Which animals have complete faith in Jesus?
Penguins, because they can walk on water!
The reading is Matthew 14:22-37 (also found in Mark and John) but to fully appreciate this reading, you need to read:
By combining the four Gospels we can get a fuller picture of this story where a boy offers five barley loaves and two fishes, which Jesus blesses and miraculously feeds everyone with twelve baskets of leftovers showing the abundance of Jesus’ grace. The main lessons of this story were to understand what gifts we have to offer, actually offering them to God to use and there is this element of self-sacrifice, that this boy offered all he had, which prompts us to question whether we offer all we have. It shows Jesus’ compassion and is set against a backdrop of John the Baptist being killed. Jesus needs to grieve, he needs to contemplate what this death means to his ministry, but far from going into a quiet place, crowds follow, so he heals, teaches and subsequently feeds the people.
This week’s text comes right after this event. Jesus is still looking for a quiet place to go. He dismisses the crowd, he orders the disciples to get into a boat, so that he can go into the mountainside alone and pray. He is clearly looking after himself; he understands that he needs to relax and to be with God, to not burn out. This is a very helpful picture for Christians, especially in the ministry, where there is a trend to feel that we have to burn out for God, that we have to continually offer. Bob Pearce, who founded World Vision, believed we should burn out rather than rust out. This beautiful text shows that self-care is part of our ministry; looking after ourselves is part of what we have to do. Self-evidently, if we do not look after ourselves, we cannot look after others.
Jesus then seeks solitude. Meanwhile, his obedient disciples who went into this boat are having difficulties with a storm that has brewed. It is at this time where they see this ghostly apparition and Peter responds, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Now, I find this quite a revelation. Peter does not know for sure it is Jesus, there is panic and crisis on the boat. So, Peter reveals something of his own nature. He does not demand Jesus to “still the storm and save us”, for which there is a precedent in Matthew 8:23-27, but he asks Jesus to perform a miracle for him, which I think is quite self-centred.
Peter recklessly gets out of the boat, stupidity in itself. Yet, is not faith sometimes seen as being illogical? His miracle is that he starts to walk on the water. Anyone who has been in a crisis, however big or small, can now identify with the predicament Peter is in. He takes his eye off Jesus, he sees the overwhelming odds against him and starts to sink.
Jesus has strength while walking on the water to help Peter out. He is not just standing on water but he has enough purchase to haul a grown man out of the sea. We immediately start to question ourselves: what would we ask of Jesus to convince us that he is real? Would we ask for a self-centred miracle or a major one for others? What does that reveal about us? If we are in a crisis, keep your focus on Jesus. All you can do sometimes is shut out the world and be intent on trusting Jesus and knowing He is stronger than the situation in which we find ourselves.
This beautiful little passage has two miracles. Jesus walked on the water and then he stilled the storm. So, Psalm 107:29 should be read in conjunction with this: “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Peter leaves the security of the boat even though it is being tossed by the rough Sea of Galilee. Peter, not for the first time leaves security behind; he left the security of being a fisherman to follow Jesus, now he is leaving the relative security of the boat where his friends are. I suppose a question for us to ask is when do we leave our comfort zone, when do we branch out, leaving friends and family behind in order to follow our faith.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter is depicted as very much the leading disciple. He is emerging from the group as its leader, the rock. This story combined with Matthew 8:23-27 if gives us a very interesting insight. In Matthew 8:27, at the culmination of them being saved, we read: The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Whereas, in Matthew 14:33, the disciples come to the realisation: “Truly you are the Son of God”. We see the gradual development of the disciples and this, of course, is how our faith grows. It grows by having a constant relationship with God. It grows by trusting God in evermore difficult situations until we come to the realisation of who God is for us.
In the boat in the storm, Peter asked for his own personal miracle but I was thinking about this and I asked myself whether we limit God by not asking God for enough. Are we very conservative in our requests for God? Perhaps this also limits our faith. Do we ask God for enough miracles or do we limit them because we limit God? I then wondered if we close our eyes to some of the miracles God does anyway.
I am reminded of a story concerning Napoleon at the height of his powers where people would write him requests asking for things that were impossible for him to grant. He was asked if this was annoying, however, he said not at all as it shows people think I am greater than I really am. In the same way, do we limit what we ask God for or should we pray huge prayers knowing that God is greater than anything for which we could pray?
So, my challenge to us all this week is to be aware and open our eyes and truly look and see the miracles that God is providing in the world and in our own lives. I wonder how many miracles we will be able to report back next week, for we must remember that we worship a God who created the universe and created us so that we could have a relationship with God. So, let us keep our eyes open and see how God is keeping God’s relationship with us.
