Thursday, 26 May 2016

John Bainbridge Webster, 1955-2016

John Bainbridge Webster went to be with his Lord yesterday.  He was only 60 years old. 

I remember how I felt when John Stott died in the summer of 2011.  I felt sad that the church militant had lost a great warrior, that the pilgrim church had lost a great under-shepherd.  I felt that I personally had lost one of my literary mentors.  I feel that way again. 

I regret that I came to Webster's work only relatively recently, but I have been immensely blessed by his writing in that short time.  Webster's work is rigorously intellectual but serves a practical ministerial purpose: to magnify the glory of the triune God through exploring the gospel of Jesus Christ in God's written Word, given through the Holy Spirit for the people of God whom he indwells, the church. 

"Dogmatics is often caricatured as the unholy science that reduces the practices of piety to lifeless propositions. But far from it: dogmatics is that delightful activity in which the Church praises God by ordering its thinking towards the gospel of Christ. Set in the midst of the praise, repentance, witness and service of God's holy people, dogmatics - like all Christian theology - directs the Church's attention to the realities which the gospel declares and attempts responsibility to make those realities a matter of thought."
                                                                                            - Holiness, p. 8 

"The matter to which Christian theology is commanded to attend, and by which it is directed in all its operations, is the presence of the perfect God as it is announced in the gospel and confessed in the praises and testimonies of the communion of saints."
                                                                                            - Confessing God, p. 1

Here is an anecdote posted by Alan Jacobs.  This is my kind of theologian!  This account relates better than any explanation why Webster was just the sort of theologian to combat Liberal and unbelieving theology, something which he did without ever being shrill or alarmist.  He saw error for what it was and wasn't afraid of being looked down upon by ivory-tower types in the academy.  Webster was the right kind of theologian to combat error, not because he focused his efforts on fighting the errors but because he focused on expounding the truth in all its layered magnificence and power.  This he did in a winsomely articulate way, able to tailor his writing to the audience he was addressing.  And from the testimony of others and from my own experience of his writing (regrettably limited thus far), he did this from the ground of a deep, personal and humble faith.

What is our loss is Webster's gain. 

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 
                                                                                           - 1 Corinthians 13:12

Saturday, 14 May 2016

J.C. Ryle - General Reason #3 for Exhorting Young Men

(3)  For another thing, what young men will be, in all probability depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget this.

   Youth is the seed-time of full age, -- the moulding season in the little space of human life, -- the turning-point in the history of man's mind.

   By the shoot, we judge of the tree, -- by the blossoms we judge of the fruit, -- by the spring we judge of the harvest, -- by the morning we judge of the day, -- and by the character of the young man, we may generally judge what he will be when he grows up.

   Young men, be not deceived.  Think not you can, at will, serve lusts and pleasures in your beginning, and then go and serve God with east at your latter end.  Think not you can live with Esau, and then die with Jacob.  It is a mockery to deal with God and your souls in such a fashion.  It is an awful mockery to suppose you can give the flower of your strength to the world and the devil, and then put off the King of kings with the scraps and leavings of your hearts, -- the wreck and remnant of your powers.  It is an awful mockery, and you may find to your cost the thing cannot be done. 

   I daresay you are reckoning on a late repentance.  You know not what you are doing.  You are reckoning without God.  Repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and gifts that he often withholds, when they have been long offered in vain.  I grant you true repentance is never too late, but I warn you at the same time, late repentance is seldom true.  I grant you, one penitent thief was converted in his last hours, that no man might despair; but I warn you, only one was converted, that no man might presume.  I grant you it is written, Jesus is 'able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him' (Heb. 7:25).  But I warn you, it is also written by the same Spirit, 'Because I have called, and ye refused, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh' (Prov. 1:224, 26).

   Believe me, you will find it no easy matter to turn to God just when you please.  It is a true saying of good Archbishop Leighton: 'The way of sin is down hill; a man cannot stop when he would.'  Holy desires and serious convictions are not like the servants of the centurion, ready to come and go at your desire (Matt. 8:5); rather are they like the unicorn in Job, -- they will not obey your voice, nor attend to your bidding (Job 39:9).  It was said of a famous general of old, when he could have taken the city he warred against, he would not, and by and by when he would, he could not.  Beware, lest the same kind of event befall you in the matter of eternal life.

   Why do I say all this?  I say it because of the force of habit.  I say it because experience tells me that people's hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young.  Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old.  Habits have long roots.  Sin once allowed to nestle in your bosom, will not be turned out at your bidding.  Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are threefold cords not easily broken.  Well says the prophet, 'Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil' (Jer. 13:23).  Habits are like stones rolling down hill, -- the further they roll, the faster and more ungovernable is their course.  Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age.  A boy may bend an oak, when it is a sapling, -- a hundred men cannot root it up, when it is a full-grown tree.  A child can wade over the Thames at its fountain-head, -- the largest ship in the world can float in it when it gets near the sea.  So it is with habits: the older the stronger, -- the longer they have held possession, the harder they will be to cast out.  They grow with our growth, and strengthen with our strength.  Custom is the nurse of sin.  Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of our conscience, and increases our evil inclination. 

   Young men, you may fancy I am laying too much stress on this point.  If you had seen old men, as I have done, on the brink of the grave, feelingless, seared, callous, dead, cold, hard as the nether mill-stone, -- you would not think so.  Believe me, you cannot stand still in the affairs of your souls.  Habits of good or evil are daily strengthening in your hearts.  Every day you are either getting nearer to God, or further off.  Every year that you continue impenitent, the wall of division between you and heaven becomes higher and thicker, and the gulf to be crossed deeper and broader.  Oh, dread the hardening effect of constant lingering in sin!  Now is the accepted time.  See that your flight be not in the winter of your days.  If you seek not the Lord when young, the strength of habit is such that your will probably never seek him at all. 

   I fear this, and therefore I exhort you.

                          - J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men, Banner of Truth Trust, p. 9-12