Fall Festival 2013 – Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign
Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign
Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign is the text of the teachings Dr. Blair presented at the 2013 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 11-13, 2013. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on four Christians we honor in this, their bicentennial year:
David Livingstone – Soren Kierkegaard – Robert Murray M’Cheyne – Jemima Thompson Luke
Sermons from the weekend are available here.
In the Year of our Lord 1813
It’s 1813 and the War of 1812 drags on – the “wars and rumors of wars” of which Jesus forewarned a fallen race. The British and Americans battle each other on Lake Erie and Long Island Sound, at Buffalo, Plattsburg and Toronto. Explorer Zebulon Pike is one of the casualties. John Lawrence’s command, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, will become our Navy’s motto. On September 7th, The Troy (NY) Post creates “Uncle Sam”. Other “peace” papers follow. (In 2013, Time magazine will rate “Uncle Sam” as one of the 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.) James Madison begins his second term as president, the first Federal vaccination law is enacted, Congress authorizes steamship use for transporting mail and patents are granted for rubber and for the making of coal gas.
Three signers of The Declaration of Independence die: Benjamin Rush, Robert Livingston and George Clymer. Among our births of 1813: Henry Ward Beecher, who’ll lead the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights. On Sunday mornings, ferryboat dockings at Brooklyn’s pier will announce simply, “Beecher!” Susan Fenimore Cooper is born – the daughter of our first world-renowned novelist. A Christian naturalist, she’ll write against the vote for women! Others are John C. Fremont, abolitionist and first Republican Presidential candidate, Nathaniel Currier of Currier & Ives, Stephen Douglas, who, famously, will debate Abraham Lincoln. And, Montgomery Blair is born – Lincoln’s postmaster general who’ll introduce regular city delivery and money orders.
Across the Atlantic, Wagner and Verdi are born, London’s Royal Philharmonic gives its first concert, Schubert composes his Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven, “Wellington’s Victory” Op 91. Authors of the day are Jane Austen (whose Pride and Prejudice is published in 1813 and whose face will adorn England’s 10-pound note in 2013), Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Leigh Hunt, Robert Southey and the journalist and hymn writer, James Montgomery, who’ll be best known for his “Angels from the Realms of Glory”. And, Montgomery, along with honoree, David Livingstone and his father-in-law, Robert Moffat, will write to another of our honorees, Jemima Luke, expressing their deep appreciation for her children’s hymn.
John Venn dies. He was the Anglican rector of the prominent evangelical abolitionists at Clapham and Wilberforce’s own pastor who preached: “Till our Christianity appears in our conversation, in our business, in our pleasures, in the aims and objects of our life, we have not attained a conformity to the image of our Saviour, nor have we learned His Gospel aright.” Zachary Macaulay edited their Christian Observer while pro-slavery Anglicans derided them as “saints”. And Bible scholar Granville Sharp also passes away. He discovered that, in Greek, when two nouns link with kai (the Greek word for “and”) and the former has the definite article while the latter doesn’t, both refer to the same person as, for example, in Titus 2:13: “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The young Baptists, Adoniram Judson and his wife, Ann, arrive in Burma for what will be 40 years of Christian missionary work. He’ll translate the Bible into Burmese. But, today, only 4 percent of the Burmese are Christians and they, along with another 4 percent who are Muslims, suffer severe persecution under the Buddhist majority.
Our 2013 Honorees
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) That’s a well-known Bible verse. But, when it’s quoted out of context, we can miss much of the point of the passage. The writer prefaces these words with a charge to readers: “Remember your leaders who spoke God’s word to you. Consider the fruit of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (13:7) Their leaders had been true to the One who is, indeed, the same yesterday, today and forever. So, the writer warns: “Don’t you be carried away with all sorts of alien teachings.” (13:9) Jesus is called “the author and finisher of our faith” therefore, the readers are urged to “fix [their] eyes” on him. (12:2) As a biblical scholar says: “Although the preachers change, the preaching must remain the same.” He explains that, “the unchangeableness of the revelation is a consequence of the transcendent dignity of Jesus Christ, the originator of the preaching.” (William L. Lane)
Here at our weekends in Ocean Grove, it’s been in awareness of continuity of the gospel that we’ve remembered men and women who’ve been true to Jesus, “originator of the preaching.” Each honoree has been a gift of God’s diversity – in personality, background, style, talents – yet each has been a faithful steward of the singular Good News found only in Christ. They were sinners and they were washed in the blood of the Lamb. In Kierkegaard’s words: “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.”
So, we begin this weekend’s bicentenary remembrances with the first of these four Christians – all born in 1813. We’ll proceed in their birth order.
