Letter from Australia 119. Three Deaths – One Hope
Dear brothers and sisters,
Not long after we went to Brora, we had a funeral….one lady remarked ‘I wonder who the next two will be?” I asked her why she was saying that…” these things aye come in threes!”. Maybe it’s because human beings often see patterns when there are none – but last week I was reminded of this particular old wives’ tale.
Harry Reeder –
Firstly we heard of the death of Harry Reeder, the minister of Briarwood PCA in Birmingham Alabama. I didn’t know him, although I had met him a couple of times, but he was a significant influence on the PCA, and the six months we spent in Jackson, Mississippi, involved a couple of trips to Briarwood as we sought to establish links between the Free Church and the PCA – links which have now proven really fruitful. I remember David Meredith and I walking into the massive Briarwood building from the campus car park – Dave turned to me and said “remember, we’re just a couple of gudgies from Inverness!”.
Tim Keller –
Then at the weekend we heard of the death of Tim Keller. I was going to write a lot more about this – but there are so many people writing “I knew Tim Keller’ articles that I decided not to. I’m not being cynical – I think that this is actually a sign of how highly esteemed Tim is – but there is too much. There is so much that has been written – but I think the obituary in the secular New York Times is fascinating.
I was surprised how upset I was about Tim’s death – I know him, but we were hardly best mates! I think I was upset mostly because of a sense of loss to the wider Church. At a personal level Tim Keller, along with Alister Begg, Sinclair Ferguson and Andrew Robertson, are the men I listen to regularly. I listen to one Keller sermon every week, and I think I have read all his books – the one on prayer is the best book I have read on prayer because it is largely a compilation of all the best books I have read on prayer! At a personal level he helped me a couple of times with sage advice. The first time I heard him (in London) I thought – ‘that’s what we are trying to do! but he expressed and developed it so much better.
Sometimes when you meet your ‘heroes’ they really let you down. Not so with Tim. I was so impressed by his realism and his ability to admit mistakes and to rethink. The acknowledgement that the Lord is sovereign does not prevent us mourning.
Here is Tim at his best…
Then on Sunday came news of the death of Prof Donald Macleod. Unquestionably Scotland’s greatest theologian and best theological writer of the 20th Century. Apart from being taught by him in the College, there were two areas where for me he had an enormous influence – although we didn’t always agree on everything! eg – The Downgrading of the Free Church – A Response to Donald Macleod. As editor of The Monthly Record, he set a standard for following editors, such as yours truly, which we could only aspire to. A journalist told me that the staff on the Dily Record were asked to read it as an example of how to write news and opinion! And then there was the preaching! I recall one evening in Strathpeffer where he preached at the convention in front of a thousand people. You could have heard a pin drop. He was preaching on heaven and there was just this stillness of awe. As I came out of the Church with a Pentecostal friend, he turned to me and said, ‘I just want to go there’! He was probably the most inspirational preacher I have ever heard.
Here is a clip of Donald speaking in Falkirk about (his) impending death….in January of this year.
What strikes me about all three of the above men (as well as Gordon Keddie – whose death I have just heard about) is that they were all primarily bible teachers – Harry was more about church revitalisation; Tim is the best evangelist/apologist of the modern church; Donald a remarkable theologian – but all of them loved to teach the Word of God. Teachers of the Word move on – but the Word endures forever. And the Lord will raise up other preachers of his Word.
In that regard I have been going through Colossians – slowly – with ‘Coffee and Colossians’. Each day we have a look at a verse in Colossians and for about five minutes consider how it applies to us today. What fascinates me is how many people seem to be challenged, helped and encouraged by it. That’s because the Word of God always applies to the people of God. It is ever fresh and ever new. Which is why it is able to refresh and help us. Here is the one on Colossians 1:22 which also reflects on these three deaths –
We do not, or at least should not, idolise any of these men. Each had their own faults and sins. Doubtless there will be someone somewhere on the Internet who points them out. (I once began a series on defending Tim Keller from a ridiculous book devoted to critiquing him – https://theweeflea.com/2013/08/22/engaging-with-keller-a-review/) But one thing that struck me with the three deaths is that these men are now “presented holy, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). We mourn their loss on earth, pray for their families and friends who are left behind, and exult in their glorification.
This coming Sunday having finished ‘Songs for Sunday’ I hope to start a new series ‘The Sunday Shorter Catechism’. In a few weeks we will God willing get to Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
- The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.
One other thought. This is true for all believers – not just the well-known ones. Just as significant in the Kingdom as the death of these great preachers, is the rebirth of others who are less well known. Here is a clip from a service (you can get the full service here) that Charleston Community Church did at St Peters two weeks ago….it is the testimony of Gloria and Billy – two people who have been brought from death to life – who truly are ‘brands from the burning’!
The Lord continues to gather his people to Himself.
Yours in Christ