It has been a difficult year for us all with Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions. Whilst we have not been able to reopen our Church, we were able to hold a successful picnic on the front lawn on Sunday 2nd August. All our members were invited, as were the congregation from the Gateway Community that uses our Church in the afternoons. Naturally, many people were wary about being in public and opted not to come, however, we were pleased to welcome around 18 people to the picnic.
The weather was perfect for our get together and everyone was happy to catch up and chat with people they had not seen since March. Keith White from Mill Grove popped by to say hello, bringing with him Bibles and newsletters for us to look at. We prayed for our Church, the people of Gants Hill and the wider community but, due to the current rules, we could not do any singing.
Having a picnic on the lawn meant passers by could see our Church was still functioning despite the current circumstances. Workers from Shalom Bakery also noticed us and generously gifted us four cakes, which was more than enough for our gathering. This goes to show that, irrespective of religion and what the world throws at us, there is still kindness and friendship.
In the early hours, as many people’s alarm clocks prepare to go off, BBC Radio 4 broadcasts a daily prayer and reflection. Prayer for the Day Vol. II is the second book published by the radio team encompassing more reflections for daily inspiration. With over half a million devoted listeners tuning in to the station everyday, this second volume promises to be as popular as the first.
After a brief foreword by Bishop James Jones, who explains that prayer should be a daily part of life – not just for times of tragedy - an individual reading is provided for each calendar month. There are 365 (leap years have evidently ceased to exist) meditations or reflections lasting only a couple of paragraphs, followed by a short, one line prayer. Each entry has at some point featured on the radio programme within the past decade, and offers thoughts and perspectives about current challenges, opportunities, gratitude, hope and joy.
The idea of the Prayer for the Day radio broadcast is to equip the listener with the positive attitude to commence the day. Unfortunately this is only beneficial for the early risers, meaning that those who enjoy a lie-in or live an alternative lifestyle miss out on these words of wisdom. With this book, no one misses out on the opportunity to pray; it can be read whenever and wherever one pleases.
Although largely targeted at British Christians (of all denominations), contributors include Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists. Admittedly, Christianity is the most predominate, however other religious insights give people the chance to view ideas from an alternative perspective. None of the daily entries attempt to convert readers to a different religion; instead they reveal how similar the ethics and moral codes are. If religious labels and prejudices were removed, the world would be a much more peaceful planet.
There are already books, diaries, magazines and so forth offering a similar day-to-day reading, however some delve too deeply into the bible (or indeed the Qur’an etc) that the message gets lost in profound ideas and complicated language. Prayer for the Day is compiled by dozens of different people; some are bishops, ministers, imams, and authors - essentially the average religious person. Knowing their target audience, each contributor talks to the reader or listener, rather than at them. These are not sermons; they are a short, often personal, message the writers/speakers wish to share with the world. From both a religious and educational point of view, readers are more likely to gain something from this volume – and previous volume – than they would reading essays, documents and books on the subject.
As mentioned above, each daily reflection has previously been broadcast on the radio within the last decade. This, however, causes a few problems. The book is not intended for a specific year (hence why the missing 29th February will at some point be an issue), therefore religious occasions – specifically Easter and Ramadan – will not fall on the same date every year. In this volume, Ramadan occurs several times, and there is at least a week between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Mentions of specific events such as the Syrian refugee crisis or earthquakes will become, or already are, outdated.
Nevertheless, regardless of the time of year, there is something worth learning or considering every day. As the entries (except for having been broadcast on that exact day in the past) are not in chronological order, there is no need to feel compelled to read everyday. If circumstances hinder the opportunity to pick up the book, you do not need to worry about trying to catch up at a later date. As it is impossible to remember word-for-word everything written, Prayer for the Day can be read year on year, offering insights you may have missed or glossed over previously.
For those looking for a prayer book for the coming new year, BBC Radio 4’s Prayer for the Day is definitely worth considering. Not only is it easy to read and understand, the book itself (hardback) is beautiful to look at. Designed by Francesca Corsini, this book will not look out of place next to your bible (or other religious text).
August is named after the first Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar. He was also the Emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. This is usually the season for holidays; a time to reflect, to relax and recharge our batteries. Many of us will have cancelled our holidays this year but, if we have been lucky enough to book something, going somewhere different, changing our routines, seeing different views, can really be a spiritual burst to our lives. It is important that holidays provide a break from routines and habits but, just as importantly, they make us question why we do things a particular way when we come back.
