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.

Loving Wisdom – Job 29. RBT Notes, 20th January

Where can wisdom be found? School? Life experience? A few University degrees? A few hard knocks? Wisdom, for Job as well as for the entire Bible, isn’t beard-stroking cleverness; it’s knowing how to live with faith in a Good God in a world which is full of injustice and suffering, where horrible things happen to us. “Wisdom”, which seems so unimportant us when life is easy, is the thing we crave most of all when everything goes wrong and all we have is the temptation to despair.

So how do we get it? That’s Job’s question. In fact, he says that that’s the question we all need the answer to.

People go to great lengths to get what’s valuable to them. They face up to all sorts of danger in mining precious metals, digging into dark and dangerous places (vv.1-11). Wisdom, however, is of far greater value than gold. How do we get it, then? We can’t buy it (vv.15-19), and we can’t even search it out (vv.12–14, 20-22). God alone knows where it is, and He alone explains to us how to get it: “the fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (v.28).

This is the open secret, the mined truth which deep-down we already know. Honour God above everything, and do what He tells you. Simple, then? Yes, and no. Apart from grace, we can’t, and we won’t. We are too proud, and too foolish. We are too in love with the so-called wisdom of self. Also, we are too afraid to trust ourselves to a God we cannot see, and who doesn’t bring easy remedies to our lives, when everything is hard and painful.

Pray. Pray that God would impress on your heart the need for wisdom. Pray that He would give you a sight of the One who was laid into the depths of the earth, His Cross-work completed, to make a foolish world wise. He is the source of all wisdom. Discover Him afresh. In Him really are the treasures of heaven’s loving wisdom.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Loving Father, thankyou that You gave Your Son as wisdom for a dark and foolish world. Thankyou that I never need to earn Him, or be clever enough to understand Him. I open my mind and heart again to all that You want to give me in Christ, and by faith I receive Him. Amen.

The Last Word? Job 25-26. RBT Notes 18th, January

One more word from Bildad, and one more (lengthy) response from Job, and then the book will take a different turn. Unsurprisingly, much the same ground is gone over. Bildad savages this poor wounded sheep again. His words are true, and there is much in them which should lift our hearts to worship. God is full of dominion, and His greatness should fill us with awe (25.2). Noone can be righteous before Him (vv.4-6). Well said, preacher. But one of his servants is again being kicked when he’s already down. This “maggot” Job knows his maggotiness all too well: now Job needs balm, not bruises. Bildad’s not the man to give the medicine, though he should be.

Hear the scorn in Job’s voice. He looks for comforters, and there are none (26.1-4). And yes, Job has his worship, too, his exalted vision of a magnificent God. Job’s Lord rules death and the dead (vv.6-7), moves on the clouds and rules the sun, moon and seas (vv.5-11), strikes His enemies (vv.112-13), and possesses a majesty which even His own worshipers have barely, barely even started to comprehend. A word to make our praise flow. A word, too, to stifle the hasty arrogance with which we claim to speak knowledgeably about God. Bildad, take note. Other would-be Bildads, watch your tongues, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of Glory! There is a time to be quiet, to consider my thoughts, and my words. Your holiness and Your might should be marshaled to strike me down, sinner as I am; and yet You have displayed Your holy might in working my salvation at the cost of Your precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. May my words be few, my speculations about You clothed with reverence, and my worship be marked by wonder and delight,. You are God, and all that You do, though so often misunderstood by me or kept from my sight, is good. Amen.

Friends, or Enemies? Job 22. RBT Notes, 16th January

God is on Job’s case. He won’t ignore him, although Job sometimes prays for Him to; but neither will He condemn Job. This is, of course, where Job and his friends are in such bitter disagreement.  In fact, Job’s friends are so rigid in their views that they cannot conceive of God as doing anything other than spitting His judgment on Job, and so they are convinced that He deserves it. Bad things never happen to good people, they reason. And they will not be moved.

But bad things do happen to good people. They are, quite simply, wrong.

Eliphaz’s charges are absolutely searing: Job has been wicked, demanding pledges, stealing the clothes from people’s backs, denying them the basic necessities of life, abusing widows and orphans (vv.6-9). No wonder all this trouble has fallen on him, no wonder that his life is “so dark you cannot see” (v.11). For Eliphaz, Job in his sin joins the legions of men who have ignored God and wished God would disappear (vv.12-19).

The second half of the chapter is a beautifully-worded celebration of trust in God (vv.21-30). He is as gold and silver, and He alone brings peace and saving power. This is all true, gloriously so. It’s just that Job’s trust is already in Job, tough as it is for Him. Job’s trust should also be in kind and wise friends. When that trust is broken – for Job as well as for any of us – it’s a long, long way back.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, help me to be a better friend to others. So often my words are ill-chosen. So often my feelings and attitudes towards others are wrong. Put a guard on my mouth, Lord, and work through more careful thinking, that I might be slow to speak, quick to listen, quick to pray, and a genuine, trustworthy friend. May I minister Christ in His wisdom and tenderness to others. Amen.

In the Thick of it – Job 7-8. RBT Notes, 5th January

Have you ever wished you could die? I’m not being flippant: there are times in people’s lives – many times for some – when all they want to do is close their eyes and never wake up. Too much pain, suffering and misery make life unbearable. Job sees nothing worth living for. Read vv.1-10 slowly, out loud is best. Feel its moving poetry, but feel the pain of the man who speaks this confession. He isn’t making art, he’s spilling his misery.

Job has to speak, his heart is overflowing. He speaks to God, howling out his anguish at his suffering. Job is doing what everyone does when suffering strikes: they confess that God is in charge of everything. And then they wrestle with the fact that this mighty God has found them out with such a bitter providence (vv.11-21). Suffering proves that noone, deep down, is an atheist: we know that He is there. Sometimes that very thought is torment.

When Job can go no lower, another friend arrives, Bildad. If you thought that Eliphaz was harsh, prepare for Bildad. Bildad strikes hard and fast: “Your words are a blustering wind” (8.1). He follows up with another blow, effectively saying that Job’s children died because of their sin (v.4). His counsel is then direct and crude: repent, and you’ll have even more than you had before (vv.5-7).

As Job is on the floor, gasping for breath, Bildad punches on, giving time-endorsed warnings about “all who forget God” (v.13, see vv.8-19). That’s right: Job, like they, will wither away and be forgotten, unless he repents. And if he does; well, happy days are ahead (vv.20-22).

Please. Deliver us from those who bring their wisdom. The world thinks that God works with a carrot and stick approach, smiling at the good, and rewarding it, and frowning at the bad, and punishing it. And many unbelievers assume that we can read God’s dealings – when they think He deigns to show up – from a reading of life’s events. The church knows better, or she should do. Life is messy, and uncertain. The only fixed points are the points of grace: the Gospel of grace tells us that an overwhelmingly holy God, whose justice should damn us all, embraces all who seek His grace in Christ. Christ was damned for us at the Cross. Now all that we have we have through grace. All that is true of God’s love for us is written in the Gospel promise, and not to be read out of the often haphazard events of life. Grace is sure, whereas the earthly blessings we long for are not.

By all means, seek to trace God’s hand in your life. That honours Him, and is the sign of a real, earnest faith. Be careful, though. Pride as well as despair will swallow those who obsess with the details of their lives. A better remedy – and the path to sanity for Job, his friends and for us – is that we seek the promises of grace. In Christ there is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – and that is a treasure to be tasted in heaven.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, living for You is so complicated, and often so tiring! I confess, Lord, that I sometimes want the oblivion of a cynical atheism, and I try to push You away. I don’t want the sharp pains and emotional ups and downs of living by faith. Gentle Father, find me in my weak faith and my fitful discipleship. Lord, be gentle with me, that I might be gentle and encouraging with all of Your children. Amen.

No Wise Words – Job 5-6. RBT Notes, 4th January

Comforting words? Or deadening ones? How many of us have felt a zeal to help a struggling believer, and we’ve dived in with our apparent wisdom? We’ve waved our sword of truth, only maybe later to discover that it was our truth, not the balanced, grace-infused truth of God’s Word. And far from building them up, we’ve actually cut that poor Christian down. These wounds last for a long, long time.

Eliphaz’s diagnosis for why Job is suffering is as severe as his proposed remedy. Job has had everything stripped from him, and Eliphaz has seen it all before – in the lives of fools (v.3)! Do you see his point, in 5.3-6? Yes, we all suffer, but the godless man (which is what ‘fool’ implies) will suffer most of all: suffering is his just reward. Job isn’t named, but Eliphaz is reasoning that this cap fits Job.

And the remedy? If Job wants his great life back, he most go to God and fall down before Him: He is the mighty Saviour, the sovereign Lord (vv.8-16). Good advice? Undoubtedly. But why is it given? Because, Eliphaz reasons, Job is being corrected and disciplined (v.17). No, Eliphaz doesn’t mention particular sins which Job is being disciplined for – maybe he’s waiting for Job to confess them – but he’s settled in his own view that Job is getting what he deserves. Confess them, and Eliphaz is sure that the good times will come rolling back (vv.17-26). And don’t he and his friends know it (v.27)?

So, Eliphaz weighs out his wisdom, and Job is left wondering at the weight of his own anguish (6.1). He feels wretched, pierced by God’s arrows (v.4), unable to eat (v.7), longing for death (vv.8-9), and fantasising that he might die with his integrity intact (v.10). His despair is deepened by his so-called friends and their advice (vv.14-21). He wants their wisdom, but defies them to name the sin which has brought this misery on him from God (vv.22-30).

We must be more careful, then. We live in a strange, complicated world, where horrible things happen for no apparent reason. Be slow to speak, even when you’re sure of your counsel. You know but the tiniest fraction of the Almighty, and can only guess at the best of times as to how He is fulfilling His purposes. Please, fear bringing discouragement to another believer because of your neat answers and ready advice. Listen, think, pray, and pray some more. In many words there is always sin, and even in the most carefully chosen ones, there is often little wisdom. Please, be careful.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I need to cover my mouth. How quick I am to think that I understand, and that I have something worthwhile to say when others suffer. Please forgive me for overbearing and arrogant words. Teach me humility, reverence and awe in Your presence. Teach me to make my words few, and my concern deep. Like Jesus. Amen.