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First word


Five minutes with Andy Young


Grace-based Forgiveness Philemon v1-7


The Law and the Gospel. Part three: How to read God’s Law


A loyal subject Daniel 6:6-16


Pleasing God by Leading Lives of Holiness & Love 1 T hessalonians 4:1-12


From the churches


Praise & Prayer


Bookshop reviews


Best of the blogs

FIRST WORD Cast your mind back to the middle of May and you will remember


Cast your mind back to the middle of May and you will remember that the news was filled with wall to wall coverage of the royal wedding as the world tuned in to watch the marriage service of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. A handsome prince, a beautiful bride, a stunning dress and glorious sunshine; it was one of the most majestic weddings we will ever see!

P salm 45 describes to us another royal wedding, perhaps that of King Solomon and the daughter

of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. The psalmist, a privileged ‘guest’ at this grand occasion, describes to us all that took place. In the first half of the psalm he points us to the glory of the King. He is a gracious King, whose words are laced with graciousness towards his people (v2). He is a victorious King, defeating all of his, his people’s and God’s enemies (v3-4). He is a righteous King, ruling according to God’s perfect will and standards (v4). He is an anointed King, chosen and empowered by God for his regal office (v7). He is even described as an eternal King, whose reign will be forever (v6, 7). Even more surprisingly, he is described as a divine King, who brings the rule of God on earth (v6). What a King!

In the second half of the psalm, the psalmist describes for us the blessedness of the bride. She has responded to the gracious invitation of the King, to come to him and to bow before him as her Lord, and to live within the love, care and provision of the glorious King (v10- 12). In turn, she has now been beautified, ready to be presented to her bridegroom in great joy (v13-15). Now, she can look ahead to the glorious future, when her sons will reign throughout the earth, and all nations will praise her bridegroom King, forevermore (v16-17).

What a blessed and beautiful bride! Of course, we understand that this psalm points us beyond the wedding of any of the Old Testament Kings of Israel or Judah. Like an over-sized garment, this psalm doesn’t ‘fit’ Solomon properly. It is several sizes too large for him! Solomon’s glory falls short of the glory of the eternal and divine King described in the psalm. The only King it fits, truly, is our Lord Jesus, who is himself the gracious, victorious, righteous, anointed, eternal and divine King. And how blessed are we, his bride the church, for whom he laid down his life! We are those who have responded to the gracious invitation of the King, and have come to him and bowed before him as Lord. Even now, we are being changed bit by bit, and will one day be presented before our King holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5v27). Then, our joy will be complete. And we can look ahead to the glorious future, when we will reign with him, and all nations will praise him forevermore.

Five minutes with…

Andy Young


In this short interview we catch up with Andy Young of the EPCEW, who is in the process of planting a new church in Oxford.

Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today. Prior to moving to Oxford you were minister of Naunton Lane EPC in Cheltenham for ten years. Can you tell us a bit about that church?

First I want to thank you for the opportunity to tell you about the new church plant in Oxford. I really appreciate the interest and prayers of God’s people for this work and have been learning in a new way how important the support of the wider church is in the life of the church, and especially in church planting.

Naunton Lane EPC is in Cheltenham and is a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. It was planted by an American Minister called Tim Horn in 2002. In 2008 he returned to the USA and, after a summer of interning at the church, they called me as their new Minister. Over the last ten years God has wonderfully blessed us. We now have our own building and our numbers have grown from approx. 25-30 to 75+. We are in the middle of some building renovations, which are needed partly to accommodate the growing congregation. Whilst we would love to have more of an impact for the gospel in Cheltenham we thank God that the church enjoys a significant level of unity and joy in Christ.

You have recently moved to Oxford in order to lead a new church plant there. Can you tell us why Oxford, in particular? What led you to that city?

With two universities, and thousands of tourists, Oxford is a strategic place to plant a church. In addition, whilst there are


already some gospel-preaching churches in Oxford, there is nothing distinctly Reformed and confessional. With this in mind the EPCEW have been looking to plant a

church in Oxford for several years, but until recently the timing wasn’t right. In 2016 we began a monthly meeting in Oxford called ‘Re:Con’ which stands for ‘Reformed Confessions Study Group’. This was an attempt to push the door in Oxford and seek to get a core group together. It became clear by mid-2017 that the need was great, people were interested and the time was ripe. In all of this I began to wrestle with whether or not

I should be the man to lead the work. After several months

of prayer and seeking the wisdom of godly men, I became convinced that I should put myself forward to lead this church plant. Since then the Lord has wonderfully opened the door in

several remarkable ways, all of which have confirmed that this

is his work and his leading.

As a new church in Oxford, how have you been received by other churches there?

I really appreciate this question because it has been something

I have really wrestled with. Whilst I believe Oxford, and

many other cities for that matter, need a confessional and Presbyterian church, I don’t think we should go about planting churches as if we were the only Christians alive. As I have already said, there are existing gospel preaching churches in

Oxford and I am keen to work with them. To that end I have

met with several church leaders in Oxford to tell them what I am doing and to try and foster gospel unity with them. Their welcome has been warm. One minister said to me: “Andy, there are gospel churches in Oxford, but we need more. So it

is great to have you here.”

How are you going about getting a church plant started? What process does that involve?

Until I moved to Oxford to plant a church I thought there was only one way to plant a church – pray, preach and pastor.

It seems that there is a variety of ‘philosophies’ out there.

One person asked me what ‘stage’ I was at in planting a church and I simply replied – the “planting one”! So the short answer to your question is I believe you plant a church in the same way as you grow a church that is already established, and that is with God’s help and through the means of grace. Practically it means we are holding regular Bible studies and prayer meetings over the next few months, and then we plan to start morning and evening worship services in September.

There are a few specifics I would emphasise as well. The first

is prayer. There is something about church planting – when

you have no building, no people, and no money - that really drives you to your knees. It exposes in a visceral way what we always know to be true, but we easily forget: that unless

the Lord builds the house our labour is in vain. Church planting

is as much about prayer as anything – crying out to Christ to

build his church for his glory, and bringing all our needs to the throne of grace on a daily basis.

Another thing to emphasise is advertising. I am instinctively

a technological rebel. I don’t like social media and I am not

very good at using it. However, I am learning the importance of it in church planting. The reality is that more people are ‘Googled’ into churches today than by any other means. So having a good website and utilising Facebook, Youtube etc. is imperative. Just this last week two people contacted me about the church plant and their first introduction to the church was via our website.

What are some of the biggest challenges to overcome when planting a church?

The biggest challenge for me was wrestling with God’s calling to Oxford and facing the prospect of leaving Naunton Lane EPC. I think once you know God is with you and opening the door, then you can face almost anything, so until that was made clear I experienced a good dose of doubt and inner turmoil.

Another challenge has been the uncertainty. Not knowing where you are going to live. Not knowing where the church services will be held. Not knowing who will come to the services. Not knowing if there will be enough money to fund everything. Moving from a growing, self-funding and self- governing church, to the uncertainty of church planting has and continues to be really hard. And this leads to a deeper

challenge, and that is the reality of failure. This is something

I have contended with as I have thought through coming

to Oxford. Whilst I am convinced God has led us here, the church plant may yet fail. In a few years time the doors may

close. This has challenged my pride and made me confront whether or not I am willing to give up everything – including a successful church plant – for Christ. Needless to say I am not intending to fail. I am expectantly praying for God to bless and establish a new church in Oxford. Yet at the same time the uncertainty of church planting makes you face up to the possibility of failure, and this itself is humbling.

What are some of the encouragements you have experienced, so far?

The greatest encouragement has been the clear leading of God. In a remarkable providence a ‘launch-fund’ was made available for this new church plant. Whilst there are still financial needs into the future, this provision has enabled my family and me to move to Oxford and start things here. The timing and provision of this fund was nothing other than God’s clear leading.

Other encouragements have come from people in and around Oxford. One example was when a lady phoned me up recently. She had come across our website and had been struggling with a lack of teaching in the churches she had tried out. She asked if my theology was anything like R.C. Sproul and Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones because she had been listening to their sermons and wanted to find a church similar to what they were teaching. Examples such as this highlight the clear need there is in and around Oxford, and of how God is as work.

How can we, as your brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland, be praying for you and supporting you – individually, and as a church - as you seek to serve Christ in Oxford?

Thank you again for your interest and support. Please do pray for the new work in Oxford. Pray specifically for two things: first that the Lord would continue to gather a core group who are committed to the church plant. I am so thankful for the handful of people who are already involved, but we need more. Pray that people would move into Oxford, would find out about us and get in touch and involved. Pray secondly for a place for us to hold our worship services in from September. This is known to be an area of difficulty in Oxford so please do cry out that God would go ahead of us and open doors for us so we can find somewhere to worship in.

