Mexican High Court Frees Nine Men Accused in Acteal Massacre


Joy mixes with disappointment as 28 of 57 convicted in Chiapas remain in prison.

MEXICO CITY, November 6 (CDN) — More than 35 mainly evangelical Christian prisoners unjustly accused in the December 1997 massacre in Acteal, Chiapas had hoped they would be released from jail this week, but after long deliberations the Supreme Court of Mexico on Wednesday (Nov. 4) ruled only nine should be freed and ordered new trials for 16 others.

The high court thus ended its involvement in the controversy over the ordeal of the peasant laborers, ordering the release of the nine men – without declaring them innocent – and retrials for 16 others, this time without “invented” evidence and testimony. Those 16 men, plus several others including six who had previously been granted retrials, remain in prison.

In a 4-1 vote, the court ruled the federal attorney general violated legal process, fabricated evidence and false testimonies, formulated non-existent crimes and provided no concrete argument establishing culpability of the nine men.

Supreme Court Justice José Ramón Cossío Diaz said the decision to free the men was not a declaration of innocence but recognition of “a lack of impugning evidence” against them in the Dec. 22, 1997 massacre, in which 45 people were killed, including women and children.

“These Indians were condemned and declared guilty as a result of a trial that was plagued with violations,” Cossío Diaz said, according to El Universal. “No material proving their guilt exists.”

When prisoners convicted in the Acteal slayings learned that only nine were being released, they reportedly wept – some for joy, but most from disappointment.

“Everything was invented – I did not kill anyone,” one of the evangelical Christians released, 45-year old Manuel Luna Perez, told Proceso magazine. “Many of our companions [in jail] also know nothing about who planned the massacre.”

The court ruled that federal authorities had used “invented proofs and witnesses” in convicting the men, many of them evangelical Christians supportive of the then-ruling party who had land disputes and other conflicts with their accusers – mainly Roman Catholics sympathetic to the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army.

At least five of the nine men released were known to be evangelical Christians when they were rounded up 12 years ago: Pablo Perez Perez, Emilio Gomez Luna, Juan Gomez Perez, Hilario Guzman Luna, and Manuel Luna Perez. Also released were Mariano Diaz Chicario, Pedro Lopez Lopez, Juan Hernandez Perez and Ignacio Gomez Gutierrez.

The nine were released from El Amate federal prison in Cintalapa, Chiapas yesterday and transported to Tuxtla where they are temporarily housed.

“There must have been about 200 to 250 people who made the trip [to the prison] – many were spouses and family members anxious to see the men,” said a Compass source in Chiapas. “As per the previous occasion, the people waited patiently outside the prison for the men to be released, only to be disappointed because they were not allowed to speak with them when they left the prison. The men were put in a mini-bus and taken to where they will be housed under government supervision for the next couple of weeks.”

The relatives and others traveled on to the men’s temporary quarters in Tuxtla, where they were able to meet with them, and several of the ex-prisoners’ spouses and other family members are staying with them there, the source said.

The freed men said the government has offered them what it promised 20 prisoners released on Aug. 13, the source said: farmland, help with building houses, water, electricity and other basic amenities, as well as helping them monetarily until they become self-supporting. 

Disappointment

An attorney representing 31 defendants in the case, Jose Antonio Caballero, reportedly expressed disappointment that the high court didn’t free more of those accused. But the attorney told EFE news service that the ruling would help remedy some of the mistakes in the legal process.

In the case of the 16 men to be given new trials, the high court ruled there was sufficient evidence for prosecution to retry them in a lower court in Chiapas. This time, the Supreme Court ruled, the lower court will not take into consideration any of the fabricated evidence or false testimonies, and the charges of use of military weapons and carrying a gun without a license are dropped.

On Aug. 12 the high court ordered the release of the first 20 prisoners (freed the next day), for the same reasons the nine men were released yesterday. All the freed men, mostly evangelical believers who insisted on their innocence, had been sentenced to 25 years and had already served nearly 12.

The most recent group was to have been freed on Oct. 28, but the Chiapas government led by Gov. Juan Sabines requested extra time to present “new proofs which demonstrate the probable responsibility of previous state and federal public officials, as well as civilians” in the massacre, according to La Jornada. Over the years, lawyers have insisted that the men were tried without access to interpreters or legal defenders acquainted with their indigenous culture and customs, as required by Mexican law.

For the past several weeks, families of the condemned men had set up a form of tent protest in the central plaza of Mexico City, attempting to call attention to the plight of their husbands, fathers, brothers and cousins.

With this week’s decision and the decision on Aug. 12, the court has ordered the release of 29 of the total 57 prisoners and retrials for 22 others accused in the Acteal massacre. Those 22 plus six others remain in prison.

Controversy over who killed the 45 people has revolved around whether there was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels. Historian Héctor Aguilar Camín has argued that there was both a confrontation and a massacre, with some overlap between each, but that they were largely separate incidents.

Five confessed killers have testified that they and four others engaged only Zapatista militia to avenge the death of a relative, while the federal attorney general’s office charged that at least 50 pro-government “paramilitaries” descended on a relief camp hermitage full of displaced peasants bent on killing and robbing them. The testimonies of the five confessed killers – four others remain at large – agree that the nine avengers were the only ones involved in the firefights, and that the decision to attack the Zapatistas was a private family decision made with no involvement from government authorities.

They also agree that the sole motive was to avenge the assassination of a relative – the latest of 18 unprosecuted murders by Zapatistas over the previous three months, according to Aguilar Camín.

Government prosecutors unduly dismissed much of the testimony of the five confessed avengers, Aguilar Camín wrote in a 2007 article for Nexos, noting that the killers testified that state security forces were nearby and did nothing. He highlighted the judicial irregularities of the round-up and conviction of the peasants – apprehensions without evidence or warrant, charging 83 people with homicide when only 45 people were killed and lack of translators and attorneys for the suspects, Tzotzil Mayans who did not know Spanish.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Continued violence threatens to unmoor Pakistan


Militant groups are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state, reports MNN.

The instability puts the country closer to the edge of becoming a “failed nation” says Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada. His sentiment was echoed in the headlines where Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a “syndicate” of militant groups wanted to see “Pakistan as a failed state.”

When law and order fail, believers bear the brunt. “A complete failure would be a complete disaster for Christians, just as what we would see in Somalia,” says Penner.

Although the current violence is not taking place in the same areas where the persecution has spiked, the two issues are still connected. Penner says the Taliban continues to pressure Pakistan’s leaders as they try to modify the nation’s blasphemy laws. “They’re already under tremendous pressure from Islamic leaders to simply leave these laws alone.”

These laws are often used to persecute Christians, and the definition for blasphemy isn’t clear. Voice of the Martyrs Canada says many have been falsely accused under Law 295c. Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely.

Penner says after constant attacks and unjust treatment in the courts, it’s easy for believers to become angry. “And they need to understand that it’s God who brings down governments; it’s God who moves in the hearts of kings and rulers to modify their policies. So we need the Pakistani Christians to become a people of prayer and not necessarily people of protest.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Prisoners Freed in Acteal, Mexico Case Yet to Return Home


 

Christians bear no grudges, fear no threats from accusers.

