Results tagged “Particular Baptist” from Reformation21 Blog

Praying for Revival


Prayer has invariably preceded revival. The revitalization of the Baptists in the eighteenth century was no exception. As Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) Fuller emphasized in his Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival (1785) that we began looking at last month:

"Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do. Our need of God's Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and every thing, truly good should excite us to this. Without his blessing all means are without efficacy and every effort for revival will be in vain. Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne. Take all occasions especially for closet prayer; here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength and maintain a life of communion with God. Our Lord Jesus used frequently to retire into a mountain alone for prayer, he, therefore, that is a follower of Christ, must follow him in this important duty."1

Now, the year before Fuller wrote these words there had actually begun regular meetings for prayer, which met with one specific object, to pray for revival and revitalization.

The Prayer Call of 1784

The origin of these prayer meetings can be traced back to the year 1784 and to the town of Nottingham in the heart of England, where in June of that year, the pastors of the Baptist churches belonging to the Northamptonshire Association were meeting. Earlier that year a treatise on corporate prayer for revival by the New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)--An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time (henceforth referred to as the Humble Attempt)--had come into the hands of John Sutcliff (1752-1814), the Baptist pastor of Olney, Buckinghamshire, who was also a close friend of Andrew Fuller. Not widely heeded during the lifetime of its author, the Humble Attempt's greatest impact would come after Edwards' death. Deeply impressed and moved by this treatise, Sutcliff proposed to his fellow pastors that a monthly prayer meeting be established to pray for the outpouring of God's Spirit not only upon the Baptist churches of England, but also upon all those churches that loved the Lord Jesus. This proposal ran as follows:

"Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of his Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday in every calendar month.

...The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time, remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies [i.e. churches]; or to your own immediate connection [i.e. denomination]; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denominations will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, "I will yet for this be enquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock." Ezek. xxxvi.37. Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare."2

The focus of this momentous call to prayer was the "revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer." How was this to be achieved? By "the effusion of [God's] Holy Spirit, which alone can produce [this] blessed effect." There is, in these words, a distinct recognition that the revival of the denomination lay ultimately in the hands of God the Holy Spirit, and all of their labours without his blessing would come to nought. Yet, those who issued this statement were not Hyper-Calvinists who expected results without the use of means. And thus they encouraged their congregations to gather for prayer once a month for one hour on the first Monday of the month.

The heart of the "Prayer Call" is to be found in the second and third paragraphs above. There the conviction that reversing the downward trend of Calvinistic Baptists could not be accomplished by mere human zeal is mentioned again. It must be effected by an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit: "the grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified." Without the Spirit all of the church's best efforts to bring men and women to Christ will fail, all of her noblest attempts to edify God's people and bring glory to God's name fall short of success. The Spirit is the true agent of renewal and revival. Thus, there was a desperate need for prayer.

Then, there is the "inclusive" nature of the praying. As the Calvinistic Baptists of this Association came together for prayer, they were urged not to pray solely for their own churches or even for their own denomination, but to embrace in prayer other Baptist churches throughout the length and breadth of England, and even churches of other denominational bodies. Third, there is a definite missionary focus: the readers of this call to prayer are encouraged to pray that there would be a spread of the gospel "to the most distant parts of the habitable globe." It is important to note that it was out of this group of praying Baptists that William Carey (1761-1834) came, the so-called father of the modern missionary movement. All great missionary ventures are born in the cradle of prayer.

Fourth, there is the Scriptural foundation for the call to pray for revival. Only one text is cited--Ezekiel 36:37--but those who drew up this document were well aware that there are other biblical texts that could be cited. One of Sutcliff's friends, Thomas Blundel, has this to say with regard to this verse from Ezekiel: "It is chiefly in answer to prayer that God has carried on his cause in the world: he could work without such means; but he does not, neither will he. ... He loves that his people should feel interested in his cause, and labour to promote it, though he himself worketh all in all."3

To be continued.

1. Andrew Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Joseph Belcher (Repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), III, 324.

2. [John Sutcliff,] "The Prayer Call of 1784" in John Ryland, Jr., The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility (Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784), 12. For a detailed discussion of this call to prayer and its historical context, see Michael A.G. Haykin, One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends and his times (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1994), 153-171.

