May they be one as you, Father, and I are one: overcoming segregation in the church

God is using the changes in our parish to make us read the scriptures from a fresh perspective.  In the space of ten or fifteen years, people from all over the world have moved into our small, once settled community.  We are being made to ask what being “one” as a church looks like and we are beginning to see some answers in John’s gospel.

My prayer is…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:22).

If we are to be one as the Father and Son are one, then we need to know some of the ways that the Father and Son are one. So far, there are four ways I have found in John’s gospel.

  1.  God the Father and God the Son are the same but different
  2.  God the Father and God the Son know each other perfectly
  3.  God the Father and God the Son love each other
  4.  God the Father and God the Son bring glory to each other

Continue reading

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When Jesus saw their faith. The healing of the paralytic, a physical expression of true faith.

In Mark’s gospel, physical healings and miracles, done by Jesus, parallel a spiritual reality in his followers.  For example, Jesus healed the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8) who could only partially see to begin with, and this parallels Peter’s growing but partial understanding of who the Christ is.  In chapter 10, the healing of blind Bartimaeus, comes between Jesus’ teaching on his coming to serve, by giving his life as a ransom for many, and his entrance into Jerusalem as King. Those with eyes could see.

I believe that a similar physical parallel exists in Mark 2, perfectly illustrating the nature of true faith.

As the four men lowered their paralysed friend from the roof, we are told “When Jesus saw their faith.”  The physical reality of this situation reveals a spiritual parallel.

First, the men were drawn to Jesus and their faith did not let obstacles get in their way of coming to him.  There was a packed room, an impenetrable crowd and the pressure of social etiquette (you don’t dig holes in the roof of other peoples’ homes) which stood in the way of the men, but none of those obstacles stopped them coming to Christ. There is an irresistible pull, draw, attraction when Christ is revealed to us and no obstacles can get in the way of our being drawn to him when true faith appears.

Second, the paralysed man dangled helplessly from the roof. His resting in the mat on which he was carried, secured by ropes and held by his friends, showed something physical about the nature of faith. He was helpless, paralysed.  He depended on his mat, the ropes and his friends.  We come to Christ as those who are helpless. We are spiritually paralysed by our sin, fear, anxiety, past failures, anger, resentment, self pity, pride, the list goes on.  True faith rests in Christ.  True faith depends on him.  He has an unbreakable hold of the rope, which stops us plunging into the fires of hell, and he will never let it/us go.

Third, true faith in Christ results in the forgiveness of sin, by faith alone, not by works.  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  The paralysed man is like the man on the cross. He is unable to do any good works.  The paralysed man rests in his mat, unable to do anything except trust.

Fourth, true faith is like a jigsaw puzzle with no edge pieces.  The paralysed man came to Christ for healing he left with the forgiveness of sin and healing.  Christ added forgiveness of sin, like an extra puzzle piece.  When we come to Christ, we come with limited knowledge.  As our knowledge grows, true faith grows too. Christ adds piece after piece of the puzzle.  To healing and forgiveness, are added, in different orders for each of us, true knowledge of eternal life, adoption, redemption, sanctification, imputed righteousness, purity, love, holiness and so on (see 25 benefits of faith union with Christ and the 12 rare privileges of the children of God).  I have found that as the puzzle expands, the pieces get smaller, more nuanced, and just as I believe the puzzle is about to be completed, more pieces appear.  The paralysis of my fears, anxieties, past failures, sin, anger and so on find their corresponding and healing truth in Christ.

When Christ brings that healing, then I can go out with joy, giving him the glory.


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Advent according to Revelation chapter 6

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained10 They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer [Revelation chapter 6:9-11]

Christians in the West have lived in a bubble of privilege for several decades. No war, no famine, no deadly pestilence, no persecution. Waiting for Christ has been relatively easy for most western believers.  Much more “Merry Christmas” than not.

But this season has been exceptional in church history.  The normal experience of Christian believers down the ages has been to feel the weight of the four horsemen of Revelation 6; conquest by deception; war, economic imbalance and death, as God judges the earth for slaying his Son and rejecting his good and loving rule.  It is more normal for believers to cry with the martyrs “how long, Sovereign Lord?”

