Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the August 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
"The Son of Man ... a friend of publicans and sinners." (Matthew 11:19)
Getting on with other people is one of life's biggest problems. It is a problem with two sides to it. For on the one hand we may find it hard to like our fellow human beings. Or on the other hand we may find it hard to get them to like us!
Some people are easy to love, and occasionally we fall into a friendship which has real creative power. Now and again we find a friend who throws a new and delightful light across the world, and this is indeed a rewarding experience. But if some people throw a light over life, others throw a blanket over it. Very often we find it hard to like people not because they are wicked but because they are boring. Not because they do us harm but because they exasperate us.
In imagination we all think it a most excellent and beautiful thing to love one's neighbour as oneself. The very young often picture themselves leading lives of sacrificial love on the mission fields or in hospitals, and firmly believe themselves capable of fulfilling the law of Christ. Idealism is no bad thing, and it would be sad if we allowed it to become submerged in cynicism. But at the same time most of us discover that to imagine oneself living a life of love is very different from actually making the attempt. The real world of relationships is hard to live in, and it is dangerous to allow a fantasy about one's ideal self which does not as yet fully exist, to hide this fact.
Of course it is easy to be on good terms with folk we only meet occasionally. The real test is provided by the men and women we have to live and work with every day. Most of us will have to admit that we heartily dislike some of them. Right or wrong, we had better accept this. If we ask Him God will help us to find new ways of understanding and sympathising with the people we don't like. And at least we can exercise restraint and charity in our dealings with them. But it would be foolish to pretend to ourselves that we like them when we don't. Foolish and perhaps sinful too. In the long run insincerities are alway harmful, even, perhaps especially when they are dressed in Christian sentiment.
It is not usual, I believe, to admit these things, particularly in Church, where we too often feel committed to pretend a more Christ-like spirit than we actually possess. But it seems to me just as well to acknowledge that we often expect more of one another than at present we are able to give. To be at the same time closely linked with human lives and to love them as oneself is an enormously difficult thing to do. Years of self discipline may be required of us before we make any real progress in the matter.
But what of the other side of our problem? There are people who are hungry for fellowship and cannot find it. People who blame themselves for being shy, or stupid, or unattractive, and wistfully wonder if that is why they never manage to maintain a friendship with anybody for very long.
Of course it is nonsense to suppose that a shy person is necessarily friendless. Shyness has a sort of charm of its own, and we are far more likely to be lonely if we choose to be aggressive or self-assertive than is we happen to be different. (Self-assertive people frequently get themselves elected on committees. But nobody wants to live with them). And as for stupidity, it would be a great mistake to suppose that the happiest relationships are built on clever conversation. Most human talk is really very ordinary. The person matters more than his speech, and we do not foster human comradeship by marching into somebody's drawing room with a bright remark about the international situations. And alas for the poor soul who thinks that the key to happy friendship is held by those who are blessed with a Hollywood profile. If the delight one human being can find in another depended on good looks some of us would be very lonely indeed.
Now there is one person we too often neglect in our thoughts about the problem of "getting on with people." And this person may very well be the clue to the whole matter, because we have to spend all of time, and eternity too, in his company. It is as well to ask the question, "On what terms do you live with yourself?" Remember that the command of Christ has two edges to it. You are to love your neighbour as yourself. This means, perhaps, that if you happen to despise yourself you will tend to despise your neighbour too. And if you hate or fear or resent yourself all this will find expression in the way you deal with other people, and, consequently, in the way they deal with you.
It may come as rather a shock to learn that the Lord has told us we ought to love ourselves. And yet I think it is so. And in a moment I shall try to tell you why.
Self love which is nothing but self esteem, self righteousness, greed, or pride, is of course a sin. More than that it is the source of all sin. There can be no doubt at all about that. The Gospel condemns it out of hand because it shuts a man away from God. Love for God ought to be so much greater than anything else in us that it throws all our human loves into the shade. This, I suppose, is what our Lord meant when He made use of an extraordinary paradox and told us we ought to hate our nearest relations for His sake (Luke 14:26).
But the self love which the New Testament commands is very different from the self-centred life of sin. Self-centred behaviour, far from expressing love of the self, often conceals a positive dislike for it. Take as a simple example the pathetic little sin of snobbery. A man is a snob, not because he loves himself but because he despises himself in the knowledge that his father was a fishmonger or some other perfectly honourable and worthy thing. A good deal of unpleasant human behaviour takes place because we carry around with us a secret sense of shame, inferiority, and failure. And no one who his ashamed of himself or angry with himself can be said to love himself.
So perhaps we talk too glibly about the sin of self love, when we really mean the sin of being self absorbed. For at the centre of sin there is nothing so noble as love, but only hunger and fear and oppressive anxiety. Fear of being found out, exposed as a little fellow when one wants to be a big one. Anxiety lest one should be deprived of prestige or money or some other thing one desperately wants. Lust, whether of the spirit or body, insatiable appetite, the very opposite of the deep peace of love.