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico, October 12 (CDN) — Alonso Lopez Entzin, a Tzotzil-speaking Christian in Chiapas state, Mexico, spent 11 years and eight months in prison for a crime he did not commit. Accused of participating in the tragic “Acteal massacre” in December 1997 in which 45 persons died near San Cristobal de las Casas, he and more than 80 of his neighbors were summarily arrested and charged with the murders.On Aug. 12, the Federal Supreme Court of Mexico ordered that Lopez Entzin and 19 other indigenous men accused in the Acteal killings – 18 are Christian, including Lopez Entzin – be freed from El Amate Penal facility in Chiapas. Their release came as a surprise to him and his fellow prisoners, as well as to thousands of people in Mexico and around the world advocating their release.

Of the 18 Christians released, only five were Christians when they were arrested; the rest came to trust in Christ while in prison. At least 27 innocent men who were Christians at the time of their arrest remain in prison, according to advocacy organizations.

“I thank God that I have been granted freedom,” Lopez Entzin told Compass. “We are no longer imprisoned thanks to the power of God. There is no other person that has this kind of power, only God.”

The court is reviewing the cases of another 31 men convicted in connection with the massacre. Six more defendants will be granted new trials.

“Right now we see the first fruits of our prayers,” said Tomas Perez Mendez, another of the 20 freed prisoners. “We are confident in the Lord that the rest of the brothers are going to obtain their freedom as well.”

Lopez Entzin added that winning their freedom will not be easy.

“When we were inside El Amate, we began to pray, fast and glorify our Lord Jesus Christ. There are thousands and thousands of brothers who prayed for us inside the jail – thank God He answered those prayers,” he said through tears. “That’s why those brothers who remain behind in El Amate believe that if God’s will is done, they will soon be free.”

Most of the remaining Acteal inmates are evangelical Protestant Christians sentenced to 25- and 36-year prison terms. For years, human rights advocates and legal experts have presented legal arguments showing that the men were convicted on dubious evidence. The district court of the state of Chiapas, however, has consistently ruled against the defendants in appeals.

Attorneys for the defendants finally succeeded in bringing the case before the Federal Supreme Court in Mexico City. The justices who reviewed the case found clear violations of due process and on Aug. 12 overturned the convictions in a 4-1 decision.

The court ruling stated that the decision was not a determination of the guilt or innocence of the men, only that their constitutional rights had been violated during their arrest and conviction.

Though grateful to be free at last, Agustin Gomez Perez admitted that prison was “very difficult, very difficult indeed.”

“There inside the jail, everybody loses,” Gomez Perez said. “I saw it. Many lost their wives, their families, their homes. In the years I was in jail I lost my son. It was May 7, 2005. Twelve families were traveling in a truck to visit us in El Amate. They had an accident, and my 3-year-old son Juan Carlos was killed.”

Inmates expressed gratitude for church groups and international organizations that lent support to their families during their incarceration. Some groups supplied chicks, piglets and coffee plants for wives and children to raise on family plots. A volunteer team of doctors and nurses from Veracruz provides free treatment to prisoners and their dependents.

The prisoners said that one of the greatest helps was regular visits from their families. International Christian organizations raised money for bus fares and chartered vehicles to ensure that the prisoners’ families, who could not otherwise afford the travel, saw their husbands and fathers as often as possible.

Normalcy Not Returned

Despite being freed, the 20 men have yet to resume normal life with their families.

“When I left jail, I didn’t think I would be stuck half-way home,” Gomez Perez said. “I was thinking I would come home and see my wife and children. But we haven’t got there. We are left here half-way home.”

“Half-way home” for the released men is the market district in hot, bustling Tuxtla Gutierrez. They are living in makeshift half-way houses provided by the federal government, awaiting resettlement on land that state authorities have promised them.

Compass met with seven of the former inmates in a rented building they occupy with their wives, children and, in some cases, grandchildren. The families share windowless, sparsely furnished rooms with bare cement floors. Government food rations sustain them. While the half-way house is better than prison, it is nothing like the lush, green Chiapas mountains to which they long to return.

The men agreed to the relocation scheme because the farms they worked before going to prison have long since reverted to their heirs or, in some cases, neighbors. They welcome the assistance to get back on their feet financially.

Government officials, however, insist that the Acteal prisoners must relocate to new communities because they fear violent clashes will flare between them and their old rivals.

The seven freed men were unanimous in their opinion that such confrontations would not happen.

“In the first place, we do not agree with what the government is saying,” Gomez Perez said. “We hold no grudges against those who accused us. What happened, happened. We are not thinking vengeance.”

Perez Mendez agreed with Gomez Perez that the men feel no ill will against those who accused them and no resentment for what they suffered in jail.

“God does not want that we hold grudges or take vengeance against anyone,” he said. “There is not really much danger out there in our communities either. When people saw the news on television on Aug. 12 that we were getting out, they were happy. Well, now we hear that they found out we are not coming home, that we are here in Tuxtla, and some are saying, ‘Why don’t they come home? Tell them to come.’”

The Acteal prisoners have reason to hold grudges. Their attorneys say many of them were arrested in random police sweeps in the days following the massacre simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Public indignation over the brutal slayings, fueled by numerous inflammatory press releases from Las Abejas, a civic group whose members were primary targets in the massacre, as well as by the left-leaning human rights organization Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, swelled to fever pitch in December 1997.

Authorities responded by arresting dozens of “suspects,” without evidence or warrants, to quell the outcry.

Some Acteal defendants found themselves accused of the crime by allies of the rebel Zapatista guerrilla army. A land dispute between Zapatista sympathizers and opponents of the rebels intensified during the waning months of 1997, claiming the lives of 18 indigenous men, the majority of them Protestant Christians. Attorneys say indifferent law enforcement officers failed even to investigate the murders, let alone arrest the perpetrators.

Frustrated with the authorities’ foot-dragging and desperate to defend themselves against further aggression, nine indigenous young men armed themselves and confronted their enemies on Dec. 22, 1997. The ensuing firefight and subsequent massacre at the Catholic hermitage in Acteal ended with 45 dead, many of them women and children who were participating in an Abejas-sponsored program that day.

Five of the nine armed men have confessed to participating in the Acteal shootings and insist they acted alone. Those five are serving prison terms in El Amate. Two others were arrested and released because they were minors at the time of the crime. Two more remain at large and, ironically, have reportedly come under the protection of the Zapatistas.

Las Abejas and its allies continue to assert that that the Acteal killings were carried out by “paramilitary” units equipped and assisted by the Mexican army. With the passage of time, many of those who hold this thesis have admitted that most of the Acteal prisoners did not, in fact, participate in the shooting. Nevertheless, they insist that until the “intellectual authors” of the atrocity come forward and confess, not one prisoner – even though innocent of the crime – should be released.

That strange logic has helped to keep more than 50 innocent men in prison for nearly 12 years.

“It is certain that we suffered an injustice for nearly 12 years,” Perez Mendez said. “A lot of people tell us that we are guilty. But as far as we are concerned, God knows all. We did not commit that crime.

He implored Christians to pray for the innocent men who have yet to be released.

