Jacob Tanner

Unconditional Election & Shepherding

Unconditional election is a reminder that just as surely as God elected and then saved a Christian, He will bring about their conformity into the image of Jesus Christ by completing the good work He began in them (Phil. 1:6).  This frees me to preach expository sermons, trusting that the Lord can and will take my feeble efforts and use them to edify, strengthen, and conform the saints into the image of Christ. The edification of the elect is not an abstract possibility, but a definite reality. The chain of salvation is forever and always an unbroken chain.

Unconditional election, when rightly understood, is one of the most freeing doctrines for the under shepherd to embrace and one of the most assuring doctrines for the Christian to hold. It is beautiful because it reveals the beauty of our God whose grace is sovereign and whose mercies are new every morning. It reveals the immense power of a Father who has lovingly determined to give a certain number of sinners to His Son, Jesus, as an eternal gift (John 6:37). It proves that the Church is never in danger of failing, but always being built up as God has intended (Eph. 1:3-14, 2:19-22). Rightly understood, unconditional election is a powerful testimony unto the goodness of God and a tool for missions and evangelism. But what happens when it is ignored?
When Unconditional Election is Neglected
In my own experience, Calvinism is typically rejected because the rejecter cannot reconcile election with the free offer of the gospel. However, the result of rejecting Calvinism, or unconditional election, is usually detrimental to the pastor and his congregation.
I, unfortunately, write from experience. When I first started preaching, I was still young – both physically and theologically. I was sixteen years old and had grown up in Holiness circles which held firmly to a system of works-based-righteousness. Underneath this framework, I had been taught that it was basically up to sinners to save themselves through their own efforts and that salvation had to be maintained through a great deal of effort. One slip up, I had been taught, was enough to cast the saint away from Jesus. The Christian life became a game of hide and seek, where salvation was constantly lost and had to be found again.
The impact of this teaching upon my preaching at the time was obvious enough. I regularly preached doom and gloom sermons, warning of the wrath and judgment of God to come, but without any true lasting hope for the sinner; after all, salvation was likely to only be temporary until the next sin was committed. Similarly, I carried a very unnatural burden upon myself. I knew that Heaven and Hell were real destinations, and I even understood (at least fundamentally) that the gospel was the only real hope for sinners, but I thought the salvation of sinners literally depended on me preaching well.
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God Is Sovereign

Our God is not like those despots or tyrannical madmen we know from history. Our God is more powerful than them and, thankfully, far better, for He is good and without sin. We can find confidence, hope, and trust in His sovereignty.

History is replete with the stories of despots and tyrants who wielded unbridled power with cataclysmic results. Everyone knows the horrors of the Hitlers of the world. Shakespeare famously wrote about a man who committed atrocious acts of paranoid murder to keep power in Macbeth. In both history and fiction, the adage “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” has proved true, time and again. Indeed, unchecked power often leads one down the downward spiral of destruction. Scripture itself speaks of such accounts, with the story of King Saul of Israel standing tall as a surprising example of how power may corrupt a man.
Thus, when we speak of the sovereign power of God, there are generally a few questions that people raise about God and His power. Those varied questions generally fall under one of two categories: 1. Just how far does God’s power extend? 2. Can we trust God’s power?
To answer the first question, we must remember that God is not like man. His power is not limited by any external factors. Nothing can interfere in history that could somehow stop God from completing something He intended to do.
Consider the time when Balak, king of Moab, tried to hire the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. God would not permit him to do so, instead leading Balaam to declare, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19). The extent of God’s power is such that once He has determined to do something, He does it. Period.
Though God does act in time and space, His sovereign decrees transcend time and space. From the Covenant of Redemption, wherein the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit covenanted to save sinners, to the rise and fall of kingdoms (Acts 17:26), to the number of our own days (Job 14:5, Ps. 139:16), God has ordained all according to His infinite wisdom, goodness, and power.
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Let’s Study the Beatitudes! Part 9, Persecution

When persecution occurs for righteousness’ sake, remember that there is every reason for blessed joy now, for we have been counted worthy by God to suffer for Jesus’s sake, we stand in a long line of godly saints who have experienced what we do, persecution strengthens our faith, and our reward in Heaven will be great.

