1 Pause that film! – 2 The brother-in-law's advice – 3 A tale of two lighthouses - 4 A new perspective – 5 The Wilberforce connection – 6 Her last recorded words – 7 I remember Mr Cowper – 8 An influential Christian – 9 Stockbroker stoned in Hay – 10 Not the triple-jumper! – 11 Pantycelyn – 12 Here is love – 13 The outward appearance – 14 It nearly did not happen! – 15 The catastrophe at the
- 16 The anniversary of 9/11 – 17 A response
to suffering Surrey
1 Pause that film!
Do you remember when films used to break down halfway through, and there would be a delay while the projectionist tried to get it going again? Several years ago at aLet us ‘pause the film’, as it were, with a well-known Bible story. In the book of Daniel we read that three young Jewish men in exile in
Swansea cinema (on the site of
the old Plaza, the largest cinema in Wales
when built in 1932) we were at a one-off viewing of ‘Only two can play’, the
Peter Sellers film made in
in the early 1960s - when the film broke down!
It was a convivial occasion, for during the break the small audience got
talking about old Swansea
until the screening re-commenced. Swansea
Surely that was the situation for many who were actually burned in
In the language of accountancy we cling to the ‘bottom line’ – it is that ‘God is good’ (Psalm 34v8, 52v1, 73v1, etc). He is well able to do all that we desire, to sort out those difficulties with which we are contending, and perhaps have been contending for a long time - yet sometimes He who is ‘God only wise’ chooses not to, at least for the present. We know that His grace is sufficient for us, and like those three young Jewish men we determine to worship God and to seek to honour Him, in spite of there being no swift solution to our particular troubles. If we ‘roll the story on’, in the book of Daniel there is a ‘happy ending’…. but that may not happen to you or I in this life (although Jesus will be with us, just as He was with those three in the furnace).
We read in the New Testament that many followed Christ Jesus when He gave them what they wanted, but few followed when He set out His requirements for discipleship. May you and I not be ‘fair-weather followers’, but echo the attitude of a worship song:
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name.
Only in the world to come shall we find the conclusion of what is happening in our individual lives here on earth - then we shall see how the Master Builder has worked all these things together for His glory and for the good of His people. Meanwhile may He grant us the grace and resilience to persevere amidst present trials, trusting in Him who knows the future.
2 The brother-in-law’s advice
In 2006 the Royal Mail brought out a first-class stamp depicting the Royal Albert bridge over the Tamar at Saltash, one of a set of six stamps to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In the
s engineer of the Great Western Railway, Brunel’s innovative achievements included the two-mile long Box tunnel near
Never one to rest on his laurels, two years later Brunel made a preliminary sketch for ‘an
Amidst his all-consuming involvement with this project, his brother-in-law, portrait painter John Horsley, wrote ‘your life has been one of almost unparalleled devotion to your profession, to the exclusion, to far too great an extent, of that which was due to your God and even to your family, and with an utter disregard of your health’. He urged Brunel to consider ‘whether your way of life is such as to give you a reasonable hope of entering into the mansions of heaven’.
We might not presume to compare ourselves with a person who was second only to Churchill in BBC2’s ‘Great Britons’ series, yet what about you and I? However high-profile or humble our work may be, does it take over our lives? Or perhaps other things – sport, entertainment, the internet - even our family – do so? Such things can distract us from living to the glory of God, for Jesus commands us to ‘seek first the
We may never be honoured with a statue on the
3 A tale of two lighthousesThe Gower peninsula has an active lighthouse at Mumbles and a disused one at Whiteford Point in north-west Gower. Mumbles lighthouse was designed in 1793 by William Jernegan, known as the ‘Architect of Regency Swansea’, whose designs included Stouthall, Kilvrough Manor, Swansea’s Assembly Rooms and the now demolished Countess of Huntingdon’s chapel (near the Museum). Although Mumbles lighthouse was first lit by two coal-burning braziers, within five years these were replaced by enclosed oil lamps in a cast-iron lantern made at Neath Abbey ironworks, and nowadays the light is electrified.
