Pastors Peter Simpson and John Sherwood were preaching the gospel in the centre of Uxbridge on a cold, wintry day on January 21st.
There was a good flow of people going to and fro. Pastor Simpson emphasised the omnipotence of God in creating and sustaining the earth. Stop being overcome with fear over climate change and over health issues. Do not put your trust in scientists to solve all problems, but humble yourself before your Maker, He who manifests himself to the world in the Person of His Son. The preacher’s text was Jeremiah 5:22 – “Fear ye not me? saith the LORD; will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it?”
As Pastor Simpson was preaching, he caught the eye of a young man walking past and asked him, Do you believe in Christ? He replied that he believed in Allah. The minster then said, But are you saved from your sins? The man responded that he was, because he was a praying Muslim. The minister came back and said, But on what basis are you forgiven? How can you be sure that you are the recipient of Allah’s mercy? Does not Allah have to judge and punish sin?
There was sadly not time before the young man walked away to explain to him that Allah and the Trinitarian God are not the same God (and there is of course only one God); nor to explain that belonging faithfully to a religion is no guarantee at all of being saved from sin. The only basis for forgiveness is the atoning death of Christ on the Cross, He who died as the sinner’s Substitute. God’s justice must first be satisfied, before sin can ever be forgiven. May many of our Muslim friends come to realise that mercy is only to one found upon heartfelt repentance and faith in Christ, not in regular religious duties such as repeated prayers.
Pastor Simpson challenged some teenagers walking by, Are you a good person? One shouted out that she was, and so the pastor replied that she was being deceived, if she thought that, because there is no one who is good by nature. He was then able to catch the eye of another in the group and asked her the same question, Are you a good person? She replied that she had done nothing wrong. Pastor Simpson then asked her, Have you ever harboured hatred in your heart, or have you ever watched immoral films? In any case, you have a sinful nature, because all people do.
He then encouraged the girl to take a leaflet from Mrs Pilkington, who entered into further discussion with her about the gospel. She was thankfully open to the discussion, and announced to the witnessing sister, This is the fifth time this week that someone has spoken to me about God! In other words, by God’s grace, seeds may already have been sown in her heart, and the preacher and Mrs Pilkington were having the privilege of helping to water that seed. This is a situation which could never have been planned. The girl encouragingly took a free copy of John’s Gospel, promising to read it. May the Lord open her heart to see the glorious truth of God’s Word, and may she realise that she indeed does not possess an essential goodness, but must rather flee to the Saviour for mercy.
A Christian lady went by as Pastor Sherwood was preaching, and said in a deeply ironic manner to Pastor Simpson, Whatever you do, do not tell them about God’s love!, the implication being that they only spoke about God’s judgement. She sadly also accused the preachers of giving Christians a bad name precisely because they were not focusing on God’s love.
It was felt that these were extremely unfair, though not uncommon, comments, because the ministers constantly proclaim the free love and mercy of Christ towards sinners. All people, however, are not automatically in receipt of this love, and this love can only be appreciated in the context of a prior awareness of the consequences of sin. There is no point in telling non-believers who never give God a moment‘s thought that He loves them, because they will just think, Fine, I will carry on living exactly as I have been doing, completely ignoring Him. The love and mercy of God can only be appreciated in the context of warnings about the serious consequences of breaking God’s commandments and about the reality of God’s judgement.
Pastor Simpson tried to explain to the lady what the Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 13:3, a comment which He repeated shortly afterwards in verse 5 for emphasis, namely, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish“. Was the Lord focusing only on God’s love, when He said those words? Was He giving Christians a bad name ,when He announced the coming destruction of Jerusalem, saying, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us” (Luke 23:28–30)?
Did Peter on the Day of Pentecost, when 3,000 souls were converted, focus only on the love of God, when he told the Jerusalem crowd about their sin in Acts 2:23, “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain“ ?
When Mark at the beginning of his gospel summarises the Lord Jesus‘s ministry in Galilee, he describes it in Mark ch 1:14-15 in the following way : “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel”. Yes, the gospel is good news – the kingdom of God is at hand – but only for those who repent, and who appreciate the urgency of repenting.
So the preachers can only courteously reply to the charge that they are bringing the name of all Christians into disrepute through their preaching by pointing out that they did not need to be in Uxbridge at all on a desperately cold winter’s day. What on earth was their motivation? Was it to needlessly harangue people? Or was their desire that many might come to know the great salvation which is in Christ?
Christian preaching is not an exercise in marketing. Its purpose is not to make non-believers feel good about themselves. Christian theology is far more profound than the simplistic message of the Beatles song, ‘All you need is love’. It is the preachers’ duty of love to make known the seriousness of sin. Only then will the unbeliever realise necessity of fleeing to Christ for mercy. The doctor must first identify the patients’s disease, before he can prescribe the remedy. To give people the remedy and to tell them that they are already better, before they have realised what their sickness is or know what the necessary course of treatment is, would be foolish indeed.
It is the prayer of the witnessing Christians that all who were warned of the seriousness of sin In Uxbridge upon this day will consider the state of their hearts and then flee to Christ for salvation. Only then will they come to understand the true significance of God’s grace and deep love towards them.