One final thing you and your readers can do is to go on Oxford EPC Facebook page and ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘follow’ it. This is a small thing, but it can be helpful in letting people know we are here.

Please do check out the website at and Facebook page at

Philemon v8-20

Grace-based Forgiveness

I n the first article in this series, we saw how the apostle Paul began his short letter to his friend Philemon by reminding him that, by God’s grace, Philemon had been drawn into grace- based fellowship with other believers. In this present article, we will consider the main body of teaching in the letter; why, in particular, has Paul decided to sit down and pen an epistle to Philemon?

In order to answer that question, we need to understand first of all some of the background to the letter

Philemon, being apparently a fairly successful businessman, had at least one servant working for him in his household. There might have been more, but we know of at least one, who was a man called Onesimus. The name Onesimus actually means “useful or beneficial”, which is a fairly suitable name for a servant!

However, this Onesimus was not a particularly useful servant. In fact, quite the opposite. He was useless, Paul says, making a joke of his name in verse 11. Some time before Paul wrote this letter, Onesimus stole some things from Philemon (perhaps some money, perhaps some goods, we don’t know what exactly), and then ran away with whatever he had stolen. He decided to go to the bright lights of Rome, to start a new life there.

However, in Rome things were to change, because who should be in Rome but the apostle Paul?! Remember how Philemon’s paths had crossed


with Paul’s in Ephesus? Well now, as God would have it, Onesimus’ paths crossed with Paul’s in Rome. Again, we don’t know how, but the two ended up meeting in Rome, and just as Paul had told the gospel to Philemon in Ephesus and led him to Christ, Paul now tells the gospel to Onesimus in Rome, and leads him to Christ as well. That’s what Paul is referring to in verse 10, where he refers to Onesimus as “my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” Onesimus became another one of Paul’s ‘spiritual children.’

However, as soon as Onesimus was converted, that led to a unique pastoral situation. Because the question is, what does Paul do, now, with Onesimus? On the one hand, does he keep him there, in Rome, with him? To Paul, that sounds like a great idea. Remember, Paul is under house arrest, and so he can’t travel around freely. So, how about Onesimus becoming his fellow worker for the gospel in Rome? Onesimus could be involved in areas of ministry that Paul was unable to engage in. However, the problem with that option would be that Paul’s co-worker would be a runaway thief, who was running away from another Christian. It would undermine Paul’s fellowship with Philemon, and it would undermine the integrity of Paul’s ministry in Rome. So that option is really a non-starter.

The other option is that Paul sends Onesimus back to Colossae and to his old master, Philemon. But Paul is worried about that option as well. The consequences of being a runaway, thieving slave, in those days, were very

severe. At the very least, Philemon could have flogged Onesimus. He could have thrown him in jail. He could even have had him put to death. This worries Paul; if Philemon were to condemn Onesimus, the fellowship of the church in Colossae would be ripped apart. You could imagine how everyone else in Colossae would react, can’t you? “I thought that those Christians were in fellowship with one another! I thought they loved each other! But look at what Philemon has done to Onesimus! Some fellowship!”

Paul decides that the only thing he can do is send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he sends him with this letter, in which he very gently and very pastorally seeks to guide Philemon to the right response to seeing Onesimus return home.

Notice, first of all, three things that Paul lays aside as he writes this letter:

1) Paul lays aside his own authority

I wonder if you’ve noticed this, but there is something that Paul never mentions in this letter. He never mentions the fact that he is an apostle. In almost every letter he writes in the New Testament, he makes it clear from the start that he is an apostle, and therefore what he is writing is coming with the authority of Christ himself behind it.

But here, he chooses not to mention his apostolic authority at all. Look at the start of the letter. “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And then look at verse 8 and following.

Paul says to Philemon…

“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”

As one with apostolic authority, Paul could command Philemon what to do in this situation. But with real pastoral gentleness, he lays aside his own authority, and he simply refers to himself not as an apostle, but as an old man and a prisoner. And instead of commanding Philemon, he appeals to him, for love’s sake.

Verse 14 is similar: “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.”

Because of the pastoral sensitivity bound up in this letter, Paul chooses to lay aside his own authority.

2) Paul lays aside his own interests

What are Paul’s interests, here? Well, remember that he is under house arrest in Rome. He needs help and support for his ministry, which is being curtailed somewhat by his circumstances. And now, out of nowhere, he has a new, younger convert with him, who would make a great co-worker.

This man Onesimus, whose name means ‘useful’, has at last become useful! Paul jokes in verse 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.”

Paul’s own interests are to make use of the usefulness of Onesimus, but look at what he writes next, in verse 12 and following:

“I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your

consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.”

Do you see, Paul is laying aside his own interests? If he kept Onesimus there, he would be forcing Philemon to accept that Onesimus was gone. Paul doesn’t want to do that. That would be papering over the cracks. That would be doing ministry whilst not really addressing the underlying pastoral situation. And so Paul lays aside his own interests, and sends Onesimus back.

3) Paul lays aside his own resources

Remember, before Onesimus ran off from Philemon’s house, it appears that he nicked a few things as well. So, in addition to losing one of his servants, Philemon is also out of pocket. We can assume that, whatever Onesimus had stolen, he had spent some or all of it on travelling to Rome. That money was gone now – there was no getting it back. So, you can imagine what Philemon is thinking as he is reading this letter, can’t you? He’s thinking, “even if I do forgive Onesimus, I’m still out of pocket!”

Paul knows that that could derail the whole thing. And so Paul steps in to deal with that possible problem. To deal with it, Paul lays aside his own resources. Paul says to Philemon:

“If [Onesimus] has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”

If Philemon does want recompensing, Paul says, “Don’t let that detail hinder things between you and Onesimus. I’ll step in, and I’ll settle things out of my own pocket.” Paul lays aside his own resources.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Why does Paul do all of this? Why does Paul lay aside his own authority, and his own interests, and his own resources?” The simple answer is this: because in this letter, Paul is going to say to Philemon:

“Dear Philemon, would you do the

same, for the sake of the gospel?

In this situation between you and Onesimus, would you lay aside, first of all, your own authority?”

Look at verses 15 to 17, which is Paul’s appeal to Philemon. Paul says:

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother— especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”

Before Onesimus had run away, Philemon was in authority over him. He was the master of the household, and Onesimus was a servant within the household. But do you see how Paul is saying to Philemon, “Now that this man Onesimus has become a Christian, would you lay aside that authority over him? Would you forgive him and take him back into your household, but not as a servant, but as a brother in Christ. Let your relationship with him be reshaped, in terms of the gospel.”

Secondly, “Philemon, would you lay aside your own interests for the sake of the gospel?”

What are Philemon’s own interests here? Philemon wants his servant back. He wants his money back. He probably wants revenge. He probably wants to throw the book at Philemon, so that no other servant will ever dare to do that to him again. Philemon has all sorts of interests here. He wants to get even. He wants to get his own back. He wants revenge. He wants the person who has sinned against him to pay for it. And Paul says to him, “Dear Philemon, would you lay aside those interests for the sake of the gospel? Don’t try and get even. Don’t keep bringing it up against Onesimus time and time again in the future. Don’t let resentment against this fellow believer get even the tiniest foothold in your heart. Lay aside those interests, and forgive him and welcome him back graciously, with open arms.”

Thirdly, “Philemon, would you even lay aside your own resources for the sake of the gospel?”

That’s what Paul is getting at in verse 20: “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.”

Just as he did in verse 11, Paul is making a joke about Onesimus’ name. Remember, the name literally means “useful or beneficial”. So Paul is saying, in verse 20, “Yes, I am sending you Onesimus, but I want you to send me something beneficial back.” It would appear that Paul is perhaps hinting that, after Onesimus has returned home to Philemon’s house, and has been welcomed back as a brother, that Philemon then release him to go and serve in ministry – and so he can go back to Rome once more, and be beneficial to Paul’s ministry there. Paul is saying, “Philemon, would you lay aside your resources, even Onesimus himself, for the sake of the gospel?”

Now, the big question is, did Philemon do all of this? When Onesimus walked up Philemon’s driveway in Colossae, and handed him the envelope containing this letter, how did Philemon react? Did he accept Paul’s appeal, and forgive Onesimus of everything and welcome him back as a brother? Or did he ignore the letter, and have Onesimus thrown into prison, or worse? The answer, surely, is that Philemon forgave Onesimus, and welcomed him back. We can be confident of that simply because the letter survived. After all, if you were to receive a personal letter from the apostle Paul, asking you to do something, and you then completely ignored it and did the opposite, you would do your best to keep that letter quiet. You would screw up the letter and throw it in the fire.