Pray as well for we who are not at home in our communities,” he said. “I ask that you not forget us.”Report from Compass Direct News 

MEXICO: CHRISTIANS JAILED FOR ACTEAL MASSACRE WIN RELEASE


Supreme Court rules their rights were violated; violence threatened in Chiapas.

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 13 (Compass Direct News) – At least 20 men accused of participating in a massacre in Chiapas state in December 1997 left prison early this morning – amid concerns over threats of violence at their home communities near San Cristobal de las Casas – following a Supreme Court ruling yesterday that their convictions violated fundamental norms of justice.

The release of the 20 men, most of them evangelical Christians, came after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision that they had been convicted in unfair trials in which prosecutors fabricated testimony and illegally obtained evidence. Area evangelicals view the imprisoned Christians as caught between survivors clamoring for convictions and government police and military forces eager to shift blame away from their minions following the Dec. 22, 1997 killing of 45 civilians in Acteal village.

“Acteal is a double tragedy,” attorney Javier Cruz Angulo reportedly said after the ruling. “On the one hand you have an abominable massacre, and on the other more than 50 human beings imprisoned without proofs.”

The court will review the cases of another 31 men convicted in connection with the massacre, and six more will be given new trials, according to news reports.

The identities of those released were not immediately known. As 32 of those imprisoned for the crime were Christians and another 15 received Christ while in prison, most of the previous total of 57 prisoners are Christians.

“In prison, the majority of us converted to the Presbyterian faith,” Tomas Perez Mendez, 60, told El Universal before the Supreme Court decision; at press time it was not known if he was among those released.

He told the Mexican newspaper that he bears no resentment even though his imprisonment led to illnesses that contributed to the deaths of family members. “My wife is ill, my father and one brother died from sorrow at seeing us here in prison . . . I no longer feel anger or resentment against those who accused me, and I plan to preach.”

Authorities had told a total of 57 prisoners that they would be freed after their paperwork was reviewed, a source in Chiapas told Compass.

“Naturally, those prisoners who had been informed of their impending release last week are extremely disappointed, as well wondering if they will ever be released,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

Two brothers, Pablo and Juan Hernandez Perez, reportedly said that they have no home to return to; their house was burned to the ground while they were in prison. Another hoping for release, Javier Vazquez Luna, told El Universal he played no part in the crime, and that indeed his father was one of the victims of the massacre.

The Supreme Court justices stated that they were not ruling on the guilt or innocence of the men, only on the violation of due process.

“During the investigation, their constitutional rights were violated,” the court said in a statement. “The majority of cases … were based on the use of illegally obtained evidence.”

In recent months relatives of the imprisoned men ratcheted up citizen campaigns seeking their freedom, backed by many others. For several years Presbyterian churches have carried banners outside their buildings requesting justice for those wrongly convicted in the Acteal violence. The Chiapas government had said it could do nothing because the case was under federal jurisdiction.

Pressure to reopen the case has intensified each December with remembrances of the massacre. In spite of intense political pressure to the contrary, the Supreme Court finally agreed to review the facts.

Threats of Violence

Amid statements by survivors of the Acteal crime that tensions could heighten in the area – and a grim warning from a former leader of Las Abejas, a supposedly non-violent group sympathetic to rebel militants whose members were killed in the massacre – defense attorneys and family members of the released men appealed to authorities to provide security and guarantee social peace.

“A former leader of the Abejas made a public declaration that if the men returned to their homes, the Abejas would be waiting for them, and the released prisoners would be repaid for the pain they caused 12 years ago,” the Chiapas source told Compass. “Tensions exist, and with statements like he made, the government is nervous about letting the men return to their homes due to possible violence. At this point, there are still no violent actions, but the threat of an outbreak is real.”

At press time authorities had prevented the released men from returning to the Acteal area, keeping them in a hotel in Berriozabal after loading them onto a truck through a back door of the El Amate prison at 3:35 a.m., El Universal reported.

Initially the prison director refused to see the men’s lawyers when they arrived at El Amate prison in Chiapas near midnight with orders for their release, the Compass source said.

“When he finally relented and met with the lawyers, it was only under extreme pressure from the Mexico City lawyers who refused to be dissuaded,” the source said. “There was an extended time of wrangling before the warden eventually released the prisoners, only under threat of returning to the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission about his intransigence.”

The released men had been promised there would be a government-paid bus waiting to take them to San Cristobal de las Casas, he said, but instead they were taken to the hotel in Berriozabal.

“The men were to meet with government officials today in Tuxtla, and we are still awaiting word on their arrival in San Cristobal after some five hours of waiting,” the source said. “It appears there are delaying tactics, hindrances and lack of cooperation in the entire release process.”

Some of the released men were able to meet with family members, and most expressed desire to return to the Acteal area, but the prison director said that authorities had determined that it was not safe for them to go back to their communities, according to El Universal. Authorities have reportedly proposed the possibility of providing them land parcels to avoid their returning to the area of the original conflict.

The evangelical Christians convicted were serving 25- or 36-year sentences and had exhausted all appeals. Some of them say they were arrested because rebel sympathizers with whom they had been embroiled in years of land disputes named them. Others said they were simply nearby when authorities made random round-ups.

Of the 34 men originally convicted, one died in prison and another had been released as a minor.

The family of one prisoner, Agustin Gomez Perez, tried to visit him in 2005. He told El Universal that they had an accident on the way, killing one small child and putting his wife in the hospital for 20 days – leaving their other five children without parents during that period.

Controversy over who killed the 45 people has revolved around whether there was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels. Historian Héctor Aguilar Camín has argued that there was both a confrontation and a massacre, with some overlap between each, but that they were largely separate incidents.

Five confessed killers have testified that they and four others engaged only Zapatista militia to avenge the death of a relative, while the federal attorney general’s office charged that at least 50 pro-government “paramilitaries” descended on a relief camp hermitage full of displaced peasants bent on killing and robbing them. The testimonies of the five confessed killers – four others remain at large – agree that the nine avengers were the only ones involved in the firefights, and that the decision to attack the Zapatistas was a private family decision made with no involvement from government authorities.

They also agree that the sole motive was to avenge the assassination of a relative – the latest of 18 unprosecuted murders by Zapatistas over the previous three months, according to Aguilar Camín.

Government prosecutors unduly dismissed much of the testimony of the five confessed avengers, Aguilar Camín wrote in a 2007 article for Nexos, noting that the killers testified that state security forces were nearby and did nothing. He highlights the judicial irregularities of the round-up and conviction of the peasants – apprehensions without evidence or warrant, charging 83 people with homicide when only 45 people were killed and lack of translators and attorneys for the suspects, Tzotzil Mayans who did not know Spanish.

The Supreme Court pointed out those violations in its ruling. Arturo Farela Gutierrez, head of the National Association of Evangelical Christian Churches, praised the court decision.

“We are in the presence of a court different from that of 12 years ago,” he said, according to El Universal. “The court is strengthened without fear of anything or anyone, and it’s the court that democratic Mexico needs.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS AMONG THE FIRST TO VOTE IN NATIONAL ELECTIONS


A breakthrough was made for believers in India this month when Christians were among the first to vote in India’s four-week national election, reports MNN.

In the fall of 2008, thousands of believers were forced from their homes, afraid for their lives, as persecution persisted in the form of extremist attacks.