Being able to look at our lives from the outside helps us reject bad habits and the routines that take us further from God, allowing us instead to reassess ourselves, our identity and our role in the community.
Lockdown, in a way, has caused us to change our routines and adapt to new rules and safety measures. As the country prepares to return to “normal”, think about your old routines. Will you fall back into them? Have you developed new routines that are better and more productive? Think to yourself, “when I pick up the routines again of normal life, will they enrich and enhance my life or will they drain and hold me back?”
If you are going away, enjoy it. I hope the weather will be lovely and that you stay safe but have lots of fun.
Are you the kind of person that struggles with networking? Do you have to strain to come up with satisfactory conversation starters? Is making business deals with other people something you find challenging? Then Networking Thoughtfully is exactly what you need. This short book by Martin Wheadon is a guide for people who need to build relationships but do not know where to start. With simple points, Wheadon takes readers through a step-by-step process to help achieve positive results.
With over thirty thoughts, the reader is taken through clever ideas to boost their confidence and communication skills. The advice is written clearly, accompanied with examples to help get the most of the author's guidance. The tone of the writing is almost conversational, resulting in the sense that the author understands your anxieties and is talking from personal experience.
Although written with business gain at the forefront, Networking Thoughtfully can also be used to aid personal development. Learning how to start conversations and come up with ways to introduce yourself is beneficial when meeting new people regardless of the circumstances.
The book itself is set out neatly making it easy to follow. It is also easy to dip in and out, reading only the parts relevant to yourself, though if you wish to read it cover to cover it will only take half an hour.
Whether you are new to networking or want to improve your skills, Networking Thoughtfully is an excellent book to read. You are guaranteed to learn something new and develop techniques that benefit both your business and yourself.
"Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!"
Set in the fictional village of Chilbury, Kent during the Second World War, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir explores the lives of the women left behind whilst the men go off to fight. The remaining villagers are disappointed at the closing of the church choir, which, according to the vicar, cannot go on without any men to sing the tenor and bass parts. However, the arrival of bold, forthright Primrose Trent brings the birth of a new choir, a choir for women only.
Although a war is going on, the ladies of Chilbury have so many other things on their minds. Told through a conflation letters and diary entries, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir reveals the everyday lives of a handful of characters. Mrs Tilling’s journal provides an overview of the general events, whilst 18-year-old Venetia’s letters divulge the wiles and charms she uses in the name of romance. Other characters, particularly the young teenager, Kitty, offer other insights to the goings on in the village.
From falling in love, to having babies, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is full of secrets, schemes and misunderstandings that almost let the villagers forget there is a war on. However, the effects of war do reach the little village, bringing with it terror and grief.
The individual stories that make up the book provide the reader with a number of scenarios that are full of emotion, but equally entertain. One moment the horror of war could leave readers in flood of tears, the next, Mrs B.’s pretentious personality and vaunting comments bring amusement and laughter.
All the while these events are playing out, the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir pulls the women together, providing them with a source of comfort to get them through the terrible times. No matter what disasters befall them, whether caused by war or their own actions, joining together in song gives them a purpose and opportunity to have a break from their fears and grief. War may destroy, but they will carry on singing.
Written in the manner of private letters and journals gives the novel a personal touch. The story is not merely narrated, it is expressed through the emotion and feelings of individual characters, making the scenarios seem more authentic. The downside to this method is the lack of distinction between each character’s voices. With no detectable dialect, the musings of a 13-year-old are composed in much the same manner as the much older Mrs Tilling.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is an enjoyable piece of historical literature, which is bound to appeal to many people. Although set during World War II, its primary focus is on the people in the village, making it more attractive to readers who are fed up of reading about bombs and fighting. A mix of family issues, bribery and romance provide considerably more entertainment than a generic wartime novel. Being Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is of a quality that suggests the author has so much more to deliver in the not-so-distant future.
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
October 1925, Romford URC
I want to discuss with you three ways in which people sometimes react to troubles. Let us call them the way of the Stoic, the way of the Jew, and the way of the Christian.
Although Jeremiah certainly had no spiritual affinity with Stoicism there is a text in the book bearing his name which expresses very well what I mean by the way of the Stoic. It reads like this. "Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it." (Jeremiah 10:19)
Thousands of people with no religious faith show admirable courage in the face of suffering and loss by adopting this attitude. They bear their troubles manfully and in silence. Sometimes they even grin and bear them. They scorn to whine or complain or look for pity, feeling that the dignity of a human being forbids it, and in this matter many pagans put some Christians to shame. Theirs is part of the routine heroism of the world. It happens every day, is not confined to religious people and does not depend on a divine revelation. But nevertheless this is a threadbare cloak to draw about oneself when the wind is bitter.