We watched two videos at church today to help us wait during advent according to Revelation 6.  Pastor Suta waits on the Lord as does Hannalie.  Their waiting is different but their commitment to Christ and their faithfulness to him in mission is not.


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Marrow of Modern Divinity notes from week 3.

Antinomian is pleased that Evangelista has silenced Nomista and so asks Evangelista to explain the covenant of grace.  In this section, Evangelista turns his conversation to the nature of God, and the inseparable work and interaction between God’s attributes: Truth, Justice, Mercy and Wisdom.

Truth and Justice demand that since man had sinned, and therefore man must die;

Mercy, pleaded for pity and kindness, appealing to the great court in heaven: “Satan seduced mankind and plunged human beings into misery and death. Have mercy!”

Justice replied, “When I am offended, I must be satisfied and have my right; and therefore I require, that man, who disobeyed God must face the judgment of God.

Read this bit on the wisdom of carefully, it is the wisdom of God that his mercy and justice meet in the eternal Son.

Then wisdom became an umpire, and devised a way to reconcile truth, justice and mercy.

Two things needs to be done to bring about reconciliation between God and mankind.

(1.) A satisfaction of God’s justice.

(2.) A reparation of man’s nature.

A middle and common person must have zeal towards God and compassion towards man,

Such a person would have man’s guilt and punishment translated on him, satisfying the justice of God, and as having a fullness of God’s Spirit and holiness in him, might sanctify and repair the nature of man.

Of the promise made to Adam

God made a promise to Adam, on the same day he sinned, by sacrificing an animal as a sign of Christ, to cover the shame of Adam and Eve.

As soon as Adam broke the covenant with God, then justice would have been immediate, God would have moved swiftly to summary execution, to the destruction both of Adam and the whole creation, had not Christ, at that very time, stood as the ram [or rather the lamb] in the bush, and stepped in to perform the work of the covenant.

Adam was saved by faith in Christ, who Adam perceived was the promised offspring of Eve, symbolised by the sacrifice of animals, shedding of blood, who would crush the serpent’s head.

The promise renewed to Abraham.

Promises of God were made to Abraham and his seed (not seeds). The singular pointing to Christ.

The paschal lamb is a type of Christ; the Red Sea a type of baptism; the manna and water in the desert a type of communion and so to the covenant and law at Sinai in the next chapter.


  1. Fisher sees Christ in all the scriptures, being symbolised by blood shedding to provide skins for Adam and the promise of God to provide a descendant of Eve who would crush Satan’s head. Do you think Fisher is right to see Christ signified this way when there is no direct reference to Genesis 3 in the rest of scripture?
  2. Fisher understands that, because of God’s justice, execution would have swiftly followed Adam’s disobedience (In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die).  Adam is not executed in that day.  Fisher believes that Christ stood in the way of execution, offering himself as the ram (or lamb), in Adam’s place.  What other reasons could be given for Adam not being executed by God in that day?  What can be said of these reasons from the rest of scripture?
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Marrow of Modern Divinity week 2: of the covenant of works

Of the law, or the covenant of works.

God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God’s threatening, (Gen 2:17); for if man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly, that God’s covenant was with him for life, if he obeyed.

The truth is, God did engrave in man’s soul wisdom and knowledge of his will and works, and integrity in the whole soul, and such a fitness in all the powers thereof, that neither the mind did conceive, nor the heart desire, nor the body put in execution, anything but that which was acceptable to God; so that man, endued with these qualities, was able to serve God perfectly.

Though the 10 commandments were not written in tables of stone until the time of Moses, yet were they written in the tables of man’s heart in the time of Adam.

if Adam had received of the tree of life, by taking and eating it, while he stood in the state of innocency before his fall, he had certainly been established in a happy estate for ever, and could not have been seduced and supplanted by Satan, as some learned men, do think, and as God’s own words seem to imply, (Gen 3:22)

the Lord did not create him immutable, was because he would be obeyed out of judgment and free choice, and not by fatal necessity and absolute determination;

twofold damage: First, A deprivation of all original goodness. Secondly, An habitual natural proneness to all kind of wickedness.

