On this Good Friday you should be thinking about the cross. Nothing can teach you as much about Christianity as the cross. A serious view of the cross will impact your soul. Back in the 1800’s John Brown of Scotland wrote the following rich summary of what there is to see at the cross — and how it will affect you.
“Nothing is so well fitted to put the fear of God, which will preserve men from offending him, into the heart, as an enlightened view of the cross of Christ. There shines spotless holiness, inflexible justice, incomprehensible wisdom, omnipotent power, holy love. None of these excellencies darken or eclipse the other, but every one of them rather gives a luster to the rest. They mingle their beams, and shine with united external splendor: the just Judge, the merciful Father, the wise Governor. Nowhere does justice appear so awful, mercy so amiable, or wisdom so profound.”
Tom Chantry writes these beautiful words for our dear brother, Bill Wenger, who recently went to be with the Lord. I only knew Bill a little bit — mostly through our times together at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conferences over the years. I enjoyed staying at his home once (he welcomed the whole Bissett clan on one of our trips through Pennsylvania), and knew him to be a fine servant of Christ and His church. I praise God for Bill Wenger, and pray for grace and comfort for those who mourn his passing.
Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) died in Boston 120 years ago today. It is said that Christians throughout the world mourned his death, and his funeral was “like that of a king.” Brooks has been called by some “the greatest American preacher of the 19th Century.”
Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks’ life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: “A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds.” [Dan Graves in Christianity Today online article, June, 2007]
Brooks was the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts when he died, having also served important churches in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Americans know him as the author of the popular Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” — which he wrote a couple years after visiting Palestine in 1865. While there, Brooks journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback, and there assisted with a midnight service on Christmas Eve. He would later write, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”
On his preaching, the Encyclopedia Britannica says
In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously. [online EB article]
At the Trinity Church in Boston (which Brooks helped design) there was no pulpit until 1888, but Brooks preferred to preach from a modest lectern near the rector’s stall, typically only wearing his black academic gown. And later on, during communion, he would preach not from the pulpit but from the chancel steps.
It is said that he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, and championed more congregational singing. During his childhood, the Brooks family spent Sunday evenings singing hymns. He would grow-up to know over two hundred hymns by memory, and often quoted them in his sermons.
Brooks was also known for his vocal defense of the Trinity as Unitarianism was then on the rise throughout New England.
Brooks was a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. His close ties to Harvard led to the building of the “Phillips Brooks House” in the northwest corner of old Harvard yard (facing the small Holden Chapel). It was was dedicated on January 23, 1900, to serve “the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality.” The Phillips Brooks House Association remains in operation to this day as a student-run consortium of over 80 volunteer organizations.
Phillips Brooks never married, or had children of his own. Dan Graves, in closing his Christianity Today article, observed that this famous preacher
…loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be.”
Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian’s goal should be “To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life.”
On Thursday morning many friends will gather alongside a family as they lay to rest a much loved wife and mother, who died in the early morning hours last Monday. Only a few months ago she was in the prime of life, caring for her husband, serving children in a local school and walking faithfully with her Lord. Then the cancers came; and a grim prognosis; and a season of difficulty for this saint. Grief gained a beachhead in our hearts weeks ago, and its invasion is now in full force.
In the midst of her treatments and the dramatic changes to her body, though, her spirit was undimmed and her delight in her family and daily life continued. Her simple, bright online notes communicated a measure of the wonderful personality we knew and loved — and encouraged many of us to hold our days more precious too. In her last days, we often saw evidence of the Scripture, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 esv
I had been much in fervent prayer for this sister for many weeks, in the pulpit and in private. I also have often wondered why such afflictions came to such a choice servant in the prime of her life. Although we do not often discover the answer to such “why” questions, we are reminded in the Bible about the holy and good character of our God. For instance, just today I read further in the passage cited above (Lamentations 3) and found these words about our God:
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. …For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (3:25, 31-33)
That last verse in particular is instructive: We dare not judge the heart of God simply by a few of His actions. An old puritan pastor, Thomas Brooks, unfolds some implications of this text, for those wrestling with grief:
“No man can tell how the heart of God stands by his actions. His hand of severity may lie hard upon those upon whom he has set his heart as you see in Job and Lazarus. …Consider the gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions that come out of afflictions. As Christ commanded the boisterous winds and the roaring raging seas — “He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matt. 8:26) — so let the conscience speak to the soul: Be quiet and still; ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord’ (Psa. 27:14), and ‘Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.’ (Psa. 37:7).
May the truth of God’s Word be like a sea-wall against the battering waves of our grief. God does not willingly or wantonly afflict His children! Our sovereign Lord does all things in accordance with His perfect will, for His glory and (ultimately) for the good of His people! And “He will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”
How does a Christian face death? The words of the Apostle Paul from 2nd Corinthians 1:8-11, where he recounts facing his own death, are very helpful. There he says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead“ (1:9). Sunday night I spoke from this passage as well as from Psalm 27, where David begins by saying, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
As an illustration of finding such strength in the Lord, I quoted Abraham Kuyper — a pastor (and former Prime Minister) from the Netherlands in the late 1800’s. He was the father of 5 sons and 2 daughters. In 1892, his 9 year old son took ill and then died. During those days he wrote several pastoral meditations, including one that commented on Psalm 27.