March 19, 1813 – May 1, 187 3
The David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa is a luxury resort in Zambia – 77 rooms, all en-suite and most have great views of the Zambezi River. A sundowner can be enjoyed from your private balcony, a patio restaurant or outdoor pool. All rooms are air-conditioned, have remote control satellite color TV, telephones, internet, mini bars, tea and coffee butlers, 24-hour room service, hair dryers, safes – in other words, the finest accommodations at Victoria Falls. And all this pampering, for only $300 to $600 per person per night!
And all this pampering is far from the life-threatening ordeals experienced by Livingstone, himself, when Africa was as unknown to the Europeans of his day as it was unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was called the “The Dark Continent” for good reason.
But Livingstone knew harsh life early on. He was born in a crowded and stinking tenement of a thread mill at Blantyre, near Glasgow. Twenty-four mill families were jammed into a tenement where each family, no matter its size, had but one room. That room measured 14 by 10 feet. His parents and seven siblings shared one such room – though two of the children died in infancy. By age 10, each child had to join the adults in the mill, working 12-hour days, six days a week. In the mill, and all year long, the temperature was kept at a stifling 90 degrees for the sake of thread quality. Most of the children were “piecers”. Their job was to keep threads from breaking by quickly piecing together any threads that looked like they were about to break. If they weren’t quick enough, the breaks would appear in the fabric and reduce its value. Beatings were the penalties for this. Even without the beatings, government records from 1816 indicate that these child laborers could wind up with “limbs deformed and growth stunted.”
At the end of each 12-hour workday, young David was one of the few who studied until 10 PM. Other mill kids, and even some of the adults, bullied him about his dedication to his studies.
His father, a devout Christian, worried about David’s interest in science and other non-religious topics but he supported David’s learning to read and write. His mother kept their little room as neat as she could. She also made sure that her children were dressed in their Sunday best for church. This irked the mill manager’s wife who accused them of acting “above their station”. Had she caught Mrs. Livingstone smoking her clay pipe she may or may not have changed her mind.
At 23, David studied medicine at Glasgow and studied Greek, Latin and theology, too. Back then, diseases and treatments were not well understood and leeches were state-of-the-art. Yet, even in modern medicine, leeching is useful. With no anesthesia, surgery had to be performed as quickly as possible. But, all this was up-to-date for the time and David wanted to learn to be as helpful as possible as a medical missionary. He said: “The noblest thing a man can do is just humbly receive and then go among others and give.”
While he prepared to go to China, the Opium War broke out and missionaries were blocked from entering. Then, he heard Robert Moffat talk about his missionary work in Africa. Moffat spoke of “a vast plain to the north [of his mission] where”, as he put it, “I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.” These words inspired Livingstone and he told Moffat: “I will go at once to Africa.” Without knowing it, he was speaking with his future father-in-law.
He soon bid farewell to his parents and siblings. His father walked him to Glasgow’s Broomielaw Quay for a sailing to Cape Town. Father and son never again saw each other.
He arrived in Africa in 1841, seven years after Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act reduced by half the number of slaves from Africa. But African chiefs and Arab slave traders were still kidnapping or trading millions of African natives for export to the Middle East, Central and South American and the American South. Still today, some 30 million people are in forced labor camps, sold as property or enslaved in sex trafficking – mostly in India, China, Pakistan and throughout Africa.
From Cape Town, Livingston traveled 600 miles north to Moffat’s mission at Kuruman, “Oasis of the Kalahari”. But his heart strove farther north, to “smoke from a thousand villages” where the gospel had never been heard.
For over three decades, he explored “The Dark Continent”, looking for navigable rivers for commerce and the spreading of the Gospel. Called, “The Pathfinder” for more reasons than one, he believed that by finding ways to bring a better standard of living to Africans there’d be a better opportunity to reach them with the Gospel. “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization” was his motto and it’s inscribed on his monument at Victoria Falls. As the first white man to find them, he named them for his Queen. Natives called them the “Sounding Smoke” since their spray obscured the sun as the mile-wide Zambezi plunged 300 feet into the chasm and the roar of the ever-thundering waters was heard for miles around.
Livingstone encountered dangerous intertribal hostilities, Arab and Swahili slavers, wild beasts and tropical diseases, but he also was able to befriend suspicious chiefs, winning them over with his non-threatening approach and medical care. He outwitted some of the slavers and freed some captives, too. A lion famously mangled his shoulder and upper arm before it was killed. But, ever after that attack, his left arm was almost useless.
