Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the October 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose ... the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water. - Isaiah 35
Hilaire Belloc, in his book, "The Battle Ground," relates the events of the Gospel to the structure of the land in which they happened, in a highly dramatic and interesting way. The book is not in every way to be commended, but in this respect it is extremely valuable. At least, I found it so, and I propose to use it freely for the purpose of this address.
Belloc paints an imaginary picture of a little boat exploring the Mediterranean, ages ago. Such a boat, sailing east past the island of Cyprus, would have found itself heading into a wide gulf. Forced to turn south, almost at right angles, and proceeding down the coast of what is now Syria, the sailors would have recognised at last that they were following the wall of an inland sea which has no means of egress. The coast is regular, and not very long, continuing for about 400 miles. Here and there its line is broken by an island, like that which became the city of Tyre, or a short, jutting peninsula, like that which was one day to provide a foundation for Sidon. The whole coast is followed by a line of mountains, descending to mere hills in the south, where also the line recedes to give room for a wider coastal plain. Such is the most important coastline in the world.
Suppose that these explorers left their boat and climbed the mountains lying close to the coast towards the north. Gradually they would leave the fertile growth on the lower slopes behind, until the summit, when it was reached, would prove to be bleak and barren and covered with a thin layer of snow. (These are the heights of Lebanon.) Looking over the top they would have seen the mountains plunging down for thousands of feet, and giving way to a green belt of beautiful and fertile country. But not a very wide belt. Some 40 miles away another range of mountains, the Anti-Lebanon, tower up into the sky.
Crossing the fertile land between, and the streams rushing through the centre of it, the sailors might have climbed these other mountains. These, too, at the summit, would prove barren of life. But beyond them they would've been astonished, and perhaps awed, to see nothing but desert, stretching away into hazy distance.
This imaginary adventure adequately describes the shape of Syria, or rather of that part of it in which settled life is possible. Syria and Palestine make a wedge of green between the desert and the sea. A tiny area of life lying between vast areas of death.
In the whole of this part of the world water is of first importance. Go down into Egypt, and you will find the most extraordinary river in the world. The Nile flows for thousands of miles through the worst of deserts, and snatches from it a ribbon of life which nurtured a great civilisation. Go east into Mesopotamia (the word means "in the midst of the rivers"), and you will find another great river, the Euphrates, and also the Tigris, which provided not only physical nourishment, but also a highway for ideas to pass between ancient Syria and the once powerful civilisations which lay beyond.
In Syria there is no single great river. But a series of rivers run down the centre, between lakes which occur from place to place. In Palestine the mountains have shrunk to hills. But even here the essential shape of Syria - a kind of trough dug out between heights - is preserved by the strange character of the river Jordan. For this river flows beneath the level of the sea. Plunging downward from the sea of Galilee it eventually loses itself in the well-named Dead Sea, which in one place finds its bed as much as half a mile below the surface of the earth.
If you look at the map you will have the feeling that the desert ought to have stretched right down to the coast. It is as though Syria has no natural right to be there. But the hills and mountains capture enough rain to make life possible, and their porous nature, together with the snows on the highest of them, store water sufficient to feed the essential streams. And so Syria exists, a tiny place on the edge of a much vaster desert. It is a workshop in which many ideas essential to our civilisation were hammered out.
These facts, underlined by Belloc in his book, seem sufficiently striking. But they suggest a still more significant image.
Throughout the Bible, the figure of water constantly recurs to represent the life of the spirit. "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters ..." We can hear the tinkling of a stream or the strong sweep of a river flowing through the poetry of prophecy and psalm. And this is natural in a people who must always remember the wilderness at the door. But there is perhaps another reason. For just as the life of Syria seems poised precariously between the desert and the sea, so it was with the waters of life, with the great revealed truths concerning God and man which the people of Israel alone possessed. The life of the spirit is precarious, too. The desert is at its door waiting to absorb it if it can.
Th most exciting story in the world is that which tells how God spoke to a little community in a tiny land. And how that community, possessed of a divine truth, and developing it, preserved it through the centuries like a man carrying a cup of precious water through a hostile crowd. The religious genius of Israel might have been overwhelmed again and again by alien cultures and religions. The worship of the true God was threatened from the beginning by the worship of false gods, many of them foul and base, little more than projections of human lusts and fears. His shrine was surrounded by a spiritual desert. The Old Testament contains a clear account of the difficulties which the early leaders of Israel encountered in striving to keep the people free from contamination. And the same struggle persist right through their history. Great world powers, emerging one by one as the ages passed, rolled over the little nation yet proved powerless to obliterate it. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, each had a contribution to offer to the process of civilising mankind, yet each lacked anything like the seeds of a great religion. From the spiritual point of view they represent the desert, while to Israel, politically of no consequence, belong the green pastures. This does not mean that everything in the religion of Israel was always good, or that it did not need to develop and enlarge its concepts, or that it was quite insensible to outside influences. But it does mean that the Word of God committed to it persisted through every change, and was never utterly forgotten. The river of life did not lose itself in sandy wastes.
