Saturday, 30 June 2012

John Chrysostom: The Early Church's Greatest Preacher

John Chrysostom was one the greatest preachers in the history of the Church and several hundred of his writings are still with us and can be accessed for free on the internet-thank God for technology. He was certainly the most popular preacher of his day though he did run into much controversy as you will discover if you read on. He was a good and humble man who was certainly no lover of money or fame despite his popularity. This short biography was taken Christianity Today.AK
"Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears."

"It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing," John of Antioch exhorted the congregation, "and allow men who are created in God's image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold so that they can hardly hold themselves upright."

Eloquent and uncompromising preaching was typical of John and earned him the name history would remember him by: Chrysostomos—"golden mouth." But his preaching, though considered the best in the early church, was what got him into trouble and led to his untimely death.

Affair of the statues

John was raised in Antioch, a leading intellectual center of late antiquity, by his widowed mother, Anthusa, a pious Christian woman. His tutor was Libanius, the famous pagan rhetorician who had been a professor in both Athens and Constantinople.

After his education, like many devout men of his day, the spidery John (he was short, thin, and long-limbed) entered monastic seclusion. But his ascetic rigors were so strenuous, they damaged his health (the effects would last his whole life), and he was forced to return to public life. He quickly went from lector to deacon to priest at the church in Antioch.


323 Eusebius completes Ecclesiastical History
325 First Council of Nicea
341 Ulphilas, translator of Gothic Bible, becomes bishop
349 John Chrysostom born
407 John Chrysostom dies
410 Rome sacked by Visigoths

During this time, he penned On the Priesthood, a justification for his own delay in entering the priesthood but also a mature look at the perils and possibilities of ministry: "I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise," he wrote in one passage. "And if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help being pained and distraught at losing it."

It was in Antioch where Chrysostom's preaching began to be noticed, especially after what has been called the "Affair of the Statues."

In the spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. Statues of the emperor and his family were desecrated. Imperial officials responded by punishing city leaders, killing some; Archbishop Flavian rushed to the capital in Constantinople, some 800 miles away, to beg the emperor for clemency.

In Flavian's absence, John preached to the terrified city: "Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for three or four days and then begin the old life again." When eight weeks later, Flavian returned with the good news of the emperor's pardon, John's reputation soared.

From then on, he was in demand as a preacher. He preached through many books of the Bible, though he had his favorites: "I like all the saints," he said, "but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven." In his sermons, he denounced abortion, prostitution, gluttony, the theater, and swearing. About the love of horse racing, he complained, "My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to horse racing again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, 'This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,' and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here."

His large bald head, deeply set eyes, and sunken cheeks reminded people of Elisha the prophet. Though his sermons (which lasted between 30 minutes and two hours) were well attended, he sometimes became discouraged: "My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing."

At the same time, he said, "Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears."

Kidnapped to Constantinople

In early 398, John was seized by soldiers and transported to the capital, where he was forcibly consecrated as archbishop of Constantinople. His kidnapping was arranged by a government official who wanted to adorn the church in the capital city with the best orator in Christianity. Rather than rebelling against the injustice, John accepted it as God's providence.

And rather than soften his words for his new and prestigious audience—which now included many from the imperial household—John continued themes he preached in Antioch. He railed against abuses of wealth and power. Even his lifestyle itself was a scandal: he lived an ascetic life, used his considerable household budget to care for the poor, and built hospitals.

He continued preaching against the great public sins. In a sermon against the theater, for example, he said, "Long after the theater is closed and everyone is gone away, those images of "shameful women" actresses still float before your soul, their words, their conduct, their glances, their walk, their positions, their excitation, their unchaste limbs … And there within you she kindles the Babylonian furnace in which the peace of your home, the purity of your heart, the happiness of your marriage will be burnt up!"

His lack of tact and political skill made him too many enemies—in the imperial family and among fellow bishops. For reasons too complex to elaborate, Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, was able to call a council outside of Constantinople and, trumping up charges of heresy, had John deposed from office. John was sent into exile by Empress Eudoxia and Emperor Arcadius.