Whiteford lighthouse was erected in 1865 to replace a wooden structure from ten years earlier. It is the only cast-iron wave-swept lighthouse in the
In spite of appearances, without the life of Christ flowing through us, you and I are as useless as Whiteford lighthouse. Our purpose on earth is that we might live to God’s glory (Ephesians 1v12), and we can only do that when Jesus is Lord of our lives. He commands us to ‘let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5v16). Left to ourselves we cannot do that, for the ‘self’ dominates. Like the apostle Paul we come to admit ‘I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing’ (Romans 7v19). Even worse, this applies not just to our actions but to our thoughts! How we need to come before God and confess our sins time and again, for we have the warning in 1 John 1v 8 that ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ In the following verse is the promise ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ We do not have to wait until we are in a church or chapel to do this, we can individually speak to God, asking for his forgiveness and praying that Jesus will reign in our lives by his Spirit.
Just as the moon needs the light of the sun to have something to reflect, so we need the light of Christ in us. ‘Without me you can do nothing’, said Jesus (John 15v5); we need to abide (or dwell) in Him in order to live fruitful lives, letting the light of Christ shine out, just as Mumbles lighthouse shines out on dark nights.
4 A new perspective
At different stages of life our interests change – we move on from playing with dolls or toy soldiers - but some changes are more profound than just acquiring new interests or hobbies.
I used to be a keen bell-ringer, and in the 1970s visited
This different emphasis is because I have changed. Thirty years ago I would have had no interest in Edwards or Brainerd, but now like John Bunyan (himself a bell-ringer, at Elstow prior to his conversion) bell-ringing holds slight interest to me, compared with matters concerning God and His kingdom. However I haven’t yet reached the place of the missionary C.T. Studd, who came to regret the hours he had frittered away (very successfully – England could beat Australia in those days) on the cricket fields of England: being still interested in cricket I have a long way to go as yet. Of course on this hypothetical trip to
Though I have been changed, that does not mean I am now perfect – merely ‘work-in-progress’. God’s Spirit seeks to shape and change each Christian into persons whose lives are lived to His glory.
5 The Wilberforce connection
In 2007, on the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the
Diana Middleton (1762-1823) was the only daughter of Sir Charles Middleton, MP for
When aged seventeen in 1780, Diana Middleton had married landowner Sir Gerard Noel Edwards, who changed his name to Gerard Noel Noel, and was heir to the 6th Earl of Gainsborough. It seems she had 22 children, though her somewhat eccentric husband did not share her evangelical faith. On her father’s death in 1813 she inherited the title Lady Barham, and her inheritance enabled her to move to Gower, settling at Fairy Hill (now a five-star hotel), and to have six chapels (which were also used as schoolrooms) built in the peninsula between 1814 and 1822. Of her children, one daughter Juliana later lived at Fairy Hill after marrying the vicar of Cheriton, while Lady Barham’s eldest son Charles Noel, who became Earl of Gainsborough, conveyed the chapels of Burry Green and Cheriton to the Calvinistic Methodists in 1855. Today four of her six chapels are still in use as places of worship, while another still stands but as a private house.
In spite of having what appears to be a less than ideal marriage, Lady Barham’s upbringing among several prominent Christians of her generation, and contact with leaders of the movement to abolish slavery, bore much fruit, from which Gower benefits to this day.
6 Her last recorded words
We sometimes speak of a person’s ‘famous last words’. As King George V was dying, his physician murmured encouragingly that his majesty would soon be well enough to enjoy visiting Bognor Regis, whereupon the monarch’s reply was less than complimentary to Bognor. There were spin doctors in 1936, as it was given out that the King’s final words were ‘God bless the Empire’. A more edifying remark was that of Revd John Wesley, who died in 1791 at the age of 88. He pre-empted Alex Frith by two centuries in remarking: ‘The best is yet to come!’ The following is not anyone’s famous last words, but the last words recorded in the Bible of a person who lived on for many years, and was among the believers mentioned by name in the
John 2 verse 5
Her last recorded words
at the wedding in
an embarassing situation -
guests continue to drink
but the wine has run out.