All this is due to the providence of and power of God. He who preserved Syria between the desert and the sea by the gift of water, also preserved the soul of Israel in the midst of false religions by the gift of grace. And all was for a purpose. All led to a climax in Christ, who said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink."
But when we speak of the providence of God we tend too easily to picture a situation in which man needs to do nothing. This is not so. God gives the water. But man must cultivate the land. God preserved Israel. But her people had to struggle to keep their faith. And so it always must be. For the coming of Christianity, even the apparent victory of the fifth century, for example, when it seemed that the whole world would by captured for Christ, a storm suddenly arose in the desert, utterly unexpected, and devastating in its effects. Just when all seemed secure, when men had almost forgotten that the wilderness was there, the horsemen of Islam rode in to conquer and to destroy. This was only the beginning of a gigantic disaster. Islam ate its way into the heart of Europe before, at last it was checked and turned back, and even so it wrought a permanent and unhappy change in the East. At one time it must have seemed to many that the very existence of Christianity would prove uncertain in the face of the world-conquering religion of Mohammed, just as to-day people think fearfully of the world-conquering religion of Marx.
All this is a symbol and a warning for us all. Do not imagine for one instant that because our country is called Christian, Christianity can be left to look after itself. Or that because Christ promised to preserve the Church we need to do nothing in its defence. In Christ's community the rivers of life are flowing. But remember the desert at the door. One day the wilderness will blossom as the rose. But many a battle must be fought, and many a sacrifice offered to God, before that. In the meanwhile let us look to our precious faith: Be vigilant. Be loyal. And be strong.
The disruptive Power of water, or is it? That power can be used for good.
“In many places, one of the consequences of the climate changes we are seeing is drought and water shortages. Of course, in many parts of the world, water has always been in short supply. Have you experienced water being in short supply? What were the consequences? How did you, or people in general, cope? Did you have to change your lifestyle at all?
When Jesus asked those who were thirsty to come to him, he was speaking to people who knew the importance of water because it was always in short supply. And he said – he promised to those who come to him – that ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’. What do you think Jesus meant by living water?
Sometime later, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on all those people at once. There was amazement and a lot of confusion. But Peter stepped up to the mark. He stood up to explain what was going on. What do you think was going through his mind at that moment? Only a short time ago he had been hiding in a locked room; now he was standing in front of a huge crowd. And he knew what he had to say. Is this an example of Jesus’ ‘living water’ at work? What might ‘living water’ or the work of the Holy Spirit look like in our lives today?”
Surely living water is as I mentioned at the start, it is being kind to one another, taking the time to ask if someone is alright, if they need help or prayer & then to direct those thoughts to God in Prayer, we are all hearing sobering stories, we had one yesterday, and at this time I offer up a prayer for Jean & Lionel, there story is one of love and compassion, it is too long to relate here – but I am sure we have many similar people and places we are praying for.
Water, Wind & Fire – Jesus did refer to water as he spoke of the spirit as “Living Water” So look around you, we could just end there – or maybe get creative I have said before that I do these blogs in the hope that they are read, not with any great expectations. So just as would happen on Facebook or UTube wouldn’t it be great if we could express the above in some form of visual art, the power of water, the flame of light, the air that we breathe ( rushing wind) the hymn Spirit of the living God, says “ fall afresh on me, Melt me, mould me, Fill me! Use me! Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. I thank we are entitled to say Amen to that!
Let anyone come to me, let us all allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us!
May the power of the Sprit challenge you.
May the peace of the Spirit comfort you.
May the presence of the Spirit enable you to live in love
And service in the name of Christ.
Extracts have been taken from Roots with permission.
The other lectionary readings are: Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
This article was found in the December 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
We have at least eight hymns in our selection by John Greenleaf Whittier, three of which I cannot remember ever having heard sung in any Church that I have had the privilege of worshipping in. The favourite of all denominations is, I think, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, part of his poem: The Brewing Soma.
Whittier was born in Massachusetts, America, in 1807, and started life as a farm boy and shoemaker. A Quaker by religion, and a strong advocate in his day for the abolition of slavery. He was a great simple-hearted Christian, becoming one of America's greatest poets. He died in 1892. He also gave us the following lovely hymns:
Another American hymn writer was Ray Palmer, who began life as a clerk in a dry-goods store. Afterwards he entered Phillips Academy, and from thence to Yale College where he graduated in 1830, but was in poor health, and took a teaching post to provide the means of life. During this period he wrote the well-known hymn My faith looks up to Thee. The author says: "I gave form to what I felt, by writing, with little effort, these stanzas. I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion, ending the last line with tears," that being: O bear me safe above - A ransomed soul.
