AN INVITATION TO A MARRIAGE
An article by the Editor
Our nation is eagerly awaiting the Royal Wedding of The Queen’s grandson, Prince William, to Kate Middleton on 29 April. Such events always lift national morale and help to create a ‘feel good’ factor which will be especially welcome at a time of austerity. We wish the young Royal couple well. However, from a personal perspective, while my own family shares in the national excitement, we are busily preparing for something far more important and even more imminent - the marriage of our daughter on 19 April! As anyone who has been closely involved in planning a wedding will know, the whole process begins well in advance and is extremely demanding in many different ways. As I write this, our wedding invitations have just been issued and the big day is looming. We are very much looking forward to this special occasion, and, in days when marriage is regarded as only one possible life-style option in this ever changing society, it is wonderful to see two young people committing their lives to each other.
Marriage was once the accepted norm in society but, sadly, that is no longer the case. Despite the traditional wedding commitment of “till death do us part”, the break-up of marriages is easily facilitated by ‘quickie divorce’ arrangements, and, rather than getting married at all, many couples now quite openly “live together”. But society is not content to stop there. The recent introduction of ‘gay’ civil partnerships has led to fresh calls for homosexuals to be able to marry and for their relationships to be ‘blessed’ in church. We are now on a very dangerous road which will accelerate the breakdown of society and cause untold damage to children.
Marriage between a man and a woman is one of the key foundation stones of a stable society and is something we must hold in very high esteem. Far from being an invention of man, it was designed by God at the creation of the world, for, as the Westminster Confession of Faith succinctly puts it,“the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness”. The Lord Jesus Christ attended the marriage at Cana inGalileeand performed his first miracle there. Marriage is rich in spiritual significance for, as the Apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 5, it is an illustration of the relationship between Christ - the bridegroom - and the Church – His bride.
In Matthew 22:1-14, Christ told the parable of a great wedding feast organised by a king for his son. The king is God and his son is the Lord Jesus Christ. This parable was designed to explain to the Jews that, while they rejected Christ and his message, he would draw others into his kingdom. But it also presents us with a wonderful picture of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, and we can learn some valuable lessons from it in that context.
The king in this parable sent out his servants to tell his guests that the oxen and fatlings had been killed and that all was ready. This is richly illustrative of the Gospel. In order for the Gospel feast to be ready, Christ, the Son of God, had to die as our sacrificial substitute. He is the unique bridegroom who gave his life for his bride. And the good news is that, by his death and resurrection, he has paid the price for our sin. There is nothing more for us to do. The Father says to us, “all things are ready: come unto the marriage”(v.4). When we invite guests to a wedding, we do not expect them to pay for the privilege. God calls us to come to him in faith, trusting in the all-sufficient work of Christ. The words of Isaiah 55:1 sum it up for us,“he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price”.People are invited to come to the Saviour on the basis of the finished work of Christ but, for a variety of reasons like those in the parable, they will not come. We read firstly that“they made light of it”(v.5). So many people hear the Gospel but refuse to take it seriously. Some consider it naïve in this sophisticated world. Others, like the Roman governor Felix feel that is an issue for consideration at a more “convenientseason”(Acts 24:25). In our parable, the guests went off to their farms and their businesses. Now, it is important that we attend to such responsibilities. The economy is in recession and everyone is under considerable pressure to make ends meet. However, it is vital that we get our priorities right. Jesus said,“seek ye first thekingdomofGod, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.(Matthew 6:33). In another parable, he spoke of a farmer whose main desire was to “grow his business” (to use modern parlance) but before he could tear down and build on a greater scale, he was called into eternity to face God.
But note that the refusal to come to the wedding became more pronounced and bitter. In response to the king’s repeated invitations, they hardened their hearts. Rudeness turned to anger, violence and murder. Surely this is a solemn reminder of how far mankind has fallen. We must never forget that the polite rejection of a Gospel tract or invitation to a church meeting is merely the tip of the iceberg. Hatred of the Gospel bubbles just beneath the surface. Today, we are witnessing increasingly open opposition to the proclamation of the Gospel. The servants in the parable are like believers who preach, teach and witness, but who are persecuted and killed for their faithfulness to the King.
