REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 22: Give me a Bible and a Candle ….
A couple of days ago driving up the freeway I was very grateful for the white lines marking out the lanes. The rain was heavy, truck tyres were sending spray everywhere, the traffic busy and the visibility dark. What a relief to have those well painted lines on both sides of my lane. It got me thinking about the way God delights to guide His children. As the rain stopped I began to recall truths that have sustained me and will sustain all who chart their course by the Bible.
A couple of sayings came to my mind. The first, whose origin I have no knowledge of runs: give me a candle and the Bible, and shut me up in a dark dungeon, and I will tell you what the whole world is doing. The second from Psalm 139:5 you hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. There are many, understandably still unsettled by the pandemic, who know neither the assurance nor security of these truths. They may know of the Bible but have never tasted its delights nor the transforming presence of its chief author, the Holy Spirit. As such the commandments, designed to keep us safe have never been tried or tested. They do not know the Saviour who would forgive their failures and nourish them with His great and precious promises, consulted, taken to heart and cherished daily.
There are unknowns that have become front and centre in our thinking because of the pandemic, but frankly, none of these are new and nor should they throw us. Sickness, death, disappointments, business reversals, let-downs by friends and persecution are always with us, and best seen as God’s invitations to experience His grace and prove His faithfulness. Wise people have always seen these as reminders of their frailty, sinfulness and helplessness which having driven them to Christ in repentance and trust, give them the unique joy of finding real satisfaction, security and strength from God who alone is dependable, faithful and able to satisfy our every and deepest longing.
Our friend in the dungeon, like any in the grip of uncertainty or constricting circumstances, could face the ordeal knowing that the world was still an unreliable guide and hope (1 John 2:15-17). It would still take all God’s good gifts but fail to thank Him for them, churlishly reserving the right to complain and grumble against, or even more illogically and foolishly deny His very existence and goodness. He would be able to rest content that though he was hemmed in, God’s good hand was still upon him for good, even if the circumstances were awful and he could not comprehend why he was there. And the reason she was not fazed nor dismayed? Not wishful thinking. Not because every cloud has a silver lining. Not because she was a natural optimist. But simply and profoundly because she knew, as every believer knows, that the Bibles main subject, the Lord Jesus Christ, demonstrates for all time God’s faithfulness and His love (John 1:1-18; Rom 5:1-11;Gal 4:4-7; Heb 1:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10). God promised a Saviour and blessings through Abraham which found their fulfilment in Jesus (Gen 12:1-2; 15:6; Rom 4:1-12). He kept His promises in history and continues to do so for all whose history is bound up with Jesus. By faith on our part and new birth on His, we have been written into, and become part of his- story. This lies behind Paul’s conviction of Romans 8:31-39, Hebrews exhortation in 12:1-13 and the remarkable nobility and purpose afforded us by Ephesians 2:10.
As I write many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are literally in dungeons. They are our best teachers, and accusers if we ignore their testimony. My mind went back to the Barnabas Fund prayer notes for June 2nd which reminded us of a Pakistani Christian mother who despite spending nearly 8 years on death row after being falsely accused of “blasphemy”, declared her forgiveness toward her tormentors. She writes: I am not angry at all, I’ve forgiven everyone from my heart…there is patience in me because I learned how to be patient after having to leave my children behind. She had been offered her freedom if she would convert to Islam, but refused. Here is the kind of testimony that puts us western Christians to shame if we do not read our Bibles or crack under much lesser pressures. The magazine and prayer notes come every two months (firstname.lastname@example.org) and will help us partner with many unknown brothers and sisters in Christ, whilst finding much encouragement to persevere.
Archdeacon RBS Hammond, the great winner of men to Christ during the 1920’s depression observed that sin will keep you from this book, but this book will keep you from sin. The Bible read, pondered and obeyed, is God’s gift to us all and can be counted upon to keep us loving Him, on track with and for Him like no other gracious gift from His heart to us. As Psalm 119 suggests and Psalm 19 and Romans 12:2 affirm it is a word to be taken to heart and then proven in the crucible of daily experiences, both pleasant and difficult. R Hudson Pope’s chorus/prayer is apt: Make the Book live to me O Lord. Show me Yourself within your Word. Show me myself and show me my Saviour. And make the Book live to me. (CSSM Choruses No.118). A list of quotes about reading the Bible can be found over the page.
SOME THOUGHTS ON READING, PONDERING, OBEYING AND REJOICING IN THE BIBLE.
1. The Scripture is that wherewith God draweth us unto Him. The Scripture sprang out of God, and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us unto Christ. Thou must therefore go along by the scripture as by a line, until thou come unto Christ, which is the ways end and resting place. William Tyndale
2. The Bible is a letter God hath sent to us, prayer is a letter we send to Him. Matthew Henry
3. The Bible has many sword like qualities. It pricks the conscience, and wounds the pride of sinners. It cuts away our camouflage and pierces our defences. It lays bare our sin and need, and kills all false doctrine by its deft, sharp thrusts. John Stott
4. If we be ignorant they will instruct us, if we be out of the way they will bring us home, if we be out of order they will reform us, if in heaviness they will comfort us, if dull quicken us, if cold, enflame us. Translators Preface to the King James Version (1662).
5. The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the chief means by which men are built up and established in the faith after their conversion. C. Ryle
6. The Word is the chariot in which the Spirit of God rides; whichever way the tide of the Word runs, that way the wind of the Spirit blows. Thomas Watson
7. It is not the work of the Spirit to tell you the meaning of Scripture, and give you the knowledge of divinity, without our own study and labour, but to bless that study, and give you knowledge thereby… to reject study on the pretence of the sufficiency of the Spirit, is to reject Scripture itself. Richard Baxter
8. The scriptures neither reveal their directives nor make available their power to the casual, superficial and spasmodic reader. J. Alec Motyer
9. The Bible is a book of simple clarity but also of intentional mystery; both are indispensable aspects of wonder. In its clarity we celebrate our position as the pinnacle of God’s creation. In its mystery we are dwarfed. Ravi Zacharias
10. If we fail to live by the Word of God we are consigned to live by the whim of the moment. Charles Colson
11. Back to the Bible or back to the jungle. Luis Palau
12. Defend the Bible? I would as soon as defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself. H. Spurgeon
13. Charles Spurgeon spoke of a poor woman who was challenged by an agnostic to prove that the Bible in her hand was God’s word. She pointed to the sun and said ‘can you prove that there is a sun in the sky?’ The agnostic replied: ‘of course, the proof is that it warms me and I see its light’. ‘That is it’ she replied, ‘and the best proof that this book is the Word of God is that it warms and lights my soul’.
14. Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that encouraged and supported by your Holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen Prayer Book collect for Advent 2
15. Apply yourself wholly to the Scriptures and apply the Scriptures wholly to yourself. Bengel
16. It is not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that trouble me but the parts I do understand that trouble me. Mark Twain
Peter Brain 13th June, 2020