The hymn has been translated into several languages, including Chinese and Arabic. He translated a number of Latin hymns and became a leading American Congregational Minister. He died in 1887 at the ripe age of 79, uttering, a few hours before the end, the last verse of his own great hymn: Jesus, these eyes have never seen That radiant form of Thine.
There are several other American authors in our Hymnary, but space is limited so we must pass on.
It is generally accepted that the greatest of all hymns is the Te Deum Laudamus. It is of Latin origin, and supposed to have been written about the end of the fourth century by the Bishop of Remesiana, in Dacia, but some scholars think it is even of a much earlier date.
No other hymn of praise has been, by universal consent, set apart as the supreme expression of the gratitude of the human heart. It is the most catholic of hymns, and sung on all great occasions, such as Coronation Services, Consecration Service of Bishops, Election of a Pope, Canonisation of a Saint, General Thanksgiving, and at great National Services. It was sung after Agincourt, after Waterloo, and many other Military and Naval victories. It continues to be sung, by all the Western nations at least, not only on great occasions but also in our ordinary Divine Services.
We can, I think, be justified in turning our thoughts to the Christian festival of Christmas, the season of Advent. [Editor's note: this article was written for December 1950, hence the Christmas theme.] We shall soon be singing the old familiar Christmas hymns, and, by the way, giving and receiving presents. Here is a story told by H. A. L. Jefferson, in his book on Christian Hymns recently published.
Dr. John Byrom of Manchester asked his little daughter, Dolly, what she would like for a Christmas present, and knowing her father's fondness for writing verse, she said: "Please write me a poem", no doubt hoping for good things as well. On Christmas morning, 1749, little Dolly came down for breakfast, eagerly anticipating, as children always do, the gifts awaiting her. As she sat down to breakfast on this happy morning she found a slip of paper on her plate, and the heading was: Christmas Day, for Dolly. It was a poem, Christians awake, salute the happy morn, well known to all of us.
When the season was over the piece of paper was cast on one side, but chanced to fall into the hands of John Wainwright, organist of Manchester Parish Church, who set the words to the tune now familiar to all of is. Wainwright got his choir boys together to practice the hymn, and the following Christmas Eve quietly took them to the residence of the Byroms, marshalled them round the door, and they sang the hymn to the great delight of the author. Thus was born one of out most popular hymns.
Dr. Byrom was a great friend of both Charles and John Wesley, and it has been suggested that he may have had a hand, with Charles Wesley, in compiling another of our Christmas hymns: Hark! the herald Angels sing.
Any who are interested in Christian hymns, I can, with confidence, recommend them to Jefferson's "Hymns in Christian Worship", published by the Rockcliff Press, quite recently, price 17/6. A suitable present for anyone at this season of the year. Or you can get it from the Town Library. He quotes some amusing odd verses, for example, from a Scottish hymn descriptive of Jonah's plight: -
Ah me! this is an awesome place,
Without e'er coal or candle,
Nothing but fishes tripe to eat,
And fishes tripe to handle.
The author is not stated, but it is probably of the 17th century. A book compiled by a Baptist divine in 1691 contains these choice lines: -
Repentance like a bucket is
To pump the water out;
For leaky is our ship, alas,
Which makes us look about.
Crudity in hymns, he says, is not confined to a remote past. It was about 1890 that the following found expression: -
Good Elijah went to heaven
In a chariot of fire;
Bright and warm to Glory driven,
Fiery horses drew him higher.
Up God's deathless way to Glory,
Where God's holy serpahs burn.
Enoch travelled by translation
With no ticket to return.
The precepts of John Wesley, given for the guidance of his Methodist choirs, may be of special interest to our own Church choir, and possibly to members of the congregation.
I think I might have added: Be regular in attendance at Choir Practice, and also at Divine Service to lead in the Worship of Song.
Well, Mr. Editor, we are nearing the end of the year, and it is just as suitable time to end this series of Christian Hymnody, and thus give someone else a chance to ring in the changes; which reminds me of a little girl who was once faced with a fierce Bull Terrier. In her agony she cried out: "O God, if you really do care about little girls, now is your chance."
I would like to thank those readers of "Progress" who have expressed their appreciation for these, I fear, rather sketchy notes for thirteen months. I will not say, Good-bye, but having run 81 laps of life's race, we can say with Whittier: -
I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
So with Jeremiah Eames Rankin I will say: "God be with you till we meet again".
“The Holy Spirit is described as ‘wind’ and ‘fire’ in Acts. In John, Jesus uses the analogy of water. All three of these elements can be unpredictable, disruptive and hard to control. In some churches, there may be a tension between encouraging spontaneity and freedom (of the Spirit), while ensuring that there is still order and continuity in what takes place. How can we maintain a healthy balance in ways that enable God to work in the lives of all those in our church?