There was a time when 2 Timothy 3:12 worried me. In it, Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It wasn’t the idea of persecution that worried me, but the idea that, at that point in my life, I couldn’t really think of any great moments of persecution I had experienced.
I need not have worried. Pastoring, preaching, evangelizing, defending the faith, and writing for the glory of God have brought more than their fair share of persecution. I have been verbally lashed at (even by those within the church), ridiculed publicly for my faith in Christ, and mocked for my pursuit of holiness (usually being labeled a Puritan, which is more a compliment than they realized). There have even been times where I have been threatened. Perhaps the reader can relate.
There’s good reason Jesus said to both count the cost of following Him and to recognize that if we don’t love Him above all else, we cannot follow Him (Lk. 14:25-33). Those who desire biblical fidelity and faithfulness to Christ will be persecuted. So, it may come as a surprise to know that Jesus has promised that those who are persecuted are blessed.
While it is true that each of the Beatitudes is counter-cultural and a reflection of God’s economy rather than man’s economy, no Beatitude is more counter-cultural than the eighth: Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed.
Most try to avoid persecution. Even those with considerably great power are oftentimes fearful of being persecuted for their Christian faith. Consider how, in John 12:42-43, even the authorities who believed in Jesus were afraid to let it be known lest they suffer on behalf of their righteous confessions of faith.
Yet, there is wonderful encouragement for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: They not only will be blessed, but already are blessed.
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Edwards on Testing True Revival

It is to be expected that wickedness will often attempt to tarnish God’s good works, working to extinguish the light of the Gospel. But evidence of some perversion did not, and could not, destroy the whole. Revival is the work of God and must be judged by the whole, according to Scripture, distinguishing good from evil. Let us, like Edwards, judge rightly and earnestly pray for religious revival in our own day.

The Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century provoked the ire of many Protestants. This was due to reports of hysteria surrounding the Awakening’s particular brand of revivalism. Many did not know what to make of the excitement and fervor exuded by those caught-up in the movement.
In New England, the relatively unassuming Jonathan Edwards found himself at the center of debates concerning the revival’s legitimacy. He was friends with men like George Whitefield who (his opponents believed) had a certain degree of pageantry while preaching that played on the emotions of listeners to manipulate and coerce various responses. This emotional style of preaching had evidently been taken up by other preachers in Edwards’ day, adding fuel to the fiery distrust of many.
While Edwards was not particularly known for any sort of flamboyance in his preaching, he had special interest in the events taking place and had experienced some of the religious fervor firsthand. His most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was met with a shocking response when he preached it in 1741 for a second time in the town of Enfield. Edwards could not finish the sermon because the congregation erupted in a flurry of emotions. Many came to saving faith that day.[1]
A Definition of Revival and the Need to Judge Rightly
Iain H. Murray helpfully defined revival as: “A sovereign and large giving of the Spirit of God, resulting in the addition of many to the kingdom of God.”[2] Just as in Edwards’ time, many today are right to distrust the supposed “revival services” offered by some churches.[3] Just as no mortal can produce salvation in another, neither can a preacher or church produce legitimate revival apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the salvation of the sinner cannot be scheduled or planned, neither can revival. As Jesus taught, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). It is God’s sovereign work to save and revive, and no amount of scheduling, planning, or blue-faced preaching can accomplish what only God sovereignly can.
Edwards wrote Some Thoughts on the Present Revival because he saw three ways to judge the legitimacy of an apparent spiritual awakening. He explained that many had erred in their judgments of the revival:
“First, In judging of this work a priori. Secondly, In not taking the Holy Scriptures as a whole rule whereby to judge of such operations. Thirdly, In not justly separating and distinguishing the good from the bad.”[4]
The First Judgment
First, Edwards warned against judging the apparent revival a priori because the way something began would necessarily be the way something ended. Just as a prophet was to be judged based on whether the prophecy came to fruition (Deut. 18:22), an apparent revival could only be truly understood as a whole. Edwards explained, “We are to observe the effect wrought; and if, upon examination of that, it be found to be agreeable to the word of God, we are bound to rest in it as God’s work…”[5]
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Charnock and the Knowledge of God

To know Jesus in both head and heart, by faith, is to experience salvation, for the one who knows Him has first been known by Him (Gal. 4:9). This may be referred to as salvific knowledge of God, and it is grasped through special (or divine) revelation—the Word of God.

