. Missionary journey of Philip and conversion of the Ethiopian.

Acts 9:

  • 34AD Conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
  • 35AD Paul visits the Jerusalem church for the first time

Acts 12:

  • 44AD James is martyred. Peter is miraculously freed from prison.

Acts 13:

  • 47AD Paul begins his first missionary journey with Barnabas (& for a time, John Mark).

Acts 16:

  • 49AD Paul begins his second missionary journey with Silas (& later, Timothy & Luke).

Acts 19:

  • 52AD Paul begins his third missionary journey with Timothy & Titus (& others joining them at various points).

Acts 22-23:

  • 56AD Paul imprisoned in Jerusalem and then in Caesarea.

Acts 27 – 28:

  • 59AD Paul imprisoned in Rome.

Not recorded in Acts:

  • 61AD Paul makes his final travels.
  • 64AD Great fire at Rome – many Christians put to death.
  • 64AD or 67AD both Peter & Paul are martyred

A Summary

In the preface to Gordon Keddie’s commentary, he refers to three key areas that the Book of Acts demonstrates for us, namely:

  1. The history of the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The setting out of the doctrine of the church.
  3. The striking “evangelistic impulse that bursts out of every page”.

Relevance for us today:

“Here, most personally and immediately are our own ‘roots’ as the followers of Jesus.” Gordon Keddie – You are my Witnesses

“It is both thrilling and wonderful… to think that Jesus did not leave this world and return to the Father’s glory without first making arrangements for the on-going work of the gospel here below. What makes it thrilling is that He did not entrust that work to angels or divine beings but to ordinary men like the Apostles and through them to ordinary people like ourselves. There is a real sense therefore in which we can say that the ministry of Jesus never ends, and is being continued to today in the lives and witness of all Christian believers through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church. What a great privilege and enormous responsibility we have therefore in being part of the body of Christ in the world.” Peter Williams – Church on the Move

3 Essentials to begin:

There are three essentials that occur at the beginning of “mission unstoppable”. They set the scene for the rest of the story!

  1. The promise of the Holy Spirit (1 v 4 – 8)
  2. The ascension of the Lord Jesus (1 v 9 – 11)
  3. The necessity of corporate prayer (1 v 12 – 14)

Useful Commentaries:

In addition to those written by Peter Williams & Gordon Keddie which are mentioned above, other good commentaries include those by John Calvin, Richard Lenski & Joseph Alexander.

These notes accompany the sermon series preached at Castlefields Church in 2020. Click here to listen to the whole series for free!

Click here to download this article as a pdf.

The Story Behind the Hymn: Amazing Grace

The life of John Newton is definitely one worth reading about!

His background is one of the sea and a number of his hymns reflect back to those days of childhood and early manhood when he sailed the perilous oceans in the great sailing ships of the 18th Century. His father was a naval captain and young John saw little of him. His mother was the greatest influence on his life, teaching him Bible stories, singing hymns and praying for his salvation while he sat on her knee.

Newton’s world fell apart when his mother died just before his seventh birthday and he descended into a life of total wretchedness and sin. Having been ‘press ganged’ into the navy he rebelled against all authority. He would curse and swear, was violent and his behaviour was so bad that he was abandoned in West Africa, living as a slave at the mercy of a despicable slave trader and his African wife.

Remarkably he was rescued and was making his way home, when on the night of 10th March 1748 a terrible storm almost totally wrecked the ship. Newton was strapped to the wheel of the ship endeavouring to steer a course through the storm. He cried out to God in fear and desperation for salvation. All the prayers, hymns and Bible verses he had learned those years before on his mother’s knee came flooding back to his mind. This was the beginning of Newton coming to full assurance of his salvation in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.

Years later in grateful service to God he served as a Curate to a Church in Olney in Buckinghamshire (and later as Rector to a Church in London). It was while at Olney that many of Newton’s most well known hymns were written and the famous book of, “Olney Hymns” composed by Newton and his good friend William Cowper. One of those hymns was, “Amazing Grace”.

Newton’s biographer, Jonathan Aitken, takes up the story of this lovely hymn in his book, “John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace”:

“John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’ is the most sung, most recorded and most loved hymn in the world. No other song, spiritual or secular, comes close to it in terms of numbers of recordings, (over 3,000 in the United States alone), frequency of performances (it is publicly sung at least 10 million times a year), international popularity across six continents or cultural longevity (238 years and going strong)…..Yet among the billions of people who have enjoyed singing or listening to it, remarkably few have any knowledge of its origins, purposes,
consequences or history.

“Amazing Grace” was conceived by Newton in late December 1772 as part of the preparations he was making for a New Year’s Day sermon to his parishioners on January 1, 1773. The notion of writing a hymn in order to prepare for a sermon would have been alien to most eighteenth-century clergymen, but Newton was an ingenious innovator in this field of spiritual communication. In the previous two years he had been experimenting with the highly unusual activity (for a Church of England incumbent) of writing “People’s Hymns.” This activity stemmed from Newton’s realization that the principal religious books of the established church, the King James Bible and 1662 Book of Common Prayer, were full of words and phrases that uneducated people found difficult to understand.

As his Olney congregation consisted largely of lace-makers, agricultural labourers, malting’s workers, blacksmiths, carpenters and other artisans or tradesmen, Newton thought he could help them to understand the Scriptures if he amplified his sermons by writing simply worded hymns that illustrated the biblical passages on which he was preaching.

At the beginning of his curacy in Olney, Newton used the hymns of other writers such as Isaac Watts or John and Charles Wesley for this purpose. The first recipients of this biblical teaching through hymns had been the children of the parish……When Newton realized how effective the singing and learning by heart of hymns could be as a spiritual teaching aid for children, he expanded the practice to the adult members of his congregation….Although the hymn singing there proved popular, it was only occasionally extended into Olney church itself, rather than prayer meetings during the week, because the eighteenth-century Church of England frowned upon anything other than metrical Psalms (the Psalms set to song meters) being sung within consecrated buildings.

There was a particular reason why Newton might have chosen January 1, 1773 as a date on which to expound on God’s grace. He was in the habit of regarding every New Year’s Day as a milestone for spiritual stock taking. Newton’s diary notes for his sermon in Olney Church on this New Year’s Day show that he developed the theme of his December 31 diary entry. For he began by emphasizing the importance of being grateful to God for his past mercies. Then he asked the same rhetorical question that David had asked some three thousand years earlier: “Who am I, Lord?”

Newton’s answer took on autobiographical overtones clearly echoed in his just written hymn. For he declared that unconverted sinners were blinded by the ‘god of this world’ (Satan) until “God’s mercy came to us not only undeserved but undesired…… our hearts endeavoured to shut him out till He overcame us by the power of grace.”

Newton’s own words sum up his amazement at God’s grace in the salvation of sinners, particularly to him!

“When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there – the first wonder will be to see many people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there!” 

John Newton’s own epitaph on a plaque in Olney Churchyard:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk

Once an infidel and libertine A servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy. He ministered, near sixteen years as curate of this Parish, and twenty-eight years as Rector of St Mary Woolnoth.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

John Newton 1725 – 1807