Mary Moffat Livingstone – Ma-Robert, as natives dubbed her by her first son’s name – was, in David’s words, his “stout wife”. Robert would be killed at Gettysburg. Sarah Roby, a Bushman girl Robert Moffat had saved from being buried alive with her dead mother, was Mary’s childhood nurse. This black girl’s image is in a portrait of Moffat in the Scottish National Gallery. We’ll hear of her again from Jemima Luke. Mary was a good mother while David was so often absent. During most of their marriage, they were not together. He was not the ideal husband. In 1862, just after yet another of his many expeditions, Mary died at 41. Her remains are buried on the banks of the Zambezi in Mozambique.
Livingston made two trips back to Britain. The first was in the ‘50s and the second in the ‘60s, after Mary’s death. He gave an inspiring address at Cambridge and visited the Queen. She was amused that his African friends wanted to know how many cows she had. The number of cows would indicate her wealth.
Livingston was now an international celebrity. But, by the end of the ‘60s, he’d been back in Africa without keeping in touch with the outside world. Apprehension over his welfare prompted the New York Herald to mount a much-publicized search for him. Journalist Henry Morton Stanley, a star in his own right, was told to find Livingston, at whatever cost to the Herald.
Stanley, from Wales, had been a sexually abused orphan who escaped to New Orleans at 17. He may have concocted the story of his being adopted by a businessman there. At any rate, he saw combat as both a Confederate and a Union soldier. He was an overseas correspondent with harrowing adventures including imprisonment in Persepolis. He lobbied to find Livingstone and he got the job.
On November 10, 1871, under an American flag by a mango tree at Ujiji, Tanzania, he found a white man he’d been led to think was Livingston. But, after his long search, he suddenly wasn’t sure. So, cautiously, awkwardly, he stumbled out the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”.
In getting to know Livingstone, the abandoned and abused orphan finally found a father figure. He was deeply impressed by Livingstone’s integrity and stayed with him for some time. He tried to talk him into leaving Africa with him. But Livingstone said his place was with his work and his people there in Africa. So, Stanley returned without him.
Livingstone’s health had deteriorated for some time. He’d probably have died already but for the medicine Stanley brought with him, for him. Yet, he was “skin and bones” and it wasn’t long before he died – on May 1, 1873.
His devoted Susa and Chuma found his body, knelt in prayer, inside his hut. Wanting to honor their bwana with burial in his country – over against what would be quick burial there to prevent a haunting by evil spirits around the dead – the two Africans pretended to prepare for yet another of bwana’s expeditions. Chief Chitambo learned of this, but approved if they’d be quick about it. The internal organs were buried and the body put inside a roofless hut for drying in the sun. Brandy and salt were used for embalming and they wrapped the body tightly in sailcloth, tar and bark. Jacob Wainwright, a native who knew English, read the funeral rite and natives did rituals, too. Then, the body was carried on a shoulder pole for some 1,500 miles. The terrain was difficult, natives were hostile and wild beasts were wild beasts. Ten in the caravan died. Finally, on reaching the Indian Ocean, Susa and Chuma took their precious cargo onto a ship bound for England.
In London, the body lay in state at the Royal Geographical Society before it was taken to Westminster Abbey for the great funeral on April 18, 1874.
Livingstone once wrote, “Although I see few results, future missionaries will see conversions following every sermon. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays to cheer, except such as flow from faith in the precious promises of God’s Word.” His confidence then, is confirmed now. Zambia is now a Christian country. Christian faith is flourishing in Africa and in much of the Third World, while Europe is floundering in its rabidly post-Christian – even, anti-Christian – paganism.
May 5, 1813 – November 11, 1855
For his 200th birthday in May, The New Yorker published a predictably poor “tribute” to Kierkegaard. Included was an unflattering caricature by an artist whose caricature of Osama bin Laden is, by contrast, positively panegyric.
As the secular elite is wont to do, New Yorker’s Judith Thurman ignores Kierkegaard’s faith in Christ. In her ignorance – willed or not – she labels atheists Nietzsche and Sartre as “his heirs” and, with rhetorical chic, asks: “Without him where would Woody Allen be?” Woody Allen? In 1978, his take on Kierkegaard was a, “how clever!” He says a Kierkegaard sentence “brought tears to my eyes [though] totally incomprehensible to me, but what of it as long as Kierkegaard was having fun?” But who was having fun?
Thurman ignores Kierkegaard’s call to recover “Christianity of the New Testament [that] rests upon the assumption that to be a Christian is to believe in God, to love Him, … dying from the world, hating one’s sin.” Yet, in so censoring his vital Christian faith, she fulfills his premise that a Christian “has to suffer from the relationship of opposition to others … to be hated by others, to be persecuted, to suffer for the doctrine” – and, apparently, to so suffer even in the guise of a bicentennial celebration in The New Yorker.