The Bible tells us that the Lord is“not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”.(2 Peter 3:9). In Psalm 103: 8 we are reminded that“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, andplenteousinmercy”.However, God is not some weak and impotent ruler who is begging his subjects to come to him. He is patient but he is also sovereign. This invitation is also a royal command. People who have received the invitations to our daughter’s wedding have been asked to respond in due course, but we cannot order them to come! However, ifan invitation arrived from The Queen to attend the wedding of her grandson William, it would almost be viewed as a command from the Sovereign. God invites us to come to him, but he also“commandeth all men every where to repent”(Acts 17:30). Just like the king’s patience, God’s mercy will not last forever. Today, he calls us to the Gospel feast by faith alone in Christ alone, but the day of grace will not last forever. Those who refuse Him will face His wrath.
Then we note in v.10 that there were those who responded to the invitation. All sorts of sinners responded positively,“both bad and good”. Now, the Bible tells us that“there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1), for we are all corrupted sinners, but the words “bad” and “good” are used here to describe the wide range of people who come to saving faith in Christ. Many are “bad” in that they are openly rebellious sinners whose lives are marked by great wickedness. However, many who come to Christ are those who, on the surface at any rate, lead lives that are decent and upright. They might even attend church, read the Bible and pray. Very often, those in this latter category can feel self-righteous and therefore be much more difficult to convince of their need of a Saviour. But the faithful servant of God will remind everyone that they are sinners and will implore them to come to Christ.
Finally, the parable contains an extremely sobering and solemn episode at the end which reminds us of the fearful consequences of seeking to be accepted at the Gospel feast on our own terms. As the king mingled with his guests, he noticed a man who was not appropriately dressed and a very difficult, albeit brief, encounter ensued. We would not think of attending a wedding in our casual every-day clothes. On the contrary, great efforts are made to ensure that we are well-dressed and respectable. When asked to explain why he was improperly dressed, the man was“speechless”(v.12) and he was taken away at the king’s command to a place of great suffering. This is a fearful warning of the reality of hell for all who reject God’s way of salvation, and it behoves us to be very sure that we are right with God..
The words of Revelation 19:7-8 are very helpful here - “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints”.I do not know where you stand today before God. Only you know that. It does not matter who you are or what you are. Your only hope for eternity is to be very sure that you are dressed in the garments of the imputed righteousness of Christ – those garments which are white as snow because you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Put no trust in yourself or in your good works. Heed the call of Christ and come to him. May you be able to say with Horatius Bonar,“Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity”.And if you can say that, you can look forward to that great day when you shall see your Saviour face to face, for“Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.”(Revelation 19:9).
MEET JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA—A MAJOR ‘MINOR’ CHARACTER
One of the major, ‘minor’ characters of the Bible is a man by the name of Joseph, who hailed from the Jewish town of Arimathea. We do not know a great deal about him for it is as though he walks in and out of the limelight in just a few seconds.
But the Holy Spirit has ensured that a brief paragraph is devoted to Joseph of Arimathea in all four Gospel accounts. This shows that the Holy Spirit would have us know about and learn from Joseph - a man described as “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews”(John 19:38).
In a nutshell, Joseph was to make his outstanding mark on world history as the one who provided his own new rock tomb as the place in which the Lord Jesus was buried after He had been crucified. What then can we learn from what we know of the life of Joseph of Arimathea? At least three things:-
1. Joseph of Arimathea was devoted to the Lord Jesus
Joseph’s devotion to the Saviour is very evident from the Gospel records. His greatness then was not intrinsic, but by association with the Son of God. After all the cruel hate ofCalvary, Joseph’s tender love for Jesus is very moving. Luke, for instance, records how Josephwent to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. “And he took it down(from the cross),and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid”.(Luke 23:52 ff.).
From this we see that Joseph was devoted to the Lord Jesus both in life and in death, and herein lies his greatness. Herein lies our greatest blessing too, for it is in a faith-union with Christ that we - insignificant though we are in the world’s eyes - receive God’s gift of eternal life. Paul explained to the Romans:-“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”(Romans 6:3-5.).
2. Joseph did one thing well
Joseph of Arimathea is remembered primarily for just one thing: he was the human provider of Jesus’ tomb. According to Matthew 27:60, he“laid it(our Lord’s body)in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock”.At the beginning of His earthly life, God provided the Lord Jesus with a virgin womb; at the end of His earthly life, God provided Jesus with a virgin tomb, and He did so through His servant Joseph.
