Isaac Watts: Conservative or Charismatic?

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Here’s just another chance to plug Graham Beynon’s excellent book on Isaac Watts – it really is very good! Here’s a few notes from his chapter on Watts and ‘heart religion’.

Beynon begins by outlining the ‘cool’ intellectual religion of Watts’ day. He cites a few quotes from Watts which stress the importance of heart-felt religion:

“It is not enough for the eye to be lifted up to him, or the knee to bow before him . . . the heart with all the inward powers and passions must be devoted to him in the first place: This is religion indeed. The great God values not the service of men, if the heart not be in it.”

“Will it not fill the soul with overflowing gratitude, and make the lips abound in expressions of joy and praise? And will not these be attended with a peaceful and pleasing aspect, and establish a sweet serenity in the heart and eyes?”

“Come dear Lord, descend and dwell, by faith and love in ev’ry breast; Then shall we know, and taste, and feel the joys that cannot be expressed.”

However, Watts was also critical of some of the ‘enthusiasts’ of his own day:

“On the other hand, it must be acknowledged also, there have been many persons who have made their religion consist too much in the working of their passions, without a due exercise of reason in the things of God. They have contented themselves with some divine raptures without seeking after clear conceptions of divine things, or building their faith and hope, and practice, upon a just and solid foundation of sacred knowledge.”

“Ten thousand Saints are arrived safe at Paradise, who have not been favoured, like St Paul, with a Rapture in the third Heaven, nor could ever arise to the affectionate Transports, and devout Joys of Mrs Rowe.”

Beynon notes of Mrs Rowe that she was ‘someone who had written about her experience of God. Watts saw her as an example of the more unusual ‘raptures’ that God can give. Watts says her example is not to be laughed at, but that the majority of Christians arrive safely in heaven without ever having had such experiences.’ A key factor in the real experience of God’s truth and love is seen in the life of the believer:

“Value mortification to sin more than raptures; for mortification is a certain sign that the Spirit of God dwells in us, and that we are heirs of life.”

“What a reproach it is to the profession of the gospel to see a Christian just come from church and holy ordinances where his devout affections have been raised, and immediately to find him breaking out in vain, earthly merriment and carried away with idle and sensual discourse.”

Near the end of the chapter Beynon gives five ways in which affections can be grounded and expressed (read the book!), and concludes that for Watts, ‘Seeing God clearly must lead to loving God deeply. Loving him deeply leads to living for Him well.’ Deep study of truth is not opposed to deep affective experience of God’s love. In fact the former should lead to the latter, and the fruit of both will be seen in the holiness of life in the believer. So, was Watts more like a modern conservative or charismatic. Answer: Both! He had a passion for understanding, and deeper knowledge stirred his passion, and both together brought forth fruit in his lief. Beynon rightly concludes, ‘This kind of thinking needs to be promoted in our churches today.’ Amen!

Epistles: No Ordinary Letters


I was doing some teaching recently on how to preach from epistles, and, being no expert, I picked up Jeffrey Arthurs book, Preaching with Variety, which contains a very helpful chapter on epistles.

He notes the following things:

  • Letter writing was common in the ancient world, and it had certain fairly fixed literary conventions.
  • Ancient letters were often intended for a general audience and wide circulation.
  • Delivery of an official letter from Rome to Caesarea took 54 days; no doubt many of Paul’s epistles would have take longer.
  • The average length of Cicero’s letters was 295 words; Seneca, 955; Paul averaged 2,500 words!
  • Envoys would often not just read the epistle but expound and clarify.
  • The process of making a final copy was laborious and expensive. Arthurs estimates that it might have taken almost 12 hours to make the final copy of Romans and, in today’s terms, might have cost $2,275.

All of that is to say an ancient epistle isn’t that similar to our modern idea of a letter. They weren’t simply dashed off in a matter of minutes. Great care was taken in the production of them – it had to be, it took time to produce and deliver, and wasn’t cheap. And the length of some of Paul’s letters in particular tells us he must have given considerable thought to the structure and contents.

I remember hearing a while ago someone arguing that epistles would have been read in one go, so we should perhaps do the same, or at least not get too bogged down in detail. But if Arthurs is correct it would suggest that letters weren’t simply read in one go and then passed on. Recipients made copies and considered the detail. A letter, especially from an Apostle, was a precious thing.

Expository ministry is out of fashion in some quarters. People are tempted to raid the Bible for a topic or springboard text. But that fails to give due weight to the time, care, cost, and intent behind a carefully crafted epistle. An expository approach to preaching epistles, for my money, best cuts with the grain of their origin, production, and form. Like the envoys of old, the modern preacher must read, expound, and clarify.

A letter on truth and love for Rachel Held-Evans and Vicky Beeching

Dear Rachel and Vicky,

I’ve held off writing this for a long time, partly because it’s easy to be reactionary, bringing more heat than light, and partly because I don’t consider myself any sort of authority to address this subject.

