When a good man falls

I sat enraptured as the preacher completed his series on 2 Timothy. 'Guard the gospel' he'd called the series, and it was the first expository preaching I had ever heard. I was so thrilled at the power of the Word that I began to hope that, one day, I too might be able to give my life to preaching. I remember so well as the preacher reached 4.7 ('I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith' - we all used the AV in those days), he stepped back from the makeshift pulpit, looked around the room and said: 'When you're old, infirm and living in a rest-home and the students from the local Christian Union come to visit you, make sure you will be able to take their firm young hand in your frail old hand and fix their bright young eyes with your rheumy old eyes and say: "I have fought the fight; I have finished the race; there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness".'

There were times - many times - in those early days of my Christian pilgrimage when those words held me and brought me back to the road. I owe so much to that weekend's preaching; even now I'm profoundly moved as I recall it. It was more than 25 years ago; the preacher was Roy Clements, and it recently became public knowledge that he has left his wife for another man. How should we react?

Some anger is right

His behaviour is wrong. We feel betrayed. We all fight against sin and we need all the encouragement we can get. We look to others, older, more mature and more gifted to set us an example. We are angry for all those students and other young people who are left confused; we are angry for those whose own temptations are homosexual and have been badly let down. We are angry because (if the reports are right) this is not a sudden fall, but a determined decision. We are angrier still if it is true that for some years there has been a double life: hypocrisy is worse than homosexuality.

Compassion is right, too, for all those involved

It goes without saying that our prayers are fervent for Roy's wife and family, for the church at Eden and its leaders. We feel for Roy, too: when we are angry at sin and at sinners, it is as sinners ourselves who do understand struggles and failures. It is a time for prayer; since you heard this terrible news, I do hope you've spent longer talking to God about it than you have talking to others about it. Gossip doesn't stop being gossip when the material is true.

It's a time for realism, too

I don't know what your temptations may be, and I wouldn't want to know; I have trouble enough with my own. We cannot afford to be too high and mighty over a brother's fall; not while we know our own hearts. And not while the Scripture (1 Corinthians 10.12) still says: 'If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!'. It's a time for us to examine ourselves; whatever we sow, we will reap. Are we sowing seeds that will lead to our fall? Are we more careless with sin than we should be? Are there areas where we have become complacent - and now need to rethink?

It isn't a time for changing our views or our practices

It is still Scripture that decides what is right and what is wrong, not the actions of any particular individual, however much we may have respected him. Homosexual acts are wrong. Unfaithfulness to a wife is wrong. Betraying a family is wrong. No one's actions should cause us to doubt any of that.

It isn't a time for despair either

God is still God, God's work is still God's work. The good that God did through Roy was genuine; it was God that kept me through Roy's words and I'm still grateful. It was God that saved many as they responded to God's word from Roy, and it was God that blessed so many others through Roy's ministry. That is not all undone. God is still on his throne, and his kingdom will still triumph.

See also The Commentary and Roy Clements walks out.

Gary Benfold