Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration: A Message Delivered at the Grave-side Service for My Dear Mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout
Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration
Note: This is a revised version of the message I delivered on May 13, 2013 at the grave-side service for my dear mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout. To read or print this message in a PDF file, click here.
Before I proceed to the reading of God’s Word, allow me to first commend my dear father-in-law for his forty years of faithful and patient love for his wife. Dad, thank you for the godly example that you have left to us your children. You kept the vow that you had made to mom on your wedding day: to love her in sickness and in health. I understand that without God’s grace, you would not have been able to love mom in this way. Therefore, I praise God for His grace upon you.
Let’s now read our text for this short meditation—John 20:24-28.
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Sadly, we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” But as Joshua Harris asserted, “God didn’t give the name ‘Doubting Thomas’, we did. God never defines us by our failures. He defines us by the perfection of his Son.” In the gospel God defines us not according to our sin, but according to His Son’s righteousness. You might ask, “What is the gospel?” Interestingly, in Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “repent and believe in the gospel” and you will be saved. Then when the Philippian Jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31). Notice that Paul and Silas did not say, “Believe in the gospel,” but instead “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Observe also that Jesus says, “believe in the gospel,” and not “believe in me.” Here then we see that the gospel and Jesus Christ are essentially synonymous. The gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good news. He “came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10).
This afternoon, upon my mother-in-law’s request, I would like to proclaim this gospel to you. And I can only preach the gospel if I preach Christ to you. My mother-in-law would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon who rebuked ministers that did not preach Christ: “Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”
What I will do in this brief message is present the gospel by looking at Thomas’s life under three headings: (1) his dedication, (2) his doubt, & (3) his declaration. Let’s consider our first point.
I. His Dedication
In John 11 Lazarus whom Jesus loves is sick. Actually, as the story progresses we discover that Lazarus eventually dies. Jesus wants to go to Judea to revive Lazarus, but listen to what His disciples tell Him:
7 Then after this he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”16 So Thomas, called the Twin,said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Please note Thomas’s remarkable dedication to his Master here. He is courageously willing to die with Jesus. He is loyal to the Lord’s work. To some extent my mother-in-law was like Thomas. She was also committed to the service of the Lord. Her passion was to serve others. In fact, even when she was sick, she was still thinking of how she could minister to others. When she became severely ill, she was greatly disappointed that she could no longer help others, especially Mrs. Lynn Krul from British Columbia who became like a mother to her. Everyone who knew my mother-in-law would not question her dedication to the Lord’s work. She evidently loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, like Thomas, although she had a strong commitment to Jesus, her faith in Him was weak. Like Thomas, she also struggled with doubt. This brings us to our second point.
II. His Doubt
In our passage the dedicated Thomas shows his doubt to the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Before Jesus died, He Himself had informed Thomas of His resurrection (Mark 8:31). Thus we learn that you can be dedicated to the Lord’s work and at the same time doubt His word. Are you like Thomas—dedicated and yet doubting? You actively serve God, but doubt His promises. You faithfully attend church services every Sunday, but you doubt the gospel promise that if you believe in Jesus you will be saved.
Nevertheless, despite his doubt, Thomas is an honest seeker of truth. He does not want to remain in his state of doubt. He eagerly looks for the truth. Do you recall his dialogue with Jesus in John 14:5-6? In this passage the confused Thomas asks Jesus about the way to His Father’s house—the way to heaven:
5 “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Thomas doubts, but he is not content to remain doubting. He wants to be certain, especially of matters pertaining to eternal life. Sadly, some Christians seem to be content to stay in the place of doubt or unbelief. They don’t seek the truth. Perhaps you are struggling with assurance of salvation. Well, seek the truth that will set you free from the bondage of doubt. Read books about assurance of salvation. Attend bible study where your faith can be strengthened. Learn more about the gospel promises. Attend a church where the gospel is preached faithfully. Charles Spurgeon once mentioned, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.” My friend, you do not need to live in the cottage of doubt. Leave that place and live in the mansion of faith. You might ask, “Can I really know if I am saved?” Oh, yes, my friend, you can! As John the Beloved articulates, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Take note, the Bible has been written in order for believers to have absolute knowledge of their salvation in Christ. Can you honestly sing with Fanny J. Crosby?