3. Thomas Blundel, The River of Life Impeded in his Sermons on Various Subjects (London, 1806), 183, 184.

*This is the fourth post in Dr. Haykin's series, "Revitalizing an Eighteenth-Century Christian Community." You can find the previous posts here, here and here

Theological Reformation

Eighteenth-century Baptists did not emerge from their spiritual "winter" until the last two or three decades of the century. Again, there were a variety of reasons for what amounts to a profound revival among their ranks. There was theological reformation, in which the Hyper-Calvinism of the past was largely rejected in favour of a truly evangelical Calvinism. The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, written by Andrew Fuller (1754-1815)1 and published in 1785, was the book that crystallized this movement of theological renewal. Fuller was a farmer by occupation, a big, broad-shouldered man who looked, to some at least, the very image of a village blacksmith. Yet, in the words of the British Baptist historian A. C. Underwood, Fuller was "the soundest and most creatively useful theologian" the Baptists had in the eighteenth century.2 It was during his first pastorate in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire, from 1775 to 1782 that he wrote the substance of the above-mentioned book. In it he convincingly demonstrated on the basis of the Scriptures that it is the duty of all who hear the gospel to put their faith in Christ and the corresponding duty of pastors to preach the gospel clearly and plainly to all, using "free and solemn addresses, invitations, calls, and warnings ... to bring them to Christ."3


Calling for Repentance

Then calls for repentance played a critical role in the revitalization of many of these Baptist causes. For instance, Andrew Fuller, in his Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival (1785), outlined the spiritual apathy then reigning among far too many Baptists of his day:

"It is to be feared the old puritanical way of devoting ourselves wholly to be the Lord's, resigning up our bodies, souls, gifts, time, property, with all we have and are to serve him, and frequently renewing these covenants before him, is now awfully neglected. This was to make a business of religion, a life's work, and not merely an accidental affair, occurring but now and then, and what must be attended to only when we can spare time from other arrangements. Few seem to aim, pray, and strive after eminent love to God and one other. Many appear to be contented if they can but remember the time when they had such love in exercise, and then, tacking to it the notion of perseverance without the thing, they go on and on, satisfied, it seems, if they do but make shift just to get to heaven at last, without much caring how. If we were in a proper spirit, the question with us would not so much be What must I do for God? as, What can I do for God? A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be entrusted with any of his concerns."4

Many, Fuller noted, were merely content to get to "heaven without concerning themselves overly about how they get there." The practice of giving oneself wholly to God that had been common among the seventeenth-century Puritans had generally ceased to be part of late eighteenth-century Baptist piety. This apathy was well revealed in the question, "What I must do for God?" In other words, they were asking, "What is the minimum I must do to get to heaven?"


Five Ways Forward to Revival

Seeking to change this dire situation, Fuller suggested:

"If it is required "What then is to be done? Wherein in particular can we glorify God more than we have done?", we answer by asking: Is there no room for amendment? Have we been sufficiently earnest and constant in private prayer? Are there none of us that have opportunities to set apart particular times to pray for the effusion of the Holy Spirit? Can we do more than we have done in instructing our families? Are there none of our dependents, workmen, or neighbours that we might speak to, at least so far as to ask them to go and hear the gospel? Can we rectify nothing in our tempers and behaviour in the world so as better to recommend religion? Cannot we watch more? Cannot we save a little more of our substance to give to the poor? In a word, is there no room or possibility left for our being more meek, loving, and resembling the blessed Jesus than we have been?"5 

Here, Fuller listed five ways in which his fellow Baptists could prepare themselves for renewal. At the top of the list is (1) prayer; (2) then the cultivation of Christianity in the home; (3) witnessing to unbelievers; (4) honest examination of what needs to be changed in one's character and purposefully seeking to change it; (5) and finally, the development of a spirit of generosity to those in need.

However, Fuller went on to stress, one's heart attitude was also important. "Think it not sufficient that we lament and mourn over our departures from God. We must return to him with full purpose of heart." As Fuller reflected on this matter of heart-renewal, he urged his readers to "cherish a greater love to the truths of God; pay an invariable regard to the discipline of his house; cultivate love to one another, frequently mingle souls by frequently assembling yourselves together; encourage a meek, humble, and savoury spirit."6


To Be Continued...

1. For the life and ministry of Fuller, see Paul Brewster, Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010) and Peter J. Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2015).