Although the persecution has died down since then, hundreds of houses were burned and dozens of people were killed in the attacks, leaving many Christians to find refuge in government relief camps. Once attacks subsided, there was some fear that this persecuted minority may not be given the chance to vote.

It appears that believers have nothing to fear, however, as Orissa state (where persecution had been highest) was the kickoff spot for India’s national elections on April 16. According to a Gospel for Asia press release, government officials claimed the elections would start there so they could focus security in one area. Be this as it may, it’s nothing but good news for Christians.

Beginning the elections in a place that has been internationally noted for its violence toward Christians hopefully will allow believers to make quite an impact on the outcome of the election. So far, Christians have not been hindered from voting, and no direct violence has taken place.

“This is kind of a historic thing where in the past, things like this would bring fear and keep the Christians from voting,” says Danny Punnose of Gospel for Asia. “But this is going to bring a very loud statement to those in power that you cannot hurt minorities without repercussions taking place.”

The elections will not be over until May 16, when the results of the election for a new prime minister and 543 other new government representatives will be announced. Christians hope that their votes will help to establish a government who will not stand for the type of persecution that Christians have suffered in the past.

Pray that the elections will yield a government suitable to Christian concerns. In the meantime, continue to pray for the day-to-day trials that face Christ followers in India.

“Pray and ask the Lord that they would be able to stand strong no matter what comes their way, that their faith would be strong, and that they would be a witness to their neighbors. And that’s the greatest thing that they long for, that more people would come to know Jesus through their life.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

EGYPT: CONVERT ARRESTED FOR MARRYING CHRISTIAN


Couple goes into hiding as police place Islamic law over Egyptian penal code.

ISTANBUL, April 23 (Compass Direct News) – Christian convert Raheal Henen Mussa and her Coptic husband are hiding from police and her Muslim family for violating an article of Islamic law (sharia) that doesn’t exist in the Egyptian penal code.

Police arrested Mussa, 22, on April 13 for marrying Sarwat George Ryiad in a customary marriage (zawag al ‘urfi), an unregistered form of matrimony in Egypt made without witnesses. It has gained popularity among Egyptian youth but is not sanctioned by most Islamic scholars.

The two signed a marriage contract between themselves. Only Ryiad and their attorney have a copy. Police have not obtained a copy of the contract, but they used its existence as a pretext for arresting Mussa.

According to a strict interpretation of sharia, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men, although the opposite is allowed, and Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that sharia is the basis for legislation.

The two have not committed a crime according to Egyptian law since they didn’t seek official marriage status, but police and Mussa’s family are pursuing them because they violated Islamic law, advocacy groups say.

“They have not violated the law, but the family and the police are applying their own unwritten law,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “Islamic law interprets that if a Muslim girl marries a non-Muslim man, even on paper, they are breaking the law of God, not the law of man.”

The two could not get married in an official ceremony since Mussa is considered a Muslim by birth, and changing one’s religious status away from Islam is impossible in Egypt. A lawsuit is pending, however, for a Muslim-born man to change his status on his identity card.

Formerly known as Samr Mohamed Hansen, Mussa converted to Christianity three years ago, before marrying Ryiad. Police arrested her as she came home from her workplace at a Cairo salon. They identified her by the Coptic cross tattoo on her right arm – a common mark among Copts.

She was transferred to a station operated by the secret police, where she stayed until Sunday (April 19), when her family took her. While in their custody, her family completely burned off her cross tattoo, according to the U.K. Coptic Association.

Mussa escaped from them on Tuesday (April 21). She and her husband fled Cairo and are in hiding. If the two are caught, advocates fear, they could be forcibly separated, arrested and beaten, with Mussa being returned to her family.

Sharia influence in Egyptian law also means that Muslims have the right (hisbah) to file a lawsuit against someone who has violated the “rights of God.” This provision, advocates fear, means Mussa and Ryiad’s unsanctioned marriage could make them targets of Muslim extremists wishing to apply the full extent of this law.

The most famous example of hisbah’s application came in 1995, when Cairo University professor Nasr Abuh Zayd was declared an “infidel” and forcibly divorced from his wife for criticizing orthodox views of the Quran.

Ryiad and Mussa were not married in a Coptic ceremony, as many churches avoid marrying registered Muslims to non-Muslims for fear of being targeted by authorities and Islamic extremists.

“Nobody [in Egypt] can declare the marriage of a Coptic man to a Muslim girl,” attorney Naguib Gabriel told Compass. “It would be very dangerous to the life of a priest.”

 

Marriage Woes

Mussa and Ryiad’s case is the latest in a spurt of recent arrests and lawsuits against those who don’t adhere to the Islamic-influenced dictum that Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.

In October 2008, a Cairo court handed Father Metaos Wahba a five-year prison sentence for issuing a marriage certificate to a Christian man and a Muslim convert to Christianity. He stated that he did not know the woman’s papers stating her religion as “Christian” were a forgery.

Human rights groups have called on Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak to release Fr. Wahba, as Egypt is a signatory to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows full religious freedom, including conversion.

Mussa’s jailing mirrored that of Christian convert Martha Samuel Makkar, 24, detained last December at a Cairo airport for attempting to flee the country with her husband. She was charged with carrying forged documents that listed her religion as Christian and incarcerated for a month.

A judge granted her bail but not before threatening to kill her for leaving Islam (see “Judge Tells of Desire to Kill Christian,” Jan. 27).

Nadia Tawfiq, the lawyer in charge of Makkar’s chase, said many arrests and trials in Egypt result from laws that assign people social status according to the religion on their identity cards.

She said the best hope for change is a May 2 court hearing of Maher El-Gohary, a Muslim-born man who is fighting to have his Christian religion recognized on his official documents. If he succeeds, he would be the first person in the country to be granted that right.

Report from Compass Direct News

ALGERIA: CHRISTIANS ACQUITTED IN BLASPHEMY CASE


Verdict suggests Algerian government could be softening crackdown on Christians.

ISTANBUL, October 29 (Compass Direct News) – A court in northwestern Algeria today acquitted three Christians charged with blaspheming Islam and threatening a member of their congregation who re-converted to Islam.

The acquittal was announced in a court at Ain El-Turck, 15 kilometers (nine miles) west of the coastal city of Oran. The defendants believe the judge’s decision to acquit was due to the spurious evidence used against them.

The acquittal also comes as part of a larger trend of the Algerian government bowing to negative international media attention and government condemnations of such cases, they said.

Defendant Youssef Ourahmane said that as a result, a recent government crackdown against evangelical Christians has eased off in recent months.

“We had noticed the last four or five months the government is trying to back down a little bit,” Ourahmane said. “I think the pressure on them has been strong, such as condemnations from the U.S. and foreign ministries from France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Spain. This pressure from outside has embarrassed the Algerian government very much.”

Algerian courts have handed several suspended sentences to local evangelicals in the last year under a recent presidential decree that prohibits proselytizing Muslims. No Christian, however, has served prison time on religious charges.

Ourahmane, Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, and a third man were charged in February with “blaspheming the name of the Prophet [Muhammad] and Islam” and threatening the life of a man who claimed to have converted to Christianity but who “returned” to Islam when his fundamentalist ties were exposed.

