5th May 2014
Letter from the Pastor
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God
I was waiting to be served the other week in BHS when my eye glanced upon a DVD on the stand next to the tills – one which brought back memories of a Christian camp I had attended, as a child, back in the 1980’s. Chariots of Fire was a great success as a film, but also unique, in that it sought to faithfully represent Eric Liddell, a sprinter who won gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics. However, it is not for this success that Eric Liddell is best known. The son of missionaries, brought up in the Faith, when presented with the requirement to run one of his heats upon the Sabbath Day, in Paris, he refused – preferring the praise of God to the praise of men.
In the 1990’s another figure appeared upon the Olympic scene – the triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards. He too was brought up in the Faith, and he too made a stand upon the same issue. What an encouragement that was to the Lord’s people, to see this young man – this young brilliant man – refuse to take part in Sunday sport. Naturally parallels were drawn, with Liddell of Chariots of Fire repute. Because of the more developed media machine, Edward’s stand for Righteousness was broadcast far and wide. Christians believed that in this athlete they had another champion – like his famous name’s sake of Puritan stock.
But then … a compromise. In 1993, after lengthy discussions with his father – (a vicar!), Edwards took the decision to compete on the Sabbath Day – concluding that ‘God gave him his talent in order for him to compete in athletics.’
A headline earlier this year took my attention: Jonathan Edwards had lost his faith. This ‘champion’ of Christian standards, who had once declared, ‘My relationship with Jesus and God is fundamental to everything I do. I have made a commitment and dedication in that relationship to serve God in every area of my life’ – but now, all that is vanished – to the great sorrow of the true church on the one hand, but the great joy and mockery of the world on the other.
What can we learn from this sickening testimony? Well first, can we not be reminded here that often the religion of the parents can just be ‘followed’, with the absence of any real personal work of Grace? Admittedly we cannot tell anything of Jonathan Edward’s father’s churchmanship; but his son, certainly as a youth and a young man, seems to have good Evangelical credentials. But these, tragically, were eroded to the point where faith was lost altogether. Assuming this condition persists, surely we have a case of spurious personal ‘faith’ in Edwards himself which begs the question: Did he just adopt his parents’ belief, rather than having his own?
This certainly challenges me to challenge our own children to come to Christ for themselves – rather than just doing that which pleases their parents. How many Christian parents have seen the heart-breaking pattern for themselves; our dearest longing for the children God has granted us is that they may be saved. We see commitments made … even evidences of a work of grace, but then as they come to adult life, the tares of the world choke the seed. How we need to pray!
Then we are clearly reminded, that our trust is not to be in man: not even those we consider giants of the Faith. ‘The arm of flesh will fail you’ – be that your own ‘arm’, or that of other brethren. It is only by grace that any are anything of worth and value amongst the Lord’s people. Any gift, any grace, any growth in either must always be attributed to the Spirit of Christ within us. We are to always remember that even at our very best, we are flesh and spirit as believers – we are, and so are all Christian’s we know and respect. All can fall: look at David … or Abraham … or Peter denying his Saviour or in Galatians 2 making serious compromise.
But then, we should learn from the initial move away from the Lord’s standards; that sad day when Jonathan Edwards went back on his very public decision to ‘remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.’ For surely what we see now in his life, is a product of that compromise. Sadly, this was the product of discussion with his vicar father; clearly they had come to a logical conclusion that God would be honoured by Edwards’ competing, regardless of the day. But was this not anything less than the deceitfulness of the human heart, outworking as the product of his own will. This can certainly happen; we convince ourselves that it is right … it is best … even to the glory of God. It is even possible that we find backing for our new position from the Bible itself!
But then this little step, rather like the small stones which produce the landslide, is but the first step onto bypath meadow. For a time we appear to be going along in the same direction as the strait and narrow road … but little by little we veer increasingly away, until serious deviation has occurred. Hopefully not to the degree of Jonathan Edwards – but this is a danger we would be foolish to rule out.
We must beware of compromise in the Christian life; beware when guidance seems to be in accord with our own natural desires, especially when God’s Word has already pointed in the opposite direction, or we may find ourselves like those in the parable the Lord Jesus told in Luke 14: able to lay a foundation, but not able to finish the tower; or like those that put their hand to the plough, but then look and turn back.