John was transported across the plains of Asia Minor in the heat of summer, and almost immediately his health began to fail him. He was visited by loyal followers, and wrote letters of encouragement to others: "When you see the church scattered, suffering the most terrible trials, her most illustrious members persecuted and flogged, her leader carried away into exile, don't only consider these events, but also the things that have resulted: the rewards, the recompense, the awards for the athlete who wins in the games and the prizes won in the contest."

On the eastern shore of the Black Sea, at the edges of the empire, his body gave out and he died.

Thirty-four years later, after John's chief enemies had died, his relics were brought back in triumph to the capital. Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, publicly asked forgiveness for the sins of his parents.

He was later given the caption of "Doctor of the Church" because of the value of his writings (600 sermons and 200 letters survive). Along with Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius, he is considered one of the greatest of the early Eastern church fathers.

Monday, 18 June 2012

'The Shadow of His Wings' Gerhard Tersteegen

For those involved in mission it is sometimes a problem when, and even how, to rest. Many passionate evangelists, missionaries, ministers and lay workers often end up burnt out. There used to be a well known lifestyle motto which encouraged us to live with the attitude: 'I'd rather burn out than rust out' (Neil Young?). Though there is some truth in that, there must be a way to serve God and not end up broken down and burnt out.

Jesus and Paul are certainly examples of hard work as well as of those who went to the limit physically, spiritually and emotionally in their ministry. Yet, it was Jesus who saw a danger here and told his disciples to ' come away and rest awhile' and to put their trust each day in their heavenly Father.  Paul also encouraged believers to 'Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus'.

For our all round well being we must learn to find rest in God or we will be forever 'chasing our tails', anxious, fretful, manic, irritable, restless  and ultimately a nervous wreck. John Stott spoke of having 'Quiet days' particularly if he was very busy. I believe we should also listen to the wisdom of Tersteegen here as he encourages us at the end of the day to bring all our thoughts and anxieties to the Lord, where, as we worship Him in that silent place he will,  to use a computer term, 'defragment' our mind. He has made the promise to us and we must hold firmly on to it.
'You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.' Isa.26.3.

The evening comes, the sun is sunk and gone,
And all things lie in stillness and in rest;
And thou, my soul, for thee one rest alone
Remaineth ever, on the Father's breast.

The wanderer rests at last each weary limb;
Birds to their nests return from heath and hill;
The sheep are gathered from the pastures dim--
In Thee, my God, my restless heart is still.

Lord, gather from the regions dim and far
Desires and thoughts that wandered far from Thee;
To home and rest lead on, O guiding Star,
No other home or nest but God for me.

The daily toil of this worn body done,
The spirit for untiring work is strong;
Still hours of worship and of love begun,
Of blessed vision and eternal song.

In darkness and in silence still and sweet,
With blessed awe my spirit feels Thee near;
Within the Holiest, worships at Thy feet:
Speak Thou, and silence all my soul to hear.

To Thee my heart as incense shall arise;
Consumed upon Thine altar all my will;
Love, praise, and peace, an evening sacrifice,
And in the Lord I rest, and I am still.

Starlings heading home to roost.

Friday, 8 June 2012


I met a man today who told me that he had brought up as a Mormon and though he continues to respect them as good people, he left them at the age of 13 believing they were in error. He later joined a Cistersian Monastery which he also eventually left. He went on to tell me that in all his journeying, all he was seeking for, was God; and he did find Him eventually in a place he did not expect: in his own heart.  Hearing his story reminded me of the great song by Gerhart Tersteegen.

I think we are naturally religious and many of us try very hard to find God in our own strength. One has only to think of the extremely religious people such as St. Paul, Luther and Wesley to understand this. However, by our own works we can not find the source of all being and the source of all joy. As the song goes, we must come to God as a lost child  to his Father, not as a spiritual giant to the great 'Magnificent One'. There we must sit at his feet and enjoy the bounty  he wants to pour out upon us, or, as one Charles Wesley once declared as a prayer: 'Thou O Christ art all I want, more than all in thee I find!' Be blessed! AK

Thou who givest of Thy gladness

Till the cup runs o'er—

Cup whereof the pilgrim weary

Drinks to thirst no more—

Not a-nigh me, but within me

Is Thy joy divine;

Thou, O Lord, hast made Thy dwelling

In this heart of mine.