2. A History of the English Baptists (London: Carey Kingsgate Press Ltd., 1956), 166.

3. Cited Underwood, History of the English Baptists, 163-164. This quote is taken from the confession of faith that Fuller made when inducted into his second pastorate at Kettering, Northamptonshire, in 1783.

4. Andrew Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Joseph Belcher (Repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), III, 320.

5. Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in Complete Works, III, 320.

6. Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in Complete Works, III, 324.

*You can find the first two posts in this series here and here.

It is vital to note that while many Particular Baptists were in the state of declension (as described in part 1 of this series of studies on the renewal of this eighteenth-century Baptist community), from the mid-1730s on there was a tremendous movement of revival going on in Great Britain. It was a movement with such leaders as George Whitefield (1714-1770), the leading evangelist of the eighteenth century, the Wesley brothers, John (1703-1791) and Charles (1707-1788), and Howel Harris (1714-1773) in Wales. Known as the Eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival, or, in America, as the First Great Awakening, the power of this movement is well depicted by Howel Harris in a letter that he wrote at the close of 1743 to George Whitefield. Writing of the ministry of two fellow Welshmen under whose preaching Harris had recently sat, Harris told Whitefield:

"The outpouring of the Blessed Spirit is now so plentiful and common, that I think it was our deliberate observation that not one sent by Him opens his mouth without some remarkable showers. He comes either as a Spirit of wisdom to enlighten the soul, to teach and build up, and set out the works of light and darkness, or else a Spirit of tenderness and love, sweetly melting the souls like the dew, and watering the graces; or as the Spirit of hot burning zeal, setting their hearts in a flame, so that their eyes sparkle with fire, love, and joy; or also such a Spirit of uncommon power that the heavens seem to be rent, and hell to tremble."1

And as George S. Claghorn has succinctly described Whitefield's impact under God on the other side of the Atlantic in America: "Wherever he went [from Georgia to Maine], he drew congregations by the hundreds and thousands. Wholesale conversions followed, lives were transformed, and a lasting impact was made on the character of the American people."2

Many Particular Baptists, however, had deep reservations about the revival. The Wesleys, of course, were Arminians and thus beyond the pale for the Calvinistic Particular Baptists. However, Whitefield was a Calvinist. Yet, the fervency of his evangelism and his urging of the lost to embrace Christ, their only hope of salvation, prompted a number of Baptist critics to complain of what they termed his "Arminian accent."

Most importantly, the Particular Baptists were disturbed by the fact that the earliest leaders in the revival belonged to the Church of England. Their Particular Baptist forebears, after all, had come out of the Church of England at great personal cost and suffering, and they had suffered for their determination to establish true gospel churches. The heritage that came down to the eighteenth-century Particular Baptists was thus intertwined with a great concern for proper New Testament church order. John Gill (1697-1771), the leading Particular Baptist divine for much of that century, well expressed the ecclesiological convictions that prevailed in the Particular Baptist community for much of the era. "The Church of England," he declared in no uncertain terms, "has neither the form nor matter of a true church, nor is the Word of God purely preached in it."3 A resolution passed by St. Mary's Baptist Church, Norwich, in 1754 also reveals this attitude. In the minute book for that year we read that "it is unlawful for any... to attend the meetings of the Methodists, or to join in any worship which is contrary to the doctrines and ordinances of our Lord Jesus."4 Many eighteenth-century Particular Baptists were thus adamant in their refusal to regard the Evangelical Revival as a genuine work of God, for, from their perspective, it simply did not issue in "true gospel churches."

Of course, there were some noteworthy exceptions, but up until the 1770s far too many Particular Baptists seem to have assumed that a revival could only be considered genuine if it preserved and promoted the proper form of the local church. For many Particular Baptists of the first six or seven decades of the eighteenth century, outward form and inward revival went hand in hand. Their chief preoccupation was the preservation of what they considered the proper New Testament form of church. In their minds, when God brought revival it would have to issue in true gospel churches like theirs.

The dilemma facing these Baptists was not an easy one. They rightly felt constrained to emphasize the New Testament idea of the local church as a congregation of visible saints and assert that the concept of a state church is antithetical to the whole tenor of the new covenant. Moreover, these were truths for which their forebears in the previous century had suffered much. To abandon them would have been unthinkable. But what then was to be made of the ministry of men like Whitefield?

