Friday, 8 May 2009
Sometimes we imagine that preachers with a special calling will have significant success. Isaiah had a very impressive calling by God to function as a prophet and its details are recorded in Isaiah 6. Yet God informed Isaiah that he would not see wide acceptance of his ministry (Isa. 6:9-13); instead only a few would listen to what he had to say, and the remainder would become increasingly blind in a spiritual sense. Isaiah had been called to serve God during a time when the Lord was about to bring judgement on Judah because of their sins, a judgement that was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity.
Second, Isaiah was aware, along with other prophets, that he was in fact serving a future generation of believers who would appreciate his message; Peter states specifically that God revealed this aspect to the prophets (1 Pet. 1:10-12), surely an encouragement that their work would not be in vain.
Third, Isaiah appreciated the company of his colleagues in his calling (note the plural pronoun ‘our’); in the schools of the prophets there were those who shared his outlook. To that company can be added all other proclaimers of the good news; indeed Paul cites this verse in Romans 10:16 when he explains various features of true preaching.
Although Isaiah had received a divine commission that stressed God’s judgement, the prophet was not a stoic, unaffected by the rejection of his message by his listeners. He felt in his heart the disappointment of such few converts, he longed for his listeners to receive God’s mercy, and he regretted how little success he saw. Of course, he was faithful and he will receive God’s commendation for serving in this way. Yet we can ask an important question: ‘Who is there who can understand the prophet’s pain?’ One obvious answer is that his fellow prophets would. Yet we can move beyond them to later times.
This combination of awareness of divine judgement and powerful concern for those facing it is also seen in the heart concern displayed by the apostle Paul for his own people, the Jews: ‘I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:1-3). It would have been easy for Paul to have responded by saying his opponents deserved to receive divine judgement or that their fate was all part of God’s plan. Both answers are true, but neither of them is appropriate. It is not a godly attitude to be indifferent concerning the state of the lost.
Even more wonderful is the fact that Jesus, the one who commissioned Isaiah in Isaiah 6, would also experience this strange spiritual dilemma. Recall his response concerning Jerusalem, a city which he knew would yet receive divine judgement: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”’ (Luke 13:34-35). The facts that they had rejected God’s servants and experience divine judgement did not prevent the Saviour from desiring that his contemporaries would receive spiritual blessing.
Like Isaiah, we who preach can have similar spiritual comforts and experiences.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
- The love for, and earnest perusal of the Scriptures everywhere, and among all classes -- men, women, children. The Bible is undoubtedly the book of Korea.
- Their wonderful observance of the Lord's Day. All Christians close their shops, and abstain from every kind of work--like Scotland in the old days.
- The remarkable way in which the Koreans give to God's work. Almost all the churches are built with Korean money, and the pastors and workers are similarly supported. This is especially true of the Presbyterian church.
- The personal service and desire to spread the Gospel among the people. Many of the leaders, who in the early days were taken up with Evangelistic work, are now called upon to teach, and instruct, and train workers.
- The expectation and hope (especially in the Presbyterian Church) of the coming of the Lord. The majority of the missionaries also in the country teach it plainly to the people.
Wilkes also pointed out the harmony and love that existed in the church in Korea even although there was a variety of doctrinal views and national backgrounds. In addition, at that time, the destructive and devastating effects of higher criticism had not yet appeared in the church in Korea.
My first response to Wilkes' description was a sense of amazement. But a couple of seconds later I realised that his description was of normal, biblical church life. I'm still amazed and still looking for biblical normality.
As with many conferences this year the main focus was on the life and ministry of John Calvin. I think all the delegates knew he was a great man of God, and no doubt he has contributed to their Christian understanding through his varied writings.
Of course, attending a conference has its obligatory good intentions. Mine at the moment is to try and read Calvin’s commentaries over the next few months (I have consulted some of them already when preaching through Bible books). They have been looking down at me from my bookshelves for several years now. They are also on my computers. I have a plan on how to proceed (twenty or so pages a day), but as usual time will tell.