Could Jesus help?
Would Jesus help?
Servants await instructions -
here is the advice
(and it applies to you and me),
it’s from Mary, mother of Jesus:
'Whatever He tells you to do -
7 I remember Mr Cowper
Sometimes there is no happy ending in this life, but victory is experienced in the world to come. That is his situation now, for as I said at his funeral what a glorious surprise it must be to find himself released from all his chains in a moment and to be in the presence of the Lord whom he loved and whom he served. Yes, I remember Mr Cowper. In spite of all his depression and mental instability, I can hardly imagine a closer walk with God than he uniformly maintained.’
Revd John Newton (writer of such hymns as ‘Amazing Grace’) conducted the funeral of his friend William Cowper in 1800.
8 An influential ChristianFor many persons the name of Rowland Hill is just that of the man who introduced the penny post. For some Christians it is also the name of the former minister of London’s Surrey chapel and the chapel at Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire - at whose pulpits C.H. Spurgeon took great pride in later preaching, in fulfilment of a prophetic prayer of Richard Knill. But to me it is primarily the name of the
A tall man with a powerful singing voice, in work he would not hesitate to admonish a Post Office worker who took the Lord’s name in vain. Later he worked as a chiropodist and physiotherapist with a surgery at his home at
A powerful preacher at many Christian chapels, Rowland walked with a limp from polio, but there was no impediment – not even the cancer that led to his death in 1992 – that could dull his love for the Lord. Of modern worship songs he particularly liked ‘I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice’.
Revd Geoffrey Fewkes (former minister of
9 Stockbroker stoned in Hay
William Seward was born at Badsey in the Vale of Evesham in 1702, and went as a young man to
The change seems to have come in November 1738 when Charles Wesley described him at first as a ‘zealous soul knowing only the baptism of John’, but a week later noted that Seward ‘testified faith’, and was present at the conference of Oxford Methodists. Whitefield wrote in his diary in April 1739 that he ‘went to Badsey and preached in Mr Seward’s brother’s yard’. In all, Whitefield preached at Badsey on three consecutive days, on the third occasion to ‘a weeping audience’.
William Seward was with Whitefield in
In the autumn of 1740 William Seward and Howel Harris preached together in the open-air to hostile crowds in
His death sent shock waves through Methodism, for Seward was a vital organiser and supporter of the work, especially for Whitefield. The First Methodist Martyr is buried in the village churchyard at Cusop, near Hay, where a memorial tablet was dedicated in 1978.
Isaiah says ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts than our thoughts’. Though it seems strange to us, the Sovereign Lord sometimes allows His servants to be removed at comparatively young ages – David Brainerd and Robert Murray McCheyne both died aged 29, William Seward was 38, and the book of Acts records Stephen, another who died through stoning, who presumably was a fairly young man.
The theologian Tertullian observed that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’, so we honour the memory of those like William Seward who gave their lives (and who still do) so that the gospel could be proclaimed.
10 Not the triple-jumper!Which great American minister whose church was at the hub of the Great Awakening, but was subsequently dismissed by his congregation by a large majority, shares his name with a British athlete? This is Jonathan Edwards, who lived from 1703 (when John Wesley was born) until 1758.
Following his conversion at the age of seventeen through reading 1 Timothy 1v17, he wrote (and this is worth quoting in full): ‘I made a solemn dedication of myself to God, giving up myself and all that I had to God, to be for the future in no respect my own, to act as one who had no right to himself in any respect, and solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion, looking on nothing else as a part of my happiness, nor acting as though it were, looking to God as being the only source of my happiness, and not acting as though anything else that I have in my life is a source of happiness and strength to me’.