Evangelista shows the ways Adam broke the 10 commandments by; making the devil another god, idolising knowledge, taking God’s name in vain, not resting, not honouring his Father, murdering his posterity, committing spiritual adultery, stealing what was not his to take, lying, coveting.

Nomista (the legalist) believes that Adam had the ability to restore the covenant by returning to its conditions. Evangelista shows that there is no way of restitution by Adam:
1. When he had once broken it, he was gone for ever; because it was a covenant between two friends, but now fallen man was become an enemy.
2. Adam could not pay the debt he owed God because he was spiritually bankrupt.
3. Adam’s sin merited infinite and eternal satisfaction because it was committed against the infinite and eternal God. Adam was a finite creation, so could not satisfy eternal justice, except in hell.
4. His ability to obey was ruined by the fall, Adam would never fully keep the commandments.
5. Could God not pardon Adam without satisfaction for justice? No! God is just. His nature is essentially just. Sin without satisfaction is not justice.
6. It is impossible for Adam’s offspring to keep the law perfectly.
7. Does failing to keep the conditions of a covenant not free the parties from the covenant? No, the one who breaks covenant is only free when the other releases him, when the other is satisfied.


1. How does Fisher’s argument about the 10 commandments (that the moral law was written into Adam’s heart before it was written on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai) help his argument with Nomista?

2. In most accounts of the covenant of works, everything is focused on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and Adam’s perpetual and perfect obedience to the law of God as the means of receiving eternal life (Adam would receive eternal life as long as he obeyed God). But The Tree of Life features prominently as the means by which Adam might have received the promise of eternal life, had he eaten by faith in God’s word, as God would have established him in a happy eternal condition. In other words, Adam would have obeyed God perfectly and perpetually, after simply by trusting God, eating by faith from the tree of life. What do you make of Fisher’s argument? (If you have a version of the book with Thomas Boston’s notes, read his argument.)

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Marrow of Modern Divinity: week 1 notes and study questions

Marrow week 1: to the reader and introduction

Fisher confesses to living as “a proud Pharisee” (a legalist – living by the law) but was shown “the way of faith and salvation by Christ alone and how to embrace it in his heart”.

Yet, alas! through the weakness of his faith, he was till apt to turn aside to the covenant of works; and so did not find true joy and peace in believing.

Some people content themselves with a gospel knowledge, in the head but not in the heart; and so are not possessed of Christ; they can talk like believers, and yet do not walk like believers,
they have language like saints, and yet have conversation like devils; these are they that are not obedient to the law of Christ, and therefore called Antinomians (against the law)

The Marrow of Modern Divinity is a Dialogue, where Fisher walk as a middleman between legalism and antinomianism, in showing to each of them his erroneous path, with the middle path, (which is Jesus Christ received truly, and walked in answerably,) as a means to bring them both unto him, and make them both one in him; and Oh! that the Lord would be pleased so to bless it to them, that it might be a means to produce that effect!

Nomista (the legalist): rule of law is the standard for Christian living.
Neophytus (the new Christian): confused, joy suppressed by guilt and lament for sin.
Antinom (the antinomian): difference on the law, we need help.
Evang (the mature Christian): Arguments are fruitless, study together in love. Come to one mind.

Threefold law.
Evang: viz.the law of works, the law of faith, and the law of Christ; 1 (Rom 3:27, Gal 6:2);
10 commandments, the moral law, law of works or law of Christ?
Nomista: 10 commandments are the rule of life for the believer by which God commands obedience, with blessings, but curses for disobedience.
Evang. The 10 commandments as the law of works is false gospel.
Antinom: Christ has freed us from the law, so the 10 commandments are NOT the rule of life for the believer.
Evang. But the truth is, the law of the ten commandments, as it is the matter of the law of Christ (not the law of works), ought to be a rule of life to a believer. I will now explain the difference between the law of works and the law of Christ.

1. From “to the reader”
What reasons does Fisher give for writing this book?
There are two understanding of the law which are wrong and he seeks to draw the two parties together, by correcting their wrong thinking and finding the true gospel.

Which reason gives you most encouragement to keep reading?
Christ seeks to unite legalists (Pharisees) and antinomians together. We have more antinomians in the church today than legalists. Antinomians hear the true gospel as legalism, so I am encouraged to keep reading so that I am not heard as a legalist and can help antinomians live on a true path.