There is a message for us here and it is this - put your all at God’s disposal, for He can use it in a much greater way than you can ever conceive. The message for us also is to do one thing well for God. Joseph’s one thing was his disposal of his tomb for the Lord. Some of us are hindered and handicapped by the knowledge that we are not widely gifted. Yet surely there is at least one thing we was his disposal of his tomb for the Lord. Some of us are hindered and handicapped by the knowledge that we are not widely gifted. Yet surely there is at least one thing we can do for the Lord which will bring glory to Him and blessing to others. By God’s grace, let us seek out this one matter - a task which is unique to us - and let us do it with all the zeal and strength that God gives us.
3. Joseph’s tomb became a vacant tomb
Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb of the resurrection morning are inextricably bound. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. Joseph buried Jesus, lovingly and securely, in his own tomb - but three days later Jesus rose from the dead. Joseph’s tomb could not contain Him.
The earliest Christian creed - a minimal ‘Statement of Faith’ explains“how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”(1 Corinthians 15:3,4). The detailed fulfillment of Scripture which occurred here is inexplicable apart from Divine inspiration. Hundreds of years previously, Isaiah foretold of Christ that “he made His grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death” (Isaiah 53:9). Matthew 27:57 describes Joseph as “a rich man of Arimathea”. David wrote in verse 10 of the Messianic Psalm 16,“Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption”.This prophecy was also wonderfully fulfilled on the first Easter morning, when the message of the angel rang out from Joseph of Arimathea’s empty tomb: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay”(Matthew 28:6).
Although we do not know a great deal about Joseph of Arimathea, we do know that He loved the Saviour. He devoted his all to Jesus, and he did one thing well. He did what he could, with what he had, to the glory of God and to the glory of the risen Saviour who conquered the grave, and is still at work in changing lives, even today.
“He lives triumphant from the grave
He lives eternally to save
He lives all glorious in the sky
He lives exalted there on high.
He lives to bless me with His love
And still He pleads for me above
He lives to raise me from the grave
And me eternally to save.”
“FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH”
When questioned about the Mass, William Wolsey and Robert Piggot said that the sacrament of the altar was an idol and the natural body and blood of Christ were not present in the said sacrament and to this opinion they said they would stick, believing the same to be no heresy, that they had affirmed but the very truth, whereupon they would stand. They were burnt at Ely, Cambridgeshire on 16th October 1555.
WHY PROTESTANTS MUST NEVER ATTEND THE PAPAL MASS
Interviewed in the Belfast Telegraph on 21 February 2011, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and DUP leader, Peter Robinson, indicated that he would be prepared to attend funeral masses “as a mark of respect” for dead Catholic friends and dignitaries. He said, “I wouldn’t be going as an act of worship, I would be going as an act of respect for the individual”.
The Evangelical Protestant Societyholds firmly to the principles of civil and religious liberty, and would not wish to deny anyone the right of conscience. Mr Robinson himself acknowledged that he viewed these as “personal matters” and that some of his colleagues “might have a different view on them.” As far as we are aware, he is not a member of any organisation which precludes him from attending Mass, nor does he hold an office in any church where he is required to subscribe to subordinate standards such as, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith. However,EPS has always taken the very clear and unambiguous view that an evangelical Protestant should not attend the Roman Catholic mass under any circumstances, and it will therefore come as no surprise that the Society does not share Mr Robinson’s position on this important matter.
Mr Robinson’s comments give rise to two key issues. First, it is crucial that we have a proper understanding of the nature of the Roman Catholic mass and, in particular, the requiem mass, and, secondly, that we assess the potential pressure which might be applied by some in church, state and the media to those evangelical Protestants who are resolutely opposed to attendance at the Mass.
One of the main reasons why an evangelical Protestant might feel obliged to attend a mass is his desire to pay respects at the funeral of a Roman Catholic friend or family member. We fully acknowledge that no-one in his right mind has any desire to cause tension or friction with, or within, a family at a time of bereavement. As Rev Stafford Carson, former Irish Presbyterian Moderator, has stated,"very often people, on the occasion of a funeral or a bereavement or something, believe that it is important to identify with the people rather than with the theology". However, a proper understanding of the Mass – and, in particular, a Requiem Mass – must surely lead us to conclude that it is more important to be faithful to God and His truth than to act in a way that will make us less unpopular with our fellow men. The issues here are so fundamental, so crucial and so central, that evangelicals must never, under any circumstances, be anywhere near the sacrifice of theMass.To do so would be to dishonour God and the sacrifice of Christ. This is surely a case when “we ought to obey God rather than men”(Acts 5:29).