One possible solution would have been for the eighteenth-century Particular Baptists to have viewed the ministry of Whitefield and other Anglican Calvinists in the way that their seventeenth-century forebears viewed the labors of the sixteenth-century Reformers. The latter did not reject the ministry of the Reformers because they were not Baptists. Rather, they recognized that the Reformers had been greatly used by God to bring the church out of the Stygian darkness of the Middle Ages. Yet, though the Reformers did well, they failed to apply all that the Scriptures taught. Similarly, it could have been recognized that God was indeed at work among the leaders of the revival, but that there were certain areas--in particular, those dealing with the church and its nature--where they needed greater light.

1. Cited Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Edinburgh/Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 243.

2. Jonathan Edwards: Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 16; New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 1998), 79.

3. Cited Dafydd Densil James Morgan, "The Development of the Baptist Movement in Wales between 1714 and 1815 with particular reference to the Evangelical Revival" (DPhil thesis, Regent's Park College, University of Oxford, 1986), 39.

4. Cited Charles B. Jewson, "St. Mary's, Norwich," The Baptist Quarterly, 10 (1940-1941): 283.

*This is Dr. Haykin's second post in a series on "Revitalizing an Eighteenth Century Christian Community."

In the seventeenth century one of the most spiritually alive denominations in the British Isles were the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists.1 From the establishment in 1638 of their first congregation in London, they grew to the point, where, by 1660, there were some 150 congregations, and by 1689, there may well have been as many as three hundred across the British archipelago. What is amazing about this growth is that it came during a time of profound political turmoil, the British Civil Wars (1638-1651), and brutal repression (1660-1688). Religious toleration finally dawned in 1689, and the Baptists were now free to plant and build congregations that were duly registered with the state, though it was illegal for them to evangelize outside of their church buildings. The denomination as a whole, though, plateaued in its growth and, in some parts of England, actually went into decline. In 1715 there were around 220 Particular Baptist churches in England and Wales. By 1750 that number had declined to about 150. As Daniel Turner (1710-1798), pastor of Abingdon Baptist Church, wrote in 1769 to his friend, Samuel Stennett (1727-1795), a Particular Baptist pastor in London:

"The Baptist Denomination... in my opinion is upon the Decline. Useful solid ministers are taken away, & few likely to fill up their places. Many churches are destitute. Useful learning is rather discouraged amongst us. A confident assurance goes farther with many, even well meaning people, than good sense, learning and piety."2

Various reasons account for this declension. For example, since it was illegal for Baptists to engage in mass evangelism outside of their meeting- houses, their money and effort began to be poured into the erection of church buildings instead of evangelistic outreach. Moreover, prior to the erection of a meeting-house, services might be held at a variety of geographical locations and thus a congregation could have an impact over a wide area. But once the building went up, members who lived at a distance were expected to make their way to the meeting-house, and thus the impact in the various locations was somewhat diminished. So it was that the monetary value of the property of the Particular Baptists increased, but their church membership began to decrease.

There were economic reasons for the decline as well. The strength of the Particular Baptist cause, like other Dissenting communities (that is, the English Presbyterian and Congregationalist causes), lay to a large degree among the working class and when the latter suffered economically, it is not surprising that this had a residual effect upon Baptist congregations. As one anonymous Dissenter noted in 1731, "The strength of our interest lies amongst the middling and trading people; and therefore where trade and populousness decrease in a place, our meetings must be expected to grow emptier there."3

The rationalism of the eighteenth century also had its withering impact. Rejecting the appeal to the Scriptures and trusting in the omnicompetence of human reason, rationalism led some Baptist ministers to reject the doctrine of the Trinity for a Unitarian understanding of God shorn of all mystery. In the 1730s, two London pastors who were brothers, John and Sayer Rudd (d.1757), came to the conviction that "Trinitarian doctrine" was "entirely consisting of words and phrases of men's own inventing" and therefore totally unscriptural. They were subsequently expelled from the London Baptist Association.4

In reaction to this declension to Unitarianism, some Baptist ministers became Hyper-Calvinists, what British Baptist historian Barrie R. White once described as "hard-core, inward-turned, Calvinists."5 Pastors and believers of this persuasion were rightly convinced that salvation is God's work from start to finish. On the basis of this conviction, however, they erroneously reasoned that since unbelievers are unable to turn to Christ, it was therefore unscriptural to urge them to come to the Saviour. Genuinely desirous of exalting God's sovereignty in salvation, Hyper-Calvinist preachers shied away from calling all and sundry to repentance and faith, lest any of the credit for the salvation of sinners go to them. God, in his own time, would convert the elect and bring them into the churches of the Particular Baptist community. Many of this persuasion were also convinced that their churches were "the only gospel churches" in the land and their spiritual pride became a source of further decline.6

1. The term "Particular Baptist" was the nomenclature regularly used to identify this community. The term "Reformed Baptist," a twentieth-century designation, was almost never used.