Those who experienced what was taking place in Jerusalem were taken aback, despite the prophet Joel and Jesus predicting the Holy Spirit’s arrival. Peter, who preached what was arguably the first sermon, used the Scriptures to explain what was taking place. How good is our knowledge of the Bible when it comes to speaking about our faith? And in terms of reading it, do we tend to ignore those portions that make uncomfortable reading, or are ‘difficult’ to understand? What prophecies might be fulfilled in our time?
Those who heard the believers speaking in ‘other languages’ were from every part of the known world of the time. It was a clear sign of the Holy Spirit’s unifying power – bringing together people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. Today we extol the merits of having diverse congregations in our churches, but in practice many local congregations struggle to make the ideal of unity (and equality) a reality. What is it that holds us back, and how might we overcome such barriers? How can we work to ensure our churches are as inclusive and unified as possible?”
Extracts have been taken from Roots with permission.
This article was found in the November 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
The Ninety and Nine
Here is a story by Sankey the famous evangelist: - It was in the year 1874 that the poem "The Ninety and the Nine" was discovered, set to music, and sent out upon its world wide mission. Its discovery seemed as if by chance. Mr. Moody and I were travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh. He busy, and I reading the daily newspaper hoping to see some news from America. My eyes fell upon a little pieces of poetry in a corner of the paper and I read it over carefully, at once making up my mind that it would make a great hymn for evangelistic work, if it had a tune. I called Moody's attention to it, and read it over to him, but he was so engrossed with correspondence that he paid no heed, but I kept it. At the noon meeting the following day, held at the Free Assembly Hall, Mr. Moody after his address on "The Good Shepherd" turned to me and said, "Have you a suitable solo appropriate for the subject with which to close the service?" I had only the 23rd Psalm in mind, and it had been sung several times at the meeting, and I knew I could never sing it as a solo for every Scotsman in the audience would be sure to join in. At this moment a voice seemed to say, sing the hymn found in the train, but I thought - Impossible as there is no music to it. The voice, however, was insisted, so I just lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me so to sing that the people might hear and understand. Laying my hands upon the organ I struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note, the tune was given, and the first verse sung, and then I wondered whether I could repeat it for the second. I succeeded with the five verses. Moody came down the pulpit in tears demanding "Sankey where did you get that hymn? I have never heard the like." I replied "Mr. Moody that's the hymn I read in the train to you yesterday which you did not hear."
Thus Ninety and Nine was born. The author was Elizabeth Clephane of Melrose, born in Edinburgh in 1830 and died in 1869.
One Sunday morning in August, 1875, the Rev. E. H. Bickersteth, Vicar of Christ Church, Hampstead, heard Canon Gibbon at Harrogate preach from Isaiah 26 verse 3 "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee". The words Perfect peace lingered in his mind, and shortly afterwards he went to visit a dying relative, Archdeacon Hill, and finding him somewhat troubled in mind, he took a sheet of paper, and there and then wrote that beautiful hymn
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
And which he read to his dying friend. Have you noticed that the first line of each verse (except the last) is really a question, with the answer in the second line. Upon taking the poem home, and reading it to his family, one of his sisters drew attention to the fact that it contained no reference to the trial of physical suffering. "That's soon remedied" he replied, and taking an old envelope wrote on the back: -
Peace, perfect peace, mid sufferings sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.
Again you notice question and answer, but this verse is not, for some reason, included in our hymnary.
Another of our well loved hymns was written under great mental distress.
O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul on Thee.
George Matheson, the author of this hymn, was born in Glasgow in 1842. His University career was most brilliant, but at the age of 20 he became blind. Nevertheless he carried his heart's purpose and became a minister, first in his native city, then at Inellan, near Dunoon, and subsequently at Edinburgh. He died in 1906.
The hymn was written at Inellan on an evening in June, 1882. Dr. Matheson said "It was composed with extreme rapidity, I felt myself in the position of one being dictated to, rather than in that of an original artist. I had suffered a severe loss, and was in extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain." It has been stated that his distress of mind, was caused by his sweetheart breaking off the engagement on account of his blindness.
If that is true, it gives poignancy to the poem and illuminates its meaning. Each verse has a central thought in illustration of the doctrines of self realisation through self annihilation.
The poet Tennyson was not really a hymn writer. His life ranged from 1809 to 1892. We have two of his compositions in our book, the first being in fact a portion of that great poem "In Memorium" Strong Son of God, immortal Love. The second is treated as an Anthem Crossing the Bar.
Dr. Butler of Trinity College, Cambridge, once asked Tennyson how he came to write "Crossing the Bar." Pointing to a nurse who had been with him 18 months, and who exercises great influence over him, the old poet replied: - "That nurse was the cause, she asked me to write a hymn, and I told her hymns were such dull things, and I compose so slowly - however, I knocked it off in 10 minutes."