Her misrepresentations range from a mere slight – she says his name means “graveyard” but Kierkegaard clearly means “churchyard” – to a grave distortion: her noting only two of what Kierkegaard called the “three spheres of existence”. She refers to the aesthetic and the ethical spheres but totally neglects the religious – the sphere he expounded as most important for bringing all of one’s life together in trusting Christ and living in Christ.
A reader comments on her overlooking of this major sphere, noting, “you can’t understand [Kierkegaard] without the vital third state of being.” Yet he, too, ignores the explicitly Christian source for Kierkegaard, inexplicably asserting: “Here is where [Kierkegaard] goes kind of Eastern.” Huh? And he then goes chattering “Chakras” and “yoga”.
But Kierkegaard framed his spheres in terms of his existential concern: “How shall I exist?” According to him, the first sphere’s answer, Live for the moment, ends in despair and the second sphere’s answer, Do your duty, ends in guilt. But in the third sphere we realize that we cannot make it on our own and are totally dependent on God, incarnate in Christ. Said Kierkegaard: “I will seek my refuge with … the Crucified One …to save me from myself.” How do secularists so miss his meaning? They utterly refuse to receive any meaning that they utterly disdain.
So, secularists’ misrepresentations of Kierkegaard are why so few evangelical Christians pay him any attention. What they think they know of him has come from those who don’t know him at all.
But, even in his day, he was often misunderstood. He said: “People understand me so poorly that they don’t understand even my complaint about them not understanding me.” Christian philosopher C. Stephen Evans, a respected Kierkegaard scholar, grants that the Dane “was and is an enigma. … Misunderstood and largely ignored during his lifetime, he was discovered and celebrated in the twentieth century, though mainly for reasons he would have deplored.”
Still, his work isn’t always easy. He wrote in various voices. And, with fourteen large volumes of published work, there’s lots to get and lots to misconstrue. Moreover, the work’s hard to grasp by one who’s not prepared to receive its truth or by one who refuses to receive its truth. He cautioned: “The truth is a snare: you cannot have it, without being caught. You cannot have the truth in such a way that you catch it, but only in such a way that it catches you.” Here, there’s a distinct echo of our Lord’s teaching on the relationship of will to reception. Kierkegaard rejected reasoning into truth ala his day’s fashionable Hegelianism that presupposed only the allegedly “objective” or “rational” is real. That’s still the silly assumption of pop atheists like Richard Dawkins these days.
Kierkegaard well knew that his anti-Hegelianism was a minority view. However, for him, “truth is always only to be found in the minority.” In this minority existence, he saw himself as a “spy for God”. He mused: “Suppose I had been free to use my talents as I pleased (and that it was not the case that another Power was able to compel me every moment when I was not ready to yield), I might have converted all my effort into the interests of the age. It would have been within my power (if such a betrayal were not punished by turning me to nothing) to become what the age demands, and so would have been just another witness to the notion that the world is good, the race is truth, this generation is the court of last resort and the public determines the truth and is its judge. I should have attained great success in this world by such treason. I became, instead, a spy by compulsion.” How sadly absurd that, so many, yet today, sell out to the notion that this world is the good, this generation is the court of last resort and the public determines the truth and is truth’s judge. Kierkegaard knew far deeper Truth!
And, according to his widely repeated observation: “Life must be lived forward but it can be understood only backwards.” We can so easily fail to see the mess we’re making until we look back upon the mess from its messy aftermath. Yet it’s also true that we never quite see what a blessing there is in what, at first, is only a disappointment. It’s only later, perhaps sometime very much later, that the disappointment is seen to have brought many blessings.
“Geniuses are like thunderstorms”, said Kierkegaard. “They go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air.” He explained, “There are two kinds of geniuses. The characteristic of the one is roaring, but the lightning is meager and rarely strikes.” That’s not Kierkegaard. “The other kind,” he said, “is characterized by reflection by which it constrains itself or restrains the roaring. But the lightning is all the more intensive; with the speed and sureness of lightning it hits the selected particular points and is fatal.” That’s Kierkegaard!
He strikes to the heart, yet does so with pastoral care and reassurance of God’s changelessness. He writes: “It is really true that when, wearied with all this human inconstancy, this temporal and earthly immutability, and wearied of your own inconstancy, you might wish to find a place where rest may be found for your weary head, your weary thoughts, your weary spirit, so that you might find rest and find complete repose: Oh, in the changelessness of God there is rest!” He composed a beautiful prayer to the changeless God. That prayer will be our Morning Prayer this Sunday.
Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen and lived there all his life. He was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died between infancy and their twenties. Kierkegaard would live to be but 42.
His affluent father, a retired merchant, was long haunted by guilt and was very stern. Of his own childhood, Kierkegaard wrote: “So far back as I can barely recall, my one joy was that nobody could discover how unhappy I felt.” The death of his father in 1838 struck him as a gift from his father and he experienced some liberation in that. But, his mother, who’d once been his father’s young housemaid, is never mentioned in any of his writings.
He grew up liking literature and the theater and enrolled in the local university to study theology. At 27, he was engaged to a young lady of 18. Though enamored of her, he broke the engagement the next year, fearing he’d not be able to open himself up to her and sensing he’d been “promised to God from childhood.” She very quickly married another man. She and Kierkegaard frequently saw each other on the streets of Copenhagen, and although they exchanged glances, they never spoke.
Their breakup coincided with his completion of his dissertation on The Concept of Irony. He’d already self-published From the Papers of One Still Living, an analysis of Hans Christian Andersen’s novel, Only a Fiddler. Two of his works, Either-Or and Two Edifying Discourses, were published on the same day in 1843.
At the end of his life, Kierkegaard launched a strong critique against the state church of Denmark, ridiculing the notion that if “we are all Danish – so we are all Christians!” He asserted that, that’s “living a life of paganism”. He stressed that a person becomes authentic only in personal relationship to God in Christ, the Savior, the Lord. He raged against a so-called “Christian scholarship [that] is humanity’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the New Testament, to ensure that one can continue to be a Christian without letting the New Testament get too close.” He found it “absolutely unethical to be so busy professing, that [one] forgets to be what he professes”.
In October 1855, in the midst of his acerbic, yet articulate, attack against substituting “paganism”, as he called it, for genuine faith in Christ and its consequent discipleship, and having exhausted his inheritance, he collapsed on one of his frequent walks around Copenhagen. After five weeks in the hospital, he died. He was only 42 years old. His remains are buried in the family plot under a tall brown stone under a large white cross.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne
May 21, 1813 – March 25, 1843
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was only 24 when he was chosen over two of his best friends – to be the first pastor of St. Peter’s Kirk in the rapidly growing industrial city of Dundee, Scotland. Very quickly the congregation grew to over a thousand members – a quarter of the townspeople. However, just six short years later, M’Cheyne died of typhus. He was only 29 years old. His body is buried there at St. Peter’s Kirk, awaiting Christ’s return.
That we, here, this weekend, and other Christians elsewhere this year, are honoring the birth of a young man who had such a short ministry, two long centuries ago, is sufficient testimony to the significance of his earthly service and his influence on Christians ever since.
Soon after he died, Andrew Bonar, his closest friend, fellow pastor (and one of those men over whom he’d been chosen six years earlier), published Memoir and Remains of M’Cheyne. The Introduction was by a Princeton Seminary pioneer who noted that, “orthodoxy and piety [had] sunk together” in that day’s Church of Scotland but that, M’Cheyne’s ministry was a “blessed revival and triumph of Christian principle.” (Samuel Miller) He added: “His hold of the truth gave him a hold of his hearers.” Such tribute would not have been forecast only a decade earlier.
Born and bred in a well-to-do family in Edinburgh’s New Town, Robbie M’Cheyne, youngest of five children, was bright and gregarious, yet merely a nominal church member, unlike his brother, David, 9 years his senior, who was a devout Christian. A lawyer, like their father, David had tried to be a Christian witness to Robbie but the teen ignored him and threw himself into a busy social life. Suddenly, at 27, David died. Robbie was devastated.
In his grief, he tried to honor David by using his skill as an artist to draw a portrait of his brother from memory. But he gave it up and, instead, wrote these lines: “Ah! How oft that eye would turn on me, with pity’s tenderest look, and, only half-upbraiding, bid me flee from the vain idols of my boyish heart!” Two years before his own death, M’Cheyne told Bonar: “This day eleven years ago I lost my loved and loving brother, and began to seek a Brother who cannot die.”
With David gone, Robbie turned for help to the Westminster Confession’s Sum of Saving Knowledge. He later said that this was what “first of all wrought a saving change in me.” He reflected on the spiritual impact David had had on him, even though he’d not heeded his brother at the time. He wrote: “I had a kind brother … who taught me many things. He gave me a Bible, and persuaded me to read it, he tried to train me as a gardener trains the apple-tree upon the wall but all in vain. I thought myself wiser than he, and would always take my own way; and many a time, I well remember, I have seen him reading his Bible, or shutting his closet door to pray, when I have been dressing to go to some frolic.”