2. Cited O.C. Robison, "The Particular Baptists in England, 1760-1820" (PhD thesis, Regent's Park College, Oxford University, 1963), 173-174.

3. Cited G.M. Ditchfield, The Evangelical Revival (London/New York: Routledge, 1998), 54-55.

4. See Sayer Rudd, Impartial Reflections on the Minute Which The Author received, from The Ministers of The Calvinistical Baptist Board, by the hands of Mess. Gill and Brine (London, 1736).

5. Barrington R. White, ed., The English Puritan Tradition ([Nashville TN]: Broadman Press, 1980), 373.

6. [Strickland Gough,] An Enquiry into the Causes of the Decay of Dissenting Interest (London: J. Roberts, 1730), 30-31.

*This is Dr. Haykin's first post in a series on "Revitalizing an Eighteenth Century Christian Community." 

"Particular Voices"

This won't float everyone's boat, especially when I tell you that Particular Voices glories in the strapline, "Interesting bits and pieces of 17th century literature" (I can already hear Levy's disdain as he readies another "last of the Puritans" jibe).

However, this site is a little treasure trove full of nuggets of gold. Our curator posts snippets from various 17th (and some 16th) century theologians, especially from among the Particular Baptists, many of them over the last few weeks dealing with covenant theology. Recently, he has added the blessing of a transcript of each section. Stimulating, correcting, and invigorating, these bits and pieces contain some real gems, showing both the common ground of the Particular Baptists with other Reformed brothers, and also their distinctive voice. You may wish to check it out.

This Lent I am giving up . . . reticence

I will make no bones about it: I am an Old World (for which please read 'continental European') Christian, of Puritan inclination, and a Dissenter - specifically, a Particular or Reformed Baptist. That means several things. By conviction and heritage I belong to those who left the Anglican communion as a matter of conscience, sick of its halfway reformation and unwilling to conform to the general shabbiness and unscriptural demands of the Act of Uniformity. My conscience with regard to the extra-Biblical trappings of mere religiosity is tender. My attachment to simplicity of worship as a gathered church is sincere. I am sensitive to those doctrines and practices over which my forefathers spent their energies and shed their tears and sometimes their blood, both from within and then from without the established folds of their day. I see things with an awareness tuned by walking the streets, graveyards and memorials of men and women who suffered and sometimes died for conscience' sake.

Out of such an atmosphere I cannot help but be sickened by the seeming obsession with Lent and Easter at this time of year, and Christmas at the end of the year. Please do not misunderstand me: conscience also demands that - where the cultural vestiges of a more religious society patterned to some extent on the significant events of the life of Christ provide for it - I take every legitimate opportunity to make Christ known. If an ear is even half-opened by circumstance, I willingly and cheerfully speak into it, and seek to make of it a door for the gospel. I do not see the point of making a point by not preaching about the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord if some benighted soul wanders into the church with at least some expectation of hearing about his humiliation and exaltation.

But what chills my blood is the unholy elevation of things not mandated by the Word of God. I find it odd that some of the very people who obsess about contextualization and resist 'religion' have swallowed hook, line and sinker the empty traditions of men, that the men who wear Mickey Mouse T-shirts (quite literally) all the year round besides dress in sombre suits every April, telling us with one breath that all of life is worship and so tending to level out our experience and the Biblical rhythms of our relationship with God (especially dismissing the one-day-in-seven pattern established at the first and the new creation), and with the next telling us that this is Holy Week, and we are somehow falling short if we do not build it into some unholy jamboree. Meanwhile, those who trumpet their credentials as the true heirs of the Reformation either seem willing to stop with the house half-clean or seem quite keen to redecorate it with the junk that their more enlightened forefathers were in the process of throwing out (establishing the principles of the matter even if they never quite got round to that corner of the attic themselves).