From all this Christ can set us free. In Him we are bidden to repent, to acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses. We stand before Him as men in whom there is nothing worthy of love. But after that, if we trust Him, inner failure is forgiven. We are invited to enter the family of God. He who was the friend of publicans and sinners bids us welcome. This means, if anything at all, the possibility of being on good terms with God himself. And if He wishes to be on good terms with us, surely we can be on good terms with ourselves? If we are to find His image in every human life, we must find it, and respect it, in our own hearts too. Whenever Jesus Christ healed a man He bade Him stand upright. "Take up your bed and walk." It is a call to self reliance and self respect. "Lazarus, come forth." And forth he came, out of the humiliation and shame of human corruption.
I am sure it is a sin, a sign that we do not really believe in redemption or in love, if we despise ourselves. God bids us be humble, but He does not wish to humiliate us. He shows us our need, but then gathers us to Himself, to stand upright as sons and daughters in His house.
To love your neighbour, to be on good, free, happy terms with him, it is necessary to be on good terms with yourself. The Christian can dare to be this, because he knows what grace means. Without arrogance, indeed with awe and wonder, he may claim the power to enjoy and love his own life. And this is the key of friendship placed in his hands.
The need for me to love my seedlings in such a way that they mature and grow is surely a mirror for how we should love one another. During lockdown many of us will have experienced moments of loneliness, where doubts have crept in. When that unexpected call has come that lifts our spirit, the call you have made to an old friend, this time where we must care and help those that call out to us. When we come out of this pandemic, and we will come out the other side, maybe into a different world. Let us all remember that person who lifted our spirits, the love that was shared every Thursday when our neighbours ventured out to clap for carer’s. My hope is that this love that has been expressed so openly, all the fundraising, all the great ways of sharing will be carried forward. Don’t let us forget how kind people have been, not that they were not kind before, but maybe, just maybe we can continue to share love in this new found way.
One of the hymns we could have sung today is “Lord, the light of your love is shining” how appropriate, what follows is an extract from an Article by Michael Morpurgo: I hear already that some can’t wait for everything to go back to normal, no normal won’t do. Surely out of this must come a moment of hope for humanity, that we can gather ourselves to create a world community and learn how to live together more equitably, in peace, in harmony with one another and our planet”
So I close with an Image that says it all, I will continue to tend to my seeds, and I fervently pray that when we do come out at the other side, that we will continue to help one another to enable Gods love to be shared.
This article was found in the August 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
The Scottish Church for nearly 300 years refused to have anything to do with human hymns, Te Deums and the like, but in the metrical versions of the Psalms they found a good substitute as a vehicle for the expression of their emotions, and it has been said that the Scottish Te Deum is the 100th Psalm written by W. Keith in 1560, to the tune, Old Hundredth - the first hymn in our own hymnary:
All people that one earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice:
Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him, and rejoice.
Another great favourite of our friends north of the Tweed (and many of us in the South) is the 23rd Psalm: The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
The novelist, S. R. Crockett, declared: "There is no hymn like it. I think I must have stood by quite a hundred men and women as they lay dying, and I can assure you that these words, first learned by the Scottish child, were also the words that ushered them into the Quiet."
The Rev. D. P. Alford records that when he was Chaplain of the Scilly Isles, one of his parishioners, a Scot, found great comfort from the metrical version of this Psalm as he lay dying, and his wife remarked: "It is no wonder the Psalm comforts him, for he has said it every night before going to bed since I have known him," and they were elderly people. Go back to the days of the Covenanters, and we read the story of two girls about 20 years of age, Marion Harvey and Isabel Alison, who attended the preaching of David Corgill, and for helping his escape they were executed.
As the brave lassies were being led to the scaffold, a curate pestered them with his prayers. "Come, Isabel," said Marion, "let us sing the 23rd Psalm" - and they did - a thrilling duet on their war to the gallows.
This incident reminds us of Oliver Cromwell's Ironsides, who were never beaten in battle. Their famous battle song before fighting commenced was the 68th Psalm, and after victory they sang the 117th Psalm. No doubt the singing of Psalms in the days of religious persecution was a great incentive to courage, and we have a fine inspiring hymn in our hymn book:
Courage brother, do not stumble
Trust in God, and do the right.
It was written by Norman Macleod to conclude a lecture given by him to young men in the Exeter Hall, London, in 1858.
I have particular reason to remember this hymn, for it was a source of strength to my eldest son, Aleck, in his long and fatal illness. One Sunday evening, when lying in St. Thomas' Hospital, the Sister of the ward gave the men (about 30) a half-hour to sing their favourite hymns, and my dear boy shouted for "Courage brother, do not stumble." It was not known and she had not the music, but the following Sunday she was prepared, and it became a favourite with nurses and patients.
One of our best known hymns amongst the youth of today, especially the Boys' Brigade, is Fight the good fight, with all thy might.
It was given to us by an Irishman, J. S. B. Monsell, born in Londonderry in 1811. It became very popular during the Boer War, and also with Americans during their conflict with the Philippines. It's strange that it should be so, because it has no reference whatever to National Wars, but deals specially with Spiritual Warfare.
Dr. Monsell also wrote O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. In the last poem that he ever wrote, "Near Home at Last," he seems to have had some notion that he was in fact nearing home, for in the first four lines are these words:
Dear body, thou and I must part,
Thy busy head, thy throbbing heart,
Must cease to work, must cease to play,
For me at no far distant day.