Some folks present on Sunday night asked that I post those words. Here is the extended quotation of Kuyper.
The Lord is the strength of my life, is the blessed utterance of soul, which coincides with the Pray without ceasing.
For, if you truly live in that sacred consciousness, that, from moment to moment, the strength of your life, by which you live and from which you live, is not in yourself, does not flow toward you from the world, but comes to you from the living God, then every breath, every heart-throb, every pulse-beat is to you a sign from the side of God, that at that very moment He maintains you, carries you by His strength and operates in you.
Your own life in you is then a witness of God’s omnipresence and of God’s almightiness, and every evening that you kneel before Him and lose yourself in the worship of the Eternal, is then to you a receiving anew of your own existence from the hand of your God.
And he ends with these words….
If then there come days of trouble, when care and anxiety well-nigh strangle the heart, or sudden danger overtakes you, or the strength for labor falls short, or sickness or the approach of death makes you pine away in yourself, then such a devout practical life in the fellowship of the Lord bears its choicest fruits.
You then went up and down with your God. You became more and more accustomed to Him. Yea, even in your minutest interests and least significant difficulties of life you have then learned to lean upon your God. And that constant practice has given your soul the bent for it, has made it a second nature to you, so that it would be difficult for you to exist otherwise.
The strength of your life is no longer in you, but in the Lord, and now in days of trouble or distress of soul there comes to you of itself from that rich, deep conviction of soul the grace of a perfectly sufficing consolation.
For if the Lord withdraws His strength from you, all your anxiety and all your exertion will avail you nothing. And when He continues to grant you this strength of life, there is then no power in heaven or on earth, that can break His might.
Does a difficult task await you? He Who imposed that task upon you is Himself the strength of your life, Who at that very moment from His almightiness shall pour the strength in you.
And does sickness overtake you, or the hour draw near when you must die, even then there is nothing gone, because you lie down in weakness, or presently depart from the earth.
For He is the strength of your life, and that strength which maintains you in existence, operates likewise in and beyond the grave, and continues forever in the heavens.
~ Abraham Kuyper, “The Strength of Your Life” (from In The Shadow of Death, Meditations for the Sick-Room and at the Sick-Bed, 1893 (Old Paths Publications reprint 1994).
You need not be cast down by sickness. The eternal part of you is safe and provided for, whatever happens to your body. You may well look calmly on death. It opens a door between you and your inheritance. You may well not sorrow exclusively over the things of the world – over partings and bereavements – over losses and crosses. The day of gathering is before you. Your treasure is beyond reach of harm. Heaven is becoming every year more full of those you love, and earth more empty. Glory in your inheritance. It is all yours if you are a children of God. “If we are children, then we are heirs.”
The internet has quickly spread the news: John R. W. Stott, at the age of 90, went home to be with the Lord Wednesday, July 27th. He was a dedicated pastor, a fine author (over 50 books, several classics) and a gifted conference Bible teacher. In 2005, he was honored by Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
Dr Stott, through the exposition of Scripture found in his books, shaped my early understanding of Christianity. My wife connects her conversion to having read Stott’s little book, Basic Christianity. I first heard him in person at an Urbana Missions Convention teaching through portions of Romans. (I also was known in our college fellowship for doing my own impersonations of JRWS!). I was later privileged to meet him during my years in seminary. I greatly thank God for this man.
Dr Stott wrote so many important books and useful and commentaries (I highly commend “the Bible Speaks Today series he edited for IVP). His bestselling book was one of his earliest (written in 1958 when he was 37 years old), Basic Christianity, which has sold over 2.5 million copies. It is one of the BEST evangelistic introductions to Jesus and the Christian faith. He also wrote an outstanding book on preaching, Between Two Worlds in 1982, which I read my first year in seminary. His book, The Contemporary Christian, is a useful introduction to the “Christian & Culture” issues we face.
Certainly, as Taylor writes, “his most substantial book is probably The Cross of Christ (1986), about which J. I. Packer says, “No other treatment of this supreme subject says so much so truly and so well.” I’ve read that more than once, and commend it to everyone.
Editor’s Note: John Stott died today at 3:15 London time (about 9:15 a.m. CST), according to John Stott Ministries President Benjamin Homan. Homan said that Stott’s death came after complications related to old age and that he has been in discomfort for the last several weeks. Family and close friends gathered with Stott today as they listened to Handel’s Messiah. Homan said that John Stott Ministries has been preparing for his death for the past 15 years. “I think he set an impeccable example for leaders of ministries of handing things over to other leaders,” Homan said. “He imparted to many a love for the global church and imparted a passion for biblical fidelity and a love for the Savior.” This story will be updated as more information becomes available.