What else has religion to offer?
The Jew strove to adjust himself to all kinds by accepting it as from the hands of a just and holy God. This point of view is well expressed in the book of Job, where Job says, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?" In this attitude great strength and consolation is sometimes found. Submission to the will of an all wise Creator whose decrees must never be questioned gives to many the courage they need to get through life.
A glance at the hymn book, and conversation with many Christians, will show that this essentially Old Testament idea is sometimes not much enlarged by an experience of the Christian Gospel. In fact some Christians deal with misfortune as a Jew might. They know nothing better than to attempt submission to the will of a God who "knows best". Hymn Thy Way, not Mine is full of the atmosphere of a patient submission. Thus verse four reads,
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.
Some Christian buttress this thought by reflecting that our true joys are in heaven, not in this vale of sorrows, and that it is wrong to expect much happiness on earth. Hymn I'm But a Stranger Here begins in this not very inspiring strain: -
I'm but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
The question is whether Jesus thought the earth was a desert drear, and whether the highest Christian ideal in face of sorrow is truly expressed in the prayer for a "heart resigned, submissive, meek."
I do not wish to imply that there is no truth or health in this sentiment. A Christian no less than a Jew desires to accept the will of God and knows that "now we fight the battle, but then shall wear the crown." Nevertheless an emphasis upon acceptance of sorrow is not, as I hope to show, a fully Christian one, and may imply a sub-Christian conception of God.
Now let us turn our thought to the words of Jesus, uttered, according to the Fourth Evangelist, on the occasion of His arrest. "The cup which my Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" This was said to Peter, who wished to resist with violence, and it seems at first sight to imply the Cross ought to be accepted as from God.
But God did not nail Jesus to the Cross. His enemies did that. We cannot identify the will of God with the will of Caiaphas. That His Heavenly Father required of Jesus an obedience which would involve the Cross, and that the Cross was made to serve the highest Divine purpose, is true. But that is very different from supposing that in the hour of His Passion our Lord accepted suffering as an act of God.
No sorrow is like unto His sorrow, but here at the Cross we may reverently learn something of the Christian approach to all suffering.
In the first place many things are permitted by God which are not willed by Him. In our darkest hour let us at least remember that. We are to trust Him as a Heavenly Father in all circumstances. But we are not to suppose that all circumstances come from His hand, although all circumstances are in His hand.
Most of our troubles can be traced back to human ignorance, or sin or foolishness (our own or another's, or that which belongs corporately to the race); or else to laws of nature which operate, I incline to believe, in a certain measure independently of God. We are often dishonest with ourselves when we forger this. Sometimes what people finally resign themselves to as the will of God is something they have been doing everything in their power to avoid. In fact we often attribute to the will of God those things which we cannot control, and for no better reason. At the present time thousands of human beings die every year of cancer, and Christian people contribute money to cancer research in the hope that a cure may be found. And yet in how many homes is a loved one who died of this disease spoken of as "taken" by God? People who say they cannot understand why such as good man should have suffered so much imply that their sorrow is due to a Divine decree. In that case every penny contributed towards cancer research is an attempt to frustrate the will of God. And if we shrink from such a blasphemous absurdity let us also shrink from the belief that God "sends" all our troubles to us.
The struggle of a protesting, suffering heart to accept some tragic happening as in some hidden way "good" for it can be very distressing and is quite unnecessary. Christian piety is not blind obedience to an inscrutable authority, but trust is a heavenly Father. And when it is desperately hard to maintain such a faith try to remember these three simple things. (1) Whatever happens to us God has permitted to happen, though He may not have willed it. (2) God can use what has happened, even when it is not His will, so that in the end it will be seen to have served His purposes. (3) Ultimately God's will must prevail, and even now, since evil and suffering only exist by permission and not in their own strength, God is in complete control.
This, however, is only one side of the Christian response to suffering, and it is the negative side. Jesus accepted the Cross, indeed He took it up, as the inevitable result of obedience to God. But He did more than receive it. He also offered it, as at the Last Supper when He gave the cup to His disciples and bade them share it amongst themselves, telling them that His death was to be something accomplished on their behalf.
