• December 2004

    • My Dear Friends,

      Have you ever wondered why Luke tells us in Acts about “numbers?” At Pentecost “about three thousand were added to their number,” and “the Lord added to their number daily.” In Acts 4 we are told that “the number of men grew to about five thousand” and in chapter 5, we read, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” So Luke continues throughout Acts, telling us that everywhere the gospel went, numbers (large as well as small) were added to the church.

      In the Reformed church we are not comfortable with “numbers.” We say that it is not numbers that count but faithfulness: and we are right to say so. The danger, however, is that we come by this route to develop an “un-expectant mindset.” We see our smallness and assume that “small is beautiful;” the more truly Reformed we are, the smaller we inevitably will be. But this contentment with a faithful (and small) remnant may hide a deep spiritual malaise in our hearts.

      It may hide the fact that we are a prayerless chuch (or pastor). James tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” The reason why many of our churches, at least in the UK, are so small, may be because we “do not ask God” to add to our numbers. Do we really believe that God hears and answers prayer? That he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine?” Are we wrestling with God for his saving blessings to be showered upon us? Isaiah lamented the spiritual barrenness in his own day and cried, “no-one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, do we really pray?

      Or, it may be that when we pray, God does not give us what we ask “because (we) ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3). One motive alone inclines God’s ear to our prayers - his own glory and particularly the glory of his Son. Everything our Saviour did, he did to bring glory to his Father. Is this the burning motivation that shines like a beacon in our churches? Why do we want to see sinners saved and added to the church? To give our church a profile it presently lacks? To vindicate our Reformed convictions? Is the truth not that in our churches we have felt little passion for the glory of our God? Does it deeply pain us, humble us, and shame us, that people we meet every day live as if there were no God, that Jesus Christ is a name to blaspheme, not a name to love and adore? We may be living in a day of small things; but are we to be content that we are? The great evangelists we all so admire, were marked by a restless longing for the glory of Jesus Christ. They besought heaven and God blessed their labours abundantly. Yes, they were favoured men; but why were they so favoured? If nothing else, ponder that and be deeply challenged and humbled by their passion for God’s glory.

      One more thing comes to mind. Is it possible that our smallness is in any measure related to “other things” replacing Jesus Christ as the absorbing focus of church life? How truly central is the love of God in Christ in our churches? My brother preachers, is the preaching of the cross of our Lord Jesus, its glory, grace and love, the supreme note in our pulpit ministry? Is our chief boast, “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?” My fellow Christian brothers and sisters, do we know in our own souls something of what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ’s love compels us”? It was Christ’s amazing love that made Paul the man he was; Christ’s astonishing love defined everything about him. He was the evangelist he was because God’s love had been poured into his heart by the Holy Spirit and he could not rest until the world heard of this love. Too often in Reformed churches we end up majoring on minors and lose the plot. There are truths of “first importance” and they all centre on the Person and mission of our Lord Jesus.

      Please do not think for one moment that I am decrying smallness. I hope, rather, that I am asking myself first, and all who read this, are we small because we are content with smallness? Numbers in themselves are meaningless. Many wonderful men and churches have laboured prayerfully, faithfully and lovingly, and seen little fruit for their labours. But is it not also true that if we expect little, we will get little? Simply to wait and hope for revival to come can lead to present spiritual inertia. May our gracious God stir us up today to give ourselves to prayer and a passion for his glory.

      Yours in the fellowship of Christ

      Ian Hamilton