But Philemon didn’t do that! Philemon kept the letter. He shared it with the church in Colossae. The church even made copies of it. They knew that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. They understood how pastorally insightful this letter is, and so they sent copies round other churches so that they would know what it means, practically, to have your relationships in the

church reshaped by the grace of the gospel. And eventually, this little, short, personal letter, about a strange pastoral situation between two believers in a small congregation, ended up in the bible.

I wonder if you have ever noticed,

when you have read this letter, how it bears such a striking resemblance to the Parable of the Prodigal Son? A young rogue takes for himself some riches from the head of a household. He then runs away into a far off country. Whilst in the far off country, he repents of what he has done. And so he turns round, and goes back to the household he had left. He expects that, at the very best, he will be taken back in as a slave. And yet, with grace, he is forgiven freely and welcomed back as a beloved member of the family.

The real life events of the book of Philemon are a reflection of the parable of the prodigal son. All of which is to say that this story of Philemon and Onesimus is ultimately a reflection of the gospel. As someone has put it, this letter is all about relationships between believers being reshaped in terms of the gospel.

So, what does all of this mean for us, today? As we draw this article to a close, let’s notice three applications:

1) In your Christian life, sometimes you’re Philemon

That is, sometimes as a Christian, another believer will sin against you, and you’ll find yourself in Philemon’s shoes. What do I do about this person?

They’ve sinned against me! They’ve hurt me! I feel angry about it. What do

I do?

Like it was for Philemon, your temptation in that situation will be to think about your own interests. How can I make sure that other person pays for this? How can I get even? How can I hurt them back? How can I keep them at a distance? How can I limit my fellowship with them, and keep it to a


The gospel requires you to hold out forgiveness to them, and welcome

them back, as a brother or sister in Christ. You can only do that because, by grace, God saved you, and he drew you into Christian fellowship, and he is changing your heart to love your fellow believers more and more. Ask yourself, who is that other believer, for you? Sometimes, you’re Philemon.

2) Occasionally, you’re Paul

That is, occasionally you find yourself somewhat caught in the middle of two other Christians who are at loggerheads over something, and you’re in a position to try and bring them back together. It’s not an easy place to be, is it? It takes an awful lot of wisdom and a great deal of grace to do that, as Paul demonstrates for us in this letter.

Sometimes you’re Philemon. Occasionally you’re Paul. But remember this, Christian: You’re always Onesimus.

3) You’re always Onesimus

That is, you’re always someone who is desperately in need of the grace of forgiveness. Forgiveness from other believers you sin against, yes, but even above that, forgiveness from God himself. Praise God that that forgiveness is yours because Christ has paid for it himself.

As it were, at the cross, Christ was able to look at your sin, and say to his Father, “Charge that to my account. I will repay it.” And he did. At the cross, he laid aside his own interests in order to pay for all of our sin.

That’s why there is a gracious welcome for you when you repent and come back to the Father, and wonderfully find yourself brought back into his household, not as a slave, but as a part of the family, by grace alone.

Do you see, this little gem of a letter tells you how to reshape your relationships in the church in terms of that gospel of grace? Because, sometimes, you are Philemon. Occasionally, you’re Paul. But you’re always Onesimus.

The Law and the Gospel

Part three:

How to read God’s Law

I n our first two articles in this series on the law and the gospel, we have looked at the two ‘ditches’ on either side of the road of Christian obedience; on the right hand side, the ditch of legalism, and on the left hand side, the ditch of antinomianism. We have seen that both of these mistakes come from a misunderstanding of the relationship between the law and the gospel. The legalist uses the law to displace the gospel, whereas the antinomian uses the gospel to displace the law. In neither person’s view do the law and the gospel sit well together. One always is displacing the other. In the final two articles, we will look at how we get that relationship between the law and the gospel right.

How do we read God’s law?

I would guess that, when you’re reading through the bible for yourself, probably the bit you find hardest to read is the Old Testament law. Perhaps you’re working your way through Exodus, then Leviticus, then Numbers and finally Deuteronomy, and, if you’re really honest, it can feel like hard work!

Maybe you’ve read those books of the bible, and you’ve thought to yourself, “this doesn’t feel anything like Christianity – not as I know it! It feels a long way from the promises of the gospel. It’s just a load of strange commands and rituals!” When you feel like that you’re grappling again with this relationship between the law and the gospel. How do we read God’s law rightly, as Christians?

In Reformed theology it is customary to distinguish between three different types of law within the Old Testament law – and you need to read each type of law a bit differently to make proper sense of them.

1) The Ceremonial Law

Some of the laws are what we call ceremonial laws. These are the laws which are to do with the religious life of Old Testament Israel, and especially to do with the temple and the sacrificial system. We might think of all the laws about offerings and sacrifices, or the different religious feasts, and laws about what makes a person clean or unclean.

How do we read these kinds of ceremonial laws? These laws are there as pictures to show us that God is a holy God, and that because of our sin and guilt and corruption we deserve his judgment, and we cannot approach him unless a perfect sacrifice dies in our place to take away our sin and suffer the punishment we deserve. We need to be forgiven of our guilt and cleansed of our defilement in order to enjoy fellowship with God.

And, as the New Testament makes very clear, no Old Testament sacrifice ever did that truly. Hebrews 10v1 says that these ceremonial laws “can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” In other words, the ceremonial law wasn’t an end in itself. It was hand in hand with a promise; a promise that one day, a perfect sacrifice would be offered, once and for all, that would truly deal with the sin of all God’s people, and bring them to God. Jesus fulfils that promise by dying that death at the cross. As Paul puts it, Jesus is our Passover Lamb. We therefore no longer have to abide by these

ceremonial laws, because Jesus has fulfilled them himself. Our right response to reading them ought be to see how Christ fulfils them, and trust in him and give thanks for him.

2) The Civil Law

We then come to the second category of Old Testament laws, which are referred to as civil laws. These are to do with Israel’s life as a state under God, living with him as their king, and governing all of their affairs. We might think of laws about how justice should be administered in Old Testament Israel; laws about punishments for certain crimes, or rules about lending money, or laws about cities of refuge.

How do we read these kinds of civil laws today?

Well, the key thing to remember is that God’s people are, of course, no longer a political nation state like that, so these laws too have served their function within history. These laws have been fulfilled in that Jesus has brought the kingdom of God, and not just in one nation state in one corner of the world, but all over the world men and women and boys and girls are living with him as their king, submitting to him, obeying him, living under the reign and rule of God, and relating to one another as fellow citizens in a spiritual kingdom. These civil laws too, then, came hand in hand with

a promise of something greater to come, when the people of

God would enter into a new era of fulfilment and blessing.

It would therefore be wrong of us to take these old judicial,

civil laws which specifically apply to life in Old Testament Israel, and try to implement them here, today, in exactly the same manner. As the Westminster Confession puts it, the “judicial [or civil] laws… expired with the state of that people, not obliging any other now.” (WCF 19.4)

Instead, today, when it comes to our civil affairs, the New Testament is very clear. Romans 13V1-2: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Or, as Peter puts it: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God…” (1 Peter 2:13-15a)

Or, as Jesus summed it up very simply, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

This is not to say that there is no sense in which we can apply the civil law of Old Testament Israel to life today. Let me quote more fully from the Westminster Confession – the civil laws “expired together with the state of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

What this means is that these civil laws show us something of what justice and fairness look like in society. And so, even though we don’t apply them in exactly the same way as they were applied in Old Testament Israel, there are principles there that you can take and apply to life today.

The apostle Paul gives us a good example of that. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is talking about the right that those in gospel work have to be paid for doing that work. But he argues that point from a strange place. He says, “Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’” (1 Cor 9:9)

Do you see, he takes a civil law about how to care for working oxen, and from it he draws a principle about how to care for working preachers?!

3) The Moral Law

In the Old Testament, the moral law of God is most clearly summarised in the Ten Commandments. These laws reflect the holy and perfect character of God, and therefore they can never change. Unlike the ceremonial and civil laws, the moral law is an eternal and fixed standard, which applies in all times and all places.

This is therefore a somewhat different category from the other two. The civil and ceremonial laws only came into effect when God gave those laws to Old Testament Israel, and they ceased to be an obligation when Christ died and rose again. They were an obligation for a specific people in a specific period of history.

The moral law, however, has been all of mankind’s obligation ever since the Garden of Eden, and it will always be our obligation. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or when you are, God’s moral law is God’s requirement of you.

Of the Ten Commandments, the first four are about our duty to God, and the last six are about our duty to man. That’s why Jesus sums them all up for us in two commandments, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). But the key thing is that it is this same, unchangeable moral law being applied, same as it ever was.