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
Now I am not saying that once you become a Christian, you will never experience doubt. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his book Spiritual Depression, “Doubts are not incompatible with faith…. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith (as he panicked in the storm in Matthew 14)…. His faith was not gone, but because it was weak, doubt mastered him and overwhelmed him and he was shaken…. Doubts will attack us, but that does not mean that we are to allow them to master us.”
With love let me challenge then those of you who are like Thomas. Are you allowing your doubt to rob you of the joy of assurance of salvation? Are you allowing your doubt to keep you from growing in your faith in Jesus? Are you making an effort to stay away from the cottage of doubt? Again like Thomas, my mother-in-law struggled with doubt, but she strove for assurance. She wanted to be certain of her salvation. Thankfully, after a long struggle, she experienced full assurance of salvation and could echo Thomas’s declaration which we will consider in our final point.
III. His Declaration
Thomas doubted. But look what he declares in our text after he has been confronted by Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This confession is the clearest confession on the deity of Christ. Of all the Twelve Disciples, only Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God. In this sense, Thomas has surpassed his fellow disciples.
Notice the personal and possessive pronoun “my” in Thomas’s declaration: “My Lord and my God.” What Thomas is saying here is this: “Jesus is my Lord and my God, and I am His. Jesus belongs to me, and I belong to Him.” There is no more doubt here but assurance. I remember two days before my mother-in-law died, my wife and I skyped with her and sang for her the famous hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Despite her extreme fatigue, my mother-in-law still sang with us:
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
For many years my mother-in-law had struggled to call God her Father. Now by God’s grace she could prayerfully sing with full confidence, “O God my Father!” What a confession! What an assurance! Can you say by God’s grace that God is your Father, too? John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Oh, I urge you, my dear friend, to receive Jesus by faith and you will be given the right to become a child of God. Are you His child, or the Devil’s? Remember what Jesus says to the proud and self-righteous Pharisees in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil.” They belong to Satan because they have not received Jesus. Have you received Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior? Think of the message that we have heard this morning—“Jesus receives sinners” (Luke 15:2), but you must receive Him, too.
On her death bed shortly before she died, my mother-in-law prayed with her hands lifted up toward heaven, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” My aunt Beth (the only sister of my mother-in-law) and Mrs. Jackie Mol (best friend of my mother-in-law for over 40 years) personally heard these words. Unquestionably, my mother-in-law borrowed her prayer from John the Beloved who pleads in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is a prayer of a true believer who longs to be with Jesus Christ. This was my mother-in-law’s last prayer.
Amazingly, my mother-in-law had a calendar that provides her a daily verse. And the verse that she was supposed to read on the day she died was John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans [or comfortless]; I will come to you.” Indeed, Jesus heard my mother-in-law’s request. He came quickly and gently to take her home to be with Him. What a comfort and joy to know that she is now with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! She is now free from sin and sickness. Also, it is a comfort to know that Christ bought not only her soul but also her body. As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states in response to the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil….Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
This body then in the coffin that we are about to bury is Christ’s. He purchased it and it will someday be changed into an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:51-54). On the great day of the resurrection of the saints, this mortal body will be raised from this cemetery to be with the Lord forever and ever and ever. It is with this glorious doctrine of the resurrection that the Apostle Paul exhorts us to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). Hence as we bury my mother-in-law’s body, we do not need to say goodbye but only good night to her, for we believers shall see her again in heaven. May the precious reality also that her soul is now in heaven sweeten our sorrow! She is now in a far better place than we can imagine (Phil. 1:23).
Let me close this message by simply asking you: Do you belong to Jesus? Does He belong to you? Is He your Lord and Savior? If not, I regret to tell you that if you die today you will go to hell and be there for eternity. Oh, once again I beg you to come to Jesus by faith and be saved. Jesus promises, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Therefore, with the words of the hymn writer Joseph Hart, I plead with you:
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.
Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).
Note: This post is by my father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, translator of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service.
May 7, 2013,
Dear Family and Friends,
Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude to you for the many wonderful and touching e-mails I have received from you in response to the announcement that it pleased the Lord to translate my beloved Joan into His blessed presence. As has been the case earlier, I would love to respond individually to every one of these messages. You will understand, however, that I presently do not have the time to do so.
Before I share with you some of the remarkable details of Joan’s final days, let me first give you the details regarding the arrangements that have been made for Joan’s funeral—all the Lord willing:
- Date: Saturday, May 11
- Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm, and 7:00 – 9:00 pm.
- Location: VanderPlaat/Vermeulen Funeral Home, 530 High Mountain Road, Franklin Lakes, NJ.
- Date: Monday, May 13
- Time: 10:00 am
- Location: Free Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, 160 West Parkway, Pompton Plains, NJ.
- Officiating minister: Dr. Joel R. Beeke
This information and other details can also be accessed via the website of the VanderPlaat/Vermeulen Funeral Home. The link to Joan’s special page is as follows: http://www.vpmemorial.com/book-of-memories/1580627/Elshout-Joan/service-details.php
Those who will not be able to attend the funeral service, will have the opportunity to listen to the service via a live internet connection. The link for this connection is as follows: http://www.sermonaudio.com/source_detail.asp?sourceid=frcpomptonplains. (Clicking on the “Live Webcast” button will establish that connection.)
These details remind us of the stark reality that our beloved Joan has departed from us—a fact that fills our hearts with sorrow. And yet we may and must say that by the grace of God she has departed to be with Christ, which is far better than anything she possessed and enjoyed during her short stay in this sin-stained world. For me to say anything less than that would be dishonoring to the God who dealt so remarkably with my dear Joan, especially during the final weeks, days, and hours of her life. It is my desire to honor the God who also confirmed for Joan that He is a God who, for Christ’s sake, will never forsake the work of His hands.
When I reflect on how remarkably Joan’s journey ended yesterday, two things stand out for me: 1) the Lord confirmed the words whereby He so frequently strengthened the fragile faith of Joan, namely, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee” (Isa. 41:10); and 2) He confirmed the promise whereby He so greatly encouraged us that He would save her soul when death would draw nigh (in Dutch: Hij kan, en wil, en zal in nood, zelfs bij het nad’ren van de dood, volkomen uitkomst geven.)
When I consider how often Joan’s soul was assaulted by the prince of darkness, especially during the dark hours of the night, how she is one of those persons of whom the apostle writes that “through fear of death [they] were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15), and how fearful she was of deceiving herself, I am simply overwhelmed by how the Lord delivered her from all this during the final weeks of her life. Though there were moments of strife, it was with remarkable calmness that she was able to face the reality of her impending death—a calmness that amazed and humbled her. Especially during the past two weeks of her life, the prince of darkness was simply not permitted to touch her—not even during the final hours of her life.
The God who promised her that He would be with her, kept His Word until Joan’s very last breath. This was also evident in that the final death struggle that she so feared never occurred. As you know, it had been her fervent prayer that the Lord would carry her gently across the Jordan of death, and the Lord answered that prayer. He confirmed for her that He truly hears the needy when they cry. Though Joan had been declining rapidly during the last week of her life, that decline was dramatic during the last hour of her life. For a brief moment she struggled with breathing, and then her breathing became stable but shallow. Gradually her breathing decreased until very quietly and peacefully she breathed her last breath. The Lord kept His Word! As He promised, He was with her, and He was with her until her very last breath, carrying His fearful Joan gently across the Jordan of death.
And yet there was another way in which the Lord confirmed His own work and His promise that He would give her full deliverance when death would draw nigh. Shortly before this final stage, when her body and organs were breaking down rapidly, she moaned several times, “Lord, help me.” And then she suddenly lifted both of her arms heavenward—arms that had become so very weak—and she cried out, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” Only my sister-in-law Beth and her friend of more than 40 years, Jackie Mol, were present, and both of them were deeply touched and impressed by what they witnessed. (I had briefly stepped out to get her final medications.) I was overjoyed when I heard this, for it confirmed for me that the Lord has set her free at last. Finally she could believe that this God was also her God, and she had the liberty to ask the Savior to take her to Himself.
