Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Golden Text - James 1 v.5

When I was doing my National Service in Donnington in Shropshire I used to attend the SASRA meetings for Christians in the forces. They were run by an elderly Welshman who used to travel over to us from his home in Shrewsbury. His name to us was Mr Powell. His memory remains fresh in my mind though the events I describe are over fifty years old. He used to tell us about the revivals he had witnessed in his native Wales. I can still remember his radiant smiling face.
Every week we chose a special text, which we called the silver text, and every month we chose a golden text. I still remember those simple Bible studies with pleasure.
One of the verses that I would today call a golden verse is James 1:5. In the AV it says that if anyone lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all men (and women) liberally and "upbraideth not".
To upbraid is not a word in fashion; it is a bit too archaic and a little pompous. It means to scold and find fault. But this simple word hides a glorious depth of meaning. It refers that normal human condition when we pray of rather morbid introspection, that inner voice that says, "Come, come; you can't be serious about this request. You have hardly been a good Christian recently. Your Bible has three days dust on its cover and that evening that was ear-marked for prayer and intercession was spent watching Arsenal thrash Tottenham. And, last week, when your wife dropped that greasy sausage on your new white shirt you were hardly gracious about it." Thus our confidence begins to vanish in a hazy cloud of guilt. But our God is not like this. The good news is this: God delights to answer our prayers and doesn't deflate us with a list of our sins and failures. He gives to us liberally and generously and doesn't go into fault finding. So approach God confidently and experience a little of His extravagant goodness.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Autumn in the garden

Fully ripe and half-ripe crab apples

One writer said that gardening is the only hobby or interest that has not been affected by the Fall. It is a reminder of man and woman in their innocency.
I have recently bought a Macro lens for my camera. Apart from its ability to take close-ups it is also excellent for portraiture.
The two images above are shots of crab apples as they ripen on my John Downie tree. Crab-apple trees are a must for the garden. In spring they are covered with a delightful white blossom and in the autumn the berries gradually turn a brilliant red. When they are fully mature we harvest them and make bottles of delicious crab-apple jelly. This can be used either as a jam or as a very tasty accompaniment to ham or various meats.
The following recipe can be found in Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables published by the HMSO ( ISBN 0 11 241321 8). This unpretentious booklet is a mine of culinary information, so I am told.
Wash and cut up the apples (use a food processor for speed); add just enough water to cover (2-3 pints of water to 4 lb of fruit) and simmer for about an hour. Strain the juice. . Bring to the boil and reduce if necessary; then add the sugar and boil rapidly till the setting point is reached. If other flavours are required, for example ginger or cloves or lemon peel, they should be cooked with the crab apples
Crab apples always remind me of a poem by Shakespeare
that has remained in my memory from school days. I remember it simply as Winter, It goes:- When icicles hand by the wall, and goes on to mention roasted crabs hissing in the bowl. Evidently, in Shakespeare's time crab apples were roasted till they were very hot and then they were used to heat drinks that otherwise would chill the stomach.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

J N Darby

In my last post I mentioned J N Darby. It is hard to describe this immensely influential man adequately. He had great force of personality, a formidable intellect and great stores of biblical and classical and linguistic knowledge and expertise. I would not hesitate to suggest that he was one of the most important persons thrown up by the turbulent history of the nineteenth century church. His influence is still felt today.
He was born in England in 1800, but did his higher education in Dublin. He became a priest in the church of Ireland and led a life of apostolic, one might say exceptional, zeal and devotion. In Lent he would fast till he was feeble and weak in body, would not eat on Wednesday and Friday and Saturday till late in the evening, and then only take a little bread. At one period he lived in a wretched hut on a hill and would wear only the most tattered clothes. His heroic labours caused the local Catholic peasants almost to view him as one of the saints of old. He won many to the Church of Ireland. But when his Archbishop stated that all converts must swear allegiance to the British Crown he resigned and left the church.
The rest of his life was spent spreading a form of what was at that time a radical version of Christianity. He was the spokesman par excellence for what is known as Brethrenism. He looked upon any form of ordained clergy as anathema. Christians were to come together in great simplicity and break bread together and look to those gifted in their midst for guidance and ministry. The assemblies this formed were to have elders, not an ordained minister. He aimed to root out all denominationalism.
His other strongly held view was as follows. He held that all the optimistic high-flown ideas of the post-millennialists, that the gospel would triumph throughout the world and that society would be gradually leavened and improved by the preaching and sacrifices of the saints, were based on a delusion. He held that the dispensation of the church had ended in failure. The Church was now in ruins. All that could be done was for the saints to wait in simplicity for the coming rapture, when the saints would be snatched away to heaven just before the Great Tribulation, when God would deal with his earthly people the Jews. Then Jesus would come a second time to set up the period of the Millennium. In many ways this was a profoundly pessimistic programme.