M’Cheyne’s conversion to Christ is expressed in his poignant poem, “Jehovah Tsidkenu” – Hebrew for, “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-8): “I once was a stranger to grace and to God, I knew not my danger and felt not my load. Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree, Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me. I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage, Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page; But ev’n where they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree, Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me. Like tears from the daughters Of Zion that roll, I wept when the waters went over his soul; yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree Jehovah Tsidkenu – ‘twas nothing to me. But when free grace awoke me by light from on high,
then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die; no refuge, no safety in self could I see, Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be. My terrors all vanished before the sweet name; my guilty fear banished, with boldness I came to drink at the fountain so copious and free, Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me. Jehovah Tsidkenu, my treasure and boast, Jehovah Tsidkenu, I ne’er can be lost. In thee I shall conquer, by flood and by field, my cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield! Even treading the valley, the shadow of death, this watchword shall rally my faltering breath; for while from life’s fever my God sets me free, Jehovah Tsidkenu my death song shall be.”
In his new life in Christ, he affirmed that, “A sense of forgiveness does not proceed from marks seen in yourself, but from a discovery of the beauty, worth and freeness of Christ. … We look out for peace, not in.” He added: “At the same time, there is also an assurance rising from what we see in ourselves; the seal of the Spirit, love to the brethren … are the chief marks. Feeling a body of sin is a mark that we are like Paul, and that we are Christ’s. Rom. vii; Gal v. 17. Paul was cheerful with a body of sin; and so ought we to be. So was David, and all the saints.”
Jehovah Tsidkenu was, indeed, his life’s theme. He wrote: “I must not only wash in Christ’s blood, but clothe me in Christ’s obedience. For every sin of omission in self, I may find a divinely perfect obedience ready for me in Christ. For every sin of commission in self, I may find not only a stripe or a wound in Christ, but also a perfect rendering of the opposite obedience in my place, so that the law is magnified – its curse more than carried – its demand more than answered.” To his congregation he wrote: “There is no true peace but in the present hold of the Lord our righteousness. Enjoy the forgiveness of sins.” Just a couple of weeks before he died, he wrote to his congregation: “Remember Jesus for us is all our righteousness before a holy God, and Jesus in us is all our strength in an ungodly world. Persevere ever to death; eternal life will make up for all.”
M’Cheyne affirmed liberty of conscience when the crux of doctrine was not at stake. Such was his wisdom and uncompromising orthodoxy. Here’s what he wrote to a stranger who’d asked him about prophecy: “As to the mode of studying prophecy, dear friend, I am far from being a capable adviser. My advice, however, is, that you begin with the simple and more unquestioned parts, and then advance to the more difficult ground.” Three months before he died, he replied to someone who asked if it’s right to spend Sundays recording weather statistics. Though he’d published a widely circulated tract on Sabbath-keeping, he answered patiently: “Dear Friend – You ask me a hard question. Had you asked me what I would do in the case, I could easily tell you. I love the Lord’s Day too well to be marking down the height of the thermometer and barometer every hour. … The joy of the Lord is my strength. But, whether another Christian can spend the Sabbath in his service, and mark down degrees of heat and atmospheric pressure, without letting down the warmth of his affections or losing the atmosphere of heaven, I cannot tell. My conscience is not the rule of another man. … The grace of the Lord of the Sabbath be with you.”
His gentle spirit always matched his uncompromising orthodoxy. In a pastoral letter, echoing Isaiah’s words of the Servant of the Lord, he wrote: “Learn how weak the strongest believer is – a bruised reed.” To another correspondent he wrote: “Deal gently and tenderly with your unconverted friends. Remember you were once as blind as they.” After having spent some time in conversation with a fellow minister, M’Cheyne wrote to him: “O how I repent of our vain controversies on Establishments when we last met and that we spoke so little of Jesus.”
The controversies to which he referred were of the government’s intrusion into matters of Christian faith, specifically the practice of political patronage over the church. And, while he certainly relegated this matter to be of less importance than focusing on Jesus, he was nonetheless grieved and angry over governmental overreaching. He observed: “Once again, King Jesus stands at an earthly tribunal and ‘they know Him not!’ ”
In May 1843, two months after M’Cheyne’s death, these state-church controversies exploded in “The Great Disruption”. Many of the evangelicals split from the Establishment church and set up the Free Church of Scotland. St. Peter’s, Dundee, was one of them.
