Henry and Eling Venn – Married for Good

Henry Venn was the Vicar of Huddersfield from 1759-71, and his ministry was marked by a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit in the town and area. Often the graveyard of the Parish Church would be crowded with people who couldn’t get into the building for worship. Some even stayed in the church building between morning and evening worship so as to get some of the best seats in the house!

In 1767, and aged 33, Venn lost his dear wife, Eling. They were devoted to each other, and she was a dynamic and highly competent partner with Henry in his ministry. He felt her loss deeply. Writing a month after her death, he poured out is heart to a friend. The letter was kept, and the excerpt below is intensely moving. I commend it to you, to read slowly, perhaps out loud. I think that it says so much which chimes with the thinking we’ve done about gender and relationships in our morning sermons at Hope, and how we are called to enjoy God’s gifts whilst appreciating, as the Apostle Paul says, “the time is short”. Venn writes:

I feel my debt to God enlarged in all His favours towards that other part of myself. I with gratitude adore Him for the precious loan of so dear a child of His, for ten years and four months, to be my wife. I think over, with much delight, the many tokens of love from God during the time of her pilgrimage and the consolations which refreshed and rejoiced her soul upon the bed of death. I consider her as delivered from the evil to come and in the possession of all I have been begging of God for her ever since we knew each other. Every degree of peace, of light, of joy I feel in Jesus immediately suggests the infinitely exalted sensations of the same kind which enrapture her spirit. And above all I have now to praise my Master that I have an experimental proof that He giveth songs in the night; that when dearest comforts are taken away, the light of His countenance, a little brighter view of His great salvation, a little stronger feeling of the tenderness of His heart, is more than a recompense for every loss we can sustain. I can now say from proof , “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

Some brief thoughts on Venn’s words:

Marriage is the deepest intimacy. “That other part of myself”, as Venn calls his late wife. They knew the deep joys of marriage, in the midst of hard labours for the Lord. As they grew in knowledge of each other, so they grew more and more to need each other. Death was the loosening of those bonds.Venn felt, rightly, that it was the losing of something of his own self.

Marriage in Christ is a precious gift, to be enjoyed for a season. You can feel the ache in the words “ten years and four months.” He must have longed for many more years with Eling, but what he was given he was truly thankful for. Eling was now with the Lord and truly His, just as Venn’s marriage and the time they enjoyed together were ultimately the Lord’s. If grief was bitter to Venn, he was not bitter in grief.

The goal of marriage is death. Venn saw her death not as the abrupt breaking of his marriage and its grace, but its goal. He and Eling were married in order, one day, to be no longer married. Now in heaven, the work of grace was complete. She didn’t need to married any more. God was her Husband, and her heart fully His. As Venn notes, his prayers had reached their final answers.

Grief has grace for its food. Venn testifies that the knowledge of God’s love His wife was experiencing in full measure, he was himself receiving in his broken, grieving heart. Grace was His song in the night, and Gospel comforts were the food of His soul. His wife had been taken, but God has not left Him.

And so, perspective is everything. Life is short, and marriage – if given to us – is shorter. Heaven is the home of every loving heart, married or single. So we pass through this life, and we labour to bring the beauty of Christ to every relationship, for their good and for His glory.

Hope in the Grave? Job 15-17. RBT Notes, 11th January

Here’s an old friend. But Eliphaz has no new perspective to bring to Job’s sufferings. In fact, his tone against Job is even more strident: “you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God” (v.4). Eliphaz says what Job already knows – that God is perfect, whilst we are not (vv.14-16), and that life is nasty and short (vv.17-24), that riches bring no security (vv.28-30), and that all life will end with the grave (vv.31-35).  Notice, though, that his words are spoken against Job. In Epliphaz’s eyes, here is the arrogant godless man whom the Lord has laid low.

Poor Job has to listen to this speech, so no wonder he explodes after it: “miserable comforters are you all” (v.2). He’s had enough of their words (v.3), and protests that, if the tables were turned, he would seek to encourage them (v.5). He has no encouragement, now: there is no crumb of comfort from these three men, and Job struggles to give himself any help, either. Chapter 16 and 17 are amongst the most desolate in the whole book. God comes at Job as the enemy (s0 he feels, vv.6-9), men do, too (vv.10), and his misery is a shared project between God and his creatures (vv.11-15). Death is all that there is to look forward to (22-17.1), since this world has no comfort and no comforters, least of all Job’s so-called friends (vv.3-16).

No comfort, or comforters? Not quite. There is one, Job, who is your intercessor (16.20). There is one who has pleaded not just for friends, but for enemies (16.21). The is one who is making a true and eternal home for you beyond the grave (17.13), and there is one who has descended into the dust for you (17.16). Look up, take heart. And that means you, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I am a creature of tears, dust and death. I am a child of Adam. I look, though, to the Last Adam, the obedient and conquering Lord Jesus Christ. Save me, through His glorious merits, I pray. Set my aching heart on Him, and teach me to see beyond the grave to worlds unknown, which one day I shall know, all because of Jesus. Amen.

 

All my sorrows – Job 3-4. RBT Notes, 3rd January

Suffering has its own adrenalin. When terrible things happen, most of us know a great energy surging through us, helping us to cope with the immediate trauma. Ever noticed how strong a bereaved person is at a funeral? And how upset many of those outside the immediate family circle are? God is good. He cares for the broken-hearted, and gives them strength to face loss. Energy given at a time of trauma is a gift of grace.