Can you see any way that this book will help you to serve others around you?
Yes, I hope it will help me to serve antinomians, so that they know the true gospel.

2. From “the introduction” summarise the problem with the argument between the legalist and antinomian and how Evangelista proposes to bring them to one mind.

The legalist believes that the 10 commandments are the rule of life for believers.
The antinomian believes that the 10 commandments are NOT the rule of life for believers.

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My immediate response to the Manchester terrorist attack.

I am writing on the morning after the bomb in Manchester which killed 22 people, injured another 59 and we are waiting for news of those who are still missing, including an eight year old girl. The nation and the world has been shocked and filled with disbelief, anger, grief and a sense that things might be getting worse, out of control and that nowhere in the world is now safe. I am wrestling with what to say, knowing that I can’t possibly write all that needs to be said but I can write something to encourage a good response in us all.

Once the shock as passed we need to ask, “how should Christian disciples respond?” There are some immediate very practical responses we can make. There will also be longer term responses, as God leads us through lament to radical and lasting change as his people.

Practically, we must try and strike the right balance between two extremes. We must not let this wash over us, with no emotion, turning our hearts cold and hard to yet another shocking news item. This is real and affects real people and so we should not be wearied by yet another tragedy. Nor should we, at the other extreme, collapse in uncontrolled grief and shock. It is right to weep with those who are weeping, to grieve with those who grieve (Romans 12:15). I have shed a tear this morning for those who can’t find loved ones, especially parents looking for children. The Apostle Peter calls us to be self controlled and prayerful as we respond (1 Peter 4:7).

If the tragedy has affected anyone we know personally, then we can ask the Lord for wisdom to know what to do or say. And we can pray. We pray for the families of victims to be comforted in their sorrow; we can give thanks for all the acts of kindness and the work of the emergency services; we should cry out to God for wisdom, courage and compassion as we make Christ known in all the world.

There may be reports of Muslims being persecuted by non-Muslims in reaction to terrorism, but this cannot be a Christian disciple’s response. It is wrong to stereotype people when there is such complexity and diversity within the Muslim world. All people are created by God in his image and are precious in his sight. Everyone needs the deep repentance and faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord which leads to eternal salvation. Christians must never seek to pay back wrong for wrong but to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thess 5:15).

Longer term, what will come of this when we turn our thoughts to God? Most Western people will have a belief system which says “I cannot believe in a god who would let such a terrible thing happen.” In other words, if God could stop this and didn’t, I don’t want to know him! This response is understandable but it shows a closed mind and lack of knowledge of God. As we seek the truth of who God is, he will change our view of Him if we ask “Is there any way I can trust God, if he could have stopped this, but didn’t?” or “If God allowed this to happen for good reasons, which I can’t see or understand, what should my response be to him?”

God has put it on my heart to pray through Lamentations for the past two weeks and I have the real sense he was preparing me and Holy Trinity to enter a season of lament, crying out to God for the way things have gone wrong in the Western church. Culturally, the British don’t lament, we grumble with a stiff upper lip. We can and should learn how to lament from the scriptures. The book of Lamentations was most probably written by the prophet Jeremiah when the city of Jerusalem was under siege and fell to the invading armies of the Babylonians as God called his people to repentance and faith. Chapter 5 is a cry to God to restore us to Himself as we realise our helplessness without him. Will you pray it with me? Some themes of this lament, though not all of them, strike a deep chord with us all today and move us to radical and lasting change.

With love, Neil

Lamentations chapter 5

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.

We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.

Our pursuers are at our necks;
we are weary; we are given no rest.
We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
to get bread enough.

Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
there is none to deliver us from their hand.

We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
because of the sword in the wilderness.
Our skin is hot as an oven
with the burning heat of famine.

Women are raped in Zion,
young women in the towns of Judah.
Princes are hung up by their hands;
no respect is shown to the elders.

Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
and boys stagger under loads of wood.
The old men have left the city gate,
the young men their music.

The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!

For this our heart has become sick,
for these things our eyes have grown dim,
for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
jackals prowl over it.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us.

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