The poem was written to raise funds for Church Restoration. Not long afterwards he was standing in the aisle of his church at Guildford, watching men engaged in the restoration work, when a large piece of masonry fell from the roof, and struck the reverend gentleman on the head, rendering him unconscious, and he died shortly afterwards.
A familiar hymn with all denominations is the
The Church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord.
It was written by Samuel John Stone, a Church of England clergyman, in 1869 and he was very fond of telling the following story. It was one of the very few cases in which he came across a parent who objected to the religious teaching in the Church day school.
When he was a curate at Windsor, and was in the Church school, an angry father asked to see him, and complained of his child being taught the Catechism, which as a Nonconformist he objected to the child learning. Stone asked the man if he had ever read the Catechism, and received a negative reply. He persuaded the man to take a copy home, read it, and come again and give his opinion about it. In a few days the man re-appeared, and on being asked what he thought about it, replied:
"Well, sir, I find it tells him his duty towards God, and his duty towards his neighbour. Teach him it, sir, and if he won't learn it, you wallop him."
The later Archbishop Frederick Temple (father of William Temple of recent times) said once that he could always count on two things when he went to open a new Church, or preside at a dedication festival: Cold chicken and The Church's One Foundation.
Another hymn familiar to nearly all, if not all, denominations is Onward Christian Soldiers. It was written by the Rev. Sabine Baring Gould in a great hurry for his mission at Horbury Bridge about the year 1865.
Here the children had to march many a long mile to take part in a school feast, and marched with colours flying, banners waving, and preceded by a cross, singing lustily this hymn prepared specially for such occasions. Rather a good story is told in connection with this hymn.
A certain Low Church Vicar, though he liked processions, particularly when he headed them, stoutly objected to the Cross being carried. The organist and choirmaster both did their best to persuade him that there was nothing wrong in carrying a Cross - but without avail - the vicar was adamant. At last, losing all patience, the choir master altered the first verse, and the procession started off, the children singing:
Onward Christian Soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the Cross of Jesus
Left behind the door.
Whether the vicar saw more clearly after this is not recorded.
The Rev. S. B. Gould died in 1924 at the age of 90. Two other hymns from his pen appear in our book:
Now the day is over.
Through the night of doubt and sorrow.
This calls to mind another famous hymn:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus
Ye soldiers of the Cross.
The Rev. Dudley Long gad been conducting a revival Mission in Philadelphia, America, and on the Sunday preceding his death preached such an inspired sermon that one thousand out of 5,000 present yielded their hearts to God. A few days later he strolled over to a barn where a mule was at work shelling corn. In patting the animal his coat sleeve caught in the cogs of the wheel, and his arm was torn out. The shock was so great he died within a few hours.
Before passing he sent a message to those engaged in revival work: Tell them to stand up for Jesus. His friend, the Rev. George Duffield, was so touched and inspired by the incident that he wrote the well-known hymn. It occurred in 1858.
Is it OK to accept all our experiences of calm, comfort, beauty and feeling uplifted as intimations of Jesus’ continued presence with us? On the other hand, do some of us undervalue such experiences? Should we be more ready to acknowledge the ‘one beside us’ bringing comfort in need, and the ‘advocate’ stiffening us against threats? Or maybe that is self-indulgence too? So, how are we to understand the kinds of knowing and seeing that are promised, and are to be Jesus’ gift to his disciples?
Father, Son and Spirit in this passage demonstrate a complex and dynamic relationship with one another and with the disciples in the world, revealed and then hidden, intimate and simultaneously infinite. Does it help to remember that relationships are always organic, flexible? They grow, reform and transform, deepen and mature. Might this keep us from all-or-nothing positions where we think that believing and not believing, seeing and not seeing (and so on), are mutually exclusive opposites?
Adapted from Roots 17th May 2020
So coming back to my reference to whether my seeds will germinate, those of us lucky enough to be able to garden may want to reflect on the marvels of a seed, we all view Gods world every day but whether my seeds germinate or not will depend on many things, if seeds do germinate don’t prick them out too early (they may well wither and die) some wont germinate at all, some will be crowded out by their bully like brothers or sisters. So what is love in action, the commands that Jesus urges us to keep are practical, every day, ‘out there’ in nature. Looking for examples of love in action and of situations that need love to be expressed in a practical way.
This article was found in the July 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
In the middle of the last century some little Irish boys were complaining to each other that the Church Catechism, which they had to learn, was dreadfully dull and dreary. Their godmother, Mrs. Alexander, overheard their remarks and set herself the task to write verses which would make the Catechism clear, which resulted in the boys becoming full of interest; and thus was born some of the best beloved hymns the world over, e.g.:
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.
(Expands the truth of "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, etc.").
Once in Royal David's City
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby, etc.
(Drawn from the words: "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, etc.").