Space in this magazine does not permit us to enter into a detailed analysis of the Mass, but we must note that it is a central aspect of Roman Catholic worship. Roman Catholicism is essentially a religion of “grace” and works, and within it, if Roman Catholics are to have any hope of finding favour with God, they must participate in activities such as the Mass as often as possible. Romeclaims that, during the Mass, thebread and wine are changed by the power of the priest at the moment of consecration into the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The obnoxious Roman doctrine of the “real presence”(transubstantiation)strikes at the very heart of the Gospel. We must never forget that, in the days of Queen Mary, faithful Protestants such as Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer and hundreds of others chose to die at the stake rather than accept it. One of those martyrs, the godlyJohn Bradford, said, “I deny transubstantiation, which is the darling of the devil, and daughter and heir to Antichrist’s religion”.His words typify the Protestant martyrs’ resistance to the doctrine of transubstantiation upon which their condemnation and burning was based.
Roman Catholics will express various views about the nature of the Mass, and some ecumenists and, sadly, professed evangelicals, will seek to put a spin on it by saying that it differs only in minor ways from the Protestant sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. However, the sacrament of Mass is far removed from that of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. The latter is a deeply significant but essentially a memorial act where, as the Thirty-Nine Articles put it, “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith”.By contrast, the Mass is not only a sacrament but a sacrifice. The 1994 Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church – an official document which therefore provides us with an authoritative summary of Romanist dogma and teaching – states that “In this divine sacrifice….the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner”….”Every time this mystery is celebrated, the work of our redemption is carried on”.It further asserts that the wafer is to be worshipped“with supreme adoration”.It’s little wonder, then, that the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts that “the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect”.
When the wafer – regarded as the literal body of Christ - is eaten by communicants, it is then claimed thatgrace is conferred upon them.“Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit’, preserves, increases and renews the life of grace received at baptism” –RC Catechism.
Requiem Mass, celebrated at a funeral, includes prayers for the soul of the deceased person whose potentially painful journey through Purgatory is eased by the offering up of masses for the repose of his soul. Not only can Purgatory be painful it can also be prolonged as is illustrated by masses reportedly offered in 1988 for the repose of the souls of Spanish sailors lost in the Armada four hundred years previously!
In the Mass, we are reminded of the terrible darkness, idolatry and blasphemy of Romanism. It takes Christ, drags Him down from heaven into the bread and wine, and sacrifices Him again and again. But the Bible makes it clear that Christ’s sacrifice is once for all, and final. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” -Hebrews 10:12. If we love the Lord Jesus Christ, are trusting by faith alone in His finished work on the cross, and are rejoicing in His resurrection and ascension, then we must reject the Mass and refuse to be present when it is being celebrated. We fully understand the desire to reach out to those who grieve, but Paul tells us that true Christian charity“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth”(I Cor 13:6). We are to“Abstain from all appearance of evil”– 1 Thess 5:22. Love for, and loyalty to, our blessed Saviour must take priority.
In recent times, there have been those in church, state and the media who have sought to deny to evangelical Protestants their rights of conscience. Nelson McCausland, the Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister, was hounded by SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance, the parties which boast of their commitment to human rights, when he said he would not be prepared to attend the Mass, and there were those who asserted that if he was not prepared to do so, he was unfit to hold public office. When our secretary, Wallace Thompson, asserted on RTE radio in 2008 that he would not be prepared to attend the mass, he was condemned as a bigot for his comments aboutRomeand faced calls for his dismissal as a political adviser. We therefore hope that, in light of Mr Robinson’s statement, no attempts will be made by the usual suspects to further demonise or persecute faithful evangelical Protestants. The ecumenical journalist, Alf McCreary, said that the reaction to Mr Robinson’s statement showed that our society is “theologically sick and politically thick”. How he regards evangelical Protestants is entirely a matter for him, but we must stand firm on this issue, and there is little doubt that in doing so, we can expect a campaign of abuse, ridicule and persecution in days to come.
EPS ANNUAL THANKSGIVING APPEAL
It’s that time again when we reflect upon the year that has passed and consider how best to move the work and witness of EPS forward. It is incumbent upon those of us who serve on EPS Council to run the organisation as efficiently as possible, to make wise decisions and to be good stewards of the resources given to us, and we must never forget that EPS is the Lord’s work. We seek to serve Him, to be faithful to Him, to rely on Him, and to give Him all the glory. We rejoice that He has been with us over the past year, and we have His promise that, in the days to come, He will not forsake us. We can so easily fail Him, but He will never fail us.