The other obvious characteristic of Darby was his disputatious nature. He was always convinced he was right. His most famous quarrel occurred in 1848. He was at that time leading the church in Plymouth with another able and learned brother, Benjamin Wills Newton. Newton had printed a sermon which he had published views on the human nature of Christ that offended Darby. Newton apologised, but Darby was not satisfied. He continued his feud with Newton for several years, and when several Christians from Plymouth wanted to join the Bethesda church run by George Muller, and were accepted, Darby effectively excommunicated the whole Church in Bristol and split the Brethren movement down the middle, a separation that exists to this day. The new members from Plymouth were, according to Darby, guilty by association - they were therefore implicated in the original false teaching of Newton. Therefore any church that received them were as guilty as Newton.
As a result. the Brethren movement fractured into many brands. The original design of re-uniting all the true children of God into a non-sectarian whole actually produced the opposite. The redeeming feature in all this was the emergence of the Open Brethren, those like George Muller, who rejected the exclusiveness of those who followed Darby and who have, for the past century, been in the forefront of missionary endeavour.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I have been watching Chuck Missler on God TV commenting on the book of Revelation. He obviously takes the futurist line of interpretation when dealing with this difficult book, a book that has puzzled even the most learned of men. Even such a good classical and biblical scholar as John Wesley admitted that he had little understanding of Revelation before he came across the works of Bengel(1742), the renowned Lutheran exegete.
What is futurism? It assumes that the book of revelation deals almost exclusively with the End Times and is a manual of instruction for the saints as they see the Rapture and the Tribulation approaching. Surprisingly enough, this mode of interpretation, though extremely popular in charismatic and evangelical circles today, has not got an ancient lineage. It came to prominence in the 1830s and 1840s. Before that time it had only been seriously considered in Catholic circles. This came about in an interesting way. During the Reformation the reformers used passages in Revelation very effectively when combating the Papacy. The monstrous persecuting city that was drunk with the blood of the martyrs is described as the city that sits on seven hills (Rev. 17:9) It did not need great scholarship to realise that this was Rome. Thus Luther strongly stated that the Antichrist was the Pope. This was extremely embarrassing for the Catholic Church and a number of scholars strove to move the nexus of the book either into the remote apostolic past (the preterist position) or to the extreme future (the futurist position). A Jesuit scholar, Francisco Ribera, wrote a very learned 500-page-commentary, in 1590, on Revelation advocating the futurist mode of interpretation. According to Ribera, the 1260 days and 42 months and 3 1/2 times of prophecy were not 1260 years, but a literal 3 1/2 years, and therefore none of the book of Revelation had any application to the Middle Ages or the papacy, but to the future, to a period immediately prior to the second coming, hence the name Futurism. His book was not well received for some reason.
But the major influence on the futurist cause was the publication in 1811 by another Jesuit, Francesco Lacunza, of a fresh and important commentary on the Apocalypse. Like Ribera's book this was not popular with the church authorities and was banned in 1819. This was probably because he ignored the writings of the apostolic fathers when interpreting the text. This book gained a major influence among those interested in the End Times when Edward Irving, one of the most charismatic and eloquent of the preachers of his day, taught himself Spanish and translated and published Lacunza's work in 1827.
That year was a seminal year; the Powerscourt conferences on eschatological matters started in Ireland and among those who attended was the most influential advocate of pre-millenarianism in the nineteenth century, John Nelson Darby. Most of the ideas of Chuck Missler and Hal Lindsay originate in the powerful and fertile brain of this enormously influential man. His ideas gained enormous influence when the Schofield Reference Bible was published exactly one hundred years ago. What sort of man was Darby? And what are the other schools of interpretation when dealing with the book of Revelation? Those questions require another post.