The most famous of them all, perhaps, had its first verse suggested to her by the fact that, when driving into the city of Londonderry on shopping expeditions (a city surrounded by walls) she passed a little grass covered hill, which reminded her of Calvary. When expounding to her little godsons the words: "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, etc." the spot above referred to came to her mind and she thereupon wrote:
There is a green hill far away
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
Mrs. Alexander wrote over 400 hymns, but this perhaps was the most tender and inspiring of them all. She was born in Ireland in 1823. Her father, Major Humphrey, served in the Royal Marines. Little Cecil began writing verses when only nine years old. She used to hide her poems under a carpet: this one day reached her father's ears, and he gave her every encouragement.
In 1850 she married the Rev. Wm. Alexander, who later became Primate of All Ireland, and went to her rest in 1895, at the age of 72 years.
Others which are well known to us, e.g.:
Another favourite of little children is:
Looking upward every day
Sunshine on our faces;
Pressing onward every day
Toward the heavenly places.
It was written by Mary Butler, who lived from 1841 to 1916. She had a little niece Mary H. Butler, who was at the age of 13 confirmed at Shrewsbury in 1874, and it was a very memorable day for the child, leaving an indelible mark on mind and heart for the rest of her life. At the Confirmation Service a specially written hymn was composed by her aunt, and sung for the first time: Looking upward every day.
It has been very popular ever since. There is one verse missing from our book:
Every day more gratefully
Every day more readily
I should think that Charles' Wesley's most popular, and best known, children's hymn is the one many thousands of little folk learned at their mother's knee: Gentle Jesus; meek and mild.
John B. Gough at his Temperance Meetings used to tell the following story:
A friend of mine seeking for objects of charity, got into the upper room of a tenement house. It was vacant and he saw a ladder pushed through the ceiling. He climbed up and found himself under the rafters. He saw a heap of chips and shavings and on these a small boy about 10 years of age. "Boy what are you doing here?" "Hush, don't tell anybody please sir, I am hiding." "Where's your mother?" "Please sir, mother is dead." "Where's your father?" "Hush, don't tell him sir, but look here." The boy turned himself on his face, and through the rags, it could be seen that his flesh was bruised and his skin broken. "Why, my boy, who beat you like that?" "Father did, sir." - "Why did he do it?" "Father got drunk sir, and beat me cos I wouldn't steal."
"Did you ever steal?" "Yes, sir, I was a street thief once." "And why don't you steal now?" "Please sir, I went to the mission school, and they taught me it was wrong, and I'll never steal again, if my father kills me for it, but please don't tell him,"
"My boy, you cannot stay here," said the gentleman, "wait a little time and I will go and see a lady who will help me to find a better place for you than this." "Thank you sir," said the little fellow, "but would you like me to sing a little hymn." "Yes," said the gentleman, and the boy raised himself on his elbow, bruised and battered, friendless, motherless, and sang:
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity.
Suffer me to come to Thee.
Fain I would to Thee be bought
Dearest Lord, forbid it not;
In the Kingdom of Thy Grace
Give a little child a place."
"That's the little hymn sir. Goodbye." The gentleman went away and returned in less than two hours to take the little laddie to a home where he would be cared for. He climbed the ladder. There were the chips and the shavings, and there was the boy, with one hand by his side, and the other tucked in his bosom underneath the little ragged shirt - dead.
The Gentle Jesus had called him to a better home.
As per last week, what follows is a compilation of extracts from Roots and some of my own thoughts, I have been attempting since 2009 to help by leading worship at Nelmes, at the start I used a library of events that had occurred on my travels, meeting with Christian folk, recounting situations that had impacted on me. At the beginning it was nerve racking it still is in 2020, both myself & Barry have over this time taken quite a few services, I think we would both say it doesn’t get any easier. So when I thought about creating Blogs during lockdown I probably didn’t think it through thoroughly, I have found writing sermons harder as the years have passed, gone are my work related stories, people at Nelmes will know that over the last couple of years I have used articles from newspapers to help to craft my message. So this Blog may not be as long as previous ones, but I hope the message is still there. - Keith Finch
THE SPIRIT BESIDE US:
The Father loves you,
The Son loves you,
The Spirit loves you.
Come and show your love.
Spirit of truth, come close to us.
Unite us in the body of Christ.
Enable us to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
Help us to support and encourage each other.
Help us to love as we are loved.
Sprit of truth, come and abide in us. Amen
I will be using the reading from John 14: 15-21 for today’s blog, the other lectionary readings for Sunday 17th include, Acts 17: 22-31, Psalm 66: 8-20, 1 Peter 3: 13-22.
I spoke last week about my Garden, how I was managing during the current problems, even if Garden centers do open I intend to cope without bedding plants, to attempt to adapt using what I have & hopefully what I have grown from seed!
