Rev. Christopher MacRae
Kilmallie Free Church Manse
Phone: 01397 704434
Registered Scottish Charity SC038140
This project is being part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Highland Leader 2007 - 2013 programme
Rev Malcolm Maclean
Highland Harvester is the title of a book
written by George Mitchell which was
published in February 2013 and charts the
life, times and legacy of Peter Grant (1783-
1867). He is known in the Scottish
Highlands as ‘Peter Grant of the Songs’,
and is arguably the most influential Gaelic
hymn-writer of the nineteenth century.
His collection of hymns ran to twenty
editions. Professor Donald Meek writes of them: ‘Grant’s hymns will remain forever as an integral part of the Gaelic spiritual heritage of the mainland Highlands, the Hebrides and areas far beyond, where Gaelic speakers have settled.’ Peter Grant was a powerful Gospel preacher, the second pastor of Grantown-on-Spey Baptist Church, where he served for forty-one years. He worked on his farm, Ballenta, which his family has worked for three centuries, and took no stipend from the church for years. He preached at least five times a week and usually spent a few weeks each summer as an itinerant preacher. The small Baptist Church in Grantown grew to 292 members and had several outreach Sunday Schools and preaching stations in the Grantown area. The Lord visited the community in gracious waves of revival during Grant's ministry, with two to three hundred people attending each of two midweek prayer meetings. Up to 1200 people attended the baptismal services he conducted in the River Spey. Peter had no English until he was thirteen years old, and was succeeded in the pastorate by his son William, who also spoke Gaelic. William himself ministered to many of the 2000 or so navvies who camped in the area during the building of the Highland Railway. George Mitchell obtained many of the papers on which he researched this remarkable Highland revival from Yvonne, the widow of John Fisher of Inverness, and Dr Ian Grant (Peter’s great-great-grandson) writes: ‘I think George Mitchell has captured the essence of Peter Grant in all his character.’ The book reveals Peter’s warmth in his family letters – he had ten children and seventy grandchildren – and the analysis and extracts from his preaching stir the heart. We capture the spirit of a remarkable preacher, whose sole resources for many years were a Bible and a small English dictionary! The book also illustrates the global reach of this Highland ministry. Peter Grant lived through a fascinating kaleidoscope of social, historical and theological changes. These included the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellions, the control of the Moderates within the national church, the missions of the Haldane brothers, the Agrarian Revolution, the Highland Clearances, the Hungry Forties, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Disruption of 1843. Eric Alexander writes: ‘I knew almost nothing of Peter Grant before reading this excellent book. May the book be widely used to create a longing for true revival in the church in the twenty-first century!’
The Renewed Pastor (2012), edited by Melvin Tinker, Mentor
This volume is a collection of essays on pastoral concerns published in honour of Philip Hacking, a leading Anglican evangelical vicar, who served in Fulwood in Sheffield for almost three decades before retiring in 1997. He was well-known for his conference ministry, including his involvement in the Keswick Convention. The twelve essays explore different aspects of pastoral ministry and invite pastors to review crucial areas of Christian service in their ministries. Melvin Tinker begins with a chapter on the pastor and the Word of God in which he deals with how a pastor uses the Bible to feed his own soul and to feed his congregation in corporate and individual ways. Much of this chapter is based on Richard Baxter’s classic book, The Reformed Pastor. It is inevitable that a pastor must have fresh food for his own soul and for those who have to listen to him. The next chapter is by Peter Lewis and he considers the prayer life of the pastor. Most pastors would admit that they have a real struggle with prayer and this reviewer was encouraged by reading that even Andrew Bonar, who is generally regarded as having excelled in this discipline, confessed that he never went to prayer without a struggle with the flesh. Lewis mentions some helpful practices connected to personal prayer, both from his own methods and from the writings of others. Among other matters he looks at some hindrances to prayer, the benefits of Trinitarian prayer, and ways of persisting in prayer. Steve Timmis and Tim Chester discuss the place of theology in the life of a pastor. He needs to reflect theologically on contemporary issues and also to protect his congregation from false ideas. Yet I found most helpful the comment that he needs to remember that theology in pastoral situations is usually straightforward – those with whom he will interact are sinners needing the grace of the Saviour, and that is not complicated theology. The fourth chapter is by Peter Adam and he focuses on the pastor as a preacher. His focus is not on preparing sermons but preparing preachers, both on a preacher individually and on how he trains others for future ministry. After all, an individual can prepare a decent sermon but fail to prepare himself for