Shortly before his death, he called his son, and told him that it was his desire that "Crossing the Bar" should appear at the end of all future editions of his works, an injunction which has been faithfully fulfilled. May we like the poet have the hope and faith to see our Pilot face to face when we cross the bar.
I will finish this month with another of Sankey's stories - At Chicago at one of Moody and Sankey's great temperance meetings in 1876 a convert gave the following testimony: -
"At the outbreak of war in 1861 I enlisted and was soon a first lieutenant. I was 18 and had never before been away from home. Unfortunately I took to drink, and a constant card player with fellow officers, and by 1870 was a physical wreck.
I abandoned myself to the wildest debauchery. In anticipation of sudden death I destroyed all evidence of my identity, so that my friends should never know of my end. One day I wandered into one of your meetings and sat under the gallery in a drunken dazed condition. I got up to go out whilst the meeting was singing "What shall the Harvest be". The words and the music stirred me with a strong emotion. I listened to the 3rd verse:
Sowing the seed of a lingering pain
Sowing the seed of a maddened brain
Sowing the seed of a tarnished name
Sowing the seed of eternal shame
Oh, what shall the harvest be?
I rushed out in desperation and soon found a saloon and called for liquor to drown my sorrow, but everywhere in the bar room, even in my glass, I could read "What shall the Harvest be." I dashed the glass to the floor and went out. Two weeks afterwards I returned to the Tabernacle again, and in the Inquiry room, found peace."
Sankey says - a week later the man returned and showed him a letter from his little daughter. As follows: - Dear papa
"Mama and I saw in the Chicago papers that a man had been saved in the meetings there, who once was a lieutenant in the army, and I told Mama I thought it was my Papa. Please write to us soon as Mama cannot believe it was you."
The man received his letters at the G.P.O., and Mr. Moody took steps to restore him to his family. With the help of friends he studied for the ministry, and for some years was pastor of a large Church in the North West where he died in 1899. The man's name was W.O. Lattimore.
It is just another one of thousands of illustrations of the power of Divine Song. That hymn - "What shall the Harvest be" was a great favourite in my young days, and one could often hear it whistled in the street, or sung at Sunday evening hymn singing round the piano after Church service, in family gatherings, with friends. A custom, I fear, that has died out, in these days of wireless music.
Come, Holy Spirit; fill us with your peace.
Come, Holy Spirit; unite us in our worship.
Come, Holy Spirit; raise us by your power.
Come, Holy Spirit; come now.
The main reading for today comes from Acts 2: 1-21
In these opening words, we ask that the Holy Spirit, fills us with peace, unity, power. I am including the last part of a Vinod Shemron’s words from Fresh from the Word (31stMay): “Every day we, too, create our own world based on the way we use our tongues. Do we use our tongues to make life better for us and the people around us, or are we just using the tongue just to make us feel comfortable? This is the question that this passage asks. Our answers live in our daily deeds.”
I am writing this Blog on Wednesday 20thMay, it is a normal day, well as normal as things can be at this time, let’s call it a new normal. It was interesting to listen to the interview with Captain Sir Tom Moore on the BBC this morning, when asked what simple thing we can do he replied, give a little smile & you may get a little smile back, kindness to others is what we all need to express at this time, in simple actions, how we use our tongues and the gifts we have been given is a simple message but a strong and uplifting one!
Acts 2: 1-21
“On the day of Pentecost Jesus’ disciple’s experience being filled dramatically with God’s Holy Spirit, the culmination of many centuries of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise, made known through Old Testament prophets.
While some believers understood what was being said (by the power of the Holy Spirit), others in the crowd could not comprehend what was happening, and argued that the only ‘spirit’ present was of an alcoholic nature.
Pentecost witnessed God moving in a new, dynamic way in the lives of those believers. When God chooses to do a similar thing in our church (perhaps in the way we conduct our worship, or engage with the community around us), are we as dismissive as those naysayers in Jerusalem? “
The above point is of interest to all of us at this time, the way we conduct our worship & how we engage with our local community, this has always been a core principal of our Church & for all Churches & places of worship across the country and in the wider world, numbers may be shrinking but the message still has to be expressed in whatever way we can, the current times have made us think about worship in a very different way & as times progress we may have to change the way we worship, as we continue to strive to spread the message.
Extracts have been taken from Roots with permission.
This article was found in the October 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of Romford Congregational Church.
It is not such a very long time ago when the only method we knew of what the weather was going to be like was by consulting some man, much older than ourselves, who, after studying the sky gave a solemn opinion that it was either going to blow before morning and if the wind didn't change we should have rain before a certain time, etc., etc. In due time we got to know the difference between "red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning, and red sky at night, shepherd's delight". Or think we did!
