on the Sword & Trowel

Did you know that the Sword & Trowel still exists? The S & T was Spurgeon’s magazine. During his ministry it enjoyed a wide circulation. The magazine declined on his passing and went out of publication for a time, I believe. The current pastor of the venerable Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon’s former church, Dr. Peter Masters, revived the magazine some time back. It is now published four times a year and includes a book with each issue.

I thought of subscribing for some time and finally took the plunge this year. Just last week, my first copy arrived, S & T 2007, No. 1. On the cover is a picture of the first issue in 1865. The book included is a publication of The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon. The letters are some Spurgeon wrote to his congregation at various points during his ministry, especially when he was kept away from the pulpit by sickness or some other suffering.

The magazine contains four articles, two by Peter Masters and two by others. It also contains reports from various mission works around the world. Apparently, these are the work of men supported by the Tabernacle. Masters’ first article is “The Christian’s Personal Struggle”, ‘a simplified view of Romans 6 to 8, showing how to overcome trial and temptation’.

I thought I might share some of Masters’ observations with you. Some of what he says is quite familiar, but he makes some suggestions concerning the passage that are quite profound, especially in light of the series I am working on concerning Legalism and Christian standards.

One thing that Masters’ points out is something he calls ‘getting the scale right’. When we think of Rm 6.1, [What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?] we typically have in mind ‘big’ sins. Masters says we have the scale wrong:

The key to understanding these words is to get the scale right. Some Christians think that Paul has in mind people who commit scandalous sins without care or conscience, presuming on the grace of God to pardon them. This idea, howver, has the scale all wrong, because Paul is writing to typical Christians who would not dream of murdering anyone, living adulterous lives, or stealing. Paul surely has in mind the higher standards required of Christians, saying, ‘Shall we be casual about holiness, and rest on the fact that grace will save us anyway?’

The challenge is necessary, because believers are frequently much too relaxed about holy living. We tend to lower our guard, allowing ourselves to give way to ‘lesser’ sins, such as a little covetousness, or a small measure of selfishness, or a spot of peevishness, or a moment of pride, or spasmodic skipping of devotions. Moods and tempers (though, of course, not too extreme in scale) are allowed to go unbridled, and perhaps ‘white lies’ and exaggerations also, or fragments of unkind, harmful gossip, and many other slithers and scraps of pre-conversion life.

Masters talks about scale again when he comments on 7.14 where Paul says ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’:

As with chapter six, the key to the passage is to get the scale right, because Paul is not thinking about sins such as murder, adultery or extreme uncleanness. He has in mind the standards of the Christian life, where the aim is much higher. He requires in himself complete honesty, total unselfishness, the absence of pride or self-consideration, unlimited kindness, abounding love for God, and complete, unwavering trust in Him in all circumstances.

Have you ever thought of these passages this way? I have to confess that I have always thought of them as referring to the major sorts of sins, but I think that Dr. Masters is correct in saying that Paul primarily has in view the deeper Christian understanding of sin in these passages. By deeper Christian understanding, I mean that as we go along in our Christian life, we grow in our understanding of the pervasiveness of sin in us and how much we offend God with those things the world may dismiss as ‘little’ sins or, more probably, not sins at all. Pride, ambition, covetousness and the like are often seen by the world as virtues, not vices. When we consider Christian standards, we need to have a deeper understanding of sin in our minds as we set standards for ourselves. The world builds fences for itself to keep it from what it considers to be sin – not much, but of course all agree that murder is wrong, etc. The Christian realizes sin is much deeper than that and must build fences to keep himself as much as possible from the life that dishonours God.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3