In His glorious high priestly prayer (Jn. 17), Jesus reveals His heart for His followers. He earnestly asks that His glory might be made known to the elect. The reason? Such knowledge will strengthen their faith, allowing them to persevere in union with their Savior.
One of the central themes of this chapter is the connection between salvation in Christ and the proper knowledge of God. As Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Indeed, salvation in Christ and the knowledge of God are intrinsically linked to one another.
Stephen Charnock, recognizing the great truth contained in this verse, wrote two entire discourses on it. The first, A Discourse of the Knowledge of God, focuses on how God makes Himself known to His creation.
The beginning of the first Discourse concerns itself especially with understanding why Jesus prayed in the manner that He did. Before one can begin to truly grasp why the knowledge of God is so vital to the health of the Church and the believer, one must first understand that “The glory of Christ, and the glory of the Father in and by Christ, is the security of the glory of the church and every believer.”[1]
In the person of Jesus, God is most fully known, and in being made known to His creation, God is also most glorified. Afterall, Jesus is “The brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” (Heb. 1:3). As John earlier explained, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). One of the reasons, then, that Jesus became incarnate was to glorify Himself (the Triune God) through making Himself known. God, who is above all and transcendent, condescended to our low estate, through taking humanity upon Himself, so that we may perceive and understand Him as He truly is. Charnock explained:
This knowledge of God is not only a knowledge of God and Christ in the theory, but such a knowledge which is saving, joined with ardent love to him, cordial trust in him, as 1 Cor, xiii. 12, ‘Then I shall know even as also I am known,’ i.e. I shall love and rejoice, as I am beloved and delighted in by God. It is not only a knowledge of God in his will, but a knowledge of God in his nature; both must go together; we must know him in his nature, we must be obedient to his will. The devil hath a greater knowledge of God’s being than any man upon earth, but since he is a rebel to his will, he is not happy by his knowledge. It must be such a knowledge as leads to eternal life, and hath a necessary and infallible connection with it, as the effect with the cause, which is not between a speculative knowledge and salvation. It must be therefore such a knowledge which descends from the head to the heart, which is light in the mind and heat in the affections; such a knowledge of God as includes faith in him.[2]
To know Jesus in both head and heart, by faith, is to experience salvation, for the one who knows Him has first been known by Him (Gal. 4:9). This may be referred to as salvific knowledge of God, and it is grasped through special (or divine) revelation—the Word of God. God makes Himself known in this way only to His elect through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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Martin Luther on Predestination

When one studies Luther on the doctrine of predestination, it quickly becomes apparent that he believed in what has been called “double predestination.” In this teaching, it is recognized that the same God who sovereignly predestined the elect to salvation also sovereignly passed over others.

Martin Luther is best remembered today as the Reformer who defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone against the constant assaults of the Roman Catholic Papacy. However, this was but one conflict that Luther was engaged in during his lifetime. Another significant conflict of Luther’s day involved the doctrine of divine predestination and would, in part, lead to one of Luther’s greatest works, The Bondage of the Will. At the end of this work, which is a rebuttal to Erasmus’ writings and part of a debate concerning God’s election of sinners and man’s free-will (or lack thereof), Luther writes:
Moreover, I give you [Erasmus] hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.[1]
While justification is the “doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls,” Luther saw the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and predestination as the “hinge on which all turns.”
The doctrine of predestination teaches that God, in His perfect sovereignty, has both elected a certain number of sinners to salvation and has ordained all that comes to pass. Not one thing is outside of His sovereign and controlling decrees. For many, this is a doctrine of great comfort; the Triune God reigns, and so we can rejoice. Our election to salvation is certain because God has predestined all that comes to pass. But, for others, there is perhaps no stranger and no more hated doctrine than this. Some have even gone so far as to say that they would not worship a God who predestined all we experience in this life. A large question that many ask is, “If God has predestined all things, whatsoever they may be, then can man be truly free?” Luther was at the center of this argument in the sixteenth century and defended the sovereign, predestining decrees of God over and against those who lauded the free-will of man above God’s power.
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Tulip: Irresistible Grace

To the Christian who has experienced this efficacious, lavish outpouring of amazing grace from the Holy Spirit will look to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and see the wisdom and glory and power of God though it be foolishness to those who are perishing. Be encouraged: The same grace that saved is the same grace that preserves and the Holy Spirit who breathed new life into you at the first will keep you alive in Christ until we see Him face to face.