But Aunt Eliza could always let us know without that because of her "rheumatics" or grandfather's favourite corn. If that wasn't enough there was, in most country cottages, a little wooden house, with two doorways out of which popped a little man, if it was going to fine, or a little old woman, complete with umbrella, if it was going to be wet. If both stood in the doorway together it was a bit of a gamble - like the man who wanted to be buried with a harp and an asbestos suit.
Then came the period when a barometer was hung in the hall and solemnly tapped each morning.
This in time has largely given way to the practice of listening to the weather forecast on the wireless each morning.
This year, however, I have come across a new one. I asked the lady of the house where we were staying on holiday what the forecast was and she replied that she hadn't listened but "her spider had been out and that was a sure sign of a good day", Well, well. That was a fresh one to me so, naturally, I wanted to know more about it.
Outside the kitchen window there was a tiny crevice in which a fairly large-sized spider made his home - he must have just about filled it. From the top corners of the frame he suspended his web and at a rough measurement I should say it was about three feet square. Sure enough Bruce (obviously that's what I christened him) would come out if the morning promised to be fair, and after repairing the web from any damage during the night would hang patiently in the centre waiting for the small flies to get caught. If the morning was wet he didn't come out.
The lady also told me that if a wasp got caught in the web, Bruce would cut all round until the wasp could get free, afterwards repairing the damage.
Now, I'm not very partial to spiders. I don't know why, exactly, but they never seem to me to be the sort of thing on which I could lavish affection, but I am intrigued at what I saw and heard.
If, therefore, any reader can supply information on the habits and antics of our ordinary English spiders it will be gratefully received.
Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the September 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
“Shall not God avenge His elect, which cry to Him day and night …?“ (Luke 18:7)
“Vengence is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
In the story which we read for our lesson (Luke 18:1-8), a widow, a helpless and insignificant person, receives her justice from the hands of a judge. But the judge satisfies her for quite base and trivial reasons. He is not interested in the rights and wrongs of her case. He has no fear of God, caring nothing for eternal laws. He has no respect for man, and is unconcerned with what we should call human rights. But he becomes thoroughly bored with the woman’s tedious request, and he does what she asks to save himself unnecessary trouble.
Jesus concludes His parable with the words, “Shall not God avenge His elect?, meaning that justice, which in this case is wrung from the reluctant hands of a sinful human being, is always backed by the determined will and infinite resources of God.
This story is a reminder of important facts.
Thus Communism is a great evil. Its leaders neither fear God nor respect man, and are guided by selfish and brutal impulses. But God is not defeated by Communists. It may even be that some of His purposes are being worked out in history through their activities. The present regime in China, for instance, is not totally evil in all its effects. It is reckoned to be far less corrupt than its predecessor, and we need not hesitate to admit that a certain measure of justice has been achieved by it.
This, of course, does not justify Communism, any more than our Lord’s parable justifies the employment of judges who despise the law. Neither does it mean that we are at liberty to sit back and let evil men govern the world, hoping that God will make the best of things for us. But it does mean that righteousness must ultimately prevail, if not in this world then in the next. And we shall be wrong if we look for the fulfilment of God’s laws only through specifically Christian or “good” media. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee” (Psalm 76:10).
But justice means more than the achievement of the good. It also means the punishment of the wicked. The unjust judge stands under the wrath of God, in spite of the service which he unconsciously renders to God’s purpose. The Communist system is most certainly doomed because it sets itself against Divine law, and must therefore be ultimately crushed by it. How God will do this we do not know. But He most certainly will do it. “Vengeance is mine, said the Lord.”
All this is very comforting. But danger is hidden in such thoughts. The word vengeance suggests an angry person getting his own back. And “getting one’s own back” is very far indeed from the vindication of Divine righteousness. Unfortunately, however, justice and revenge, two very different things, are so involved together in our minds that it is difficult to distinguish between them. This is particularly well illustrated in the Greek language, where the words for vengeance and justice have a common root. In an attempt to escape this unfortunate confusion, our text, translated in the Revised Version “Shall not God avenge His elect”, becomes in Moffat’s translation, “Will not God see justice done to His elect”. Ronald Knox translates it, “Will not God give redress to His elect”.
The difficulty, however, is more than linguistic. it is psychological as well. The most primitive notion of morality is identical with that of revenge. Injury must be paid for in blood, not only the blood of the person who inflicted the injury but perhaps that of his family and tribe as well.
These ideas become rationalised in the laws of a civilised State, but even there the same element persists. Capital punishment, for example, may become a sort of blood revenge. Criminals are sent to prison partly as a preventive measure, partly as a remedial measure and partly to uphold the law. But who can deny that people get a certain satisfaction out of the thought that a man who has been a nuisance and a source of fear now has to “pay” for his misdeeds. How easy it is to point a finger at the evil doer and say with immense satisfaction, “I told you so”, or “Serves you right”.
The same feeling has been projected into religion, and here it becomes most harmful of all. The belief that God will avenge His elect may become a source of satisfaction to those who have suffered at the hands of wickedness and are too weak to do anything about it. And in the moment when that happens the Christian spirit is banished from our hearts. We should rejoice that God’s righteousness can never be defeated. But we must never be glad in suffering which is the result of sin. In the Old Testament the idea that religious men may enjoy, in anticipation, the punishment of the wicked, is too clear to need illustration. “Just wait until God has finished with you” is the theme which persists through many a Psalm. But remember that the Psalmist lived before Christ, and we do not.
Confusion between vengeance and justice finds supreme expression in wrong ideas about hell. As soon as we begin to think about hell as a place where God “gets His own back” we are imagining something which does not exist. The thought that the blessed will enjoy the spectacle of the torments of the damned has actually been expressed by Christian writers in ancient times. No wonder Origen made his heretical protest that Christ remains on His cross so long as a single soul remains in hell. I do not believe this. But the spirit of the heresy is much more Christian than the spirit of orthodoxy has sometimes been. The text, “Vengeance is mine”, appears in the context of Paul’s pleading that we should do all in our power to do good to enemies; that is, to keep them out of hell, not to lock them in and put the key in our pocket with an expression of triumph!
Punishment and retribution are always in harmony with righteousness and love. It is impossible to understand this with the mind, but it must be so if God is God. Retribution is not the expression of something vindictive in God, it is the result of the perilous gift of freedom with which we are endowed. Hell is real, both in time and in eternity, but it is always something chosen. The pangs of hell are the result of evil choices, and thus vindicate the righteousness of a Holy God of Love. Hell is chosen isolation from God. Everyone has tasted it, if only in nightmare, when unredeemed depths of nature take control and thrust us out into irrational loneliness and despair.
We know that evil men who drag the world into misery to satisfy their own wretched ambitions must suffer unless the grace of God rescues them from themselves. But this should never cause rejoicing. This must never be an outlet for resentment. Still more must we apply the rule to personal relationships. Nothing is more unchristian than the notion that God will “take it out” of someone who has injured us. Satisfaction in the thought that God will cause the wicked to suffer is a ruse of the devil, the great unconscious blasphemy which endangers us all. Remember that the foundation of religions is this commandment: “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. How often do we commit sin of worshipping not one God, but two? A God of love for ourselves. And a God of revenge for our enemies.
This is part three of Keith Finch's thoughts for Sunday 24th May 2020
Many churches say prayers for those who are leaving – perhaps they are moving away from the area, or going on a long journey overseas. But, most of the time, it is the person who is leaving that these prayers are about. But Jesus is the one going away, and he is the one who did the praying – for those who were staying! Jesus wanted them to know they were not being abandoned, and that he would always be with them – and he said this in his prayer. What do you think Jesus’ prayer for us might be?
In the current climate I think like all of us Jesus would be praying for understanding for hope for shared love & respect for others,
Roots refers to dance as a way of getting closer to God, sometimes this is referred to as “ praise dancing” this is something we definitely do not do at Nelmes, for myself I would find it so hard to let go, I know that at least two of my cousins have in the past worshiped in part in this way. As I say it is not for everyone, but I have noted among many other projects on our televisions during lockdown that “dancing” has been performed via ZOOM and other media outlets, along with sing-alongs, ballet, opera, pop music & keep-fit & sport at home, the purpose of all the before mentioned is to lift our spirits, just as we ask God though Jesus Christ to lift our spirits.
Below you will see a picture, what are the people doing in this picture, we may not dance in our Church but we do hopefully found other ways of glorifying God in our daily lives, and maybe even if were not brave enough to dance in Church we could dance at home in the spirit of the Lord.
A sending our Prayer
Christ the Giver
If Christ be in your heart
Glory fills your days
For he is the King of Glory
If Christ be in your mind
Peace is in all your ways
For he is the prince of peace.
If Christ be in your deeds
Joy your life will raise
For he is the giver of joy.
If Chris be in your will
Strength of purpose stays
For he is the sender of strength.
Taken from Tides & Seasons by David Adam
Other extracts have been taken from ROOTS with permission
This article was found in the October 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
The Rev. Christopher Wordsworth (nephew of the poet Wordsworth), first and only parochial charge was a little country living in Berkshire, with the curious name of "Stanford-in-the-vale-cum-Goosey." On settling down he was much troubled on finding that the villagers had never been taught the duty of giving. Their idea of religion was to receive all the church doles, by way of coal, soup, blankets, etc., and to give nothing. The vicar was a poet of no mean order, a talent probably inherited, and he decided, instead of appeals from the pulpit, that he would try to inculcate the duty of giving to God by writing a hymn, and having it sung in the church at intervals of about a month. The method proved most effective, and the people became really generous givers. It is therefore to this one-time niggardly congregation that the Church of Christ generally owes this most beautiful hymn:
O Lord of heaven and earth and sea,
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee
Giver of all?
If you have a hymn-book at home read this poem at your leisure, for it does really bring home to all hearts what a debt we owe to the giver of all. The Rev. Wordsworth was subsequently Bishop of Lincoln - and died in 1885.
The most popular of all Missionary hymns was written by Bishop Heber at Wrexham in 1819, when staying at the Vicarage. He had gone on a visit really to hear his father-in-law Dr. Shipely, the Dean of St. Asaph, preach in aid of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts on Whitsunday. It was on the Saturday evening that a few clerical friends gathered in the Vicarage library, that the Dean asked Heber to write something for them to sing on the morrow - appropriate for the occasion. Heber retired to a quiet corner of the room and after fifteen minutes, produced the first three verses of the hymn From Greenland's icy mountains.
His friends were delighted, but Heber felt it was not completed in its proper sense, and with five minutes more silence he wrote the last verse Waft, waft, ye winds His story.
He gave it to the Dean, and the hymn was sung for the first time in the Wrexham Church the following morning.
It is said to be one of the finest examples of spontaneous writing we possess. In a total of twenty minutes, i.e. five minutes to each verse of eight lines.
At the age of 40 he became Bishop of Calcutta, and is reputed to have ordained the first native to become a Minister of the Church. Other hymns of his composition are Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty and The Son of God forth to war.
At the age of 43 he passed on to his rest, in 1826.
Robert Robinson, born at Swaffham, in the county of Norfolk, in 1735, is our next author. He was destined for the Established Church, but the requisite means could not be obtained. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a hairdresser in London, who often found fault with him for giving more attention to books than to business. At the age of 17 it is recorded that he and other lads one Sunday got playing tricks with a fortune-telling old woman. They rendered her intoxicated, that they might amuse themselves with her predictions. He afterwards went out of curiosity one night to hear the great evangelist George Whitfield, and was so impressed, that he became a preacher at Mildenhall, and wrote the hymn Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.
He passed through many changes and was connected in turn with Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, and finally a follower of Faustus Socinus, his joy and peace ending in depression and darkness. The following story is told of him -
He was travelling in a stage coach with a lady sitting opposite to him deeply engrossed in reading a little book. Neither of them knew who the other was, but she perceived that he was acquainted with religion, and asked for his opinion on a hymn she had been reading: Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.
He waived the subject, turning to some other topic, but she contrived to return to the subject, describing the benefits she had derived from the hymn, and her strong admiration for its sentiments.
She observed Robinson was strongly agitated, but did not suspect the cause, and woman-like carried on of the good it had done her, and asked him, "Don't you feel it is good?"
At length, entirely overcome by the power of his feelings, bursting in to tears he said, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that hymn years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had."
It has been said that the most beautiful resignation hymn ever penned was Richard Baxter's Lord it belongs not to my care.
He is also of course known to most people as the author of the "Saints Everlasting Rest." At one time he was chaplain to the merry monarch, Charles II, and one can scarcely wonder why he should write such a hymn. He had a rough time, being much troubled by the Independents under Cromwell, and by the Royalists after the Restoration, who ejected him, and then Judge Jeffreys bullied and abused him.
It was Baxter, who, when greeted by the terrible Jeffreys with the remark, "Richard, I see the rogue in thy face," replied "I had not known before that my face was a mirror."
The history of those times are well worth the study of all Free Churchmen today, but space in "Progress" is limited.
One of the most curious places to write a hymn was on a pane of glass, with a diamond, where it remained for many years. One Whitsunday at Hoddesdon near Broxbourne and Ware, in Hertfordshire, Miss Harriet Auber was sitting in her bedroom, thinking over the sermon she had heard that morning in church - when she wrote the words of that hymn, which has found its way into nearly every collection ever written:
Our blest Redeemer ere He breathed
His tender last farewell,
A Guide, a Comforter bequeathed
With us to dwell.
She died in 1862 at the age of 89, but that pane of glass has disappeared from the house, which afterwards became a place of business.
I think more parents at the christening service of their children appreciate the two verses sung of Saviour, now this infant bless, written by Thomas Toke Lynch, who lived from 1818 to 1871.
I was amused at a recent service to hear a lady say, "What a pity, that makes three boys - never mind, next year maybe it will be a girl."
Viscount Templewood (formerly Sir Samuel Hoare) in his book The Unbroken Thread, speaks of the sporting clergy of the 19th century, particularly in the country districts, and quotes the following story -
"Can I have my baby christened on Saturday?" asked a parishioner of those days of the parish clerk.
"No," answered the clerk, "you can't, the Reverend is pike fishing on Saturday." "Can I have it then before Saturday?" queried the parent. "No, you can't neither, the Reverend has left a live bait in the font," said the clerk. Templewood adds there were many similar stories in those days; he came from a very old Norfolk stock.