It’s the next six months which are the worst. Or the next six years, or twenty. With time grief sinks in, and works its way into every thought, feeling and memory. This is where we find Job in chapter 3. He opens his mouth, and his heart-grief pours out. Experience the power in his lament, a torrent of misery and anger. This is very raw grief. Job would rather die than live – and rather not have been born at all (vv.3-12). Death is the great leveller, where rich and poor lie side by side, the slave and the free sleeping (vv.13-19) – but even that peace eludes Job. The light of life which he is forced to endure now is only filled with misery and turmoil (vv.20-26).

This is a believer’s grief. Maybe you’ve seen it in others, or felt it yourself. Does it scare you, that grief brings feelings which are so intense, and which look so much at odds with the submission which faith is supposed to bring? Do you need to rush to bring comfort, or maybe rush to bring defense to God, when a Christian grieves like this? Or do you feel that your own feelings of angry desolation when you grieve are wrong?

One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, speaks up. We’ll hear his views many times in the following chapters. Here, the essence of his counsel is this: “look at yourself – and work out why you’re suffering”. He notes that Job has been godly and kind to others, and so there should be no reason why suffers under a just God, unless he is deep-down at fault (v.11). He even claims supernatural revelation for his beliefs (vv.12-21). Job is getting what he deserves. Surely he’s right, then?

Not so fast, Eliphaz. This friend’s views have been repeated through culture and history, and they still lurk in the church of Christ. Yes, the Bible does tells us to watch our steps, as God’s punishment for our sins does sometimes comes to us in this life. But far more of the Bible’s teaching warns us that only a fool draws a straight line between our actions and the consequences of them this side of God’s judgment. Many suffer through no apparent fault of their own. Then there are others who are thoroughly rotten, and they have the most charmed lives. Trying to work out what God is doing in our lives, and how our hearts stand before Him by measuring our joys or our sorrows, is a dangerous game.

Are you suffering at the moment? Are you tormented by things in your life you can’t change, and many that seem to be beyond justice? Look at another righteous Sufferer, One who suffered at the Cross. See the way He submitted to God’s good and perfect will, and drank that bitter cup. Know afresh that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ. Pour out your anguish to Him, knowing that His love is poured out without condition to you. Keep believing: Jesus did.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You did not ordain an easy life for Your Son, You’ve not ordained one for any of Your blood-bought children. Keep my heart both soft and honest before You. May my sufferings be my sanctification. Amen.

Man World, Wise God – Eccelsiastes 9. RBT Notes, 11th April

three_wise_skeletons-other

 

 

1.    Are vv.1-6 an invitation to despair? If not, how do these verses help to you live for Jesus?

2.   Enjoyment and hard work are gifts from God (vv.7-12) – what more can you throw yourself into with the energy and opportunities God gives you?

3.   vv.13-18: wisdom is fragile, and easily crushed. Who was the wisest man who ever lived, and what became of Him? What does that say about how fragile your wisdom is, as well as how strong?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Thankyou, Father, for Wise King Jesus. May His Spirit teach me to laugh, to labour, to enjoy, to treasure, as well as to let go. In a mad world, teach me wisdom. Amen.

Desire – Ecclesiastes 7. RBT Notes, 8th April

Rock climber at sunset background. Sport and active life

 

1.   Why does the Teacher extol the virtues of death and mourning in vv.1-4? Think about life’s injustices, the fact of suffering, and the resurrection of Jesus!

2.   How does wisdom shape what we do, and what can’t it do for us (vv.5-14)?

3.   Choose one verse to reflect on and pray into your life from this passage. Which one attitude or action will it change for you today?

 

A Prayer to Pray

God of heaven, You know how slow I am to learn! Forgive when I act as if this life is permanent, and when I’m surprised by sins and disasters. Please teach me that the greatest wisdom means investing in the life to come, and teach me to treasure Your Risen Son, and my Saviour, the Lord Jesus.

 

Open Door – Revelation 3.7-21. RBT Notes, 5th February

If Jesus has opened up both death and eternal life (1.18), then no situation, crisis, suffering or heartache can remain closed against Him (3.7). Those at Philadelphia are clearly exhausted disciples. Our Master knows this, encourages them (v.8), and urges them to take the opportunities He is opening up for them. Better still, He will open a place in His Father’s Presence to them for ever (v.12). He is coming soon to do that (v.11). It’s not our strength or faith or mind, then that counts; our confidence is in Jesus. He holds the keys.

Light_on_door_at_the_end_of_tunnelMaybe you are a believer who is longing to serve God, and longing to be with Christ in heaven. Some Christians, though, are looking for the door out of the Christian life, and they aren’t always aware of it. Take the church at Laodicea. Like the tepid, unhealthy spring water which ran into the city, believers there were dangerously lukewarm (v.16). They were so confident in themselves, they felt they didn’t need the Gospel. Christ sees a smugness which is trying to push Him away, and which is close to disqualifying them from heaven (v.16). They need to open the door again to their Saviour by a sincere repentance (v.20). Self-sufficiency can lead us to despair, or to complacency. Either way, we need to come back to Jesus.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, Your grace in Your Son is amazing! Thankyou that in Him You give without measure. Lift me both from despair and complacency, as you teach me that Jesus is truly mine. Open the door of my heart to Jesus again, today, and may I know His fellowship. Amen.