And so the Lord Jesus Christ confirmed for Joan the precious truth of the words of Luke 15:2, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” It was by means of these words that it pleased the Lord to open up the gospel for my dear wife, and these words continued to encourage her during the final days and hours of her life. To this precious Christ be therefore all the glory who confirmed also for Joan that “him [or her] that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37b), and that “a bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Mat. 12:20).
May this account of God’s gracious dealings with my doubtful, fearful, and struggling Joan be to His glory and to the encouragement of all who cry out with the Psalmist, “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” (Psalm 35:3). For Christ’s sake, God will continue to answer that petition—as He did for my dear Joan! Soli Deo Gloria!
With deep gratitude for all the love you have expressed to us, and on behalf of my children,
Pastor Bartel Elshout
The work of evangelism is not only for a pastor. All believers should evangelize; they should share the gospel of Christ with the unbelievers. In that sense, along with their pastor, they become evangelists. The title “evangelist” comes from the Greek word which simply means a messenger of the gospel. For instance, in Acts 21:8 Philip is called “the evangelist.” Philip was not an ordained pastor. But he was an evangelist because he “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8:12 ESV). Thus, broadly speaking, anyone who faithfully promulgates the good news is an evangelist. However, strictly speaking, an evangelist is a divinely gifted person whose primary calling is to proclaim the gospel in a place where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed before (Eph. 4:11). Acting as a missionary, an evangelist does not stay in one place, but moves on to another place to continue his work of evangelism. The pastor, on the other hand, remains in his congregation to shepherd them. Yet, practically, all pastors are evangelists. All pastors should be announcers of the gospel. The Apostle Paul, writing to his fellow minister, says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). All pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” which is to declare the message of the cross. What follows is a brief study of some of the roles of a pastor in evangelism.
Pastors have an important role in the work of evangelism. First, a pastor should pray evangelistically. He should spend time regularly in praying specifically for the lost souls. Paul did this: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [people of Israel] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). With God’s help, a minister should learn to pray with George Whitefield (1714-1770), an English evangelist: “O Lord give me souls, or take my soul!” A pastor should also pray to God for passion for the lost. Jesus, the Greatest Evangelist, had compassion for sinners (Matt. 9:36). The ministry of evangelism will become a burden for a pastor if he does not have passion. He should, therefore, pray with the hymn writer, Herbert G. Tovey (1888-1972):
Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord,
A passion to save the lost;
O that Thy love were by all adored,
And welcomed at any cost.
Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning;
O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell.
Though there are dangers untold and stern
Confronting me in the way,
Willingly still would I go, nor turn,
But trust Thee for grace each day.
How shall this passion for souls be mine?
Lord, make Thou the answer clear;
Help me to throw out the old life line
To those who are struggling near.
Second, a pastor must preach evangelistically. He must always present the gospel in his sermons. With care he must address both believers and unbelievers in his preaching. Lovingly he must call the unconverted to repentance and point them to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. A pastor should also teach the believers the mandate of witnessing for Christ. Many do not evangelize because of ignorance. A pastor has a critical role to educate and equip Christians for the great work of soul winning.
Third, a pastor should live evangelistically. The unbelievers should see the gospel in his life. He should create a thirst and hunger for Christ among them. At his home he should share the gospel with his unconverted children. In his community he should befriend his neighbors and reach out to them with the message of the cross. In his congregation, he should set a good example by personally getting involved in the work of evangelism and missions. Church members will be more encouraged to evangelize if they see their pastor making an effort to win souls for Christ. Wherever he goes (grocery store, bank, airport, gym, restaurant, barbershop, etc.), he should strive to share the glad tidings. He should always actively look for opportunities to evangelize.