The first hearing of the three men took place on Oct. 21 in Ain El-Turck. A lawyer appointed by the Ministry of Religion also joined the hearing and surprised the defendants by supporting their plight.

The lawyer affirmed the rights of religious minorities such as Christians in Algeria. The Christians present said she would like the case to be closed.

A prosecutor in the case had sought three years of prison for the three men and a fine of 50,000 dinars (653 euros) for each.

Taking the stand last week, the three men were asked whether they had blasphemed Muhammad and threatened Shamouma Al-Aid, the convert and plaintiff. Al-Aid had professed Christianity from July 2004 through July 2006, when he attended a church near Oran. It was there that he met the Christians, against whom he later filed the blasphemy complaint.

Essaghir, an evangelist and church elder for a small community of Muslim converts to Christianity in Tiaret, has been one of the most targeted Christians in Algeria.

In the last year he has received three sentences, one for blasphemy and two for evangelism. Police stopped Essaghir and another man in June 2007 while transporting Christian literature. As a result they were convicted in absentia in November 2007 and given a two-year sentence and 5,000-euro fines. The Protestants requested a retrial, and the charges were dropped at a hearing in June.

Asked if he could explain why he and other Christians were under fire by Islamists, he told Compass that Muslims felt menaced by the existence of Christianity and its rise in Algeria.

“We are attacked because Muslims feel threatened by us,” said Essaghir. “There are many people who are coming to Christ.”

When the three accused Christians met Al-Aid, he claimed that his family was persecuting him, so they took him in to their church community. But in 2006 the Christians learned that Al-Aid in fact had links with Islamic fundamentalists.

After excommunicating Al-Aid, in October 2007 the three Christians were summoned by police when Al-Aid registered his complaint that they had insulted Muhammad and Islam and threatened his life.

“But the accusations against us are unfounded,” Essaghir told Compass last week by phone. “There is no proof, but we are being condemned because there is no justice.”

Ourahmane said that Al-Aid had shown the police text messages to support his claims, but that police said the number had not been registered with telecommunications services.

With their fresh acquittal, the three Christians could open a case against Al-Aid for bringing a case against them based on spurious evidence, according to Algerian law.

Instead, they want to offer their forgiveness, Ourahmane said.

“We have decided to forgive him and will communicate we are all ready to help him if he needs any help,” he said. “We are in touch with him through one of our team members, and if he is thirsty or hungry we are more than happy to help.”

 

Pressure on Algeria’s Church

The three acquitted men are just a few of the Algerian Christians who have come under legal heat in a wave of trials this year against the country’s tiny evangelical church.

Habiba Kouider, facing a three-year sentence after police stopped her while she was carrying several Christian books, has been kicked out of her family’s home. Kouider’s brothers learned about her conversion to Christianity after her case sparked national and international media attention.

In most cases the Christians have been charged under a presidential decree from February 2006 that restricts religious worship to government-approved buildings. The decree, known as Ordinance 06-03, also outlaws any attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.

The international community has been vocal about the Algerian government’s stance toward Christians. On June 6, some 30 U.S. congressmen sent a letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

They addressed human rights violations resulting from Ordinance 06-03, which has resulted in the closures of churches and criminal charges against Christians.

Algeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but loose terminology in its penal code – such as Article 144, which calls for up to five years of prison for “anyone who offends the Prophet and denigrates the tenets of Islam” – has allowed judges to give Islamic practice the force of law.

On Sept. 29 six men in Biskra, 420 kilometers (260 miles) south of Algiers, were sentenced to four years of prison for eating in public before sunset during the month of Ramadan, according to Algerian national daily Liberte. Muslims are required to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset during this 30-day period.

An Oct. 6 editorial in Algerian daily El Watan lamented the decision as proof that religious rights were eroding in Algeria.

“The divine law itself does not provide for severe penalties, and even the Taliban regime is not as strict,” said editorial writer Reda Bekkat. “One can imagine a judge tomorrow questioning people [who were] walking on the streets at the hour of prayer because they are not at the mosque.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

BY WHAT MEANS MAY MINISTERS BEST WIN SOULS? Robert Traill


October 1682

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (1 Tim. iv. 16).

 

The words are a substantial part of the good counsel and direction the apostle gives to Timothy, and through him to all the ministers of the gospel.

In them are two things:

1. A threefold duty laid on gospel-ministers, Take heed unto thyself, and unto thy doctrine; continue in them.

2. A double advantage consequent upon the discharge of this duty: For in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

 

1. Ministers’ duty is in three things here.

First, Take heed unto thyself. You are set in a high office in a dangerous place; take good and narrow heed, look well to thyself, thy heart and way.

Second, Take heed unto thy doctrine. Though thou be ever so well gifted, and approved both of God and men; though thou be an extraordinary officer (as Timothy was); yet take heed unto thy doctrine. These two we pass at present; because we shall resume them at greater length, when we take their help to the resolving of this question.

Third, Continue in them. This is related to vs.12, and 15. as well as to the preceding part of this verse. I shall dismiss this part of the verse with these comments,

(1.) Continue in thy work. Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy lifetime; and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man’s carnal inclinations, and outward conveniences. The apostles that laboured with their hands have, by that example, set the conscience of a minister at liberty to provide for the necessities of this life by other employments when he cannot live of the gospel, yet certainly no man that is called of God to this work can with a safe conscience abandon it wholly. Paul, for example rather than necessity, both preached and wrought as a tent maker. As preaching doth not make working unlawful, so neither should any other business of a minister make preaching to cease.

(2.) Continue in endeavours after greater fitness for thy work. No attainments in fitness and qualifications for this work can free a man of the obligation that lies on him to increase and grow therein more and more. It is not enough that a man study and be careful ere he enter into the ministry, but he must labour still to be more fit for his great work.

(3.) Continue in your vigour, and carefulness, and diligence. Young ministers that are sound and sincere before God are usually warm and diligent in the first years of their ministry; and many do decline afterwards and become more cold and remiss. This exhortation is a check thereunto: Continue in them.

2. The second thing in the word is, the double advantage proposed to encourage ministers to this hard duty.

The first advantage is, Thou shalt save thyself. Thy own salvation shall be promoted thereby.

How becoming is it for a minister to mind his own salvation! and to mind it so heartily, as to be animated from the hopes of it unto the greater diligence in his ministry!

But how doth faithfulness in the ministry of the gospel further the minister’s salvation?

(1.) Thou shalt save thyself from the guilt of other men’s sins and ruin, if thou be faithful in the ministry: Ezek. xxxiii. 9. Thou hast delivered (or saved) thy soul, saith the Lord to the prophet in the case of unsuccessful faithfulness. So Paul, Acts xviii. 6. I am clean, your blood be upon your own heads: and Acts xx. 26-27. I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Every minister pledgeth his soul to God, that he shall be a faithful servant, whatever his success may be.

(2.) Faithfulness and carefulness in the ministry of the gospel, promotes a man’s own salvation, in so far as the work of Christianity is woven in with the right discharge of the office of the ministry. Many ministers can say that if they had not been ministers they had in all appearance lost their souls. The subject of the minister’s work, is the same with that of a Christian’s; and above all men should he be careful of his heart and intentions that all be pure and spiritual. No man in any work he is called to is under so strict a necessity of dependence on the influence and assistance of the Holy Ghost both for gifts and grace. And are not all these great helps unto our own salvation?