Gospel: John 14.15-21
The theme in this speech by Jesus spirals back round to the centrality of love (see 13.34). Loving Jesus becomes evident when we obey his commandments, the central one of which is to love as he has loved us. To help us in this, Jesus will ask the Father to give us another ‘Advocate’ who will be with us for ever, who is also called the Spirit. The Greek word translated ‘advocate’ literally means the one ‘called to your side’ and could equally be translated ‘intercessor’, ‘counsellor’ or ‘intermediary’ – and probably by a number of other words too. It is the word used in the Greek version of the Old Testament for the comforters who came to Job, so one could add a positive version of ‘comforter’ to the list. When Jerome was translating the New Testament into Latin, he felt that the term was intentionally broad and inclusive, so instead of choosing just one word and therefore one meaning, he simply turned the sounds of the Greek word into Latin, giving the term ‘Paraclete’. The Paraclete is the one who guides, counsels and consoles us, and speaks up on our behalf. Crucially, the Paraclete will never desert us in our hour of need. This speech then flows on naturally from discussing our relationship with the Paraclete to discussing our relationship with Jesus and with the Father. The kind of mutual indwelling that Jesus describes (e.g. ‘he abides with you and he will be in you’, and ‘I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’) makes it clear that our relationship with the Paraclete is not something distinct from our relationship with Jesus and the Father, but is all bound up in that oneness with God that ensures we are not left orphans.
Sources: Roots 17th May 2020
This article was written by A. Van den Brock in June 1950 and was found in a copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of Romford Congregational Church
During prayer the men stand and the women remain seated. During the singing the whole congregation remains seated.
The Church takes the religious education of its youth very seriously.
Although she realises that faith is the first of God she nevertheless also realises the truth of St Paul's words" "So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God." She therefore teaches the Word of God to her youth starting at Sunday School and then continuing in the Boy's Clubs and Young Men's Clubs and Young Women's Clubs.
The main business of these clubs is the study of the Bible, although other subjects like Missionary Literature and so on are also being discussed. All clubs have good libraries.
Then there are the classes held by the Minister, usually divided in about five different groups leading up to the last class from where pupils may apply to be allowed to join the church. Every class meets as a rule for one hour a week.
Although faith in Christ as our Saviour is regarded as sufficient evidence whereupon one may be accepted as a member of the Church, it is usually required from the candidates that a certain knowledge of the Bible and the creeds should have been obtained in accordance with the various intellectual standards of the new members.
Few Churches have a choir, but many churches practice community hymn singing one evening a week.
The Minister is being assisted in the services on a Sunday by one of his deacons who reads the hymns, reads the lesson and makes the announcements. There is in many churches a short prayer meeting immediately preceding the service held in the vestry and only attended by the deacons and the Minister. Immediately following this prayer service the Minister is accompanied to the pulpit by one of his deacons and with a handshake the deacon commits him to the help pf God. At the end of the service the congregation stands in silent prayer while the Minister and his deacons return to the vestry to end the service with a private prayer meeting.
The collections are taken in small bags and not on collection plates. The idea as far as I have always been able to ascertain is to have as much secrecy as possible and not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, nor let the right eye see what the left hand of our neighbour is doing.
The collections in Holland are certainly a black spot in the religious life. I have always been surprised at the statement of the amounts of the collections in our Church here, and most certainly any Dutch church would be jealous of such collections. In every service there is a separate collection for the poor and in the big cities a distribution of money is very often made to the poor by the diaconate at the end of each morning service.
Holy Communion is not celebrated as regularly as in our churches here. The reason no doubt being that the deacons regard it as their duty to see everyone who wants to take part in the communion personally, in order to point out the grave danger of partaking in this Holy Sacrament without searching themselves first whether the right relationship exists between God and ourselves. They read the warning of St Paul that we can under certain circumstances eat and drink damnation to ourselves as grave enough to charge themselves with that duty.
I think they sometimes hinder people to take part in the service, but may we judge? It certainly is very inspiring to hear an open invitation like we may hear it in church here and although a searching of our heart will no doubt make us feel guilty of many shortcomings and grave mistakes, is not God's love in Christ always bigger than out shortcomings?
Needless of course to say that there is none of the Roman Catholic doctrines left in the Dutch Reformed Church that the bread is being transformed during the communion service into the body of Christ, or the wine into His blood.
The Church in Holland baptises young children in a baptismal service very much alike to a baptismal service in our Congregational Church. I would say however that although her conception of the baptism is not of an ultra Calvinistic nature, the Church does regard the baptism as "the washing of regeneration" according to St Paul's Epistle to Titus, chapter 3:5.
The Church also regards it as a first sign of God's grace to the baby that it was born into a family, the parents of which care to ask that the baby might be brought into God's covenant and receive the sign and seal thereof.
It has always been a point of much strife and unbrotherly argument in the Church in how far this theory and the whole theory of predestination could be argued out yet or ever will because it is so much a subjectivity and not and objectivity. Our outlook in this all depends upon our relationship to God.
As already said, the churches are governed by the deacons locally, and the deacons are elected for two years only, after which period they can be re-elected again after two years of absence from the diaconate. Unfortunately, the members of the churches were not always willing to undertake their duties towards the church and this has prompted a later much regretted action, namely the action to institute election bodies who did all the election work for the members. They were instituted for a period of ten years and only the death of a member caused a vacancy.
This practice is now however being discontinued as much as possible.
Over and above the local diaconate is the regional Classis which meets once a month. This Classis also sends a church visitor regularly to all churches, who sits for an investiture in the vestry one hour a month to hear complaints from any member who thinks anything has happened in the church which is not in accordance with the Bible or the doctrines.
The regional Classis appoints deputies to the provincial synods held every quarter and they also appoint deputies for the national synod held once a year.
Just a few closing words now about the various lines or directions of thought in the Church.