M’Cheyne was realistic about dangers of his popularity – dangers for him and for his congregation. During his mission to Palestine, prompted by a desire for witness to Jews but also due to his doctor’s recommending rest from his duties at St. Peter’s, he noted that some parishioners complained about his absence. He wrote: “Many liked their minister naturally, who had but little real relish for the message he carried. God now sifts these souls, and wants to show them that it is a looking to Jesus that saves, not a looking to man.” He added, soberly: “None but God knows what an abyss of corruption is in my heart. He knows and covers all in the blood of the Lamb. … I do long to be free from self, from pride, and ungodliness, and I know where to go, ‘for all the promises of God in Christ are yea and amen in Christ Jesus.’ ”
Though engaged to a young woman at the time of his death, he’d never had responsibilities for wife and children, so he’d devoted his full time to the spiritual care of his people at St. Peter’s and to non-church going neighbors, especially the destitute of Dundee’s slums. Visiting them regularly, he kept careful notes on their needs. For quiet time, he’d ride his pony out among the heather bells of the countryside to be alone in prayer with his Lord.
Perhaps M’Cheyne’s best-known poem is, “I am Debtor”, published in 1837. Re-titled, “How Much I Owe”, we’ll hear it sung on Sunday morning. Here are the words he wrote: “When this passing world is done, when has sunk yon glaring sun, when we stand with Christ in glory, looking o’er life’s finished story, then, Lord, shall I fully know – not till then – how much I owe. When I stand before the throne, dressed in beauty not my own, when I see thee as thou art, love thee with unsinning heart, then, Lord, shall I fully know – not till then – how much I owe. Chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee, hidden in the Savior’s side, by the Spirit sanctified, teach me, Lord, on earth to show by my love, how much I owe”. (M’Cheyne’s words, sung to new music: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy6eN2TpWuY)
Four days before his death and shortly before the delirium of typhus set in, his sister Eliza read him some hymns. Among the last words he heard were William Cowper’s: “Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.” So it was, on Saturday, the 25th of March, after lifting his arms, he fell back, sighed and was gone.
Recalling that M’Cheyne and Livingstone were born in the very same year, but that M’Cheyne was gone two years after Livingstone had only begun three decades in Africa, we marvel at God’s sovereign use of one’s relatively short time on earth and another’s much longer time on earth.
In his very last communion service, M’Cheyne said to his congregation: “God knows whether this will be the last year of my ministry among you or not.” A friend later wrote: “Little was it then thought, that ere another such season came round, he would be with the … church of the first-born in heaven – sitting at the table above, and drinking the wine new in his Father’s kingdom.”
Jemima Thompson Luke
August 19, 1813 – February 2, 1906
From one who died before his 30th birthday but left behind a wealth of sermons, letters and poetry, we turn to one who lived past 90 birthdays but left behind only one poem for which we remember her. Of course, what we perceive each left behind is but a fraction of the good that God did through them while they were on the earth. Only God remembers all of that.
For 160 years, Sunday school kids have sung the words of Jemima Thompson Luke. Set to music, her lines have been, perhaps, the most popular of all children’s hymns. Popularity peaked in the 1870s and then again in the 1940s and 1950s. The hymn has become a favorite among Latter-day Saints, too, though they sing it to a different tune.
She’d later say: “It was a little inspiration from above, and not ‘in me,’ for I have never written other verses worthy of preservation.”
She did write a couple of novels. However, they reflect her era’s Protestant suspicion of Catholics, so, if for no other reason, it’s just as well they’re now forgotten – except on the Internet. She also wrote a biography of her father, Thomas Thompson. She was born on his 28th birthday, in the Islington section of London. Her parents named her, as she says, “in allusion to Job and his previous losses.” Her parents had lost two children – an infant and a 2-year-old. Of the infant’s death, Jemima writes: “This sweet loan was recalled by Him who doeth all things well, and who will one day explain why her stay with us was only for the short period of six months.” “Jemima” was the name of one of Job’s beautiful daughters, born after God had restored Job’s prosperity.
Like Job, Thomas Thompson was rich. He’d made a fortune on the London Stock Exchange, as his father had done. She writes that her father’s “capital doubled, trebled, quadrupled, as fast as he could turn it.” He’d taught Sunday school as a teenager and helped to found the Sunday-School Union. All his life he devoted time and wealth to the Gospel, not only in the Sunday-School Union, but in Seaman’s Missions and the Home Missionary Society that he’d also organized.