The second advantage is, Thou shalt save them that hear thee. There is little hope of that man’s being useful to save others that minds not his own salvation; and therefore the apostle puts them in this order, thyself, and then, them that hear thee.

This description of the people, them that hear thee, tells us that the principal work of a minister is preaching; and the principal benefit people have by them is to hear the Lord’s word from them; though there be a seeing (i.e. of their holy conversation) that is also useful, Phil. iv. 9. But the apostle knew no such ministers as were only to be seen in worldly pomp and grandeur and seldom or never heard preaching.

Thou shalt save them. The great end of both preaching and hearing, is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action.

Thou shalt save them. Thou shalt, by the Lord’s blessing on thy ministry, be successful in converting sinners, and in building up of saints in holiness and faith unto salvation. Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments, 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. Concerning this,

(1.) We find that the Lord hath appointed this great ordinance of the gospel-ministry for this end, the saving of men, Eph. iv. 11-13. It is through their word that men believe, John xvii. 20. And divine appointment of the means, declares it to be both useful and the end to be hopeful.

(2.) He hath also given many promises of His presence, blessing, and success, to follow and attend them whom He sends on this great errand. Christ’s first calling of the apostles had this promise in it, I will make you fishers of men; which not only declared what that employment was he called them to, but it assured them of success in it. At his leaving of them, Matt. xxviii. 20, He promised to be with them unto the end of the world. And this promise is as good to us as it was to them.

(3.) He has also revealed much of His mind about ministers’ duty, in order to this end of saving men. This also makes the end more hopeful.

(4.) We find that the Lord does qualify and fit them whom He makes successful. He makes men able ministers of the New Testament, the word of life, 2 Cor. iii. 5-6. And still, according to the success the Lord hath a mind to bless a man with gifts, and qualifications, and assistance, are proportionably given. The apostles that had the greatest harvest to gather in were made the strongest labourers: and, though in a far inferior degree, the same method is observed by the Lord in dealing with and by ordinary ministers. It is true, that not always the most able and learned ministers are most successful; yet, generally, the most skilful labourers are most blessed. Neither are the most learned and able men for parts most fit and skilful in dealing with souls at all times.

Now, having opened the words, we shall return to the question to be resolved,

By what Means may Ministers best win Souls?

Consider what this text speaks about this matter. It looks two ways upon this question. 1. It gives a direct answer to it: and points out duty. 2. It gives an encouraging promise of the good effect and fruit of the discharge of the duty.

 

I. Take heed unto thyself. Would you be a saved and successful minister? Take heed unto thyself. Such warnings imply always a case of difficulty and danger.

First; Take heed that thou be a sound and sincere believer, The importance of sincere godliness in a minister, is written in the deep wounds that the church of Christ has received by the hands of ungodly ministers. It has been made a question, whether an ungodly man can be a minister? But such men are in a most desperate condition: Mat. vii. 22, 23. Depart from me; not because you ran unsent, or preached error instead of truth, or preached poorly and meanly, (all great sins in themselves); but because you work iniquity; the usual expression of entire ungodliness. What use the Lord may make of the gifts (for, great gifts He gives to the worst of men) of ungodly men, even in the ministry of the gospel, is one of His deep paths. But no man can reasonably imagine, that a walker in the way to hell can be a fit and useful guide to them that mind to go to heaven. If a man would have peace in his conscience and success in his work of the ministry, let him take good heed to this, that he be a sound Christian. There is a special difficulty for a minister to know his grace. Gifts and grace have deceived many with their likeness; although the difference be great, both in itself, and to an enlightened eye.

Second; Take heed to thyself, that thou be a called and sent minister. This is of great importance as to success. He that can say, “Lord, thou hast sent me,” may boldly add, “Lord, go with me, and bless me.” It is good when a man is serious in this inquiry. It is to be feared that many run, and never asked this question; so is it seen in their speed and success. Jer. xxiii. 32. I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all, is a standing rule to this day.

These things, if found, may serve to satisfy a minister’s conscience, that Jesus Christ hath sent him.

(a.) If the heart be filled with a single desire after the great end of the ministry, the glory of God in the salvation of men. Every work that God calls a man to, He makes the end of it amiable. This desire sometimes attends men’s first conversion. Paul was called to be a saint and an apostle at once, Acts ix; and so have many been called to be saints and ministers together. If it be not so, yet this is found with him that Christ calls, that when he is most spiritual and serious, when his heart is most under the impressions of holiness, and he is nearest to God in communion with Him; then are such desires after the serving of Jesus Christ in the ministry most powerful. And the sincerity of his desire is also to be examined: and when it is found, it adds greatly to a man’s peace: when his heart bears him witness, that it is neither riches, nor honour, nor ease, nor the applause of men, that he seeks after, but singly Christ’s honour in the saving of men.

(b.) It helps to clear a man’s call, that there has been a conscientious diligence in all the means of attaining fitness for this great work. That love to the end that does not direct and determine to the use of the appointed means, may justly be suspected as irregular, and not flowing from the Holy Ghost. Even extraordinary officers seem not to have been above the use of ordinary means, 2 Tim. iv. 13: old, dying Paul sends for his books and papers.

(c.) A competent fitness for the work of the ministry is another proof of a man’s call to it. The Lord calls no man to a work for which He does not qualify. Though a sincere humble man (as all ministers should be) may and should think little of any measure he has, whether compared with the greater measures of others, or considered with regard unto the weight and worth or the work; yet there must be some confidence as to his competency, for clearing a man’s call, 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. What this competency is, is not easy at all times to determine. But in general there must be, 1. A competent knowledge of gospel-mysteries. 2. A competent ability of utterance to the edifying of others. This is aptness to teach, required of the apostle in I Tim. iii. 2: and Titus i. 9. that a minister be able, by sound doctrine, to exhort and to convince gainsayers.

(d.) The savour of a man’s ministry on the hearts and consciences of others, both ministers and people, helps much to clear a man’s call. So that indeed ordinarily a man can never be so well confirmed in the faith of his being called of God, until he make some essay in this work. Deacons must first be proved, I Tim. iii 10; much more ministers. A single testimony given by ministers and Christians, that the word dispensed by the man is savoury and has effect on the conscience is a great confirmation; especially if sound conversion of some follow his labours. That is indeed a seal of his ministry, 2 Cor. iii. 3, and 1 Cor. ix. 2.

Third; Take heed unto thyself that thou be a lively thriving Christian. See that all your religion run not in the channel of your employment. It is found by experience, that as it fares with a minister in the frame of his heart, and thriving of the work of God in his soul, so doth it fare with his ministry both in its vigour and effects. A carnal frame, a dead heart and a loose walk, makes cold and unprofitable preaching. And how common is it for ministers to neglect their own vineyard? When we read the word we read ill as ministers to know what we should teach rather than what we should learn as Christians. Unless there be great heed taken, it will be found that our ministry and labour therein may eat out the life of our Christianity. Not that there is any discord betwixt them; but rather a friendly harmony, when each has its place and respect. The honest believer meditates that he may excite his grace; and ministers too often meditate only to increase their gifts. When we preach, the sincere hearer drinks in the word; and it may be we seldom mix faith with it, to grow thereby. O how hard is it to be a minister and a Christian in some of these acts! We are still conversant about the things of God; it is our study all the week long. This is our great advantage. But take heed to thyself, lest ordinary meddling with divine things bring on an ordinary and indifferent impression of them; and then their fruit to you, and your benefit by them, is almost gone and hardly recovered.