By nature sinners are not interested in the gospel; sinners are totally depraved, and so, a pastor should be the one to come first to them and bring the message of salvation, confident that God can save them. He should humbly acknowledge that without the help of the Holy Spirit, he can do nothing. If people reject the offer of the gospel, he should not be discouraged, for his business is not to save sinners, but to point them to the Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has rightly mentioned, “An evangelist is a nobody who is seeking to tell everybody about Somebody who can help change anybody.”
Finally, a pastor should give evangelistically. As the Lord enables him, a minister should support financially the ministry of evangelism and missions. Paul Lee Tan narrates the story of Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate. Arthington “lived in a single room, cooking his own meals; and he gave foreign missions 500,000 pounds on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work within twenty-five years.” Later Arthington wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.” Similarly, David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians, who died at the age of 29 because of tuberculosis, said: “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep, I dream of these things; as soon as I awake, the first thing I think of is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, all my hope is in God.” Indeed, how many pastors today can say with Brainerd, “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ?”
The Greatest Evangelist said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). Churches today need more laborers. Let us pray that God will give us more laborers who have passion for the lost.
Note: This post, with very slight changes, also appears in Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 21, no. 4 (2013): 112-13.
When Jonathan Edwards wrote his biography of David Brainerd (1718-1747), he entitled it “An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd, Minister of the Gospel, Missionary to the Indians [Native Americans], from the Honourable Society in Scotland, for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of A Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey…” This long title briefly describes Brainerd, a faithful and diligent servant of Jesus Christ. At the young age of twenty nine, Brainerd died from tuberculosis in Edwards’ house. According to Edwards, a few days before Brainerd died, “though he was then so low that he could scarcely speak, he so exerted himself that he made a prayer very audibly, wherein besides praying for those present and for his own congregation, he earnestly prayed for the reviving and flourishing of religion in the world.” At the funeral of Brainerd, Edwards delivered a sermon which ended with the following prayerful words:
Oh, that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor and self-denial in life, his so remarkable devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice, to the glory of God, and the wonderful frame of mind manifested, in so steadfast a manner, under the expectation of death, and the pains and agonies that brought it on, may excite in us all, both ministers and people, a due sense of the greatness of the work we have to do in the world, the excellency and amiableness of thorough religion in experience and practice, and the blessedness of the end of such whose death finishes such a life, and the infinite value of their eternal reward, when absent from the body and present with the Lord; and effectually stir us up to endeavors that in the way of such an holy life we may at last come to so blessed an end. Amen!
Note: This post is an excerpt from my recent book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.
Published in 1563 (exactly 450 years ago), the Heidelberg Catechism is:
1. Personal in its tone. Notice for example the personal pronouns I, my, & me in Lord’s Day 1, Question & Answer 1:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
2. Precise in its question and answer. Take Lord’s Day 1, Question & Answer 2 for instance:
What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort [the comfort mentioned in Question & Answer 1]?
Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
3. Practical or experiential in its nature. Observe how it draws some practical implications from the doctrine of Christ’s ascension in Lord’s Day 17.
How does Christ ascension into heaven benefit us?
First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father.
Second, we have our own flesh in heaven a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven.
Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit’s power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.
4. Packed with scriptural references. Lord’s Day 1 has already more than thirty scriptural references. Thus, to call the Heidelberg Catechism “an echo of the Bible” is not an exaggeration. In fact, sometimes it answers with a direct quotation from the Bible:
Lord’s Day 2 asks: What does God’s law require of us? It answers: Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
5. Pastoral in its purpose. It is designed to be used for God’s people’s comfort which is the overall theme of the catechism. Countless Christians have found comfort in this document.
6. Pedagogical in its use. It is an excellent tool for bible study or Sunday school. Indeed, it is a helpful manual for catechizing our children.
I am thankful to God for this catechism. What else do you think are some of the good features of this document?
The purpose of my book is twofold: first, to demonstrate that while John Bunyan (1628-1668) historically belonged to the sectarian world, he can still rightly be considered a Puritan; and second, to reclaim Bunyan from scholars who not only dispute his identity as a Puritan but also overlook his rich and peculiar spirituality.