Edwards followed his eminent grandfather Solomon Stoddard as congregational minister in
In 1747 a young missionary to the Indians in
Edwards wrote ‘A work of God without stumbling-blocks is not to be expected’, and there was a price to pay for the time of Revival they had experienced. Nominalism in spiritual matters still prevailed in the well-attended New England churches, so when Edwards sought to limit membership to those who could testify to a conversion experience, he was opposed by powerful people in the community who had vested interests in maintaining a ‘half-way’ membership. After being dismissed from the pulpit in
A young medical student was walking through Talgarth in mid-Wales when he heard Howell Harris preaching in the churchyard. He was speaking powerfully on future judgement and the return of Christ – subjects about which we do not hear a great deal nowadays. This led to the conversion of twenty-year-old William Williams, who was to become
He is often called just ‘Pantycelyn’ or ‘Williams, Pantycelyn’, to distinguish him from others of the same name, such as the minister of
A gifted poet, William Williams combined theology and experience to write eight hundred hymns in Welsh, and another hundred in English: these were published in books and tracts. His best known hymn ‘Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah’ became a favourite among the students at the Countess of Huntingdon’s college in Tefecca, and nowadays is sung with gusto to the tune Cwm Rhondda at Welsh rugby internationals. Among his other hymns are ‘O’er the gloomy hills of darkness’ (written in English), ‘Speak, I pray Thee, gentle Jesus!’ and ‘Jesus, Jesus, all sufficient’; he is known as Y Pêr Ganiedydd (the Sweet Singer). He wrote about ninety books and pamphlets, notably in 1777 the influential pamphlet Drws y Society Profiad (Door to the Experience Society), a guide for groups meeting for fellowship and instruction, similar to Wesley’s class meetings. He also wrote about 28 elegies, of which the ones on Howel Harris and Daniel Rowland attain lofty standards.
Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones points out that even some secular literary authorities consider him the greatest Welsh poet. Williams died in 1791, the same year as the founder of English Methodism, John Wesley: twenty years later the Welsh/Calvinistic Methodists separated from the Church of England.
12 Here is love
The hymn referred to is Here is love, vast as the ocean, written originally in Welsh as Dyma gariad, fel y moroedd by Revd William Rees (1802-83). Born in Denbigh, he lived as a child at ‘Cae Du’, the farmhouse where William Salesbury, translator of the New Testament into Welsh in 1563, had lived. For over thirty years William Rees was the minister of a congregational church in
The tune for Here is love, vast as the ocean is Dim ond Iesu (which means ‘Jesus only’) and surprisingly this was composed by an American Baptist minister, Revd Dr Robert Lowry (1826-99) of
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He will never be forgotten
Throughout heaven’s eternal days.
13 The outward appearanceShocked to be confronted by the grotesque figure on the doorstep, the maid screamed before slamming the door firmly shut. The young man sadly gathered up his wares and turned away, shuffling off to the next house – and probably a similar response.
The person who had aroused such a reaction was Joseph Carey Merrick. Born in
But Victorian society’s revulsion against displays of abnormality led to such shows being closed down, so
‘Were I so tall as to reach the Pole,
or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul,
the mind’s the standard of the man.’
However immense our difficulties may be, God’s grace can enable us to maintain as thankful an attitude towards God as did the ‘Elephant Man’, in spite of his huge handicaps.
14 It nearly did not happen!An article in a church magazine mentioned the Victorian pastor C.H. Spurgeon who, at the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 when he was aged just 23, led the Service of National Humiliation at London’s Crystal Palace. Yet only twelve months earlier his fruitful ministry was nearly cut short by a tragedy at the
For 38 years from 1854 Charles Haddon Spurgeon was pastor of a large
From 1855 Spurgeon would edit one of his sermons every Monday for publication, and these were reprinted into an annual volume. You can still buy these Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit volumes, published by Banner of Truth. Spurgeon’s sermons were read – and the first language into which they were translated was ….Welsh! They were translated into Dutch, German, Swedish, and many other languages, and were also made available in Braille. In some places people would gather together to hear his sermons being read aloud.
In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle (by the Elephant & Castle) was opened, seating 5,000 and able to take another 800 persons standing. This replaced New Park Street Baptist Chapel in Southwark, which was sold with the proceeds going towards a new school and almshouses.