 Need I that a law should bind me

Captive unto Thee?

Captive is my heart, rejoicing

Never to be free.

Ever with me, glorious, awful,

Tender, passing sweet,

One upon whose heart I rest me,

Worship at His Feet.

With me, wheresoe'er I wander,

That great Presence goes,

That unutterable gladness,

Undisturbed repose.

Everywhere the blessed stillness

Of His Holy Place—

Stillness of the love that worships

Dumb before His Face.

To Thy house, O God my Father,

Thy lost child is come:

Led by wandering lights no longer,

I have found my home.

Over moor and fen I tracked them

Through the midnight blast,

But to find the Light eternal

In my heart at last.

                                         OVERFLOWING CUP

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Character of a Methodist: John Wesley

I came across this passage over twenty years ago and thought that others might be inspired by it too. In this passage John Wesley describes to his readers what he believes the character of a Methodist should be. Though in one sense he was referring to those who belonged to the Methodist grouping of his day he also meant by it : 'Those who live by the methods of the Bible'( As defined in the dictionary he himself wrote!). In other words : A Biblical Christian which is also 'the perfect Christian' and the model of which we must aim for.Notice how he integrates so much scripture with his own words, in fact there is actually more scripture than his own! No wonder he once stated 'Let me be homo unios libri [a man of one book]" which is surely what he was.AK

A Methodist is one who has "the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;" one who "loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!"

He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy, as having in him "a well of water springing up into everlasting life," and overflowing his soul with peace and joy. "Perfect love" having now "cast out fear," he "rejoices evermore." He "rejoices in the Lord always," even "in God his Saviour;" and in the Father, "through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom he hath now received the atonement." "Having" found "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of his sins," he cannot but rejoice, whenever he looks back on the horrible pit out of which he is delivered; when he sees "all his transgressions blotted out as a cloud, and his iniquities as a thick cloud." He cannot but rejoice, whenever he looks on the state wherein he now is; "being justified freely, and having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." For "he that believeth, hath the witness" of this "in himself;" being now the son of God by faith. "Because he is a son, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into his heart, crying, Abba, Father!" And "the Spirit itself beareth witness with his spirit, that he is a child of God." He rejoiceth also, whenever he looks forward, "in hope of the glory that shall be revealed;" yea, this his joy is full, and all his bones cry out, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten me again to a living hope -- of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for me!"

And he who hath this hope, thus "full of immortality, in everything giveth thanks;" as knowing that this (whatsoever it is) "is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning him." From him, therefore, he cheerfully receives all, saying, "Good is the will of the Lord;" and whether the Lord giveth or taketh away, equally "blessing the name of the Lord." For he hath "learned, in whatsoever state he is, therewith to be content." He knoweth "both how to be abased and how to abound. Everywhere and in all things he is instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need." Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he giveth thanks from the ground of his heart to Him who orders it for good; knowing that as "every good gift cometh from above," so none but good can come from the Father of Lights, into whose hand he has wholly committed his body and soul, as into the hands of a faithful Creator. He is therefore "careful" (anxiously or uneasily) "for nothing;" as having "cast all his care on Him that careth for him," and "in all things" resting on him, after "making his request known to him with thanksgiving."

For indeed he "prays without ceasing." It is given him "always to pray, and not to faint." Not that he is always in the house of prayer; though he neglects no opportunity of being there. Neither is he always on his knees, although he often is, or on his face, before the Lord his God. Nor yet is he always crying aloud to God, or calling upon him in words: For many times "the Spirit maketh intercession for him with groans that cannot be uttered." But at all times the language of his heart is this: "Thou brightness of the eternal glory, unto thee is my heart, though without a voice, and my silence speaketh unto thee." And this is true prayer, and this alone. But his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and everywhere "seeing Him that is invisible."

And while he thus always exercises his love to God, by praying without ceasing, rejoicing evermore, and in everything giving thanks, this commandment is written in his heart, "That he who loveth God, love his brother also." And he accordingly loves his neighbour as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind, to every child of "the Father of the spirits of all flesh." That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love; no, nor that he is known to be such as he approves not, that he repays hatred for his good-will. For he "loves his enemies;" yea, and the enemies of God, "the evil and the unthankful." And if it be not in his power to "do good to them that hate him," yet he ceases not to pray for them, though they continue to spurn his love, and still "despitefully use him and persecute him."