preaching it. He mentions fifteen aspects of necessary preparation from Paul’s instructions to Timothy, but, as you can imagine, there is not space here to list them, so you will need to get a copy of the book to find out what they are. Three chapters look at aspects of pastoral ministry that have some overlap. Paul Williams explains how a pastor can engage in and organise evangelism in his congregation; Frank Retief writes about aspects of church planting he met with through his own congregation in South Africa; and David Holloway gives some thought to church growth, especially within an Anglican context. Three other chapters give interesting insights into areas of ministry which will not involve every pastor. John Risbridger gives details about ministering to students out of his experience as pastor of a church in a university city, John Stevens looks at gospel partnerships across denominations, and Gerald Bray reflects on being an evangelical in the Anglican church (which will help those on the outside understand what it is like to be an evangelical pastor in a mixed denomination). Two chapters that are very helpful are one by Don Carson on the pastor leading public worship and one by J. I. Packer on the pastor and infant baptism. Carson works his way through twelve features of biblical worship, and inevitably a pastor must ask himself if he is helping or hindering those features. Packer deals succinctly with a topic that sometimes Presbyterian pastors are embarrassed about, although I cannot see why. After all, as Packer makes clear, infant baptism is an obvious biblical practice. This volume covers a great deal of ground. Obviously it does not deal with each topic in great depth; for that to happen, we would need twelve books and not just twelve chapters. The book does not say anything new, but it does bring us back to what is basic in pastoral ministry. It certainly reminded me of my responsibilities and would do the same for any who will read it.
Waiting for the lion to roar
One of the thrills of Christian ministry is to be able to speak about God. Would-be preachers go off to Bible College and discover lots of interesting details about him (his attributes) and his purposes. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that usually people emerge from such places confident that they are now equipped to define God and his ways.
I have spent the last few weeks musing about Hosea’s call to preach. In some ways, he lived in a period very like our own. The commandments of God were being ignored, a great deal of changes were taking place in society, and uncertainty about the future of God’s visible kingdom was on people’s minds, whether or not they were for it or against it.
Hosea was called by God to preach to such people and discovered that doing so was not very easy. After all, his explanation of divine ways extended literally to how his wife was. It must have been hard for Hosea to say to his neighbours, ‘You are just like my wife.’ Even harder to say to them, ‘I am just like God in this regard – he is patient towards you, expressing costly love, and willing to restoring permanently unworthy persons.’ Yet as we think about what God called Hosea to do with his unfaithful wife, we see a vivid picture of God’s grace.
Hosea’s message about God had other emphases as well. In chapter 5, God tells Hosea to inform the people regarding their future and in what ways they can expect the Lord’s presence. Surprisingly, God likens himself to a moth and to dry rot (v. 12)! I don’t think I was taught that in theology classes.
Of course, the illustrations depict destruction, slow gradual destruction. A moth begins to destroy a garment and eventually it is full of holes. Dry rot begins to destroy wood and eventually the house falls down. They illustrate an active ongoing presence of God, but a presence that is very disturbing.
Some may respond by denying that God would behave in such a way today. After all, we assume that he is pleased with what is linked to him. But as we look at the visible church, does it reveal evidence that a moth has been at work and that dry rot is having its effects? If it does, then God may be at work – slowly.
Hosea the preacher was called to tell his people, ‘This is God at work.’ Yet they did not listen, and turned instead to Assyria for help with their problems (v. 13). In response, God spoke again through Hosea and this time likened himself to a lion, to a young lion on the prowl for prey, with the prey being his people (v. 14). A moth and dry rot are gradual, giving time for Israel to respond and mend their ways, but a lion? The lion did catch his prey, and they went away into captivity in Assyria. But Hosea would say, ‘Assyria (if he knew that was whom God would use) will only be the equivalent of the lion’s teeth. God, the God you rejected, will do it.’
It was sad enough for Hosea to see holes and dry rot. But he had to live out his preaching ministry waiting for the lion to roar. So he would have been thankful he could still call the people to repent (v. 15), which is what preachers are privileged to do today in our society.
Derek Tidball (2011), Preacher, Keep Yourself from Idols, IVP, 200pp.
This book is based on a set of lectures given by Derek Tidball, former Principal of London School of Theology and a well-known preacher in churches and at conferences. The lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2010.
The book begins with an introduction in which the author briefly looks at the nature of idolatry. Aware that some may be surprised by his choice of topic, he asks if the two words 'preacher' and 'idolatry' go together like snowman and sauna. If idolatry has the same effect on a preacher as a sauna will have on a snowman, then the preacher should be concerned about it. The author reminds us that what may be an idol to one preacher may not be to another, and he also notes that what may not be an idol at one time may become one later on. His book then contains four sections, each divided into chapters. The first section is concerned with Idols of the Self and in it the author gives a chapter each to the pulpit, to the position of authority, and to popularity. Each comes from God, but each can become an idol for the preacher. Preaching, it should be remembered, is not the only way by which God communicates to his people (in this chapter he takes issue with Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others who seem to stress that preaching is the primary way to deal with spiritual issues). And, after all, a preacher at one level is only an ordinary Christian with a specific spiritual gift. While a preacher speaks with authority when he declares the meaning of scripture, it is obvious that it is easy to abuse such power. The author mentions several ways by which this is done, and I could have put a tick beside some. They include using the pulpit to preach at people who disagree with the preacher, to be dogmatic about minor, disputed areas, to go beyond what God has required, and to use the pulpit to comment on issues that are not the remit of a preacher. Concerning popularity, Tidball leans heavily on the insights of Chrysostom, the early church father, and gives seven responses to it. After all, a preacher usually cannot help becoming popular, but he can help how he responds to it. Each of the responses is wise and should be adopted by popular preachers. If a preacher is popular, he should accept it as a gift from God. If he is not popular, he should not seek it. A preacher should not be fooled by popularity and assume that such praise is an accurate assessment of his sermons. He should develop a healthy independence from people's opinions (which is not the same as indifference). And he should be aware that the basis on which people praise is often faulty (Chrysostom realised that people normally listen for pleasure, not profit). Popularity should never prevent a preacher from telling the truth. In any case, some people can be fickle and will soon move on to support another preacher. Of course, the most important response to popularity is to remember the Day of Account when Jesus will give the final and correct assessment of what went on. The second section is concerned with four Idols of the Age: success, entertainment, novelty and secularisation. We should look for success, says the author, because faithfulness usually leads to fruitfulness. It is normal for gospel churches to grow. Yet growth for the sake of growth is dangerous because it can be attained without solid preaching, and that is idolatry. It is inevitable that entertainment can be an idol for a preacher because it marks our society and is almost impossible to avoid. The implication for a preacher is that his sermon should not be boring, and why should it since he is speaking about the most exciting story ever told! Tidball points out that the only benefit that can come from a boring sermon is patience! Instead our preaching, he says, should be as riveting as our gifts allow. Nevertheless a desire to entertain can be part of a person's personality and if unchecked will spoil preachers. Tidball cites Haddon Robinson's complaint, 'Such sermons hold people's interest but give them no sense of the eternal.' The search for novelty is often an idol, especially if preachers look for a new insight in a verse in order to get praised for it by sermon-tasters. Instead of that kind of novelty, preachers should be looking for fresh ways to present old truths that will illuminate the passage for their hearers. He suggests we listen to the comment, 'Anyone who simply sets forth the text and gives its meaning distinctly will be accused of freshness.' Secularisation may seem an unlikely idol for a preacher, but it can become so because it has affected church life to some extent. We now live in a society marked by pluralism and relativism and they can influence the way we preach. The third section is about two Idols of the Task: oratory and immediacy. The danger of oratory is a dependence on vocal techniques and the danger of immediacy is to judge a sermon only by its instant effectiveness (calling for a response). Obviously both can be helpful, but clearly both can become idols. The final section is concerned with three Idols of the Ministry: professionalism, busyness and familiarity. One way to deal with professionalism is to remember that all ministry is a relationship before it is a task. Busyness, as we all know, is one of the most effective ways of doing nothing. And it can prevent a preacher having sufficient time to prepare. Familiarity too has its effects and we can easily think of what some of them are. The author says at the beginning of the book that his aim is not to condemn but to alert preachers to subtle aspects of their work that can turn into idols. He manages to do this. As he indicated, every preacher does not have the same idols. Yet it would be very surprising if one or two of the nasties he deals with are not present in the lives of our preachers. If you are a preacher, it would be a pity if you decided not to buy the book because you imagine most chapters might not concern you. After all, one idol is more than enough!
Privilege of prayer
In every place, and at all times, we may come into His presence. In the name of Jesus we appear before His throne of grace, and He beholds us in Him, and loves us as His children. Though we cannot express in words what our souls desire and long for, we know that He interprets and hears the language of our heart. To Him we may confide what we could intrust to no human friend; where all earthly help is of no avail, we can ask His almighty succour. The thoughts and doubts which rise within us we can spread out before Him, to sift, to correct, to change them; the sorrow that lies too deep for human ministry we can bring to Love, omnipotent and all-compassionate. And we know that we can never weary Him with our approach, and that not one thought or petition will be overlooked by Him; all good that we ask will be granted abundantly, and with overflowing and tender mercies.
And this is not all. Had we no petitions to offer, no gifts, no consolations, no deliverances to ask, what a privilege is prayer, were it merely to stand before the Lord, to be in the presence of the Holy and Blessed One, to behold with open face His glory, and to know that He sees and loves us, and that, through the blood of Christ, we have been brought into the circle of eternal life – one with all angels and saints! ’ (Adolph Saphir , The Open Secret, John F. Shaw, pp. 59-60).
A sad summary of life
Remember that man’s life does not consist in what he has, but in what he is. Serve Jesus and the church. Oh, let not the best years of your life be years in which you have little communion with God, and in which you do little for Christ! ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ Let not your biography be summed up: ‘He turned to God in his youth, he then became lukewarm, being engrossed in the cares and the business and the social demands of the world, and a short time before his death he saw his mistake, and felt that one thing was needful. For years his spiritual life was barely sustained by the prayers of friends and the weekly services of the sanctuary. He might have been a pillar in the church, but he was only a weight.’ This be far from you. Oh, serve the Lord with gladness, be strong, quit yourselves like men, and abound in the work of the Lord. ‘Draw nigh to God’ (Adolph Saphir).
Adolph Saphir on the Song of Solomon
In the Song of Songs we may read a description of the soul’s varying experience. That Song does not describe the marriage of the Lamb. The Bride is sometimes in Jerusalem, then in the mount of Lebanon; now and at night-time wandering in the street, now in the wilderness, now in the garden, now in the fields, now in the house. Sometimes she is left desolate; sometimes she seeks and does not find; she calls, and He does not answer. Then again she rejoices because she hears the voice of the Beloved, and is assured of His never-changing faithfulness. At times she is deeply conscious of her unworthiness, and takes to heart the bitter reproaches of the watchmen; at other times the loyal spirit bursts forth in exultation, and she is persuaded that she is the chosen one, beautiful in His sight. The Song of Solomon describes, therefore, the experience of the pilgrim state; and though there are in this book Old Testament aspects which perhaps will be fully understood only when Israel is converted and restored, and though since the Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Ghost we have received deeper and fuller disclosures, yet is this Song a most precious and fragrant divinely-inspired commentary on this word: ‘Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you’ (Adolph Saphir , The Open Secret, John F. Shaw, p 25).
Elijah, the preacher
In 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah appeared suddenly to Ahab, passed on the Lord’s message and then went and lived in another obscure place. Yet his short message has lessons for us as preachers. The first is Elijah’s understanding of who the Lord is.
It is clear from Elijah’s opening words that he knew that his God was alive and aware of what was going on. The prophet knew that his God was not like the inert gods of the pagans. But he also knew that his God was not like the impressions that were being given about him in the northern kingdom of Israel at that time. The rulers of Israel for several decades had imagined that they could manipulate God and his ways for their own ends. They had their own reasons for erecting and supporting alternative places of worship in Dan and in Bethel. Yet all they were doing was demeaning the authority of the living God and their actions revealed that they were indifferent to what he regarded as important. All this flowed from the fact that they did not believe he was alive.
Second, Elijah recognised that he was accountable to God. We can see this outlook in the prophet’s words, ‘Before whom I stand.’ We are not told where Elijah was when said this – he may have met Ahab in a royal dwelling or he may have met him in an open space. The one thing that is clear is that Elijah did not worry too much about being in the presence of an earthly king. Standing includes the idea of showing great respect and Elijah recognised that he was accountable for his actions. So he never forgot that he was in the presence of God, no matter who else was in the room.
This self-description by the prophet also highlights the sense of authenticity that he had. Elijah knew he was different from the false prophets, whether of Baal or any other god. He had stood and heard more than once the Lord’s call to him to serve in particular ways, and this awareness made him brave in his actions. He had no doubts about the role God had mapped out for him.
There is another element that this self-description reveals about Elijah and that is his consciousness of the authority he had as the Lord’s messenger. The Lord had given him a message to say, and a difficult message at that, and this was sufficient authority for Elijah. When a person senses this authority he will speak to anyone, even if the message from God is threatening, as it was here.