Fourth; Take heed unto thyself in reference to all the trials and temptations you may meet with. Be on your guard, watch in all things, 2 Tim. iv. 5. No men are shot at more by Satan than ministers, and Christ is liberal in His warnings of dangers, and in His promises of help in them.

 

2. The second word in the text to this purpose of directing ministers how to be useful to others, is take heed unto thy doctrine. Are you a minister? You must be a preacher. An unpreaching minister is a sort of contradiction. Yet, every sort of preaching is not enough; you must take heed to your doctrine what it is.

Here is a warrant for studying what we are to teach and what we have taught people. But the great matter is to take heed, or study aright. Students commonly need little direction about ordinary study. But concerning the doctrine, I shall entreat to take heed unto it in these things:—  First; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be a divine truth:—Let a man speak as the oracles of God, 1 Pet. iv. 11. And therefore it is needful that ministers be well acquainted with the holy scriptures. It is a mark against a man that relishes any book more than the word of God. The world is full of books written on pretence and design to explain the scriptures; and men’s studies are full of them. There is also a blessing in them, and good use to be made of them; but also a bad use is made of them. Many ministers have found that they have preached better and to more profit to the people when they got their sermon by meditation on the word and prayer than by turning over many authors. From this neglect of the word also come a great many doctrines that are learned by man and borrowed from philosophy; which though they may have some truth in them, yet since it is divine truth that a minister should bring forth to the people, he should not rest on such low things.

Second; Take heed unto thy doctrine that it be plain and suited to the capacity of the hearers. Learned preaching (as it is called) is a vanity, pleasing principally to such as neither design nor desire edification. True godly learning consists in preaching plainly; and therein is no small difficulty. Two things would help to plain preaching. 1. Clearness of knowledge. The alleged depth of our doctrine often proceeds from our own darkness. 2. Humility and self-denial. We must not seek ourselves, nor the applause of men; but God’s glory, and men’s salvation. It is found that the holiest ministers preach most plainly and the plainest preachers are most successful.

Third; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be grave, and solid, and weighty; sound speech that cannot be condemned, Tit. ii. 8. Deep and weighty impressions of the things of God upon a man’s own heart would greatly advance this. A minister’s spirit is known in the gravity or lightness of his doctrine.

 

II. But now we come to the second thing proposed, to give some answer to this question from other things in the word.

And I shall, 1. Shew some things that must be laid to heart about the end, the saving of souls; and then, 2. Shall give some advice about the means.

1. About the end, the winning of souls. This is to bring them to God. It is not to win them to us, or to engage them into a party, or to the espousal of some opinions and practices, supposing them to be never so right and consonant to the word of God. But the winning of them is to bring them out of nature into a state of grace, that they may be fitted for, and in due time admitted into everlasting glory.

Concerning which great end, these few things should be laid deeply to heart by all that would serve the Lord in being instrumental in reaching it.

First; The exceeding height and excellency of this end is to be laid to heart. It is a wonder of condescension that the Lord will make use of men in promoting it. To be workers together with God in so great a business, is no small honour. The great value of men’s souls, the greatness of the misery they are delivered from, and of the happiness they are advanced to, with the manifold glory of God shining in all, makes the work of saving men great and excellent. Preaching the gospel, and suffering for it, are services that angels are not employed in. Mean and low thoughts of the great end of the ministry, as they are dissonant from truth, are also great hindrances to due endeavours after the attaining the end.

Second; The great difficulty of saving souls must be laid to heart. The difficulty is undoubted. To attempt it is to offer violence to men’s corrupt natures; and a storming of hell itself, whose captives all sinners are. Unless this difficulty be laid to heart ministers will be confident of their own strength and so miscarry and be unfruitful. Whoever prospers in winning souls is first convinced that it is the arm of Jehovah only can do the work.

Third; The duty of winning souls must be laid to heart by ministers. That it is their principle work and they are under many commands to endeavour it. It is a fault to look on fruit only as a reward of endeavours; but it should be so minded as the end we would strive for, Col. i. 28-29; which, when attained, is still to His praise: yet most commonly when it is missing it is to our reproach and danger, when it is (as alas! it is often) through our default.

Fourth; The great advantage there is to the labourer by his success is to be pondered. Great is the gain by one soul. He that winneth souls, is happy as well as wise, Prov. ix. 30. Dan. xii. 3. Won souls are a minister’s crown, and glory, and joy. Phil. iv. 1. 1 Thess. ii. 20. How far is this account above all others that a man can give of his ministry? These things fixed upon the heart, would enliven us in all endeavours to attain this excellent end.

 

2. For advice about the means, I shall add these few thoughts besides what hath been said.

First; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God; that they are Christ’s ministers, 1 Cor. iv. 1. It is not the confident asserting of it, nor justifying the lawfulness of our ecclesiastical calling, though there be some use of these things at some times: but it is ability, carefulness, faithfulness, humility, and self-denial, and, in a word, conformity to our Lord Jesus in His ministry, that will constrain people to say and think that we are sent of God. Nicodemus comes with this impression of Christ, John iii. 2. A teacher come from God. It is certain, that these thoughts in people further the reception of the gospel; Gal. iv. 14. Ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

Second; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people’s love to their persons. And this is best done by loving them and dealing lovingly and patiently with them. There should be no striving with them especially about worldly things: yea, meekness to them that oppose themselves, 2 Tim. ii. 24-26. It is of great advantage to have their love. How carefully doth Paul sue for it in several epistles; and condescend to intreat and make apologies when indeed he had not wronged them but they only did imagine he had wronged them! 2 Cor. ix.

Third; It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them; not always nor altogether in public, Col. i. 28. Acts xx. 20-21. Great fruit hath constantly followed the conscientious discharge of this duty. The setting of it up in Geneva did produce incredible fruits of piety, as Calvin reports: when the ministers and some of the elders went from house to house and dealt particularly with the people’s consciences. And we are not without many instances of the fruit of this mean in our own time and in these nations. Blessed be the Lord for the labourers and their success.

Fourth; Ministers must pray much if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way, Acts vi. 3. Yea, our Lord Jesus preached all day, and continued all night alone in prayer to God. Ministers should be much in prayer. They used to reckon how many hours they spend in reading and study; it were far better both with ourselves and the church of God if more time were spent in prayer. Luther’s spending three hours daily in secret prayer, Bradford’s studying on his knees, and other instances of men in our time are talked of rather than imitated. Ministers should pray much for themselves; for they have corruptions like other men and have temptations that none but ministers are assaulted with. They should pray for their message. How sweet and easy is it for a minister, (and likely it is to be the more profitable to the people), to bring forth that scripture as food to the souls of his people that he hath got opened to his own heart by the power of the Holy Ghost in the exercise of faith and love in prayer! A minister should pray for a blessing on the word, and he should be much in seeking God particularly for the people. It may be this may be the reason why some ministers of meaner gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, but because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.