For he is "pure in heart." The love of God has purified his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. It hath cleansed him from pride and haughtiness of spirit, whereof alone cometh contention. And he hath now "put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering:" So that he "forbears and forgives, if he had a quarrel against any; even as God in Christ hath forgiven him." And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is utterly cut off. For none can take from him what he desires; seeing he "loves not the world, nor" any of "the things of the world;" being now "crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him;" being dead to all that is in the world, both to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." For "all his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name."

Agreeable to this his one desire, is the one design of his life, namely, "not to do his own will, but the will of Him that sent him." His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He has a single eye. And because "his eye is single, his whole body is full of light." Indeed, where the loving eye of the soul is continually fixed upon God, there can be no darkness at all, "but the whole is light; as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten the house." God then reigns alone. All that is in the soul is holiness to the Lord. There is not a motion in his heart, but is according to his will. Every thought that arises points to Him, and is in obedience to the law of Christ.

And the tree is known by its fruits. For as he loves God, so he keeps his commandments; not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to "keep the whole law, and offend in one point;" but has, in all points, "a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man." Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath enjoined, he doeth; and that whether it be little or great, hard or easy, joyous or grievous to the flesh. He "runs the way of God's commandments," now he hath set his heart at liberty. It is his glory so to do; it is his daily crown of rejoicing, "to do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven;" knowing it is the highest privilege of "the angels of God, of those that excel in strength, to fulfil his commandments, and hearken to the voice of his word."

All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might. For his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength. He continually presents his soul and body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, and all he is, to his glory. All the talents he has received, he constantly employs according to his Master's will; every power and faculty of his soul, every member of his body. Once he "yielded" them "unto sin" and the devil, "as instruments of unrighteousness;" but now, "being alive from the dead, he yields" them all "as instruments of righteousness unto God."

By consequence, whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God. In all his employments of every kind, he not only aims at this, (which is implied in having a single eye,) but actually attains it. His business and refreshments, as well as his prayers, all serve this great end. Whether he sit in his house or walk by the way, whether he lie down or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life; whether he put on his apparel, or labour, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labour, it all tends to advance the glory of God, by peace and good-will among men. His one invariable rule is this, "Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." >

Nor do the customs of the world at all hinder his "running the race that is set before him." He knows that vice does not lose its nature, though it becomes ever so fashionable; and remembers, that "every man is to give an account of himself to God." He cannot, therefore, "follow" even "a multitude to do evil." He cannot "fare sumptuously every day," or "make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof." He cannot "lay up treasures upon earth," any more than he can take fire into his bosom. He cannot "adorn himself," on any pretence, "with gold or costly apparel." He cannot join in or countenance any diversion which has the least tendency to vice of any kind. He cannot "speak evil" of his neighbour, any more than he can lie either for God or man. He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot speak "idle words;" "no corrupt communication" ever "comes out of his mouth," as is all that "which is" not "good to the use of edifying," not "fit to minister grace to the hearers." But "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are" justly "of good report," he thinks, and speaks, and acts, "adorning the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all things."

Lastly. As he has time, he "does good unto all men;" unto neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies: And that in every possible kind; not only to their bodies, by "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those that are sick or in prison;" but much more does he labour to do good to their souls, as of the ability which God giveth; to awaken those that sleep in death; to bring those who are awakened to the atoning blood, that, "being justified by faith, they may have peace with God;" and to provoke those who have peace with God to abound more in love and in good works. And he is willing to "spend and be spent herein," even "to be offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith," so they may "all come unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."

These are the principles and practices of our sect; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do those who are in derision so called, desire to be distinguished from other men. If any man say, "Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!" thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, -- the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. And whosoever is what I preach, (let him be called what he will, for names change not the nature of things,) he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labour to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after what they know they have not yet attained. No: "Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." And I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that we be in no wise divided among ourselves. Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thine? I ask no farther question. If it be, give me thy hand. For opinions, or terms, let us not destroy the work of God. Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give thee the right hand of fellowship. If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies; let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel; walking worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; remembering, there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called with one hope of our calling; "one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."