We need to remember that Jesus has fulfilled these laws as well. In our place, he has obeyed all of these laws perfectly, because we’ve failed to. Furthermore, he has suffered the punishment we deserve for breaking the law, by dying in our place. As Christians, the Holy Spirit applies to us all of the benefits of Christ’s obedience. To borrow a phrase from Michael Horton, thanks to Christ’s passive obedience in his death our glass is empty of sin, and thanks to his active obedience to the law throughout his life, our glass is full of righteousness! In Christ, our guilt and shame is taken away, and we are clothed in his perfect righteousness. We are now called to respond with lives of grace-fuelled, gratitude driven, Spirit empowered, God glorifying obedience to God’s moral law. In the final article, we will unpack how we can then apply God’s law in our lives.

This, then, is how we can more helpfully read God’s law as Christians. We need to be sensitive to the different types of law – ceremonial, civil and moral. By being mindful of those different types of law in the Old Testament, we can better understand what they all mean, and how they all point us to Christ, and have been fulfilled in him and by him.

A Loyal Subject Daniel 6:6-16

The Crown is a dramatized account of the ascension and reign of the current Queen Elizabeth II, available on Netflix. One episode focuses on the death of King George VI in 1952, and the news reaching the heir to the throne, young Princess Elizabeth, in Kenya. As she travels back to the UK, Elizabeth receives a letter from her grandmother, Queen Mary. Part of it reads:

“while you mourn your father, you must also mourn someone else. Elizabeth Mountbatten. For she has now been replaced by another person, Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeths will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is, the crown must win. Must always win.”

Christians are conflicted people. When we’re called into God’s family, we’re given a new identity, a new loyalty, a new king. But we still face pressures from our sin inside us, and the hostile world outside us. Our loyalties can feel divided.

Sometimes we’d like to live like everyone around us, spend our time, money and energy on ourselves. We feel the strong pull of the temptations that cross our path. We’d like to keep our heads down and go with the flow of the culture. We want to go back to our old self, rather than be true to our new self (see Colossians 3:9-10). But as for Queen Elizabeth, so for a Christian, the Crown must always win. That is to say, for us, Jesus comes first.

Of course, in saying that, we must remember that our loyalty is always responsive. We’re not obedient to earn Jesus’ favour. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, loved

and accepted entirely by undeserved grace. It’s our grateful response to live for him.

Back to Babylon

This is our second article looking at the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den in Daniel 6. Daniel was taken as a young man from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon. He’s spent most of his life serving foreign kings, and by the time we get to chapter 6, he may be in his 80s, working for Darius the Mede. In the last article we saw how Daniel, remarkably, remained faithful to God in the midst of a hostile world. Indeed, his flawless record has provoked his colleagues (“satraps”) to fierce jealousy. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5). With that realisation, they hatch a masterplan, and Daniel’s loyalty is put to the test.

Darius’ Decree

So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. (Daniel 6:6-7).

We all enjoy a good ego massage from time to time, and

that’s what’s going on here. Look how they emphasise how unanimous they are, how they are all agreed. It’s as if they’re saying, “you’re a jolly good fellow and so say all of us!” But they go further. They’re saying, “King Darius, you’re as close to divine as makes no difference. Let’s celebrate that with a law.”

And here’s the law: No one can pray to anyone except Darius, for 30 days. Three times we’re told it’s an unbreakable law (v8, 12, 15). If the law could be repealed, that would mean the king had made a mistake. And if the king is divine, he can’t make mistakes.

We’re not told how much deliberation Darius gave it, whether he consulted his wife or floated the idea in a focus group, but either way, the decree goes out (v9).

Now, if you were told you couldn’t pray for 30 days would that bother you?


days without brushing your teeth would be unpleasant.


days without contact with your family might be


30 days without your phone would be unthinkable.

But prayer? I suspect we are liable to downplay the importance of regular prayer. A day or a week, or several weeks passes and we find we haven’t been praying. Honestly, would you miss it if you couldn’t pray for a month, or would it seem like no big deal?

Daniel’s Dilemma

For Daniel it was a big deal. He faced a dilemma. As John Goldingay puts it, “God’s law makes an absolute demand. So does the king’s law.” (The Book of Daniel, NICOT, p130). Here’s the conflict. Where does his loyalty lie? Well, as the satraps already know, for Daniel, his God comes first. Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10).

For many (most?) Christians, it doesn’t take much to stop us praying. A lie in, a bad day, a good day, a headache, busyness, the doorbell, the dog, the dinner. The disappointment of feeling like there’s no response or no point. When you think about it, Daniel had every reason NOT to pray. He’s seen Jerusalem overrun and ransacked, the Jewish God seemingly overpowered by the Babylonian gods. He’s remained faithful through decades of hard exile, and God hasn’t freed him. Didn’t it make him question God’s care, power or existence? In fact, the only reward his loyalty to God has brought him is the prospect of a gruesome execution. Can you feel something of the immense and

intense psychological pressure Daniel was under? Yet he keeps praying, regularly and openly.

Daniel could of course have just decided to pray silently,

in secret, for those 30 days. But he prayed as he had done

before. Why? Well, if he changed his practice, everyone would assume he was obeying the new law. Daniel chose to take a principled stand, only in this case, on his knees.

We’re told he prays facing Jerusalem. This takes us back to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. (1 Kings 8:29, cf v46-49). So Daniel prays towards the temple, the dwelling place of God. You see, his body was in Babylon, but his heart was in Jerusalem. He was a loyal subject of his God.

Persistent Prayer

Let’s take a slight tangent here, to consider prayer more generally. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. As you may remember, in the parable, the woman keeps pestering the unjust judge until he finally gives her justice, just to get rid of her. Luke says the purpose of the story was to urge Jesus’ disciples to always pray and never give up.

How does the parable give us confidence to keep praying?

Because we’re not praying to an unjust judge, but to a loving heavenly Father, who delights to give good gifts to his children. If even the unjust judge eventually gives justice, how much more will the judge of all the earth do what is


Like Daniel, you may face long years where it seems your prayers are ignored and unanswered. But keep trusting in God – he’s in control.

A few years ago, I got a knee infection. After doing the

typical male thing of hobbling around for a few days, I finally went to see the doctor. She examined me and asked what my job was. I said I worked for a church. She replied with the priceless line, “You don’t spend much time on your knees then?”

She was oblivious to the joke. (I think she wanted to know

if I’d been tiling a floor or something similar that had let the infection in). But in that instant, she gave me 2 things. A good anecdote; and a stinging rebuke. I was working for a church, but my prayer life was far from Daniel’s.

For any Christian, 30 days without prayer is a big deal! Prayer is not for God’s benefit, but for ours. He doesn’t need us to pray, we need to pray. To show our utter dependence on him, and build our relationship with him. Daniel knew it. When we pray, we don’t have to be on our knees, or face

a certain direction, or pray at set times. Our posture and

routine can be useful for disciplining ourselves, but they

are not essential. What is essential is that we pray. All Christians struggle to some extent with prayer, but let Daniel inspire you, to always pray and never give up.

We can pray on our own, but there is also something precious about praying with others. I encourage you to prioritise the prayer meeting at your church. You may not feel confident praying out loud, but make the effort to be there. You’ll encourage others merely by your presence.

Before we go on, let me point out one more aspect of Daniel’s prayer. What sort of prayer is he praying? Daniel is pleading with God, asking him for help, as we would expect (v11), but interestingly we’re also told, explicitly, that he is giving thanks (v10). Does that surprise you?

How often do our prayers descend into a list of requests and demands? Well, if anyone could be excused for being self-indulgent in their prayers, surely it would be Daniel in this passage. Yet in the most desperate of circumstances, he finds things to praise God for. Shouldn’t we do the same? As the old hymn puts it, Morning by morning new mercies I see. Does thanksgiving characterise your prayers?

Satraps’ Trap

Back to the story. Everything has gone to plan for the satraps. Perhaps they wait till the next weekly staff meeting, fidgeting excitedly as they get closer to AOB. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” (Daniel 6:12)

Then with all innocence, and maybe the pretence of reluctance, Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” (Daniel 6:13)

The cogs whirr, the penny drops, and Darius is distraught. He desperately looks for a loophole (v14), but Daniel’s been caught red kneed. Darius wants to save Daniel, but more than that he wants to save face. He’d looked so strong and powerful when the god-like decree went out. Now he looks weak and pathetic – hamstrung by his servants, his vanity and his own stupid law. And just like another weak gentile ruler centuries later, Darius washes his hands and condemns an innocent man to die (see Matthew 27:24). Even as they drag Daniel off to the lions’ den, Darius calls out – “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:16). Here Darius finally finds his place. He’s proved he is powerless to save Daniel, but maybe God can. Darius knew Daniel was a loyal subject of his; but more than that he knew Daniel was a loyal subject of his God, the one he served continually.

A Loyal Subject

Where does your loyalty lie? Again, let me be clear, we’re saved by grace not works. We fail and fall every day. But do you desire to be like Daniel? Loyal to God above all else and whatever comes your way? We don’t know if Daniel said anything as he was hauled away. His friends in chapter 3, when faced with the fiery furnace made a great speech:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

Similarly, when the Jewish council ordered Peter and John not to speak any more about Jesus:

“Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking of what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20).

Whatever Daniel said, he displayed the same attitude. I have a higher loyalty. You can threaten me, intimidate me, beat me, even kill me. But for me, the crown must always win.

What about you? Christians have faced the same challenge ever since, in countless different ways. Some believers are, like Daniel, literally faced with death, at the hands of lions in the Coliseum, or at the hands of IS on a Syrian beach. But all of us face related pressures to obey man rather than God. Perhaps to sign up to an equalities policy that doesn’t square with the Bible. Or being told to keep quiet about Jesus at work, school or with atheists in your family. Or being mocked and ridiculed for your primitive faith. How will you respond?

The question is, where’s your loyalty? Let Daniel inspire you as you serve the King, to always pray, to never give up, and to show the world that, for us, the crown must always win.

to show the world that, for us, the crown must always win. James Buchanan is the

James Buchanan is the Minister of St Peter’s International Presbyterian Church in West Liss, Hampshire. He is married to Jenny, and they have three children. James is also an avid supporter of Sheffield Wednesday.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Pleasing God by Leading Lives of Holiness & Love

I n the opening three chapters of 1 Thessalonians, we see Paul writing an extended reflection on his relationship with

the church in Thessalonica and seeking to encourage the Christians there by reminding them that God has converted them (ch1), the Gospel is true (ch2) and they are persevering well in their faith (ch3).

Now, in chapters 4 and 5, Paul moves from making largely personal comments to dealing with certain pastoral issues that had evidently been reported back to him by Timothy. And in these final two chapters, Paul addresses the following fundamental question: how are you to live and to please God?

The Thessalonians had already received instructions from Paul and his companions on this subject and they were doing well, but Paul now urges them to lead lives that please the Lord “more and more” (4:1). In other words, they were not allowed to take their foot off the gas. In fact, they had to push down on the accelerator even harder!

And what we see in the opening twelve verses of chapter 4 are two key areas in which the Thessalonians were to please God: holiness and love. In other words, it was by leading lives of “more and more” holiness and “more and more” love that the church in Thessalonica would bring pleasure to the Lord.

Let us, then, consider each of these two areas in turn.

1. We please God by leading a life of holiness

Note three points from vv3-9.

(i) God’s will is for you to be holy (vv3-6a)

Sometimes we can tie ourselves up in knots wondering what God’s will for us is. Should I go to this university or that one? Should I pursue a career in law or teaching? Does God want

me to marry this man or not? We can torture ourselves trying to discern what the Lord’s particular will for our lives is.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not in any way denying the importance of some of these decisions. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t think and pray long and hard about what we ought to do in certain situations. However, what I am saying is that we have a tendency to become overly absorbed with the details of our lives and to forget the big picture.

God hasn’t told us anywhere in his Word exactly which university we should go to or which particular career we should pursue or whether we should marry this specific individual or not. He expects us to use our minds, act wisely, seek godly counsel and trust that he providentially overrules all the circumstances of our lives.

However, God has made it very clear what his chief will for our lives is. As Paul says at the beginning of verse 3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

In other words, God’s great priority for our lives is our holiness. His desire is that we become like him. He wants us to be increasingly conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what it means for us to be sanctified and made more holy – to become just like Jesus.

And if God’s chief will for us becomes our chief will, then every other decision we have to make is put in its proper perspective. If you say to yourself, when faced with having to make a difficult choice, “What is it that will most help me become more holy?”, then you won’t go far wrong.

It is true, of course, that in one sense we are already holy. God has set us apart for himself. Through our union with Christ, we have died to sin and been raised up to newness of life. We have been, as theologians might say, definitively sanctified.

But there is also a progressive nature to our sanctification. We need to keep growing in grace day by day. We need to constantly take off the dirty rags of our sin and put on the royal garments of holiness. We need to become who, in Jesus, we already are!

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the famous 19th century Scottish preacher, once prayed this: “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.” This should be our aim too. Our great ambition ought to be that we become as holy – as much like Jesus – as it is possible for us to become this side of glory.

It is clear, then, what God’s general will for our lives is. But what we next see is Paul moving from the general to the particular. From v3b to the start of v6, he tells the Thessalonians what holiness looks like in one very specific area: sexual purity.

The 1st century Roman world was a world not unlike our own:

permissive and licentious. Anything went. If it felt good, it was good. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Paul focuses attention on what holiness means in the whole area of sexual ethics.

Some commentators also suggest that it could be that Paul has in mind a particular act of impurity that had been committed by someone in the Thessalonian church, but we can’t know this for sure. However, what we do know for sure is that sanctification means being sexually pure, which comprises at least three things from these verses:

(a) Being sexually pure means abstaining from sexual

immorality (v3b). The Greek word πορνειας (porneias, translated as “sexual immorality” in the ESV) is a catch-all term encompassing every form of impure act: adultery, fornication, polygamy, homosexuality, incest, rape, lustful glances in the street, lustful gazes online etc. Christians are to have nothing to do with such things.

(b) Being sexually pure means knowing how to control your own body in holiness and honour (v4). This is a difficult verse to understand. The word translated “body” is literally “vessel” in the original and a number of other renderings are possible. However, overall I think it’s best to understand Paul referring to the body in this verse.

As such, he is basically saying that we should exercise self- control and not indulge ourselves in lustful passions like non- Christians who have no saving knowledge of God. We should be in control of our desires – not the other way round.

(c) Being sexually pure means not transgressing and

wronging a brother in this matter (v6a). It’s probably best to understand Paul saying here that we should abstain from sexual immorality and learn to control our own body “so that” we do no wrong to anyone else in the whole area of sexual

conduct. Sexual impurity doesn’t just offend God and damage those who commit it. It’s also a grave sin against others in the church.

The point is simply this: as a Christian who is called to be holy, God commands you to be sexually pure. You must not think any impure thoughts. You must not speak any impure words. You must not look at any impure images. You must not commit any impure deeds. “Sexual immorality…must not even be named among you” (Eph. 5:3).

This is difficult, isn’t it? Holiness, perhaps especially in the sexual realm, is a constant battle. That’s why we need to note two further things from our passage.

(ii) God will avenge the unholy (vv6b-8a)

Paul is emphatic about this. He declares that “the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (v6b). The Lord takes vengeance on those who are sexually immoral. People don’t like to hear this.

But the Bible is clear: God will punish the impure. God will avenge every immoral act. God will condemn those guilty of sexual immorality. He has to. After all, he himself is holy. He has purer eyes than to look upon sin. And he has therefore “not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (v7).

Imagine if a soldier, enlisted to serve his country, called to protect the citizens of his nation, trained to combat hostile forces, then decided to join the enemy and fight against his own people. Would he not, if caught, be punished for treason? Would he not deserve to be condemned?

God, in his grace, has enlisted you to serve him. He has called you to be on his side and to fight for his cause. He has trained you to ward off enemy attacks. Every time, therefore, that you engage in some form of sexually impure act, however small it may seem to you, you are in fact committing treason. You are committing the highest form of treason, because you are disregarding “not man but God” (v8a).

So, whenever you are tempted to indulge in sexual immorality, say to yourself: “God is an avenger in this matter. This is no light thing that I’m about to do. It deserves to be punished with death. The holy God has called me in holiness. How dare I disregard him? How dare I commit treason against him?” God will avenge the unholy. But bear the following point in mind too.

(iii) God helps us to be holy (v8b)

God enables us to be pure. How? He “gives his Holy Spirit to you” (v8b). As you read this article, I imagine that many of you are thinking, “I have disregarded God in this matter.

I have thought, said, looked at, and done so much that God must punish. What hope is there for me?”

Maybe for some of you sexual impurity has become a habitual sin. Maybe it has become a sin that you find very easy to excuse. Maybe it has become a sin that you think just cannot be defeated. What hope is there for you?

There is much hope in every way! Remember the following two facts:

(a) Jesus died for the sexually immoral. On the cross, God

made him who knew no sin to be sin for you (2 Cor. 5:21). This means that he became – he was treated as – The Sexually Immoral Man. All of your sexual sin was placed on his shoulders. And he bore it. He was punished for it. He died for it – in full!

This is what your Saviour has done for you. So don’t condemn yourself – and don’t let Satan condemn you – when you fall in this area. Mourn your sin. Confess it. Repent of it. Believe in the gospel. And move on. In Christ, you are sexually clean. Now, become who you are.

(b) God gives his Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit is your

ever-present Helper. He is your constant divine companion. He is working in you. He is sanctifying you. He is empowering you. He is reproducing the holy character of God in you.

You can change. Don’t be defeated. Don’t be excessively discouraged. All the power and grace of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ is available to you. So when you are tempted to commit adultery; when you are tempted to feast your eyes upon pornographic images; when you are tempted to keep gazing at the person you see in the street – cry out to God who gives you his Holy Spirit. And he will help you.

2. We please God by leading a life of love (vv9-12)

This is Paul’s focus in vv9-12.

He begins by commending the Thessalonians for their brotherly love (v9), by which is meant the love they are showing to their fellow believers. Such love, Paul says, has been taught to them by God (v9b). In other words, the origin and source of their love for one another is not natural, it is supernatural. It does not come from within, but from without.

Given the reference to the work of the Spirit in v8b, it is likely that Paul is saying that the one who has taught the Thessalonians to love one another is, in particular, the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the one who has written the word of God’s love upon their hearts, saturating them with the immeasurable riches of Christ’s love, so much so that the love of God has flowed out of them, almost instinctively, in love for their brothers.

And this is what God has done for you as a Christian. The Holy Spirit has engraved upon your heart the limitless love of God. And it is this – nothing less than the love of the Holy Trinity – that empowers you to love your brothers. Every act of love you show to a fellow Christian is a manifestation of the divine.

Given the evidence of such love that Paul sees in the Thessalonians, it is no surprise that he commends them. And yet, just as he wants them to please God more and more (v1b), so also he wants them to show brotherly love more and more (v10b). Paul wants them to excel in love.

And God wants you to excel in love. Don’t coast in your life as a Christian. Strive. Strive to be the best and most loving Christian that you can be. Ask God to help you with this. Say to him, “Lord, you want me to love more and more. So please give me more and more of your love, that I might love my fellow believers more and more.”

In what practical ways, though, do we show such love? Paul identifies three in v11. One: we lead a life of love by living quietly (v11a). This means that we avoid unnecessary contention and seek to be at peace with all. Two: we lead a life of love by minding our own affairs (v1b). There are to be no busybodies in the church! And three: we lead a life of love by working with our own hands (v11b). In other words, doing useful work that will benefit others.


This, then, is how we please God: by leading lives of holiness and love. And isn’t this the way you want to live? Do you not want to please God? This is not a hard burden for the Christian. This is surely our greatest joy! After all, consider how holy and loving your God is. Look to the cross to see these two attributes in their fullest expression. Say to yourself, “If God is that holy, and if God is that loving, surely my greatest pleasure is to please him – and to please him more and more!”

is to please him – and to please him more and more!” Doug McCallum is Associate

Doug McCallum is Associate Minister at Cambridge Presbyterian Church. He is married to Rebecca, and they have recently welcomed the arrival of their first child, Luke.


Tuesday Afternoons at Crosscollyer Street

There are 13 names on the roll and an average attendance of 9, and we meet from September to May. Most are members or adherents of Crosscollyer Street EPC but the group is open and welcoming to all.

In the first half of each meeting we look at items of historical or local interest. During 2017-18 the historical topics were:

the reformation and the reformers – the Reformation Wall, Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Peter Waldo, Anne of Bohemia, John Huss, Katherine von Bora, Cranmer, Knox, Calvin and the related story of our English Bible. The local subjects were the Hills of Belfast (mainly Cave Hill, Black and Divis mountains), the Castlereagh Hills, Belfast Lough, the River Lagan, the Belfast Coat of Arms and the history of Northern Ireland.

Part 2, after the tea and coffee break, is directly biblical and our studies were: The Parables of the Kingdom (Matt 13), The Standards of the Kingdom – The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), the land of Israel, the story of the Old Testament, the book of Joshua, Easter, and the book of Genesis.

Our end of term outing was a 60 minute trip on the Lagan estuary and Belfast harbour: “The world’s only Titanic Boat tour – ‘She was alright when she left here.’” The highlights are the Lagan Weir, the Titanic Quarter, HMS Caroline, the former shipyards of Harland and Wolff, the seal colony in Musgrave Channel, and the many impressive developments in the harbour area. Afternoon tea over, Rev Robert Beckett brought the session to a close with a very engaging talk from Job 41 on the Leviathan, a great creature of fearful power (which is said to be extinct for 70 million years!) and the sovereignty of almighty God who made and controlled it.


Student Graduation Report

The hall of Knockbracken Reformed Presbyterian Church was filled on 19th April for the graduation of three students from the Reformed Theological College. Many of those attending were from EP churches as John Roger, Ballyclare EPC, was one of the graduates. Rev. John Hawthorne, Convener of the college, spoke warmly of how John, along with Peter Dundee and Isaac Berrocal, had bonded as brothers in the Lord and had displayed hard work, the gifts necessary for gospel ministry and the graces of godly lives. He reminded them that the demanding duty of study will continue and wished them God’s blessing in their ministries as they build up His church and lead people to Christ, all for His glory. Rev. Prof. Norris Wilson (Moderator of the RPC) took as the title of his address, Goads and Nails- the Words of the Preacher, taken from Ecclesiastes 12:9-12. His reminder of the Preacher’s authority and the Preacher’s message will have been of encouragement not only to John, Peter and Isaac, but also to the other preachers in the assembly. His speaking of the Preacher’s preparation and the Preacher’s impact should challenge us all to uphold in prayer those who minister God’s word, and to be sure we do not harden our hearts to that word. We congratulate John, Peter and Isaac and pray for them and their families as they seek God’s direction for the future.

congratulate John, Peter and Isaac and pray for them and their families as they seek God’s


FROM THE CHURCHES The original core group broke up, Pablo resigned before the end of his

The original core group broke up, Pablo resigned before the end of his three years for personal reasons, and David Burke got a job in the area to maintain the many contacts the Lord had given him. John took on the task of co-ordinating the preaching programme and I did admin and power points. We were left with no musician, so we played music through a smartphone and loudspeaker.

Last year we were made a Mission Church under the supervision of the Church Development Committee. Several men were approached to consider leading the work, including an EPC minister, and two candidates came to preach with a view and then received job offers. These however were prayerfully declined. With a heavy heart CDC decided to suspend the services at the end of 2017, due to the lack of support and the impossible task for the few of us remaining.

All around Hope Fellowship is a world of unemployment, low literacy rates and broken family life. Drug and alcohol abuse and violence are commonplace, and the suicide rate among young people is distressingly high. What a mission field! And how heartbroken we were that we couldn’t go on. We made many, many mistakes, but we saw our God gloriously at work in people’s lives, with 10—12 coming to a clear faith and going on well.

Thank you to all who prayed so faithfully for us. David Burke continues to live in the district and maintain contact with many of our folks.

Julia Grier

Hope Fellowship North Belfast

In 1985 John and I moved our membership from Stranmillis EPC to Somerton Road EPC to support what had become

a struggling work. Somerton was founded in the late

1920s, but the flourishing work of the 1930s was badly hit by evacuations from the area following the blitz. A slow recovery in post-war years never saw a return to earlier numbers. In 1996 after a seven-year vacancy, Somerton was linked with Crosscollyer Street EPC under the ministry of Rev. Robert Beckett, but the work at Somerton continued to decline.

In 2012 we learned that a large and unexpected legacy was

coming to Somerton Road. After much prayer and discussion,

it was decided to re-plant Somerton for a trial three-year period. Pablo Mandresa was appointed as evangelist, and David Burke as youth evangelist.

Our vision was to plant a congregation where both Nationalist and Unionist would feel welcome and worship the Lord together in a united, Biblical faith. Accordingly, it was decided to re-brand as Hope Fellowship North Belfast.

From late 2013 we had Core group meetings of those

interested in the work, and Sunday services started in 2014. Pablo and David gradually modified the existing youth clubs to make them more Bible study centred. These later became

a fortnightly Junior Youth Challenge, and a Good News Club also re-started, both with CEF help.

If you had visited Hope Fellowship (thank you to those who

did—what an encouragement you were!) you would have found it at first very different to other EP churches. Our folk weren’t used to church of any kind, so we began informally with coffee and chat. Everyone was welcomed, and a number of our regulars said we were their family.

In the service itself you would hear three scripture readings, three prayers (adoration, confession, intercession), four songs, and a Kids’ Time (an opportunity to teach simple Bible stories to all ages). Sometimes we recited the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, which reassured folk that we weren’t a cult.

During the service you might see a few young people slip in and out, apparently attending to their phones, but listening as well. An adult might slip out for a smoke, but the regulars learned to sit through the whole service. There was a supervised table behind the seating where children could colour, draw or do puzzle pages related to the sermon. Week by week, people were hearing God’s word.


