Reaching the lost in high places – Acts 13:1

‘Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.’ Acts 13:1

By Bartlomiej Strobel - Museo Nacional del Prado, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20080818
Feast of Herod with the Beheading of St John the Baptist by Bartlomiej Strobel – Museo Nacional del Prado

Being a somewhat ordinary person and living in an ordinary station in life, those in high places, to me, inhabit another world. I see the Royal family, the world of the stars (so called), the high-end business world and so many other areas of life that are simply alien to me. I sometimes wonder how these people are reached with the Gospel. Despite all the trappings of privilege and success they are still people that are in need of salvation. It’s highly unlikely in the scheme of things that I would ever have the opportunity to speak with such. Nevertheless, Christians do move in those circles. And I’m thankful they are able to reach the parts people like myself cannot. But it isn’t just those in high places, it’s sometimes the type of people that are in those high places. So, for our encouragement let us consider a man (in the verse above) by the name of Manaen.

We aren’t quite sure of his relationship to King Herod but at the very least he moved in the same circles. The main sense is that of a friend, or even a foster brother. One commentator (Matthew Henry – full quote below) suggests they ‘nursed of the same milk’ or went to the same school. The ESV text (above) says he was a lifelong friend. Let’s suppose that is the case. Who is Herod the tetrarch? This is the Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded. I don’t think we are far off the mark if we call Herod a psychopath. Manaen is a lifelong friend of this Herod.

We aren’t explicitly told how Manaen heard the Gospel, or when he came to trust in Christ for salvation, but we do know that John the Baptist preached to Herod. Is it too much of a stretch to say Manaen heard the message from John? And yet two very different responses. Manaen became a prophet and leader in the church and Herod continues, as far as we know, in unbelief – perhaps signifying his eternal destiny.

Why did Herod invite John to his court? John was a novelty to him and a curiosity, but whatever the reason, John didn’t tone down the message to gain favour or be overawed in the presence of the great and the good. That doesn’t mean we have to ‘go at it’ and be aggressive – but it does mean we  have to be faithful and take the opportunities to speak as the Lord presents them to us. Easier said than done of course.

It may even be that Manaen heard the Lord Jesus speak. Either way, whether from John or Jesus, Manaen became a follower of the Lord Christ. I’m not convinced that just because Herod was a psychopath Manaen was a similar character – maybe he was. We simply aren’t told what sort of character he was before becoming a Christian, but we do know something of his life as a believer from our verse above. He became a  prophet and a teacher. Unlikely people do become followers of Jesus. Some even become ministers of the Gospel. Like the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 1:13).

The Lesson

It’s a simple lesson. The Lord has his people sometimes in the most unlikely places. The court of Herod was a place of debauchery and butchery. A place of adultery and licentiousness. And a place of immense privilege. Yet there was Manaen. The Lord doesn’t need us to reach people. But His way is most often to use Christians to speak to people from all manner of backgrounds. Maybe He’ll use us too.

We might think it is futile to pray for some as they seem so far from the Kingdom. But this isn’t the case. Many Christians pray for Boris, for example, even though they will probably never meet him. Or praying for that celebrity, or even a terrorist. God does answer the prayers of His people. No prayer is futile. No one is beyond the reach of God. Acts 13:1 then, is a very encouraging verse – so pray on.

 

Manaen, a person of some quality, as it should seem, for he was brought up with Herod the tetrarch, either nursed of the same milk, or bred at the same school, or pupil to the same tutor, or rather one that was his constant colleague and companion – that in every part of his education was his comrade and intimate, which gave him a fair prospect of preferment at court, and yet for Christ’s sake he quitted all the hopes of it; like Moses, who, when he had come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Had he joined in with Herod, with whom he was brought up, he might have had Blastus’s place, and have been his chamberlain; but it is better to be fellow-sufferer with a saint than fellow-persecutor with a tetrarch.

 Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2118). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (3)

This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here)  Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..

What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’

EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.

His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.

I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).

We all went with him into battle

I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.

It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (2)

This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.

This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?

‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20

The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:

EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.

But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.

I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?

Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.

Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.

‘Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!’

I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.

 

‘The Madness of Crowds’ by Douglas Murray – Recommended reading

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Douglas Murray, Bloomsbury, 2020. This is the updated & expanded edition.

Have you ever seen the 1963 film ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’? It’s a totally crazy film with big stars in it all searching for buried loot under a ‘Big W.’ It’s a comedy and is hysterical. It’s very funny.

This book by Douglas Murray plunges us into a mad, mad, mad, mad world as well. There’s a lot that’s hysterical. But it isn’t funny. At all. There is a ‘Big W’ though. And an elusive prize.