There are confessionalists, i.e. those members who want to live out of and in accordance with the confession of the Church very strictly.
There are the ethicists, who do not care so much about the confession but who pay much attention to the ethics of their religion and try to show forth their will to live as Christ has set us an example - as they say.
They form what we call in Holland the right hand of the left wing of the Church. To the extreme left stands the modernist, who denies that Christ was God and who does not believe in miracles or in the inspiration of the Bible.
More to the extreme right are the re-formed group of believers who although they accept the Gospel as divine truth never seem to be able to accept it for themselves. They have done much harm to the Church in as much as they have so often been the cause of demonstrations of faith, which have to be given by the Church as a whole, being abandoned.
In my opinion it is a great pity that Dutch Theologians have lent themselves to be wholly and solely devoted to one of these various ways of thinking, instead of trying to bring all groups and thought more closely together.
With the exclusion of the ultra modernists, I think all the other groups can claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit who will, however, lead us in all the truth and not just in one truth.
There is a great desire in the Dutch Church nowadays to bring the various directions of thinking close together and member are recommended to try to speak more to members who think differently to themselves, and try to bring down the barriers which divide brothers. It is called "church members' conversation" and is recommended on a private basis, not in meetings of many members at the same time.
Is there anything the Church in Holland could learn from the Church in England?
I would say "Yes". It seems to me, e.g. that the Church in England is putting more effort in the attempt to influence the world through a more demonstrating personal charm of the individual members towards everybody. In other words one gets the impression that church people in England are a very kind and charming people. I think this charmingness could be taken over by our Dutch church members on no small scale. We are often unapproachable and harsh to the outside and no doubt the circumstances have made us like that to some extent. Mr Ward said in one of his sermons not long ago that the circumstances are influencing the religions of the people and no doubt this is noticeable in Holland. Remember our 80 years of struggle for the freedom of faith and our unending struggle against the water (Holland is for a large part from 10-20 feet below sea-level) and we must constantly be on guard against the water.
The Church in England also can learn something from the churches in Holland. Some time ago I saw on a poster outside a church in Maidstone these words:
"A living conviction is better than a dead certainty."
In my opinion the Church in England wants a little more of the "dead certainty" and she will find that it is not dead but alive, and the ground on which a living conviction will flourish and bear fruit. During January, the same church had as its slogan:
"I will resolves to go to church at least once on a Sunday in 1950,"
but I think that if members knew more of the dead certainty they would be more alive and a resolution to go to church would not be necessary.
In Holland we see a "confessing church," we would like to see added: "a church with living convictions."
England likes to demonstrate a church with living convictions; it should make sure that the only ground on which convictions can live, namely, on sound doctrines, is not neglected.
I feel I have been hopelessly incomplete in this story but I have tried to raise points of interest to you. I want to finish with the prayer that God will pour out more and more of His Sprit into the hearts of our Minister, our Deacons, and us ordinary church members alike so as to lead us all into a better understanding of how we ought to behave ourselves and live in the House of God which is: "The Assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the July 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)
"Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." (Acts 1:8)
In the communion of the Holy Spirit the Christian Church experiences both life and power. These words represent two great aspirations of the world, and therefore the Gospel offers something that the world is already seeking. Here, then, is a bridge thrown across the gulf which separates Christians from other men.
Let us examine the differences between what the world means by life and power and what the New Testament means.
(1) The will to live is the basic urge which animates the whole world of nature. All living things, from the most simple organism to the most complex, are devoted to the simple goal of remaining alive as long as possible.
(2) In general it may be said that life is maintained by death. Each creature exists by destroying another creature and absorbing the life that was in it. The will to live, therefore, becomes the will for another's death.
(3) But since nothing wishes to die this results in strife. Nature is in an endless state of war, and her children must learn the art of pursuit and self protection if they are to enjoy any span of existence at all.
(4) In order to conduct this war, power is necessary. Consequently the will to live develops of its own accord into a will to power. Evolution is nothing but the story of the accumulation of power. In some cases power was achieved through heavy weapons of offence and defence - teeth, claws, powerful muscles and so on. In others speed or silence of movement proved effective. But the most powerful of all creatures, always excepting man with his extraordinary intelligence, are the smallest of all. Nothing is stronger than bacteria, simply because they are invisible. Strength is made perfect in weakness in more ways than one.
(5) There are alliances in this war. Creatures are bound together in species, and a species has common enemies, and common goals. Instinctive activities are all designed to preserve not only the individual but also the species to which it belongs.
But although there are alliances in nature there is no sharing. Hungry dogs do not ration themselves.
All alliances in the natural world are based on necessity. Sex, for instance, is a temporary union based on mutual need. Nature knows marriages of convenience. But she knows no friendships.
(6) Man, considered on one side of his nature as an animal, is involved in this war, and because of a greatly superior brain he is the most successful competitor. Man is supreme because his intelligence provides great resources of power. And so he largely dominates all other creatures, destroying and preserving where he wills and making nature serve his needs. Still, it should be noted that in some respects he has not been wise enough to impose limits on his ability to exploit natural resources. Soil erosion over the earth's surface gives warning that one day there may not be enough food for the human family to eat. And only the other day I read an article called "The Trees are Afraid," which told of the great price we may have to pay for the prodigal waste of timber.