Of course it is futile to compare the sufferings of Christ with ordinary human experience. But in the fact that His cup was both received and offered we may learn something which has a practical application to ourselves. The most Christian response to suffering is surely to ask oneself, not "How can I put up with this?", but "How can I offer this to God? In what way can it be found that a trouble can be turned into an offering, and in so doing we transform it into a creative source of life for other people instead of a drag upon ourselves. I think, for instance, of a woman lying in a hospital ward for many months, her twisted body offering vert little hope of future happiness for herself. And yet it was quite from her cheerful and trusting spirit that she was determined to do something with her situation which would be of service to other people. I think she was a source of courage and reassurance for everyone else in that place. I believe her life was a daily offering to God.
A pagan can bear his troubles manfully. A Jew can submit to them obediently. But only a Christian can offer them lovingly.
"If I stoop
Into a dark, tremendous sea of cloud
It is but for a time; I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day."
Charles Spurgeon was a 19th-century preacher known as the “Prince of Preachers” among many denominations. Spurgeon was mostly involved with the Reformed Baptist tradition, also known as Particular Baptist, and spent a great deal of time opposing the increasingly liberal and pragmatic theological trends in the churches of the day. Many books containing his sermons have been published and read by many generations and Spurgeon continues to inspire people today.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born to John and Eliza Spurgeon in Kelvedon near Braintree, Essex on 19th June 1834, although his family relocated to Colchester before his first birthday. Although the Spurgeon family considered themselves Congregationalists, it was not until Charles was 15 that he opened his heart to God. This came about when he was forced to shelter from a snowstorm in a Primitive Methodist chapel. It is said that while he was waiting out the storm, Spurgeon came across the verse Isaiah 45:22 and was immediately converted. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else."
In May 1850, Spurgeon was baptised in the River Lark at Isleham, Cambridgeshire. The same year, he moved to Cambridge to become a Sunday School teacher. That winter, at 16 years old, he preached his first sermon, and thus began his preaching career. His style and insight into the Bible were said to be far above average, not just for his age but in comparison to preachers in general. In 1851, he was made the pastor of a small baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire and published his first book, which focused on the Gospels, in 1853.
Aged 19, Spurgeon was called to become the pastor of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London, which had the largest Baptist congregation at the time. Here, his preaching ability became famous and his sermons were so popular that the "New Park Street Pulpit" began to publish one every week, selling them for a penny each. Later, books were published under the same title as the weekly publication, featuring five volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons. It is estimated over 3,600 of his sermons were printed during his lifetime.
Naturally, with greatness came criticism from those who thought Spurgeon’s sermons were too straightforward. Nonetheless, they appealed to the congregation, which had grown to a size of 10,000 by Spurgeon’s 22nd birthday. Unable to fit everyone into the building, the church moved to Exeter Hall on the strand, then the Surrey Music Hall in Newington in order to accommodate everyone.
The year 1856 began positively with Spurgeon’s marriage to Susannah Thompson, however, it ended in tragedy. During one of Spurgeon’s sermons at the Surrey Music Hall, someone in the crowd shouted “Fire!”, which spread mass panic and hysteria. Thousands of people immediately ran for the exit, pushing those in their way and crushing anyone who had fallen. Several died as a result and Spurgeon was mentally affected by the scene for the rest of his life. He admitted to sudden, unexplainable tears, which today doctors may identify as a symptom of depression or PTSD.
Nonetheless, Spurgeon persevered with his preaching and the following year became the father of twin boys: Charles and Thomas. The same year he founded a pastors’ college, which was renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923, and, in October, preached to his largest congregation yet. The service took place at The Crystal Palace and welcomed an estimated 23,654 people.
Spurgeon’s church could not remain at the Surrey Music Hall forever, so on 18th March 1861, it moved to the purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle in Elephant and Castle. The Independent Baptist Church still worships there today. Spurgeon preached there several times a week for the remaining 31 years of his life.
The reason it was possible to publish so many, if not all, of Spurgeon’s sermons, was because he wrote them out before each service. When he reached the pulpit, however, all he had with him were a handful of notecards to prompt him, suggesting he had learnt the sermon off by heart. As well as sermons, Spurgeon wrote a handful of hymns, however, he preferred to use popular songs by other writers, such as Isaac Watts. They were mostly sung a capella due to the lack of an organ in the church.
Spurgeon did not limit himself to Baptist congregations and frequently preached to other denominations. Nonetheless, his sermons often argued against some of the methods of preaching used by the Church of England. One argument was that a person did not have to be baptised in order to experience salvation. Not only did this argument go against the Church of England, but it also angered other Baptist churches. As a result, the Metropolitan Tabernacle removed itself from the Baptist Union, becoming an Independent Baptist Church.