I didn’t take any notes. I simply wanted to read it. I think the book will make a good companion to Carl Trueman’s latest book (started but not finished).

On the cover of the book is the line: The Sunday Times Bestseller. This is rather surprising because, I assume then, someone is buying it. I did. Presumably lots of people are buying it – not sure if they’re reading it though. Murray was initially encouraged by this. But in the afterword of this edition he’s rather more pessimistic. The frightening aspect of the book is that you can be anything you want to be by ticking the appropriate ideological box. And this is the message: we (that is, most people) are being coerced (or simply marinated) into an ideology. We are being forced further into an ideology that divides. You capitulate or else. In fact, it works the other way as well. You can be told what you are as well. So a black man can be a white man if he doesn’t get with the program. The whole idea of black, white, man, woman, boy, girl is an utter mess of confusion and cancellation. Murray has provided us with enough evidence (all cited in the end-notes) to convince anyone, that wants to step back and see, that what is going on is complete madness.

The Chapter Titles are: 1. Gay. Then an Interlude – The Marxist Foundations. 2. Women. Another Interlude – The Impact of Tech. 3. Race. Interlude – On Forgiveness. 4. Trans. Conclusion. Then an Afterword for this edition.

The chapter on Race is the longest – just. The chapter on Trans is the saddest. The whole book is fairly tragic though. At the beginning of the book he explains the difference between what he calls a Hardware or a Software issue. It recurs a few times through the book.

‘…. the contemporary world has begun to settle on a morality which roots itself in this dispute and which may be viewed as a hardware versus software question.
Hardware is something that people cannot change and so (the reasoning goes) it is something that they should not be judged on. Software, on the other hand, can be changed and may demand judgements – including moral judgements – to be made. Inevitably in such a system there will be a push to make potential software issues into hardware issues, not least in order to garner more sympathy for people who may in fact have software, rather than hardware, issues.’ p.29.

I do think there are some conditions that might be described as a ‘Hardware’ issue simply because we live, according to the Bible, in a fallen world. We should expect to find things that don’t fit. For example Murray gives some figures for people with Intersex (formerly Hermaphrodite) that might be a ‘Hardware’ issue. I’m not convinced surgery is the answer though. It’s all very sad. Help is definitely needed but it’s coming from the wrong place. Everyone has an inherent worth and dignity because we are all  made in the image of God our creator. Everyone. Just like me they need the love and grace of God not an ideology.

‘It has been estimated that in America today around one in every two thousand children is born with sexual organs that are indeterminate, and around one in every three hundred will need to be referred to a specialist.⁷’

I wasn’t sure quite how to read those figures but according to one website I looked at there’s about 1.4 million intersex people in America. That sounds like an epidemic to me. But it depends where you are on the trajectory and also on who decides where you are. Some of the people that decide, frankly, should be prosecuted for child abuse. It’s not science or health care, it’s ideology. It’s all in the book if you can stomach it. 

I’ll quote below a couple more sections from the conclusion to give you a flavour of the book.

Because the most extreme claims keep getting heard, there is a tendency for people to believe them and their worst-case scenarios. p.242

Final quote:

‘With each of the issues highlighted in this book the aim of the social justice campaigners has consistently been to take each one – gay, women, race, trans – that they can present as a rights grievance and make their case at its most inflammatory. Their desire is not to heal but to divide, not to placate but to inflame, not to dampen but to burn. In this again the last part of a Marxist substructure can be glimpsed. If you cannot rule a society – or pretend to rule it, or try to rule it and collapse everything – then you can do something else. In a society that is alive to its faults, and though imperfect remains a better option than anything else on offer, you sow doubt, division, animosity and fear. Most effectively you can try to make people doubt absolutely everything. Make them doubt whether the society they live in is good at all (and it’s working – my comment). Make them doubt that people really are treated fairly. Make them doubt whether there are any such groupings as men or women. Make them doubt almost everything. And then present yourself as having the answers: the grand, overarching, interlocking set of answers that will bring everyone to some perfect place, the details of which will follow in the post (in other words there is no answer – my comment)’ Pp. 247-248.

Given the hot-button topics I thought the book is written quite sensitively. It’s not an aggressive book, but unfortunately what Murray can’t give you, and to be fair he doesn’t try, is any hope, or an objective truth claim to base that hope on. I don’t think he’s saying there’s no such thing as truth, I’m fairly sure he would say there is, but he can’t base it on anything. If there’s no God of truth, there can’t be any truth. The Lord Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ And so as Christians our hope is in God – the God of the Bible. But we do have to reach people with the Gospel of Christ; a world that is perishing and drowning in its own particular madness. This book describes the world, or some of it anyway, that desperately needs the Gospel.

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (1)

I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.

I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:

THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?

EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.

I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’

 

Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice….?

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1&2)

When reading verses like these it would be easy to make an application that our (various) governments should open the churches in order for normal services, or just services, to resume and to ‘let my people go.’ End the lockdown and get back to normal is what a lot of people are calling for. I think there’s a more important issue, or stage before that. Or to put it another way, there’s a much deeper issue with our government, and politicians in general, than ‘simply’ getting them to ‘open up the churches.’

The deeper issue is that our leaders, be they Prime Ministers or Presidents, ‘do not know the LORD.’ Pharaoh in the verse above actually confesses to the fact that he ‘does not know the Lord.’ And because of the truth of that confession says in direct response to the command of God – ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice….?’  And ‘I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’ Who is this LORD? I will not obey his voice. We don’t have to be living in ancient Egypt to see this played out. You could almost admire the honesty of Pharaoh if it wasn’t so foolish.

Church life is quite different now. And like you, I hope, I want to see our churches back open. I don’t say back to normal simply because we may have to use this opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘normal’ church life (and evangelism) is going to mean. But what if our governments suddenly said ‘OK, you can open up.’ We will still be under a government, that, by and large, says ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?’

There are many regimes round the world that act like Pharaoh. In the West it is cloaked with a superficiality of Christianity but underneath beats a heart that is as opposed to the will of God as any other godless regime. I don’t, nor should we, treat the mercies of God with contempt. Any gains or progress, or where policies are merely put on hold – we should thank God for. Here in the west things could be far far worse.

God, the same LORD Pharaoh refused to obey, brought upon Egypt the plagues, judgement upon Pharaoh and the destruction of his army. The people of God were’t allowed just to leave, they were driven out and ‘plundered the Egyptians’ of their goods in the process.

The point I am making is this: Jesus will build His church. He will continue to build it until He returns to judge the world. We, His people, must persevere for ‘deliverance is at hand.’ In the meantime we continue to ‘preach’ the Gospel of the grace of God as He gives opportunity. The Word of God cannot ultimately be silenced. It is impossible.

What is our message? ‘…. that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His (Jesus) name to all nations (Luke 24:47).’

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Cor 15: 1-4)

Not only that but we should pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1&2)

You’ve read this far. Great. But your heart is rebellious just like the heart of Pharaoh. It will do no good, as some do, to whine on about how bad the government is (Christians do this as well). Unless you repent you’ll be swallowed up in the judgment to come just like them. The only safe haven is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.

 

 

On The Incarnation by Saint (why not) Athanasius – Brief Review

This has sat in my ‘Drafts’ folder for too long. This a brief review/recommendation (with quotes) of On the Incarnation by (Saint) Athanasius (Born: 296 AD, Died: May 2, 373 AD). Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever it was I was expecting, this wasn’t it. The book is a total of 110 pages (starts at page 9) with the Preface, an essay by C. S. Lewis on reading older works. This is followed by an excellent, quite lengthy, introduction and explanation by the translator which needs to be read first.

‘On The Incarnation’ itself, is a bit over half the book at ‘only’ 61 pages. But what a half! The way it’s written appeals, I think, to the way my mind likes to work. That makes it a little easier for me to read. But it really isn’t a difficult read at all. In this edition footnotes are rare. There is no index (too short a book really) but there is a list of Suggested Further Reading (ps. 45-47).

Again (like Patrick), what we find here is a fully worked out and functioning Trinitarian theology. I don’t think we should tire of pointing this out given what Muslim friends might believe. Athanasius wrote this work some two hundred years before Mohammed was even born (571). Which means Mohammed did not check his sources and was simply wrong on The Trinity and especially on the deity of The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reading these older works is not a waste of time. We think we’re so sophisticated but forget, or are ignorant of the fact, that older writers have already addressed many of our problems.

Athanasius divides this work essentially into six sections. I don’t know what other editions look like, but in this edition, the work is in numbered sub-sections which is quite helpful. It isn’t endless pages of dense text. This book is Part 2 of his previous work Against the Gentiles, so it dives right in by saying ‘In what preceded we have sufficiently treated a few points from many…(p. 49.)’ The translator deals with Against the Gentiles in the introduction.

After a brief introduction (sub-section 1), we have the First Section: The Divine Dilemma regarding Life and Death (p. 50, sub-section 2). The next section is on page 60, sub-section 11: The Divine Dilemma regarding Knowledge and Ignorance.

Athanasius begins by showing that the world came into being by nothing other than that God willed it into existence without any pre-existing matter. He also shows how ‘human beings’ were also created by God. But then having sinned and fallen into a state of condemnation he shows how (us) ‘they became insatiable in sinning (p.54).’
On page 55 he then says ‘Therefore, since the rational creatures were being corrupted and such works were perishing, what should God, being good, do?’ Should God ‘Permit the corruption prevailing against them and death to seize them?’
It would have been weakness by God, rather than goodness if having created human beings only to leave them in their corruption. But God had already said to Adam if he were to eat of the forbidden tree they would die. God would be seen to be a liar had He not acted in judgment. So Athanasius writes ‘For it was absurd that God, the Father of truth, should appear a liar for our profit and preservation. (p.56)’ Is that the sort of God we want, a liar? I don’t think so. How could we then ever trust anything He says to us.

Here’s a few more from this sub-section. ‘What then had to happen in this case or what should God do? Demand repentance from human beings for their transgression? He puts it in the form of a dilemma for God. It’s put this way for our understanding. The Scripture never presents God as being in a dilemma. It’s a way of trying to understand the lengths that God will go to rescue human beings. ‘But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast in death….’

What is to be done?

‘Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being? For his it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruptibility and to save the superlative consistency of the Father. (p.56).
The first few sections I absolutely loved reading. It made me wonder afresh at the sheer undeserved magnificent grace of God in sending a Saviour. We must also equally emphasise, with His Deity, that Jesus was truly a man, not some kind of illusion or phantom, but a real flesh and blood man. And so:

‘For He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere. Not while He moved that [body] was the universe left void of His activity and providence. But, what is most marvellous, being the Word, He was not contained by anyone, but rather Himself contained everything.’ p. 66.
Athanasius also writes:
‘When then the theologians (Athanasius specifically means the writers of Scripture) in this matter say that he ate and drank and was born, know that the body, as body, was born and was nourished on appropriate food, but that he, the God Word, present in the body yet arranging all things, made known through the works wrought in the body that he was not himself a human being but the God Word. But these things are said of him, since the body which ate and was born and suffered, was no one else’s but the Lord’s, and as he became human, it is proper for these things to be said of him as human, that he might be shown possessing a real not illusory body.’ p. 68

And further:

‘You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God. Those acts are rightly said to be His acts, because the body which did them did indeed belong to Him and none other; moreover, it was right that they should be thus attributed to Him as Man, in order to show that His body was a real one and not merely an appearance.’ p.68.
One of his arguments for the crucifixion, from a human perspective, is at the time of Christ, the worst, the most horrendous death devised by wicked men was crucifixion. I’m paraphrasing but Athanasius says it had to be that way so no one could say ‘well, that was a pretty easy death.’ It was a terrible death! From a prophetic scriptural perspective, this is what was prophesied.

This is a lengthy quote but I think important. (To save typing it up the quote is from another translation – lazy I know. It’s not that different). I hope it whets your appetite to read Athanasius yourself:

“Well then,” some people may say, “if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honour than to endure so shameful a death.” But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Saviour did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger, because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself. p. 71 & 72 in my edition.

I’ll leave it at that. It really is the most amazing book!! I cannot recommend this important work enough. I need, I must, read it again. It’s available in many versions, several, I think on Kindle for a £1. I don’t have the expertise to know which is the best translation and I’m guessing there’s not THAT much difference anyway – I could be wrong. I’ll stick with this one. It was recommended to me by Nick Needham and that’s good enough for me. Thanks Nick.

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas – A Recommendation

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas, Reformation Heritage Books, 2020. I paid £4.50 for my copy. Sadly not available from 10 of Those. Try your local Christian Bookshop or failing that, £6.50 at Amazon.

The book is described as an ‘Evangelistic Booklet.’ I had a couple of people in mind to give a copy. I try not to give books and stuff that I’ve not read so set about reading it. Not quite in one sitting but very nearly. It’s an easy to read book. By easy I mean it isn’t complicated. You don’t need a degree to read it. The 10 chapters are not long with the whole book just 96 pages with stories and illustrations throughout. I loved it.

I can hear Geoff as I read and can see the evangelistic motivation behind it, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Yes, give it to your non-Christian friends. Do that. What I like about it is the sheer honesty of it. I love to hear Geoff pray and it’s in that vein. A phrase popular a while ago (by some) was that Christians need the Gospel too. And they do. I do. I need to hear the Gospel. Yes, I was thinking on the person I was reading it for, but I was drawn into the book as well. I needed to hear these things. It’s been a blessing to read it. Christians will be encouraged.