Presbytery Day Conference 28 April 2018

If you didn’t make it to this year’s Presbytery Day Conference you missed an

opportunity to enjoy fellowship with friends from across the denomination under the ministry of God’s word. The speaker was Rev. Ian Parry from Cardiff, preaching on Razor sharp—keeping the gospel both clear and real, and many spoke of the challenge of the messages. In the business meeting, Mr Wallace Thompson gave a report on the past year in Presbytery before handing over the role of Moderator to Rev. Gareth Burke who spoke on the theme of prayer. Rev. Drew Goodman of Barry EPC brought greetings from EPCEW, and Rev. Roland Schipper and Rev. Dick Dreschler, visiting from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), were welcomed to

the conference. Pastor Matt Bingham was interviewed about his time as assistant Pastor with the Stranmillis congregation and his upcoming move to post of lecturer at Oakhill Theological College. Annual Presbytery Reports for the year 2017 are available to download at http:// These contain

a review of the year, congregational statistics and reports from the various

Presbytery committees, including Finance, Youth, Public morals and Inter-church relations. These are recommended reading for your information, encouragement and prayer for the work of God. If you would prefer a hard copy of the reports, speak to your minister or a member of Presbytery.

reports, speak to your minister or a member of Presbytery. Quotations of the day Alexander Whyte
reports, speak to your minister or a member of Presbytery. Quotations of the day Alexander Whyte
reports, speak to your minister or a member of Presbytery. Quotations of the day Alexander Whyte
reports, speak to your minister or a member of Presbytery. Quotations of the day Alexander Whyte

Quotations of the day

Alexander Whyte used to say we must hold four things before people: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Glyndwr Jenkins

people: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Glyndwr Jenkins The world can only offer social, relational, self-help

The world can only offer social, relational, self-help answers. The gospel is much bigger and offers much more than “enhancement”. It offers salvation in its totality. The world says, “Look within for answers.” The gospel says, “Look without to Christ.” Ian Parry

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive: make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Blaise Pascal

Grace is not only the ground of our salvation, it is also the dynamic of our hearts. What makes you tick? Before you were converted it was idolatry and self-righteousness. But grace works a great change. When you become a Christian your idols are replaced by Christ, and your self-righteousness by an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ imputed to you as a gift. This changes the dynamic of our hearts. Ian Parry

righteousness, the righteousness of Christ imputed to you as a gift. This changes the dynamic of
righteousness, the righteousness of Christ imputed to you as a gift. This changes the dynamic of


OBITUARY: Hilda Thompson

Mrs Hilda Thompson, a faithful member of the Stranmillis congregation, was called home on 24th May 2017 in her one hundred and first year. Mrs Thompson joined the Stranmillis Church during the ministry of Rev Derek Thomas in 1981. She was one of the very few folks who lived in the Stranmillis district and was able to walk to the services from her nearby home in Riverview Street. Mrs Thompson was very faithful in her attendance at both Sunday services and also at the prayer meeting – she never missed. Wonderfully she was able to reside in her own home until the last few years of her life when she was well cared for in Adelaide House Residential Home. A lady of independent spirit, she was well known in the Stranmillis district and for many years kept lodgers in her home. As she was originally from Drumbo it was fitting that after her funeral service in the Stranmillis church her earthly remains were laid to rest in the churchyard of Drumbo Presbyterian awaiting the resurrection of the last day when Jesus, her Saviour, will return. We assure the whole family circle of our prayers and sympathy.


OBITUARY: George Moore

of our prayers and sympathy. GNB OBITUARY: George Moore On the 11th April 2018 George Moore’s

On the 11th April 2018 George Moore’s earthly pilgrimage drew to a close in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald. George had been ill for some time but prior to his days in Limetree Residential Home he had regularly worshipped with us in the congregation of Stranmillis. George Moore was a true gentleman, always smartly attired and always courteous to deal with. He was very attentive to the preaching of the Word and would often comment to the preacher on some aspect of the sermon.

George left school at 14 years of age to take up an apprenticeship in bookbinding. In time he began his own bookbinding business. He married Grace McCutcheon in 1961 and together George and Grace were blessed with two children, Sharon and Colin. Sadly Grace died in 2004 after suffering with MS for many years. We believe that George clearly came to faith in Jesus Christ and, although saddened by his passing, we find comfort in the knowledge that he is with Christ which is ‘far better’. We assure Sharon, Colin and Hazel and George’s good friend and companion, Linda, of the prayers and sympathy of Stranmillis Church.


Obituary: Timothy McCormick

of Stranmillis Church. GNB Obituary: Timothy McCormick The Stranmillis congregation was stunned and deeply saddened

The Stranmillis congregation was stunned and deeply saddened by the unexpected death of Timothy McCormick on 11th April 2018. Timothy was 32 years of age. It is hard for us to express in a few words what Timothy meant to us within Stranmillis. Having professed faith as a young child, he, from an early age, showed considerable spiritual promise and used his many gifts to the glory of God. He was actively involved in our children’s works as leader of the Pathway Club and within the church did many unnoticed tasks behind the scenes. His commitment was total. Regularly he drove the church minibus picking up children on a Sunday morning and Thursday evening. His contribution to the worship and praise of the congregation was immense. He was an exceptionally talented musician who played the piano with great ability. Visitors to services were often surprised to discover that our pianist was not a professional musician! When we moved away from the use of praise books to PowerPoint slides


and screen Timothy meticulously formatted the psalms

and hymns we use in worship. He gently introduced us to

contemporary songs of praise that were faithful to Scripture

and were well written. His suggestions for new items of

praise were always graciously put forward and he was very

skilled in finding suitable psalms and hymns to match the

theme of the sermon. Often at the close of the service as

worshippers were departing he would play some item of

praise that in many ways encapsulated what the preaching

had been all about.

Timothy served the Lord not just within Stranmillis but in

many different places. He regularly taught in the Finaghy

Sunday school and, over the years, was active in Portstewart

CSSM and numerous UBM teams. He had a keen interest

in the mission of Christ’s church and was involved in several

mission teams abroad, only last November making a return

visit to Niger.

Professionally, Timothy worked as a doctor in General

Practice in South Belfast. He was actively involved in the

Belfast Philharmonic Choir.

The large number of people who attended his funeral

service was a striking reminder to us of the high regard in

which Timothy was held. Many spoke of acts of kindness

that they had experienced at his hands and all knew of his

love for and commitment to the Saviour. We grieve deeply

within Stranmillis and recognise that our grief is nothing in

comparison to that felt by his family. Timothy was a devoted

son to his parents, Ron and Joy, and a loving brother to his

sisters, Sarah and Rachel. We assure Ron and Joy, Sarah

and John, Rachel and Paul of our prayers at this time of deep

sadness. We also remember Rachel and Paul’s children,

Esther and Nathan, who in their way so miss Uncle Timothy,

and give thanks to God for the recent arrival of their baby

brother, Matthew Timothy, who was born on 13th June.

Amidst our deep grief we find comfort in the knowledge that,

by God’s grace, Timothy is in the presence of Jesus whom he

served so well.


Thank God for equipping and enabling Wallace Thompson in the role of Moderator last year and pray for Gareth Burke as he begins his year in office. Thank God for the diligent commitment of all Presbytery Commission and Committee members and pray that as a church we might seek God for much blessing and encouragement in the days ahead.

Pray for the Church Development Committee as they make plans to foster an EPC Church Plant in Londonderry, and ask God to graciously guide and bless.

Give thanks to God for His evident blessing upon the work of Hope Fellowship over the past four years and pray that all those involved will know His help as they seek to integrate into the life of other evangelical churches. Pray for wisdom regarding the future use of the Somerton Road building.

Continue to pray for Sid Garland and the work of Africa Christian Textbooks. Give thanks for the financial and prayer support from congregations for this strategic ministry which contributes to the strengthening of the church in Africa and pray that this backing would continue. Join the Garlands in praising God for answered prayers regarding Jean’s health.

Pray for the Finance Committee and all those who help to administer the church’s finances, including congregational treasurers and deacons’ boards. Thank God for another year of His provision through the generous giving of His people.

Pray that sessions and leaders in each congregation and camp will be diligent in implementing the Church’s POCVA policy, Committed to Care, and ask for the Lord’s watchful care over every Holiday Bible Club, outreach event and camp over the summer. Pray that our children and young people would have a growing appetite for the Word of God.

Praise God for every memory of His saints who have gone to be with Him and pray that those who sorrow would be strengthened daily. Praise God for the sure and certain hope that exists for those who die in the Lord. Pray for opportunities to share this hope with others.