Spurgeon was not afraid of controversy, and he caused a great stir when he preached on ‘baptismal regeneration’, daring to oppose Roman Catholic tendencies influencing the Church of England from those influenced by the Oxford Movement like Keble, Pusey and Newman. The Book of Common Prayer suggested that sprinkling an infant led to regeneration, which Spurgeon denounced as a form of ‘salvation by works’. His sermon on baptismal regeneration sold over 300,000 copies.
Spurgeon also founded a
With the impact of
Yet all this might not have happened - if the catastrophe at the
15 The catastrophe at the
When 19 year old Charles Spurgeon, minister of a rural chapel in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, first preached on a Sunday morning at the historic New Park Street Baptist chapel in Southwark,
When the meetings at Exeter Hall had to cease, Spurgeon announced a move to the much larger
But such was the interest in hearing Spurgeon that people flocked to the
Recovering from the shock, despair and depression (though newspaper reports were kept from him) at a friend’s home in Croydon - it was only a month since his wife had given birth to twin sons - the breakthrough came when Spurgeon concluded ‘What does it matter what becomes of me, if the Lord shall be glorified? If Christ be exalted, let Him do as He pleases with me; my one prayer is that I may die to self, and live wholly for Him and for His honour!’ That was the turning point, for with God’s grace out of disaster could come triumph.
Spurgeon took one Sunday off, and then a month later began three years of preaching on Sunday mornings at Surrey Gardens Music Hall (with evenings at New Park Street), until the congregation moved into the newly built Metropolitan Tabernacle. God honoured his faithfulness when he was chosen to preach to 23,652 persons, his largest congregation, at the National Fast-Day at the
16 The anniversary of 9/11
Before he became famous, the singer David Bowie wrote and recorded a song about a person caught shoplifting; the chorus said ‘God knows I’m good, God knows I’m good, God will surely look the other way today’.
The first thing is - no, God knows we are not good and that’s why Jesus came into the world, not for the righteous or ‘good’ people but for those who are bad, for sinners.
But today I want to concentrate on the fact that God never looks the other way, He is never taken by surprise – not even when nearly 3.000 were killed on 9/11 in
God’s grace was operating on 11th September 2001. Most of us remember seeing on our TV screens pictures of smoke pouring from the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York, and then to our shock and horror seeing a second plane fly into the south tower, which showed that this was no catastrophe, like when the Hindenburg airship caught fire, but a deliberate, planned act of terrorism.
Yes, nearly 3,000 people were killed that day - but God was not unconcerned or looking the other way, He was involved ….. particularly in damage limitation
The four planes that were hijacked were capable of carrying 1,000 passengers, and they would generally have been 75% full… but on this occasion they were only a quarter full. There were just 44 people including the crew on United Airlines flight 93 from
The World Trade Centre towers held 50,000 workers, and would usually have been very busy between 9 and 10am. Strangely for a Tuesday there were considerable traffic delays, hundreds had called in sick (not unexpected if it had been a Monday, after the weekend), but on that Tuesday instead of 50,000 there were less than 20,000.
Of course it was still a huge tragedy, yet those structures held long enough for 3 out of every 4 persons to escape.
The Sovereign Lord of the universe is in control, permitting some leeway to Satan, yet He is restraining the evil that otherwise would run amok in this fallen world, until the appointed time when Christ returns in glory at the end of the age.
Whatever befalls, God never looks the other way.
17 Why doesn’t God do something about all the suffering in the world?(an attempt to reply to a question on this aspect of Christian faith)
This question is frequently asked, both by Christians and by those who are not Christians. The only person who can answer this is God himself, so my attempt to do so will be neither comprehensive nor entirely satisfactory.
As you might imagine several books have been written on this subject, like C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain (his wife died of cancer), and She said ‘yes’ by the parents of 17-year-old Cassie Bernall, shot dead at Columbine High School. They are better qualified than me to write about this whole subject.