Third, his message from God confronted the sins of the time. It is obvious that Elijah had a message of judgement, but we can ask, ‘Why was there a particular form of judgement involving the dew and the rain?’ The answer is that the message about Baal claimed that he was in charge of the seasons, that he was able to control the elements in order to give good harvests. We can see how the prophet’s short message spoke directly to the situation facing the people of Israel. As Elijah was later to ask them, the choice was between Baal and its worldview and Yahweh and his covenant commitments. God’s message always confronts contemporary culture – that was the case in Elijah’s day and it is the same today. The promised judgement, passed on by Elijah, showed that Yahweh was mighty and Baal was non-existent. We must do the same. There is little point in preaching about the threats of a century ago (unless they are still here). We have to be relevant when calling people to repentance.
November 2012 editorial in the Record of the Free Church of Scotland
This month saw the annual Day of Remembrance for those who gave their lives in defence of our nation. It is very appropriate that we show our gratitude for their sacrifices. Yet although they gave their lives we know that they have no influence over the choices and directions of subsequent generations in their nation. In a sense, apart from their example of giving their all, their contribution ceased when they gave their lives. Nevertheless we have an obligation to think about the values that caused them to make the ultimate sacrifice and what it was that they were fighting for.
Their example speaks to us. While we may not be called upon to give our lives in battle we should always be ready to defend the values that we hold dear. Because the fact is, our country is fast losing its Christian heritage and if we don’t give our all it will be gone. Of course, it might be gone even if we give our all, but it is better to lose it after attempting to keep it than losing it without doing anything. After all, we know that in order for evil to triumph it only requires that good people do nothing.
What can we do? Pray is the most important response and it demands participation. We can pray individually at any time, yet it is obvious that united prayer is more likely to be heard. It is surprising, at least to me, how little prayer is being arranged, despite the obvious rapid departure of our country from its Christian heritage. We are in danger of sleep walking into the night!
Why can’t our congregations meet once a week for focussed prayer about the issues that mark our national decline? I know most have short times of prayer attached to our midweek meetings, but such occasions cannot really be called prayer meetings. If we have not got the time to meet to pray about our national situation, there is something very wrong with our priorities.
Of course, we must do more than pray, but we cannot do more until we pray. What else can we do? That is up to you (and me)! Anyone of us can provide a list of things we should do. I suspect each of us already knows a couple of responses we can make. The one thing we cannot do is to wait for someone else to do something.
The people we recalled on Remembrance Sunday are recalled with admiration and affection. Hopefully, future generations of the Christian church will have the same memories of us when they look back to how we responded to our current crisis!
Christ the Heart of Heaven
This poem was written by Anne Ross Cousin, the author of The Sands of Time are Sinking, which was based on sayings of Samuel Rutherford. She was the wife of William Cousin, a Free Church minister in the Scottish Borders in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Andrew Bonar, in his Diary, mentions having a sweet prayer meeting with him. I have been reading her volume of poems called Immanuel's Land and Other Pieces, and one can see the influence of Rutherford in some of them. In it she has several poems describing heaven. This particular poem helped me today as I was thinking about heaven.
The harps of gold are ringing
across the crystal sea;
A gentle breath is bringing
their echoes down to me.
Now steals their soft outpouring,
now swells their clear acclaim;
Throughout, the deep adoring
of One Beloved Name.
Christ is the Heart of Heaven,
The theme of all the throng;
If Christ was not in heaven,
All silent were the song.
The sun of love is beamingto dry the dew of tears;
Love’s golden sun, outstreaming
to bless the cloudless years.
Its shining beauty brightens
the summer land above;
With warm sweet smile it lightens –
That golden Sun of Love!
Christ is the Heart of Heaven,
Its glory and its light;
If Christ were not in heaven,
Its noonday were as night.
Each joy in heaven bearethlife’s freest bloom and breath;
Yet, won by blood, it weareth
the costliness of death.
From grief doth gladness borrow
the garland of the blest;
The cross of bleeding sorrow
endears the crowned rest.
Christ is the Heart of Heaven,
Triumphant now He stands,
The Sceptred Man in heaven,
With nail-prints in His hands.
O dower of passing sweetness!O cup filled to the brim!
O perfect, pure completeness
that saints possess in Him!
O sweet unwearying story,
Sung in each various tone!
And O fair feast of glory,
that tastes of love alone!
Christ is the Heart of Heaven,
Its fulness and its bliss!
No banquet, e’en in heaven,
For hungering souls, like this!