Irresistible grace is the fourth part of the Tulip acronym and is the one doctrine of grace that every Christian, deep down, can never deny. No Christian will balk in a Sunday morning worship service when the congregation sings Amazing Grace (written by John Newton, a Calvinist pastor of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century) because every Christian knows that it was the amazing grace of God that saved us and, if not for this astonishing grace from the Lord, we would be eternally lost. It is, in fact, foundational in understanding the other four doctrines of grace. If election is thought of as the work of the Father, and atonement thought of as the work of the Son, then grace must be thought of as the work of the Holy Spirit.[1] It His divine task to efficaciously draw the sinner to Christ.
Salvation is a Trinitarian work, expressed best within the Covenant of Redemption. This Covenant of Redemption is implicitly understood from such passages as John 6:37 and 44, John 17, Ephesians 1:10-11, and many others. The basis of this teaching is that, from eternity past, the Father covenanted with the Son and Spirit, planning salvation, and promising an elect number of people from His creation as a gift and Bride to His Son in an arranged marriage. The Son covenanted with the Father and the Spirit and promised to incarnate as a man and redeem the elect, that He would then have a perfect Bride, not having any spot of sin or wrinkle of unholiness but declared perfectly holy and righteous through union with Him (Eph. 5:25-27). The Spirit covenanted with the Father and the Son, promising to efficaciously draw the elect to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, and to seal them with an eternal seal until the day of their glorification (Eph. 1:13-14). It is within this framework of the Covenant of Redemption that the doctrines of grace are properly understood.
Man, who is dead in his trespasses and sins, is unable to come to Christ of his own accord; his will is stubbornly opposed to the things of God. Yet, God has elected a certain number from the human race to come to the Son, and the Son has already procured salvation for that elect number. Not a drop of Christ’s redeeming blood can be wasted.
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The Thunderous Roar of John Knox

Many may have preferred Knox to simply tolerate Mary, Queen of the Scots, but he could not tolerate what he did not believe to be biblical. There are too few men like this today. Knox was not a man who tolerated sin or opposition to God’s Word in any manner, but he was a man committed to the truth of God’s Word and ways. This commitment to God and His Word would even lead him into the life of a slave in the French galley, but even there, he would remain committed to the Lord, longing for the day when he would once more preach His Word.

Preaching the Word of God is one of the most blessed tasks a man may be called to perform. However, just as James warns that not all should desire to teach—for their judgment will be all the harsher before Christ (James 3:1)—many others prove to be ineffective communicators of gospel truth because they have failed to apprehend by faith the very conviction of truth needed to be a true preacher of the Word of God. Though various styles are used in preaching, and though God can take a man who mumbles, stumbles, and studders and make much of his message, the one who is not convicted of the truth will not a good preacher make. The point is not as much oratoary ability, but zeal for God and His Word.
John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, was one of those blessed men who possessed, from all accounts, both pathos and ethos; that is, Knox possessed the rare ability to passionately communicate what he held most dear: The Word of God. While the aim of preaching is never to entertain or produce a manufactured emotional response, true Gospel preaching will often thunder forth from a pulpit whether or not the preacher is himself emotional. The Word of God carries with it a distinct power to rouse up faith, conviction, repentance, and a turning towards Christ within the hearts of sinners as the Holy Spirit performs the act of regeneration (Rom. 10:17). But man is much less likely to preach that which he does not believe or care about. Therefore, the one who is convinced of the truth of Scripture and convicted by it cannot do anything other than stand upon the Word of God, will be, of necessity, a compelling communicator of Gospel truth.
John Knox was such a man. From the time his pulpit ministry began, right up until his death, Knox thundered forth the Word from the pulpit and wrote ferociously with his pen. James Melville, having gone to see Knox in 1571 only one year prior to his death, wrote:
“Of all the benefits I had that year was the coming of that most notable prophet and apostle of our nation, John Knox, at St. Andrews. I heard him teach the prophecies of Daniel that summer and the winter following. In the opening of his text he was moderate the space of a half an hour, but when he reached the application he made me tremble so much that I could not hold the pen to write. He wielded this power when in bodily weakness, for he had to be helped into the church and lifted into the pulpit where he had to lean on his first entry. But when he came to his sermon he was so active and vigorous that he was like to beat the pulpit into pieces and fly out of it.”[1]
The Scottish reformer, even frail in weak in age, was bold as a lion while tender as a lamb and always a bulwark of true, Christian faith. There is much, then, that the Christian who lives in a society intolerant towards Christians can learn from this powerful Saint of the past.
Bold Proclamations
Knox is, perhaps, best known today as a thunderous preacher of the Word of God who embodied the righteous man of Proverbs 24:1: He was as bold as a lion throughout his ministry, whether preaching to the masses or standing against “Bloody” Mary, Queen of the Scots.  Protestant Christians were typically not tolerated in Knox’s day, and the reformer often found himself facing various modes of persecution. Yet, he never once stopped boldly proclaiming the truth.
This courageous preaching was an admirable feature of his ministry. In his exceptional and succinct biography of Knox, Iain H. Murray writes:
“It was said of [Knox] when he died that he ‘never feared the face of man’; and that is true of him… He was never afraid to be alone, and to stand alone. His was the same heroic character that you see in Martin Luther standing in the Diet of Worms and elsewhere.
“But consider him as a preacher. His great characteristic as a preacher was vehemency.”
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Prayer Tips: For What Should We Pray?