Pray for all our politicians in local government, Assembly and Westminster, praying especially that Christian politicians will be given much grace, wisdom and courage. Pray for all who are involved in lobbying on moral issues, particularly the Christian Institute. Pray that all efforts to introduce same sex marriage and abortion on demand would fail. Pray for teachers and school children who are being exposed to the transgender and associated agendas. Pray “O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Hab 3.2)

Pray for our friends in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, that they would reverse their Synod’s decision to allow women elders & ministers, and that they would reaffirm their allegiance to the Scriptures and Reformed Confessions.


Sunday School Project Winners

Congratulations to the following children who won prizes in the 2018 Sunday School project. Projects were on Corrie ten Boom and Dr Barnardo.


Pre-school & P1


Rachel Wright


Katie Woolsey


Luke Kelly

P2- P3


Sophie Johnston & Jonathan Wright


Rose Fairley


Amy Nelis

P4- P7


Daniel McMullan & Lauren Wright


Juliette Hall & Rebekah Woolsey


Hannah Kelly



Sarah McMullan

Thank you and well done to these and to all 25 who took part. We hope you enjoyed learning about the lives of these two Christians who made a difference.

A special thank you to Alison Hobson and Naomi Halliday who marked the entries.

Christians who made a difference. A special thank you to Alison Hobson and Naomi Halliday who
Christians who made a difference. A special thank you to Alison Hobson and Naomi Halliday who
BOOK REVIEWS New Biography of Amy Carmichael A completely new biography of Amy Carmichael has


BOOK REVIEWS New Biography of Amy Carmichael A completely new biography of Amy Carmichael has been

New Biography of Amy Carmichael

A completely new biography of Amy

Carmichael has been written by Dr Hans Kommers, entitled Triumphant Love: The contextual, creative and strategic missionary work of Amy Beatrice Carmichael in south India. Her children, who now have the charge of the work Amy began, are so happy to have this new source of information. Sura Carunia, who

came to Amy in 1940, said, ‘As one who had never met her, Dr Kommers writes with an amazing depth of understanding of the personality, character and spirituality of “Amma”’. She held nothing back from her Lord and Saviour, desiring always to follow Him and to live ‘the crucified life’ with, as she put it, ‘my spirit tender of the glory of God’. He brings her to life in a way that will touch the hearts of all of us, her children, many of whom remember her as the very loving, special person she was. We would hope that all who read this book would be challenged and motivated to live for the glory of God with a renewed commitment.

The book, 663 pages, is free to download as a pdf file, or

purchase as a print on demand book from the AOSIS website, cost 670 Rand:

Title: Brian J. Arnold, Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Early Church Fathers Author: Brian Arnold Publisher: Christian Focus, 2017 RRP £7.99, EBS price £5.99

Christian Focus, 2017 RRP £7.99, EBS price £5.99 Everyday Christians do not likely give many thoughts

Everyday Christians do not likely give many thoughts to the early centuries of the church. It seems far removed to us and it can be daunting to read the “Church Fathers” since we know they used

a different vocabulary, and their

doctrines were not as maturely stated or explained as ours are today. Yet, those early centuries might actually be more important in some ways for modern Christians to study than any other period of church history. The culture was one of religious pluralism, and Christianity was an outside minority. Sexual immorality and paganism were rampant. Christians had to be careful about how they conducted themselves in public life so that they were not seen as rebels against the Roman Empire. The reigning authorities were fine with Christians believing whatever they want in their heads, but they required at least a nod of the head, if not full submission, to public policy and political preference. In other words, there are a vast number of ways that the second and third centuries are much like the twenty-first. That means the principles and conduct of faithful Christians in that time can be helpful, encouraging, and instructive for how we are to live our lives. Cyprian of Carthage was one of the predominant leaders of the

church in the third century. He was born around 200 AD, but did not convert to Christianity until 246. He was elected to be bishop of Carthage by the insistent demand of the people only two years later. He was executed by the Roman state in 258 as

a martyr. In his ten years of ministry, he weathered two seasons of intense, government-sponsored persecution, a plague, and two major controversies in the church. In his conduct and decision-making, he remains an example for us of pastoral wisdom, passion for godliness, and commitment to Christ. One of the distinct features of Cyprian’s ministry was his emphasis on the church. Modern evangelicals often take church membership and attendance as optional extras for the Christian

life. Cyprian, in contrast, insisted that, “There is no salvation outside the church” Although this phrasing may bristle some of our Reformed sensibilities about justification being by faith alone, he was simply noting that true Christians join in the body of Christ, and that the church is the community of the redeemed. He was emphatic that the church is essential for the Christian life because the church is the place where Christ has promised to meet us. Christ teaches us through the preaching of his Word and he holds us accountable to be faithful to his instruction through the administration of the sacraments. Cyprian formed this view through controversies were some professing Christians left the church because of threats against Christians. His view was that you can not abandon the church and still be a faithful Christian. We would benefit greatly today by giving serious thought to Cyprian’s understanding of the importance of the church. Cyprian also cared deeply to see people live a life of deep godliness. He did teach that we are saved by faith, even if his explanations were not always as clear as we would prefer or would require of our ministers today, but he also thought we needed to live a life devoted to God. He placed a high priority on prayer and he taught that we should learn to pray through Scripture so that we are bringing God’s Word back to him. He used the outline of the Lord’s Prayer as the essential guide to teach us what should be the content and form of our prayers. He also wrote extensively about Christian virtue and advocated

a robust commitment to developing our character according to

godliness. He also taught about the goodness of martyrdom. This was not morbid vainglory. In a context where it was a real possibility that some of his people may be killed for their faith, he wanted them to have reasons not to be afraid of death for their Savior. He, therefore, advocated that since God is the one who sends our suffering, we should accept it as good for us.

Cyprian is a lasting example for us of commitment to Christ and passionate, thoughtful, and sensitive pastoral care. We learn about his teachings mainly through the letters he wrote to his congregations either during his exile in hiding or during his campaigns to settle controversial matters in the church. Brian Arnold’s excellent book will guide you through the cultural setting to understand Cyprian and teach you about the content of his writings in a helpful way that points to the points of relevance for today. In the example of Cyprian we see an instance from the early church of how Christ has never abandoned us and even in the worst times, the gates of hell have never prevailed against us. This book is certainly worth your time and you will be encouraged and helped as you see how Cyprian lived for the gospel through the uncertainties of his age.

Harrison Perkins

Best of the Blogs

A selection of online blogs and articles to challenge and

encourage you in your walk with God and his people…

The Simplicity of God (James Dolezal)


“Particularly prominent among the classical doctrines about God is divine simplicity. Early Protestants such as the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists

all confessed that God is without parts, as had Christians for

a millennium and a half before them. Yet over the past few

centuries, this doctrine has become increasingly obscured, and to us moderns it may even sound wrong or insulting to call God simple. We tend to deem simple things among the least awe-inspiring, the nearest to nonbeing. Surely, complex things are more impressive and more capable of performing powerful acts than simple things are—like the difference between a Boeing 747 and a grain of sand, say. And if God is the Creator of all things, then would He not need to be the most complex of all?”

The Math Language of Revelation (Barry York)


“When it comes to the book of Revelation, you quickly find the presence of many numbers. These numbers add (no pun intended) to the mystery of the book. Yet, similar to the example above, remembering the Bible has a “math language” of its own can help in understanding the passages containing the use of numbers. Here are five of Revelation’s math language rules to follow.”

The Best Weapon is an Open Door (Rosaria Butterfield)


“If you believe that these are dangerous times, then you are right. The worldview du jour is called “intersectionality” — the belief that who you truly are is measured by how many victim-statuses you can claim, with human dignity only accruing through the intolerance of disagreement of any kind. This has landed Christians squarely in a post-Christian world, where the highest achievement of personhood is this:

the autonomous, independent individual finding meaning in nothing but himself.

Thoughtful Christians know that the steady erasure of Christian tradition in the day-to-day fabric of life will mean, sooner or later, that Christians will find ourselves living like the early church in hostile Rome.”

Marcion and Getting Unhitched from the Old Testament (Kevin De Young)


“Most heresies from the early church find a way to live on in to other ages. This is especially true of Marcionism, with its distaste for an angry God, its optimism about human improvement, and its eagerness to set aside the Bible Jesus read. From Red Letter Christianity to recent comments about our need to “unhitch” from the Old Testament, Marcionism is the evergreen heresy. So who was Marcion and why does his revisionist project still resonate?”

Three types of people who help the church (Josh Buice)


“There is not a perfect church in all of the world. We can’t expect to find one this side of heaven. However, we must be consistently reminded of our need for the local church. Just as nobody ever makes it to the summit of Mt. Everest alone, God has not willed for us to journey to heaven alone. God has placed us within the fellowship of a community of believers that we know as a local church as referenced in the pages of Scripture.”