But because the ministry of the word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this, and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching.

For the subject-matter of gospel-preaching, it is determined by the apostle expressly to be Christ crucified, 1 Cor. ii. 2. Two things ministers have to do about Him in preaching Him to them that are without. 1. To set Him forth to people, Gal. iii. 1; to paint Him in His love, excellency, and ability to save. 2. To preach Him unto them freely, fully, without any limitation as to sinners, or their sinful state. And then Christ’s laws or will to be published to them that receive Him, and are His, for the rule of their walk; and His promises, for the measure and foundation of all their hopes and expectations; and His grace and fulness, for their supply in every case, till they be brought to heaven. This was the simplicity of the gospel that remained but a little while in the Christian church: for ceremonies amongst the Jews, and sinful mixtures of vain philosophy amongst the Gentiles, Col. ii. did by degrees so corrupt the gospel that the mystery of iniquity ripened in the production of Antichrist. It was a sad observation of the fourth century that it became a matter of learning and ingenuity to be a Christian. The meaning was that too much weight was laid on notions and matters of opinion; and less regard had unto the soundness of the heart and holiness of life. In the beginning of the reformation from Popery, the worthies whom God raised up in several countries did excellently in retrieving the simplicity of the gospel from the Popish mixtures. But that good work is on the decline greatly. How little of Jesus Christ is there in some pulpits! It is seen as to success, that whatever the law doth in alarming sinners, it is still the gospel-voice that is the key that opens the heart to Jesus Christ. Would ministers win souls? Let them have more of Jesus Christ in their dealing with men, and less of other things that never profit them that are exercised therein.

As for the manner of successful preaching, I shall give it in a negative and positive, from these two places: 1 Cor. i. 17, and ii. 1, 4.

First; What this negative condemns, is our inquiry. The words are full: For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Again, I came not to you with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. Again, And my speech, and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. These are the words of the Holy Ghost concerning a way of preaching that is unprofitable: a way that seems was in use and respect with the Corinthians; and honest Paul was despised by them, for his simple and plain way, different from theirs. I shall only instance in things that this scriptural negative doth check and reprove in the way of preaching.

1. The establishing and advancing of divine truth upon the foundation of human reason; as if there were some weakness and insufficency in those methods and arguments of working on men’s consciences, that the Holy Ghost prescribes. The great foundation of all a minister hath to say, is, Thus saith the Lord; and a grave declaring of the testimony of God in this matter is a minister’s duty, 1 Cor. ii. 1, and will have more authority on men’s consciences than many human reasons. There is a rational preaching (as it is called), wherein men do not satisfy themselves to make use of reason as a tool and instrument (and then its use is excellent), but will establish it as a judge and dictator in all divine matters and truth; and so in effect turn all their preaching into little better things than the lectures of the philosophers of old; save that the poor pagans were more sincere in their morals and serious in delivering their opinions.

Let a minister therefore still think with himself, that a plain scripture-testimony is his main argument; and accordingly let him use it. When he teacheth philosophy, and when he teacheth men the will of God about salvation, he is in distinct provinces, and his management of his work therein should be very different.

2. It is to preach with excellency of speech, and words of man’s wisdom, when men think to reach the gospel end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion. This corrupt thought riseth in some, from an imagination that moral suasion is all that is needful for converting a sinner: and in some this thought rises on a better account; the light of the glory of God in the gospel shines so brightly in upon their own hearts, that they fall into this conceit, that no man can stand before that light which they can hold forth: Melancthon’s mistake at first, till experience made him wiser. Hast thou a clear knowledge of gospel-mysteries, and the word of exhortation is with thee also, so that thou art qualified to urge, beseech. and plead warmly with sinners on Christ’s behalf? Take heed of this snare. Lest thou think that thy wisdom and gifts can promote and carry on the gospel-design on men.

3. This also is checked in the apostle’s words, the setting forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal; and its beauty in its simple and naked discovery. We may observe from church history, that as soundness of doctrine and the power of godliness decayed in the church, the vanity of an affected way of speaking and of writing of divine things came in. Quotations from the fathers, Latin, and languages, are pitiful ornaments to preaching if a man design conversion and soul-edification. And yet more despicable are all playing on words, jinglings, and cadences, (which things are in all the rules of true eloquence justly exploded); and yet some men reckon much on them. But would any man think his friend in earnest with him that would accost him in any affair with such sort of language and gesture?

Second; The positive is, in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, 1 Cor. ii. 5.

1. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him. This is a plain and blessed thing. Happy is the minister that manageth his work so that if the hearers get not a demonstration of great parts and learning, yet they have a demonstration of the sanctifying Spirit of God in the minister.

2. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work; even when he was amongst them in much weakness, fear, and trembling, ver. 3. Happy is the minister that can preach this way. He must be a depender upon assistance from the Holy Ghost.

3. Paul preached so as a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers. The Spirit of God so wrought on them by His power in and by Paul’s preaching, 2 Cor. iv. 2, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. This is the principle thing to be aimed at, and it is the proper source of all profitable preaching.

 

III. To conclude: You that are ministers, suffer a word of exhortation.

Men, brethren, and fathers, you are called to an high and holy calling. Your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy. You are called to the winning of souls; an employment near akin unto our Lord’s work, the saving of souls; and the nearer your spirits be in conformity to His holy temper and frame, the fitter you are for, and the more fruitful you shall be in your work. None of you are ignorant of the begun departure of our glory, and the daily advance of its departure, and the sad appearances of the Lord’s being about to leave us utterly. Should not these signs of the times rouse up ministers unto greater seriousness? What can be the reason of this sad observation, that when formerly a few lights raised up in the nation, did shine so as to scatter and dispel the darkness of popery in a little time; yet now when there are more and more learned men amongst us, the darkness comes on apace? Is it not because they were men filled with the Holy Ghost, and with power; and many of us are only filled with light and knowledge, and inefficacious notions of God’s truth? Doth not always the spirit of the ministers propagate itself amongst the people? A lively ministry, and lively Christians. Therefore be serious at heart; believe, and so speak; feel, and so speak; and as you teach, so do: and then people will feel what you say, and obey the word of God.

And, lastly, for people: it is not unfit that you should hear of ministers’ work, and duty, and difficulties. You see that all is of your concernment. All things are for your sakes, as the apostle said in another case.

Then only I entreat you,

1. Pity us. We are not angels, but men of like passions with yourselves. Be fuller of charity than of censure. We have all that you have to do about the saving of our own souls; and a great work besides about the saving of yours. We have all your difficulties as Christians; and some that you are not acquainted with, that are only ministers’ temptations and trials.

2. Help us in our work. If you can do anything, help us in the work of winning souls. What can we do, say you? Make haste to heaven, that you and we may meet joyfully before the throne of God and the Lamb.

3. Pray for us. How often and how earnestly doth Paul beg the prayers of the churches! And if he did so, much more should we beg them, and you grant them; for our necessities and weaknesses are greater than his: 2 Thess. iii. 1-2. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.