(7) But as soon as we begin to think about man as a competitor in the struggle for life we notice a new and ominous fact. For man is not only at war with nature. Man is at war with himself. Human society is a constant struggle between various classes, interests, and personalities. In the sphere of economics the element of conflict is particularly obvious for here the competition for power in the form of material wealth is undisguised. But not until the struggle reaches its climax in actual physical warfare do we see it as naked reality, stripped of all pretences. There is a certain truth in the statement that "Man is a wolf to man."
(8) Why is it that the human will to power is so much more terrible in its effect than the struggle for life in the jungle? The answer lies in the difference between human nature and the nature of animals. Animals desire simply to exist and to satisfy their instincts, and this sets a limit to their aspirations. Theirs is a realisable goal. A well fed tiger, presumably, does not hunt. Its nature is capable of satisfaction, and beyond the point of satiety it has no motive. But man has a spiritual as well as a physical nature. And to his spiritual aspirations there are no limits. The human person is not content with mere existence, else we should never have emerged from our cave dwellings of our primitive ancestors. Man wishes more than life. He wants abundant life. There is a restless hunger in his soul for a better kind of life, a richer experience, a wider world. The search for these things is both his glory and his tragedy. It is the explanation of human achievement, but it is also the source of a ruthless struggle for power which has now reached such dimensions that human society is in danger of destroying itself.
(9) The appetite for a deeper and more satisfying kind of life becomes translated into a demand for material wealth. This is because a civilised man obviously has a better time than a savage. You cannot divorce a man's spiritual resources from his material resources. A highly civilised society has a deeper spiritual content than a savage one. It horizons are wider, its experiences richer. That is because its standard of living is high, it enjoys security, leisure, has time to enjoy the world and the opportunity to develop a culture. All of which provides food for the spirit as well as the body. And so the struggle for economic power conceals the desire in the soul to live richly. The violence of human society is like the violence of some monster of the ocean thrashing itself in shallow water because it is hungry for the deep. Actually, this is an indication of a largely unconscious desire for God. "Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee," Only in Him is the infinite sea of the soul's desire to be found.
The will to power is a sign of our hunger for eternal life.
(10) Power is satisfying in itself. It is an end as well as a means to an end. The man who seized power - whether as money or in some other form - feels that he is consequently a bigger man, leading a larger life than his fellows. To feel a superior person, looked up to and admired and perhaps feared by others, feeds the appetite of the spirit. No animal knows anything about this. It is a spiritual hunger, and therefore and infinite one. There is no point at which it has had enough. That, perhaps, is why hell has no bottom to it.
(11) The will to power in the struggle for life ultimately defeats its own end, however. For fellowship is the condition of life in the spirit. And ruthless competition destroys fellowship. Its intention is to eliminate everyone but oneself. No one is more lonely than a successful Dictator. An absolute Dictator would be friendless and therefore a dead soul. Power, which seems to lead to life, leads to a desert. It is the path of death. So the will to power, which emerges from the will to life, leads to isolation and consequent destruction. The best symbol of this extreme dilemma is the H-bomb, which might conceivably be used by a nation demanding more living space. But its use would probably destroy us all.
(12) Somehow the human race must transcend this situation. It must put an end to the competitive struggle which up to now has seemed an inevitable pattern for life, or else it will perish. Socialism is an attempt to do this. According to Socialist theory the element of competition could be eliminated on the basis of common ownership. There is much to be said for this in theory, but in practice it has no saving power because it fails to notice that the source of conflict is in the spirit, quite as much as in physical need. Common ownership cannot settle the problem of human pride.
(13) The world of ruthless conflict which we have described is not, however, the real world. We have simply imagined the universe with love left out. If there were no love in it life would be nothing but a struggle for power. And this is, in fact exactly what it looks like through the eyes of a Marxist. But we believe that the love of God is the supreme fact which changes the face of existence, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit we see new and wonderful possibilities.
For in that communion we find the words "life" and "power" used in a different context. When life finds its source of love, it issues not in destructive competition but in fellowship. Love is the sacrifice of one's own self, not of other selves. And power finds itself in service, not in domination. "Whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant."
This situation can only begin to exist in Christ, for He is the source of the the life which the New Testament calls "eternal." By His sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross He gave a new power to the world. The Church alone knows of this fact and the Church does not compete in the world's war, for it is in the world but not of it.
And what of us, the members of this communion of the Holy Spirit? It would be idle to deny that we have scarcely begun to live according to its principle of sacrifice and service. But it is our task to transform the will to power into the will to love. By the grace of God it can be done, and the existence of a universal Church which is in truth a communion of the Holy Spirit may yet save even such a desperate world as this.
As per last week, what follows is a compilation of words from Roots & Fresh from the Word as well as some of my own thoughts.