Through his popularity, Spurgeon made many connections with other preachers and philanthropists. He supported the China Inland Mission founded by his friend, James Hudson Taylor, and was inspired by Christian evangelist George Müller to open an orphanage. The orphanage was closed after the Second World War and became Spurgeon’s Child Care charity, which continues to support vulnerable families, children and young people in the United Kingdom.
Spurgeon was vocally against slavery, which lost him a few supporters, particularly those from the United States. “... although I commune at the Lord's table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder, have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever [a slave-holder] has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and I would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church . . . as a man stealer.” (Spurgeon, Christian Watchman and Reflector, c.1860)
Although Spurgeon had the support of his family, his wife was often too ill to leave home and attend his sermons. Yet, she outlived her husband who suffered from rheumatism, gout and Bright's disease in his later years. Spurgeon began making regular trips to the French Riviera to ease his symptoms, which is where he was when he died on 31st January 1892. Spurgeon was buried in West Norwood Cemetery, one of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries in London. His son, Thomas, took his place as the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Famous sayings of Charles Spurgeon:
Questions suggested by Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899)
These notes were found in the September 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. They come from an address given by the Rev. Ronald Ward at the Annual Conference of the Guild of Heath
1. The Biblical View of History
The Biblical view of History can best be indicated by comparing Isaiah 40:3-4 with the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. The writer of this section of Ecclesiastes, though a Jew, has a pagan spirit. For him there is "no new thing under the sun". History can best be represented as a circle. "The thing that hath been it is that which shall be".
Deutero-Isaiah, on the other hand, has a view of history which is Biblical through and through. The verse containing the words "make straight in the desert a highway for our God" sums up the whole matter. In this thought history may best be symbolised not by a circle but by a straight line. The human race is on a road, not a roundabout. History is moving towards an ultimate and triumphant conclusion. Time is therefore an all important element in experience, and this is why the Biblical writers are in the main concerned with meaningful events rather than ideas.
Western man derives his view of history, and in particular his conception of progress, from the Bible.
2. The Lord of History
The Biblical view of history is accounted for by the Biblical view of God. God is creator and Lord of History. As creator He is necessarily above events in this world, and ultimately in control of them. Nevertheless the Bible stresses the immanence of God, and reveals Him as actively at work within world events.
3. The Holy Spirit History
To say God is active in History is to say that the Holy Spirit is active there. For the Holy Spirit is not a vague influence for good, but the life of God Himself as actually encountered by us in the world.
Two things are to be observed about the world of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to this it should be noted that the Spirit is thought of as active in all the works of nature, as well as in personal life. But then the natural world only comes into existence through the Word of God. "God said, Let there be light, and there was light".
The Bible would have us recognise the activity of the Holy Spirit in history through the following Divinely elected ways.
4. The Holy Spirit in the Church
Henceforth the Holy Spirit, though active everywhere, is shaping the course of history through the New Israel, the Christian Church. The Church alone has heard and received the full Word of God which is in Christ, and therefore it is through the Church that the Spirit will realise the Kingdom of God on earth. That is why Christianity is, in Christopher Dawson's phrase, "a world changing religion". The restless enterprise of Western man, though seldom related to religious ends and often evil in its result, is nevertheless due to the impact of Christianity. It is no coincidence that empirical science has flowered in the West and not the East, where religion preserves a static culture for centuries, but provides no impulse for bringing a new kind of world into existence. For the religions of the East time is an illusion, For the Christian faith time, and therefore history, is the loom of God.
5. The Holy Spirit in the Contemporary Situation
Today Christianity exists under the menace of atheistic Communism. It must be remembered that the Communist view of history is in many essentials derived from the Bible (Marx was a Jew). This accounts for its dynamic and revolutionary character. Communism is a perversion of Christianity.
But if God is the Lord of History the present situation has not emerged by accident and cannot get out of control. There is a Word of judgement in it - upon the world, because it has rejected Christ again in this generation, but also upon the Church because it has sought to accept Christ on its own terms.
The Holy Spirit is certainly active in the present scene of world affairs - perhaps forcing us, through events, to take Christianity seriously once and for all. Rest assured that the Work of the Spirit, which we have seen running like a thread through all the centuries, cannot be frustrated by anything men have power to do. History will not end with an atom bomb. It will end when He who began it has finished what He is doing in it.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon