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.

The Way to Heaven – 2 Corinthians 5. RBT Notes, 7th November

Paul is desperate to get home. Not home as comfy bed and favourite DVDs, but home as the destination of all true Christians, heaven. Call him gloomy, or escapist, but every Christian taught by the Spirit knows that being with Christ is better by far (Phil. 1.23). How about you? You don’t want to stay any longer in this world of sin and suffering than you really have to, do you?

This world promises much, but delivers little. One day we will be with Jesus body and soul. That is the very purpose of our redemption, and the reason why we have the Spirit as a deposit (vv.1-5). He will take us there. So, we look forward to the reward of faith, to true sight at last, in our heavenly home. And until we get there, we look forward to living lives which are fruitful for Christ. We dare not get distracted, turned aside and absorbed by selfish pleasures. We will give an account for whether we have invested our lives in the Gospel, or squandered them on ourselves. (vv.6-9).

If we are to avoid the shame of wasting our discipleship, we need to know the Gospel, deeply and well. We need to know that our lives have been purchased at a great price, that we must fear our Lord, and we must feel a holy compulsion by the love which died to save us, and to which we belong (vv.11-15). That love truly changes us.

How big a change, then? It changes our attitudes to other people (v.16) – we now know that everyone needs the love of Jesus. It changes our attitudes to our own lives – we have been made utterly new by the saving love of Christ (v.17). It changes our attitude to God – He gave His own Son up to death in an act of deep, deep sacrificial love to deal with our sins (vv.18-19). It changes our attitude to our lives’ purposes – we are ambassadors of this reconciling love (vv.18-20). And the message for the world, and for the church? “Be reconciled to God” (v.20). Whatever sins are alienating you from God, deal with them, deal with them now, in God’s Presence, and by His power. His righteousness means more than heaven and earth – and it’s offered to you.

 

A Prayer to Prayer

Lord, I say with the psalmist, how majestic is Your Name. Your righteousness is all that I need, and it’s given for me. I come again, confessing my sin, and clinging to the Cross. Give me grace to believe, to rejoice, and to stay close to your grace, daily feeling my need of it. Teach this sinner that all he needs is truly in Jesus. Amen.

 

The Weight of Glory – 2 Corinthians 4 – RBT Notes, 4th November

If the Gospel changes people like nothing else can, then its servants have no reason to lose heart in ministering it. No reason at all (v.1). Nor do we have any reason to resort to shady dealings in Gospel service (v.2).

But if the Gospel is so powerful, why does it look so powerless, as our hearers often reject it, and as we go through so much trouble in proclaiming it? Well, says Paul, Satan is hard at work, blinding people to it (vv.3-4). It’s not a clearer sermon people need, ultimately, or a more compelling witness: it’s the work of the Spirit, doing the very work God did in creation, shining light into darkness, this time the darkness of sin-blighted and Satan-blinded hearts, to show them Jesus in His glory (vv.5-6). And He loves to do just that.

So, Satan is at work, but God is stronger. What about us? Every Gospel servant discovers, sooner or later, just how weak she or he is. The Gospel is the treasure, not us. We are like the clay jar – cheap, fragile, and feeling distinctly disposable, knocked about, and pretty worthless (vv.7-9). We’re called to suffer as we serve, just as Jesus did. As we live out His life (and only as we do so), we find the power of the Spirit working in and through us; not crushed, not despairing, not abandoned, not destroyed. God is holding onto us. And we are bruised so that others find life in Jesus. Gospel service is “we die, you live” (v.12).

So, do not lose heart. Eternal glory will come, and will far outweigh our troubles. Dare we believe that our problems, real as they are, are actually “light and momentary” (v.17)? It depends if we’re feeling the pressing weight of heaven. We should, and we must. One day heaven will be here.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, my trials knock me down. Lift me back up. Lord, I lose perspective, and so I lose hope. Please drive the truths of this precious chapter into my heart. Feed me with its truths. Teach me that the reward is almost in sight, and help me to press on in Gospel sacrifice until the Day comes. Amen.

Through many dangers – Psalm 107. RBT Notes, 30th May

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1.    Deserts, depression, near-shipwreck (vv.4-32). What have been some of your scariest experiences, and how have you see the Lord’s delivering hand in them?

2.    Note all the places where God is said to work against the plans of wicked men. Why is it so important to remember this aspect of God’s dealing with His world?

3.    How do vv.41-32 help your hope and your perspective as you live a pilgrim life for Jesus?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You are the all-seeing, all-knowing and all-working God the world needs to know. Thankyou so much that in Christ You are the God who is always delivering me from sin and its disasters. Teach me praise, and teach me to rely on You. And after storms are passed, lead me to Your eternal home. Amen.

A River, and a Promise – Revelation 22. RBT Notes, 29th February

This is it. This is home. This is life, delight, triumph, rest, endless joy. This is the Presence of God. Its name is heaven.

All the images are sketched for us to show all that heaven is: there is endless life, just as the river flows from God’s throne, and right through the city (vv.1-2). God rules, and from His Lordship comes endless life. The tree of life, from which Adam and Eve were banished, now bears superabundant fruit, bringing forgiveness to the nations (vv.2-3). That tree (the same as the word sometimes used in the New Testament for the Cross) means that the curse of the old creation is now reversed, as all the redeemed fellowship with God and the Lamb (vv.3-4). He is their light, joy and confidence (vv.4-5). Is all this too good to be true? Of course. But it is true (v.6).

John is desperate for us to trust what he reports. His vision is confirmed by an angel (v.6), and the angel commands him to let the message run, since it is such an urgent one (v.10). The nearness of God’s Kingdom – and its final consummation – demands a response, before God comes in final judgement (v.11).

If Jesus is returning, then we must face up to His promises. He promises to reward all, according to how we have lived (v.12). He promises that those who have been made clean through faith in His blood are blessed (v.14); likewise, He promises that those who have spurned His grace will be spurned (v.15). Where will we be?

A deep longing for heaven comes from the hearts of all the redeemed. We want to reply with all that we are to the Bride’s invitation (v.17). We want to be with Him, and we want to receive the gift of life from Him (v.17). Until that great day we pray, watch, believe and wait in faith. He is coming soon. He really is. Amen, come, Lord Jesus (v.20).

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, what do I say? Your promise is staggering. Dare I believe that Your bitter cross is my sweet source of life? Dare I believe that one day You will roar into this world to bring it to its judgment, and bring Your own to Your joy? Lord, I do believe, and I worship. Give me the grace to believe deeply, joyfully, expectantly. Amen.

 

 

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God’s New City – Revelation 21. RBT Notes, 27th February. Notes by Graham Thomson

We all love weddings.  When the Bride appears at the back, resplendent in white, and we see the look on the face of the Groom, it cheers our hearts.  We know that, for them, the waiting is finally over.  They will be together as Husband and Wife.  We can rejoice together with them.

That’s where we are in chapter 21.  The waiting is finally over.  Jesus’ Bride, His Church, enters (vv. 2, 10), resplendent, radiant, and complete (vv. 11-21).  She is born of the apostolic Gospel (v. 14), and made righteous for her divine Husband (v. 2).  The Groom will be united to His Bride in the covenant of love which He had promised His people throughout history (v. 3).  And nothing will ever tear them apart again.

This is the marriage of a new world (v. 5), a world without tears, or separation, or death (v. 4). This is a world without sin and its consequences (v. 27), a world where the people of God will enjoy the full joy of covenant relationship with their Lord, free from the evil which presses them in persecution and disdain now (vv.6-8).  The Lord will be their light and their salvation (vv.22-23), and they have nothing to fear.  To John’s hard-pressed readers this was good news indeed.

And it’s good news for us, too.  Jesus will return for us, His people.  He will be united to His Bride.  Nothing can stop Him.  Life might be tough, but John says ‘Look forward to your wedding day.  Look at your divine Husband. He is always worth the wait.’

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father God, I thank You that You have brought me into the Bride of Christ.  Thank You that I can know the hope of this wedding day.  Give me grace to keep my eyes fixed on this joy and hope in the midst of troubles.  Give me grace to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.  Amen.

 

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