If God is good and all-powerful one might assume that there would be no evil in creation. So if evil flourishes one could conclude that either God is not all powerful or that He is not completely good. God is both good and all-powerful, so the problem is how God, who is good, can apparently tolerate evil, which He is quite capable of preventing.
The reason for all the suffering in the world is mankind’s sin, for God declared that the world was good when He had finished his act of creation, as the first chapter of Genesis tells us. Once creation was polluted by mankind’s sinfulness, God could have destroyed it and started again: He nearly did so in the time of Noah. But God chose to work with what there was, rather as we might work on a ‘damage limitation’ basis, which may not sort out the real problem.
However God has dealt with the real problem. He is not into short-term solutions, but has dealt with human sinfulness by sending Jesus Christ into the world to die as an offering for sin, so that those who put their trust in Christ come into a relationship with God as their Creator and their Heavenly Father.
I shall take one or two particular examples of apparently undeserved suffering (which you can check out on the Internet), rather than writing in general terms.
Fifty years ago a 17 year old American girl named Joni Eareckson broke her neck when she dived into a pool and hit her head on a rock. Since then she has been a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down, dependant on carers for the remainder of her life. At first she wanted to die, but was helpless to do so unaided, which must have added enormously to her frustration and desire to end her life I imagine.
She certainly felt that God did not care about her, or perhaps was punishing her for some imagined sin or sins, though other apparently far worse sinners than her seemed to be enjoying pleasant fulfilled lives. In reality of course God was not punishing her, and He did indeed care very much for her, though it took her quite a long time to realise this. I am certainly not criticising Joni Eareckson at all – without God’s mercy and grace I would react no better in such a situation.
Now fifty years on, Joni is aged in her late sixties, she is still a quadriplegic and dependant on carers, but is adjusted to her limitations and lives a very fulfilled life. She should be trying to answer your question, because she has had to work it through, slowly, agonisingly and prayerfully.
Our television news brings us a steady diet of bad news which included major catastrophes like floods, famines and the effects of civil war. Of course reports of bad news sells newspapers, and we are more inclined to read about disasters than about the occasional good and edifying news that filters through. Yet even amid these disasters God is at work - when relief organisations send aid, manpower and funds. Often Christian organisations like Tear Fund and Christian Aid are in the forefront, and many Christians are working in other relief agencies, like Oxfam. So God is doing something about suffering.
Over the centuries there have been movements to combat some of the evils in the world, such as slavery and the slave trade, or the conditions in prisons, and Christians – people inspired and motivated by God – such as Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry and Thomas Clarkson have been in the forefront of these. One might say that those movements have taken a long time starting, and still slavery and people trafficking has not been stopped. That is correct, but what do we really want God to do? Should he remove from you and me the freedom to do good and to do bad, the freedom to help the needy as well as to exploit others? Would we not become like a race of robots, all programmed to work and react in given set ways?
May I move onto another particular case, again it is someone who should be tackling this question rather than I. There is a teacher in Blackpool, Mrs Joan McLean, whose daughter Rachel went to
What happened in that family reminds us that being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, does not make us exempt from any of the disasters of this world. But what do the
Their reaction does not answer the question of why God does not stop all the suffering in the world, but it does show that people can find God worth worshipping, in spite of the fact that He may not necessarily protect us from all evil, misadventure, or disaster in this life. I expect the Jewish people wondered why God had allowed heathen armies to invade the city of
Could it be that God like a great architect is chiselling and shaping them and their characters though all that has happened? The all-powerful God could have totally destroyed Satan (the Devil, though he is no figure with horns and a fiery tale) when Jesus was raised from the dead on that first Easter Sunday. Yet for reasons that are not revealed to us He has chosen to allow Satan to wreak havoc in this world for a limited time - until Christ returns in glory at the end of the age.
As you suspected there is no easy answer to your question, but I hope that some of my observations, and the reactions of those who have suffered greatly yet continue to worship God, help you understand something of how many people follow Him - not for what God can do for them, but because God is worthy of our love and devotion, whatever befalls.