Our Annual Service of Thanksgiving is planned for Lord’s Day 15 May at 3pm in Knock Evangelical Presbyterian Church in eastBelfast(full details of location etc are on page 8 of this magazine). Our secretary, Mr Wallace Thompson, will conduct the service and present a brief report. The guest preacher this year is Rev Ron Johnstone, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, minister of the Newtownards congregation, and a leading member of the Orange Order. We would encourage as many as possible to attend.
We greatly appreciate the steady faithful financial and prayerful support of our many friends, but we would appeal to everyone to give as generously as possible to our Annual Thanksgiving Appeal 2010. The financial demands upon the work are increasing, and, as you can see from the article on the back page, we are seeking to develop our electronic media (CD, DVD etc) and our web-based activities which will enable us to reach a much bigger audience. Please complete the enclosed gift form and send with your gift in the envelope provided. Thank you
POPE COULD VISIT ULSTER NEXT YEAR
Speculation is mounting that the Pope might travel to Northern Ireland in June next year as part of a possible visit to the Irish Republic for the International Eucharistic Congress. Ulster was not included during his recent visit to the Great Britain as it would have been embarrassing for Rome to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so, from that constitutional perspective alone, the inclusion of Northern Ireland in an Irish tour makes sense. In addition, there have been those who have been clamouring for a papal visit to Ulster and a Royal visit to Dublin as two further and key building blocks in the “peace process”. Although no comparison ought to be made between the two fundamentally different scenarios, the Queen will, it seems, be visiting Dublin very soon. That must surely pave the way for a visit to Ulster by the man who claims temporal and spiritual power all the earth.
As we have stated before, it is imperative that those who are opposed to such a visit register their concerns at an early stage. No evangelical Protestant individual, church or organisation has the option of remaining silent. We in EPS will do what can to encourage and co-ordinate opposition. As inBritainlast September, any protest will, of course, be lawful, dignified and spiritual, and, as we endeavour to make clear the nature and extent of our opposition to the papacy, we will also seize the evangelistic opportunity to remind Roman Catholics and Protestants that there is only way of salvation and only one Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Concern is growing that, in the ever changing political climate, some Unionist leaders will be prepared to meet and greet the Pope, and we intend to write to Unionist politicians to seek assurances that this will not happen. Meanwhile, our readers and supporters might have a range of questions to put to unionist candidates in the forthcoming Assembly and Council elections in Northern Ireland (see page 7), and we would suggest that it might be worthwhile including where they stand on a papal visit.
CALVIN’S LAST WORDS TO GENEVA
On 30 April, 1564, John Calvin, on his deathbed, spoke to the members of the Geneva Senate for the last time. Reminding them that the Word of God and the gospel had raised the city to its exalted station, he urged upon them to maintain the faith in its purity, whatever the cost, confident that if they were obedient to the heavenly vision the divine protection would never depart from them, and Geneva would be a light to the nations for centuries to come.(Wylie, History of Protestantism, II, p.368).
All the Papists think themselves to be saved by keeping the law; and I myself have been of that dangerous and damnable opinion till I was thirty years of age. So long I walked in darkness. - HUGH LATIMER
QUESTIONS FOR ELECTION CANDIDATES
Northern Irelandvoters go to the polls on 5 May to elect members to a new Northern Ireland Assembly and the twenty-six district councils. A wide variety of issues and promises will be included in party manifestos and we would encourage everyone to prayerfully consider how they should vote. It is important that we exercise our democratic right to vote. That right was hard fought for, and there is really no excuse for adopting a “can’t be bothered to vote” mentality. On the ’Nolan Show’ and other programmes, we hear endlessly from those who have no time for politicians and who feel they could do better themselves. Now we have an opportunity to speak at the ballot-box and to return those who we feel can deliver for us on key areas such as the economy, public finances, health and education. There are also other very important moral and ethical matters which may well come before the next Assembly - abortion, Sunday trading, ‘gay’ rights, gambling laws, licensing laws, equality issues - and EPS plan to join up with the Caleb Foundation, the Christian Institute and the Lord’s Day Observance Society to ask every Assembly candidate where they stand on these issues. Further details will be on our website in due course.
EPS WEBSITE UPGRADE
The ways in which we communicate with each other are changing at a radical speed, and it is hard to keep up with the advances in information technology. As a Society, we accept that in these fast-changing times people do not read as widely or as deeply as they once did, nor do they have the same desire to attend Gospel and other similar meetings. While we remain committed to the written and spoken word, it is crucial that we make use of modern methods of communication if we are to effectively promote our evangelical Protestant message among as broad an audience as possible.