Indeed, whatever God ordains is right because, not only will He not leave or forsake His people (Deut. 31:6, Heb. 13:5), He will also continually care for us as a Shepherd tends His flock (Ps. 23), and He will work all things for His greatest glory and our greatest good (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, we pray for the will of God to be accomplished, even as we bring our cares, needs, and concerns before Him.

Two of some of the biggest questions that many Christians ask relate to prayer. On one hand, Christians want to know how they should pray. On the other hand, they want to know what they should be praying for. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WLC 178). So, the how of prayer, then, is to confess desires (and needs) to God the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Simple enough, right? We even recognize that prayer will include confession of sins and thankfulness for God’s many benefits that He graciously bestows upon us. The question remains, however: What should the Christian be praying for? When the world falls into deeper sin, or that loved one still has not repented and trusted in Jesus Christ, or that child is sick, or that family has lost nearly everything, and words seem to fail, and thoughts do not come, what are we to pray for? Though the Holy Spirit does indeed offer groanings and utterings in these moments (Rom. 8:26), we still want something solid to express and pray.
The answer may come as a surprise due to its simplicity, but Jesus answered this question in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, directing us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”[1]
First, our words should be directed toward the Father, and we should pray for His name to be hallowed (consecrated, blessed, honored). Above all else, we should desire for the Lord to direct our prayers in such a way to glorify Himself (1 Cor. 10:31).
Secondly, we are to pray for His Kingdom to come.
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More on Bunyan’s Pastoral Heart

God’s people, notice that what makes John Bunyan so attractive as a minister is his love for the Lord and his love for fellow brothers and sisters. Make certain that your affections are set on Christ. Love the people of your local church too, knowing that the Lord is producing within you all an eternal weight of glory together. And, should you find that you have a pastor like Bunyan, then here is what you must do: Pray for him, praise the Lord for him, and boast in Jesus Christ, who is the true Shepherd and overseer of all His elect.

The life of John Bunyan proves, perhaps more than any other, that God indeed does not call the equipped, but rather equips the called. Bunyan understood the great grace he had been gifted in Christ, and he was eager to use every moment and every ounce of strength to preach this same gospel to others.
Learning to Love the Communion of the Saints
While one may find many pastors who love the Lord, it is an unusual blessedness to find a pastor who loves his congregation as well. It was just as difficult in Bunyan’s day to find true worshipers of God who loved the Lord and the people of God, likewise.
Bunyan, however, was a man who loved both the Lord and His Church. This love for Christ’s Bride allowed him to be effective in communicating Gospel truths. Since he truly loved the people he spoke to and wrote to, his great desire was to be plainly understood, rather than to be thought a great orator.[1]
This love for God’s people was taught to him in some profound ways, as he relates within his autobiography about one day being encountered by women speaking of spiritual matters who belonged to the Bedford congregation he would soon join:
But upon a day, the good providence of God called me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door, in the sun, talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself, in the matters of religion; but I may say, I heard but understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach.  Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported, against the temptations of the devil: moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan  in  particular;  and  told  to  each  other,  by  which  they  had been afflicted  and  how  they  were  borne  up  under  his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, and of their unbelief; and did contemn, slight and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy, and insufficient to do them any good.
… And, methought, they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me, as if they had found a new world; as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours.  Numb. xxiii. 9.[2]
Bunyan recognized within those women something he had been missing: joy. He also recognized where the source of the joy he found within these women originated: Christ. These ladies had been drawn to Christ in salvation and had come to find their own wretched, miserable condition, and the perfect blessedness of Christ. It was from this river of joy that their words rushed forth.
The impact of this encounter upon Bunyan was striking. As he would soon discover, these women were members of the Bedford Free Church, which he would eventually join. A few years later, persecution would come against both himself and the church, but it was this first encounter with these women that would cause him to fall in love, not only with theology, but with the Lord and the fellowship of His people.
It has been often stated that doxology will never rise higher than theology. The two are always intrinsically linked. But, let it also be said that a pastor’s success in pastoring the flock entrusted to his care will never rise higher than the love, devotion, and care that he shows to that flock.
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