Whether or not it is a vestige of the Emerging/Emergent appetite for a range of 'spiritualities' or an enthusiasm for an over-ripe liturgical renewal, I cannot say, but I wonder if it is in part a matter of distance both of time and space. This alleged 'recovery' of Lent and Easter is not actually a matter of historical sensitivity and an inheritance regained but of historical unawareness and an inheritance lost. Whether or not it is the high-grade muppetry of entire churches being urged to tattoo one of the stations of the cross on some part of their anatomy, or some gore-drenched re-enactment of the unrepeatable sacrifice, or some spotlit image-fest in which a total insensitivity to physical representations of the Christ - the image of the invisible God - is displayed, or some be-robed priest-figure half a step away from incense and obeisance, it does not come from Scripture and it does not belong in Christ's church. It is a replacement of God's order with man's notions, a disruption of God's regular rhythms of true religion with the unholy syncopation of mortal religiosity. As John Owen somewhere says, where genuine spirituality is substantially absent, men will turn either to fanaticism or to ritual - or perhaps to both - in an attempt to fill the void. Whichever way you sniff at it, and whichever way the wind blows, to the trained nostril it all begins to smell a touch Romish.

But there is a solution. This year there are - if you wish to see it this way - fifty three Easters. Most years there are fifty two. Each is a high and holy day, an opportunity to remember and rejoice in the one thing that the saints of God are commanded to remember and rejoice in: the Lord of Glory - the incarnate Son - who was crucified but who rose again, in whom we live eternally, and for whom we perpetually look with eagerness, our eyes straining for the first glimpse of the one whom not having seen, we love, who will shortly appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Each is a day of sober and grateful remembrance and recollection of his being and his doing. We have our regular (if not all of us a weekly) meal at which we remember the Lord's death until he comes, celebrated usually on the day of resurrection. On these days, putting aside the trappings of the world, we begin the cycle of time on our weekly peak, equipped by communion with God in Christ by the Spirit for the challenges and the opportunities of the days ahead.

Frankly, it seems odd to me that many of those who have proved very quick to abandon all manner of patterns and habits and convictions of Christians over decades or centuries, retain Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday as set in stone in the calendar, one of the high points of the Christian year (which pattern, we are informed, provides the central event in the church year - the climax of worship, expectation, and celebration, an exercise of the church's discipline). If you're not sold on Easter, you might be dismissed as one of the "diehard Reformed" for whom "this [Easter] Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday." To say that Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday is not to suggest an upgraded view of Easter Sunday but a downgraded view of every other one.

I try not to be a Scrooge (although I cannot help but shed a silent tear that I am now literarily reduced to trying not to be a Grinch, but it's only a silent one and fairly dry, because Dickens' plotting makes many modern soap operas look like masterpieces of restraint and reason). I try not to be whatever is the Easter equivalent of a Scrooge or a Grinch (probably something that destroys bunnies or steals eggs). Again, for the record, I delight in the incarnation, and love to explore the excellence and wonder of Christ's coming into the world. I love to do so at any time of year, and find it grievous that I am sometimes not expected to handle those truths or sing incarnation hymns apart from at the dead of winter. Neither do I for one instant deny the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the only Redeemer of God's elect, in the glorious good news that the church of Christ declares.

But when we are told that this is the time of year when Christians begin to think again about the death and resurrection of Christ, does it not prompt the question of what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the year? When men speak after their so-called Holy Week of the abating euphoria of the resurrection, surely they are explaining why a merely annual remembrance is insufficient? Christ Jesus is the risen Lord for 365 days of every year (plus the extra one when required), and we have a weekly opportunity for the distinct recollection of his death in an atmosphere conditioned by his resurrection. To flatten the whole year, perhaps rising only to a few unnatural annual peaks, is to miss so much, to lose so many things, to gain so little.

Christ died to set us free from empty things. Men died to liberate us from the rigamarole of unscriptural traditions and man-made routines and performances of religiosity. I hope that you will hear a voice from the blood-washed streets of the Old World, where those battles and the cost of their victory are ground into our consciousness, where the issues and enemies are neither distant nor tame, and where the lines remain clearly drawn in the collective memory of some of the Lord's people, and consider whether or not the prizes so hardly won ought to be so quickly abandoned.