Let’s pray that when we read Geoff’s emails we’ll read of sinners brought to the Saviour by the Saviour as He uses this book for His Glory. Wouldn’t that be great!

Just go and buy a copy, read it, and then give it to someone.

History: A Students Guide by Nathan A. Finn – A Review, sort of.

History: A Student’s Guide by Nathan A Finn, Crossway, 2016. This is part a series called ‘Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.’ I came across this book through a casual reference by Michael Haykin on Facebook. So, thank you Michael, I really enjoyed reading it.

I’m not going to be pursuing any career, let alone a career in history, so the book has no relevance to me in that regard. But if you are at the beginning of your further education or are considering a change where studying history is a requirement or especially if you are a Christian studying for a degree in history, then you should read it. Typically, it would probably be found in a university book store. I can’t really recommend the book for general reading because it probably isn’t meant to be used in that way. But if you are so inclined then do read it. Ministers / Pastors would probably find it helpful. Also, check out the other books in the series.

It’s not a long book (111 pages) but the text is on the small side and the footnotes (Hooray for footnotes!) are even smaller. It has ‘Questions for reflection (p.101), a Glossary (p.103-4), Resources for further study (p.105-6), a General Index (p.107-9), and a Scripture Index (p.111). He packs a lot in! I’m not sure, but I think all the ‘Resources’ are all of Christian ‘Historians.’

The book then is written for Christians and there are many aspects of the book that I found helpful and encouraging. Here are three things that I found helpful – maybe you would too.

Presentism. This absolutely plagues our world today. Here’s the Glossary entry, ‘Presentism: Any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past.’ We see this in shedloads today. It is like an epidemic. It is abhorrent. Every historian will know the quote from L. P. Hartley even if they haven’t read the book. Nathan quotes it on p.29 “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” He also points out this applies to the recent past as well, and not just to ancient history. In the strongest possible way I can, dumping present morals on the past is not only dangerous, it is also stupid.

Providentialism. This was quite an interesting discussion. This is the way Christian Historians (can) see the hand of God working in or through history. God is clearly working in history and the world is on a linear path to its end, and if it were not for God there would be no history at all. But reading the hand of God into a particular event, for good or ill, is notoriously difficult. God has chosen to make his revealed will known only through the Scriptures. Perhaps as an example of Providentialism, I read a book on Machiavelli where Savonarola is given a fair bit of space. Some Christians (BoT) read back into Savonarola a ‘Revival of Religion.’ I’m afraid I don’t. It’s a lovely thought but I really don’t see a ‘Revival’ there. Not in the same sense as we see in the Evangelical Awakenings of the 18th Century anyway. You may disagree – which is fine.
The point being, care is needed with any attempt at reading God working in the past. We also need to be charitable as not all Christian Historians will read providence in the same way. Later in the book Nathan does urge Christian Historians to make judgments in the present by using the past – but carefully.

Providentialism is a slightly different point to what is dealt with in Chapter 2 on ‘Historical Interpretation.’ Nathan lists five interpretive grids. One of these is the Marxist view. He Mentions Christopher Hill in the book. Here’s an amusing anecdote. I wasn’t there unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but a friend was. Professor Hill visited a school in Rugby (my home town – born & bred) to lecture on an aspect of the English Civil War. One questioner asked something like, ‘Professor Hill, how would a Marxist interpret the Civil War?’ to which he replied ‘What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour.’ There you go. It isn’t always obvious, and we should definitely not throw everything out because they (other historians) have a different worldview. Discernment is required.

Usefulness to the Church. He means here, not just The Church, but the local church. While at secondary school we had a history exam where I scored -1 (minus 1). And that wasn’t the lowest score either! History had absolutely no relevance to me at all. Plus, the History Teacher (Mr Baldwin) was a sadist – I exagerate. But he did like to lift boys up by their sideburns and give them a twist on the way up. It didn’t endear me to the subject. What changed? God intervened and a love of history was kindled almost straight away – with the help of Peter Jeffery, my first Pastor.

My experience over the years has shown that although some Christians have an interest in history – churches as a whole don’t. It’s a great shame. Your church might be blessed to have an historian as a member, though I’m sure many do not. But if your church does, or you are an historian, Nathan gives some suggestions how historians might be useful in the local church. Here’s three:

* A Sunday School Class on the History of Christianity.
* Start a history themed reading group.
* Ask about occasional Church History lectures.

Not the normal book I review. More could be said. Hope it has been helpful.