The volume has only three chapters. Chapter 1 carefully explores Bunyan’s religious identity, leading to the conclusion that he may be labeled a sectarian Puritan. Chapter 2 critically examines his theology of prayer, one important aspect of his spirituality. In this segment, I particularly scrutinize Bunyan’s treatise I will pray with the Spirit (1662). The analysis of this treatise shows Bunyan’s radical emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work in prayer. It also shows both Bunyan’s sectarianism and Puritanism. Chapter 3 probes his teaching on piety, as found in A Holy Life (1684). This chapter demonstrates that Bunyan’s goal in all of his life was the pursuit and promotion of piety. Sadly, some scholars who put Bunyan within a sectarian context not only suspect his identity as a Puritan but also slight his rich spirituality. Chapter 3 seeks to recover Bunyan from such scholars who depreciate his piety.
I hope my work will create a thirst among readers to pray more—to pray with the Spirit, which for Bunyan is “the very heart of Prayer.”
Ian Randall—currently Director of the Institute of Baptist and Anabaptist studies of International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic—has written a book titled What a Friend We Have in Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition, a fine and succinct study on evangelical spirituality. Randall’s book is part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, which seeks to publish first-rate volumes that provide quality introductions to some of the main traditions of Christian spirituality. In this discourse, focusing mainly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Randall explores the origins of evangelical spirituality and its key themes.
Randall has rightly noted: “Although evangelicalism emerged in [the Evangelical Revival of] the eighteenth century [in Great Britain], it had strong links with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the English Puritan movement of the seventeenth century.” The evangelicals adopted the basic tenets of the Reformation; and like Calvin and the Puritans, they underscored the importance of holy living as the outworking of their faith. This is why evangelical spirituality is more akin to Protestant spirituality rather than to Catholic spirituality.
David Bebbington, in his classic work—Evangelicalism in Modern Britain—asserts that evangelicalism is “a new phenomenon of the eighteenth century” that emphasizes four distinctive features: “conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.” Bebbington’s assertion suggests that evangelical spirituality is characterized by personal conversion, outworking of the gospel, devotion to Scripture, and the cross of Christ. Later Bebbington’s concept of evangelicalism came to be known as the Bebbington quadrilateral, a standard term among historians. In What A Friend We Have in Jesus, Randall discusses more elements of evangelical spirituality: conversion, Bible, sacraments, prayer and praise, the Cross, the Holy Spirit and holiness, the fellowship of the believers, missions, and the last times. And for Randall, the “central theme of this strand of spirituality is a personal relationship with Christ.”
Against the backdrop of England between the First and Second World Wars, Randall pinpoints four major strands of evangelical spirituality: “Keswick holiness, the Wesleyan tradition, Reformed approaches and Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality.” Keswick holiness, also known as the Higher Life movement, teaches that Christians can experience “entire sanctification,” or “Christian perfection.” This teaching was of course also present in the Wesleyan tradition; however, the Keswick tradition was less radical compared to the Wesleyan. Reformed evangelical spirituality, while stressing the need for personal holiness, rejects the doctrine of perfectionism. The Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality is to some extent a resurrected Quakerism. It gives too much emphasis on the work of the Spirit with less scriptural content; it is based more on emotions than on faith.
Although Randall gives special attention to British evangelicalism in which John Wesley and George Whitefield stand out as the main characters, he includes American evangelicalism. The primary American figure here is Jonathan Edwards who, according to Randall, is the principal shaper of American evangelical spirituality.
The renaissance of interest in the subject of Christian spirituality is noteworthy. Just in the past decade, scores of books on Christian spirituality have been published. In fact, in 2009, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, became the first Protestant seminary to offer a PhD in Biblical Spirituality. This fact shows that a revived concern for spirituality exists even in the world of academics.
 Ian Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005), 16.
 David W. Bebbington, Evangelicals in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (1989; reprint, London: Routledge, 1993), 2, 4.
 Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, 20.
 Keswick is a name of a market town in Cumbria, England where the movement became well-known.