Yet the recent renewed social media activity around LGBT issues and the Christian faith have taken me to the point of feeling the need to attempt dialogue. Additionally, I’ve been trying to help someone personally struggling with these issues within a conservative evangelical context (that is my own context) and I fear that your input isn’t helping.

I appreciate 140 characters only does so much, and I appreciate the desire for conversation, but sometimes the impression is given that those on my side of the conversation are hateful, oppressive, and unthinking. To be sure, there will inevitably be people on my own side of this discussion for whom the characterisation is sadly true. I’d also suggest that it might be true for some on the other side of the debate. So, a move beyond mud-slinging would be my first plea – and a fairly basic characteristic of Christian engagement.

And perhaps here is where I might gently encourage you to consider your own comments. Rachel, you suggest that it is possible to be ‘stubbornly orthodox, Bible-loving, Jesus-following and LGBT (or a supporter of full LGBT inclusion/dignity).’ The last phrase is the one that struck me – it implies that those who take a different position to that of your own are not supporters of ‘dignity,’ which obviously raises a large question about the meaning and nature of ‘dignity.’ As I understand it ‘dignity’ as defined in the Bible is found in terms of one’s relationship to God. Humans made in the image of God have an inherent dignity. Those who are living lives of faith, love, service, and obedience to God have a particular dignity.  My understanding of what obedience to God looks like in a particular situation (i.e.LGBT issues) differs from yours – are you saying that I don’t treat my friend with dignity because our approach to the issue is different from someone else’s? If disobedience to God robs people of some of their God-given dignity is it possible that, if it turns out your side of the debate is the wrong side, you would be guilty of dignity stealing?


This leads to your recent comments, Vicky, regarding the compassion that needs to be shown to LGBT people. I may have misunderstood your comments, and if so I apologise. It seems to me, like Rachel above, you are implying that those who hold a conservative evangelical position are not showing compassion to LGBT people in the act of holding and articulating a conservative evangelical position. This also is potentially unhelpful. Is my friend to think that I don’t show him compassion because of my view on the issue? Am I being unkind or cruel in telling him what I think God’s Word says? Is it unloving to tell him what I genuinely believe God says to his situation?

It seems to me much of this comes down to an understanding of the relationship between love and truth. The popular caricature, which I fear you sometimes fuel, is that those who support the full expression of LGBT lifestyles are loving, tolerant, kind, accepting, and properly Christian. Whereas those, like myself, who would view the practice (not orientation) of a LGBT lifestyle as opposed to God’s revealed will in Scripture are hateful, oppressive, mean, and un-Christian. Yet these caricatures fail to address the key question. What does God say? What our culture says isn’t the determining factor. God knows what’s good for us and so it is him to whom we listen. We instinctively know that disagreeing with someone does not equate to hatred of them. Rachel, you’re about to discover the full reality of this as a parent. You will disagree with your kids; you will advise them to do otherwise – and you won’t do it because you hate them or want to oppress them. You will do so because you love them so much, and you only want what is best for them. Is it possible that conservative evangelical Christians might love those with whom they disagree. Is it possible that God might love somebody and consider a course of action, belief, or behaviour to be not good for them?

The question in the debate is really about what is true. And love means I tell people what I believe to be true whether that is easy or painful, popular or unpopular. I know this short letter won’t change your view of what is true – it isn’t intended to – but I would plead with you, as those with much influence, to beware of the rhetoric which unfairly characterises opponents, whom I guess you would still consider brothers and sisters. The only way to make real progress in loving all people is to keep carefully and constructively addressing what God says to humans beings, in truth and love.

I pray you may be able to receive this in the Spirit with which it is intended,

May God bless you,

Martin Salter

10 reasons to join a small group


I’ve put this out before, but hey, new year, new starts and all that. If you haven’t yet joined a small group at church here’s ten reasons why you should. If you’ve got a bit slack of late take this as a gentle encouragement, and something you can ‘ink in’ to your diary for 2016.

  1. You’ll find a warm welcome from friends who will encourage you and pray for you
  2. You’ll grow in your knowledge, love, and service of the Lord Jesus
  3. You’ll go deeper in applying God’s word to your life and situation
  4. You’ll find a place where you can use your gifts in encouraging and praying for others
  5. You’ll find a place to practically work out the 59 ‘one-anothers’ of the New Testament
  6. You’ll see, experience, and hear first-hand accounts of answered prayer
  7. You’ll get to experience the joy of accepting and offering hospitality
  8. You’ll enjoy great social times (which mostly revolve around food!)
  9. You’ll have a group of people to connect your friends into
  10. You’ll have a great time!

There you go – why wouldn’t you!? Give it a go, and add it to you resolutions for 2016.