Their large London residence was a hub of activity during missionary conferences. During one such conference, six Madagascar Christians were guests in the home. They’d escaped with their lives from Queen Ranavalona’s persecutions. Christians were being burned alive, forced to eat deadly poison, speared or thrown from high cliffs. An escaped missionary was writing a history of the persecution and asked Jemima, in her words, “to paint the likenesses of our six visitors as a frontispiece.” She did “a watercolour group” and, she says, in 1840, it was “admirably reproduced in colours, being only the second specimen of coloured printing then published.”
She tells how her children’s hymn came about that next year. She was 28. “I went to the Normal Infant School in Gray’s Inn Road to obtain some knowledge of the system. Mary Moffat, afterwards Mrs. Livingstone, was there at the same time, and Sarah Roby, whom Mr. and Mrs. Moffat had rescued in infancy when buried alive, and had brought up with their own children. Among the marching pieces at Gray’s Inn Road was a Greek air, the pathos of which took my fancy, and I searched … several Sunday-school hymn-books for words to suit the measure, but in vain. …
“I went one day on some missionary business to the little town of Wellington, five miles from Taunton, in a stage-coach. It was a beautiful spring morning; it was an hour’s ride, and there was no other inside passenger. On the back of an old envelope I wrote in pencil the first two of the verses now so well known, in order to teach the tune to the village school supported by my step-mother, and which it was my province to visit. The third verse was added afterward to make it a missionary hymn.”
She explains: “My father superintended the Sunday-school in which we taught, and used to let the children choose the first hymn. One Sunday the children started their new hymn. My father turned to his younger daughters and said, ‘Where did that come from? I never heard it before.’ ‘Oh, Jemima made it,’ they replied. Next day he asked for a copy, and sent it, without my knowledge, to The Sunday-School Teachers’ Magazine. But for this it would probably never have appeared in print.” It was published under the title, “Child’s Desire”.
Here are her words: “I think, when I read that sweet story of old, when Jesus was here among men, how He called little children as lambs to His fold, I should like to have been with them then. I wish that His hands had been placed on my head, that His arms had been thrown around me, and that I might have seen His kind look when He said, ‘Let the little ones come unto Me.’ Yet still to His footstool in prayer I may go, and ask for a share in His love. And if I thus earnestly seek Him below, I shall see Him and hear Him above. But thousands and thousands who wander and fall, never heard of that heavenly home; I wish they could know there is room for them all, and that Jesus has bid them to come. In that beautiful place He has gone to prepare for all who are washed and forgiven, and many dear children shall be with Him there, for ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven’. I long for the joy of that glorious time, the sweetest and brightest and best, when the dear little children of every clime shall crowd to His arms and be blest.”
Here’s her song, sung by Elsie Baker on a 1916 Victor recording. (www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/4577)
Two years after writing this hymn, Jemima married Samuel Luke, a Congregational minister. He became pastor of Orange Street Church near Trafalgar Square in London. That had been an Anglican church with Augustus Toplady as rector. So, the church is associated with two hymns, Toplady’s “Rock of Ages” and Jemima Luke’s “I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old”.
The Lukes were married for 25 years when Samuel died and Jemima lived for another 37 years. She outlived all their children, though a son looked after her until he died in 1903. She lived then on the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England. There, she became the oldest “passive resister” to England’s Education Act of 1902.
As I’ve indicated, her hymn has been a Mormon favorite, so it’s not surprising to read the following report in the February 6, 1904 issue of The Deseret Evening News, Utah’s oldest newspaper and a property of the Latter-day Saints. We read: Jemima Luke, “the aged author … has refused to pay a tax imposed by the British government for the education of children in an Episcopal creed in which the gentle old lady, being a Congregationalist, cannot believe. So, in due course, she is to receive a visitation from the sheriff’s officers, and enough of her small property is to be seized and sold to satisfy the unyielding demands of the law not unlike that which drove the Pilgrim fathers from Plymouth, England to Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. [And, it might be added, not unlike the trouble Mormons had with the Federal government and trouble that Christian businesses now have with Federal insistence that they, against conscience, pay for employees’ abortifacients.] The newspaper report goes on to say: “Mrs. Luke is only one of an army of God-fearing folk who are ready to pay the rest of their taxes, but have vowed to withhold that part which was to be devoted to [use against conscience]. Mrs. Luke is now over ninety years old, and so feeble in health that the writing of letters has become difficult for her. It may therefore be looked upon as a special favor to readers of this paper that Mrs. Luke wrote out for them, in her own hand, the first stanza of her famous hymn.”
Just two years later, Jemima Thompson Luke, at 92, and still with a childlike trust in Jesus, joined “the dear little children of every clime [to] crowd to His arms and be blest … for ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven’.”