In our opening prayer we reflected on Jesus’s words – I am the way! He also said I am the truth & the life! You all should be aware by now that if I had been taking Church services I would have spoken about “Words” but I suppose the theme goes on, it is in fact eternal, words and how we use them, how we extract the meanings from them, I remember many years ago as a very junior Church teaching assistant having to be re-educated by Martin Dakin in the true meaning of certain passages from the bible. What follows is an extract from Roots,
“The limitations of human language and our imaginations makes us think in terms of physical buildings and places, and heaven as a ‘happy place’ – somewhere! But is that naive? Remember that Jesus said not only that he is the ‘way’, but also that he is the ‘truth’ and the ‘life’. These are all things that are important now, in this life. Perhaps this passage is more about this life, the here and now, than the next one. Perhaps Jesus is helping his disciples understand how they are to live – once he is gone.
You need a way to live your life – Jesus is the way; he shows us the way to live. You need to know what is true and good, and what isn’t – Jesus is the truth; learn from his teaching. You want to live a good fulfilling life? Jesus is the life. Abundant fulfilling life is what he came to bring; we learn about life from what he did. What do you think this means in practice?”
Extract from Roots 10th May 2020
In these time of loss, where we are reminded every day of the personal stories of loss, that are the fabric of those daily figures that benchmark where we are on this long road we are travelling on, nobody knows when the path will level out but I am sure of one thing, we need to use our faith, even when we question it to support our community, we will all have stories to tell, we hear every day of the devotion of a person or group of people to others, so although a lot of us are limited by definition to what we can do, just remember these words Jesus said “I am the way”, he is our Sat Nav (but we know he will not send us in the wrong direction) As with some of my plants not all will bring forth flowers, but it’s really good having a go!
May God bless you, guide you and direct you.
May God bless you, give you strength and the assurance of his love.
May God bless you and fill your life with his presence – today and always.
(Roots May 10th)
This article was found in the June 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
William Cowper, the Olney (Bucks) poet, was born in 1731, and was the son of a Chaplain to King George II, also Rector of Berkhampstead, Dr. John Cowper. When only six years of age his mother died, a blow which had a lasting effect on a very sensitive lad. He was trained for the Bar, but never practised. When embarrassed financially, he was offered a post as Clerk of Committees of the House of Commons, but was told this would mean the passing of a public examination. The prospect brought on a fit of insanity and he attempted to commit suicide. After careful nursing he recovered his health and wrote There is a fountain filled with blood, number 373 in our Hymnary. Then his mind gave way again, and he ordered his coachman to drive him to the river that he might end his life. The man purposely lost his way, and brought him a roundabout way home. Once again he recovered his reason, and in a fit of contrition sat down and wrote that fine hymn No. 56:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
We have eight of his hymns in our collection, and many more people consider his finest composition to be:
Hark, my soul! it is the Lord;
'Tis thy Saviour, hear His Word;
Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee,
"Say, poor sinner, love's thou Me?"
A humorous incident is recorded of a mother coaxing her little girl to sleep at night by singing a hymn. One night the child, aged six, wanted a hymn about a "She-bear". After long thought, it dawned on the mother that is was the third verse of the aforesaid hymn:
Can a woman's tender care
Cease towards the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee.
Another of his hymns well known to all of us is O for a closer walk with God, also, Sometimes a light surprises, The Christian while he sings.
Cowper also wrote the humorous poem known to all English-speaking people:
John Gilpin was a citizen
Of credit and renown.
A close friend of Cowper was the Rev. John Newton, Curate of Olney for 16 years, afterwards Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, in the City of London. Newton was born in 1725 and died in 1807. He was the son of a sailor, and spent many years at sea, leading a reckless and profligate life. There was no kind of wickedness which he did not boast of having committed. At one time he commanded a ship in the service of an African Slave dealer.
At the age of 30 he came under religious influences, and coming upon a copy of Stanhope's book, Thomas á Kempis, it set him thinking, and later came particularly under the influence of Wesley and Geo. Whitefield, who completed his conversion.
While at Olney, he with Cowper, compiled the collection known as The Olney Hymns. I suppose Newton's most famous hymn was, How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds, In a believer's ear, but we also have Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion City of our God, also, Begone unbelief; My Saviour is near.
When he had passed his four-score years, he continued preaching. Having great difficulty in reading his manuscript he took his servant with him into the pulpit, who stood behind with a wooden pointer to trace the lines of his notes.
One Sunday morning Newton came to the words in his sermon, Jesus Christ is precious, and wishing to emphasise, he repeated Jesus Christ is precious. The servant behind him, thinking he was getting confused, whispered loudly "Go on, go on, you said that before." Newton looked round to the man and replied "John, I said that twice, and now I am going to say it again," and with all the force at his command he reiterated Jesus is precious.
Newton wrote his own epitaph, as follows:
John Newton, clerk,
Once an infidel and libertine;
A servant of slaves in Africa;
Was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
Preserved, restored, pardoned,
And appointed to preach the Faith
He had long laboured to destroy.
Near 16 years at Olney in Bucks,
And 27 years in this Church.
He was buried at his London Rectory, which is close to the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. He attracted large crowds to his church, and it is said no London clergyman of his day had a greater influence than John Newton. When dying his last words to a friend, William Jay, was:
My memory is nearly gone, but
I remember two things -
That I am a great sinner, and
That Christ is a great saviour.
At the age of 82 he fell asleep.