We have had a successful and frequently visited and updated website for some time now, but we have felt that it was ripe for enhancement and modernisation. In order to achieve this, we have secured the services of “Twelve Stones Media”, who specialise in the development electronic and media communication methods for organisations such as ours. Their work is already producing results. Not only does the website look better, but, for the first time, we now have audio and video, and several of our recorded messages are available for mp3 download. These include older analogue recordings done on cassette tape. We are also now on ‘twitter’.
This is very much a work-in-progress, and there will be more developments. We would encourage you to visit the site—www.ulsterbulwark.org— as often as possible. Pray, too, that the website might be used as a means of reaching the unsaved and leading them to Christ.
"THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS…”
J V Fesko
(Evangelical Press, 2011, Paperback, 80pp. £4.50)
Within fundamentalist evangelical Protestant circles, believers can become obsessed with a legalistic approach to godliness which ends up almost as a mere technical list of those things they must seek to avoid. Now, we are exhorted to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22) and we must be constantly vigilant and prayerful about our lifestyles. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul urges believers to stand fast in the liberty they have found in Christ, and he reminds them of the “works of the flesh” which, through Christ, they had crucified. But he does not stop there, for there is another side to the coin. In our pursuit of godliness and holiness, there are characteristics we must exhibit, and Paul goes on to list the “fruit of the spirit” - “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”. Although we are to desire all these attributes, very few of us ever get anywhere near to attaining them.
In his little book on this theme, Dr J V Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary,California, shows us how godliness comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot produce this fruit of the spirit by our own efforts, but Christ, via his Spirit, produces it in us when we are saved by faith in him.
Dr Fesko shows how the work of the Holy Spirit is not merely a New Testament phenomenon but is found from the first pages of Genesis onwards. I found this book very helpful and thought-provoking, and I especially enjoyed the final chapter in which the author stresses the importance of the Word of God, the Sacraments and prayer in helping us to grow in godliness and manifest the fruit of the Spirit. He also explores the means of grace in the face of struggles and trials. He concludes by stating, “Rest in the work of Christ, and recognise that it is no longer you who lives but Christ who lives in you. One day, all of God’s people will cross the threshold of the celestial city, the New Jerusalem, and never struggle with the desire to return toEgypt, to the bondage of the law. Until that day, seek Christ in the visible and invisible word, Word and Sacrament, and cry out in prayer that Christ would conform us to his holy and righteous image” Editor
"FIRM IN THE FAITH”
Dennis D Hustedt
(Evangelical Press, 2010, Paperback, 240pp. £8.99)
First published in 2000 but now revised, this is subtitled “An exciting presentation of God’s Word in fifty-two studies for use at home or in church groups” and is based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Although I am now a Presbyterian, I grew up in Anglicanism and,unlike many of my school-friends, I never learned the Shorter Catechism. I regret that I did not have that solid grounding in Reformed truth as a child, for as we grow older, it is much harder to learn “off by heart”, or at least to retain it for long! Indeed, giants in the church such as, for example, John Calvin, Richard Baxter, John Owen and Charles Spurgeon regarded catechising as a very basic pastoral duty, and I think we would do well to return to it in ourSundaySchoolsand similar meetings. Children may not understand much of what they are learning, but it is being stored in the memory for future use.
This book is a very useful modern resource for encouraging group study of 52 of the Catechism’s 107 questions over the course of a year. The author, who most recently served as senior pastor ofDurban Central Baptist Church,South Africa, states that he has “attempted to select questions which maintain the systematic unfolding of biblical truth as it is presented in the catechism”. Studies are divided into four quarters— Christian basics; Jesus is Lord; the moral law; and the means of grace. Each question is dealt with in two pages. Along with each catechism question and answer, there is a memory verse. Seven questions posed by the author require the student to read the relevant Bible passage or verse, and then write down an answer. In group situations, this could be done together or individually with answers compared at the end. In home based study, one question could be answered each day to allow time for deeper reflection. Each study also includes a further thought-provoking challenge, and these are well varied in their nature. Finally, as an aid to teachers and leaders, the book contains a section which provides answers and explanations.
At first glance, I was unsure what age group this book is best suited to, but I feel it could easily be adapted to suit children, young people and adults. I found it stimulating and would recommend it. Editor