20 November 2017

A DANGEROUS PATH

Britain is set on a dangerous path which can only end in sorrow and tragedy for the nation.  It has largely abandoned the God who has been at the centre of its life for over a thousand years, for the unbelievers have now set out to banish Him from its  public life.  Lately a judge has ruled that prayers should not be said at the beginning of council meetings.  Prayers in parliament will be their next objective. The head of the BBC has recently admitted that Christianity gets less sensitive treatment than other religions. Judges have ruled that gay rights should take precedence over religious beliefs. People have been disciplined by their employers for wearing Christian symbols. Now a government minister has declared that marriage does not belong to the Church, in an attempt to legalize marriage for same sex relationships.  It is said that the Prime Minister supports this. Ann Widdicome, former Government minister, has said that Christianity is under severe persecution. The expressed wishes of the majority of people are being dismissed, while unbelievers pursue their policy of deicide.  This is flying in the face of God.  John Duncan once wrote that “There is no doubt that all sin designs deicide.  All sin is directed against universal being.” We saw the true nature of sin at Calvary where the Son of God was put to death in an attempt to expel Him from his universe, while the leaders of the nation sneered and mocked Him in contempt and the Roman authority bent its laws to hand Him to them. Is it any wonder that, while this policy is being pursued today, we also have abuse of the elderly and children, the elderly are starved to death in some hospitals and attempts are made to introduce euthanasia? A recent article in ‘The British Medical Journal’ by philosopher and medical ethicist Francesca Minerva suggests ‘babies are not ‘real people’ and doctors ‘ should have the right to kill babies that are disabled or unwanted.’ That is not far away from what happened in Nazi concentration camps when the world was outraged by medical inhumanity. As John Duncan said, “All sin is directed against universal being.”

King David of Israel recognized the Lord God at important points in public life.  When he determined to bring back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, He consulted with the leaders of the people but was careful to enquire if it was God’s will.  He said, “If it seems good to you, and if this is from the Lord our God, then let us bring back the ark of our God, for we did not enquire of Him in Saul’s days.” 1 Chronicles 13:2f   For this reason, Saul’s reign ended in tragedy for him, his family and the nation. The Chronicler states this clearly, “Saul died for his unfaithfulness to the Lord because he did not keep the Lord’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance but he did not enquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned his kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” 1 Chronicles 10 13f All the euphoria and promise  of his early days had ended in tragedy on Mount Gilboa with Saul and his sons dead, their bodies carried away by their enemies, the ark of the Lord captured by the Philistines, the nation defeated. and much territory lost.  We have entered a Saul-like period in the life of this nation which can only end in judgment from God and national sorrow and distress.  Unbelievers, like those in Saul’s day will sneer at such a pronouncement.

Israel was not any nation; it was a nation bound by covenant to the Lord God.  And Britain is not any nation, for it too has been bound to the Lord God by solemn covenant for centuries.  And, as God had intervened to protect and prosper Israel at times in its history, so the Lord has defended this nation and caused it to prosper in times past.  And this has been significantly recognized by important leaders of the past.  As recently as the surrender of German forces in May 1945, Field Marshal Montgomery said to his troops, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  But the story goes much further back.

Britain had very early contact with Christianity, maybe even from apostolic times. It received its Christianity directly from Jerusalem, some say through Joseph of Arimathea. Eusebius (AD 260-340), the great historian of the early Church, wrote “The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the Isles called the Brittanic Isles”. Gildas (A.D. 516-570), a Celtic priest and the first British historian stated, “These islands … received the beams of light that is, the Holy precepts of Christ, and the true Sun at the latter part, as we know, of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”. Tiberius Caesar was the Roman Emperor when Christ was crucified. Surely the ‘as we know’ in Gildas’s statement indicates common knowledge. Thus, if Gildas is correct, Christianity was introduced into Britain before A.D. 37. Cardinal Pole (1500-1558), the last papal Archbishop of Canterbury, asserted before parliament during the reign of Philip and Mary that “Britain was the first of all countries to receive the Christian faith”. Gilbert Genebrard, ( 1535 -1597) Archbishop of Aix in France, added this comment, ““The glory of Britain consists not only in this, that she was the first country which in a national capacity publicly professed herself Christian but that she made this confession when the Roman Empire itself was pagan and a real persecutor of Christianity”.  This primacy of the English Church was not always acceptable to churches in Europe and attempts were made to dispute it but it was affirmed by various Councils of the Church in the 15th century at Pisa, Constance, Siena and Basle.

Some think that Christianity came to Britain when Augustine arrived in 596/597 to evangelize the Saxons in a mission given to him by Pope Gregory, but there was a British Christian church long before then which sent representatives to Church councils.  When, under the Pope’s mandate, Augustine set out to consecrate twelve bishops in various parts of the South of England, he was amazed to find that on some western edges of the country bishops and abbots were already ministering.

Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and the British Church eventually came under the authority of Rome.  There were many ups and downs for the Church, especially when the Vikings invaded, but it reached a significant milestone when Ethelred became king of Wessex. In 865 AD the pagan Vikings began their great invasion of England, following previous raids they had made. They came in fleets of longboats sometimes 3-400 vessels at a time and sailed up the rivers to pillage far inland.  At that time England was divided into various kingdoms. East Anglia fell to them that year, followed by Northumbria the following spring.  The kingdom of Mercia in the midlands succumbed next and it seemed that soon the whole country would be overrun.  Only the kingdom of Wessex stood out against them.
But God had a man for the hour.  Ethelred was king of Wessex (847 – 871) and he was a man of God and a man of prayer.  He and his brother Alfred commanded the Saxon army against the Vikings and won a famous victory at the battle of Ashdown in 871 Ethelred died a few weeks later and Alfred became king.  Alfred was of the same spiritual quality as his older brother and eventually overcame the Vikings. When the Danes sued for peace.  Alfred invited Guthrum their king and thirty of his chieftains into his camp where he entertained them for twelve days.  Alfred treated them according to Christ’s commands in Matt 5:44f to love your enemies and it must have made a big impression on the pagan Guthrum, for at the end of the twelve days he emerged from Alfred’s camp a baptized Christian.  This in turn led to a mighty move of God’s Spirit among the Danes and they gave up worship of their god Woden for worship of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Asser, a contemporary of King Alfred wrote a biography of the king.  It supplies most information about those times and it makes clear that Alfred truly deserved the epithet ‘The Great.’ He reorganized the military, built a navy, improved administration, established education, created London as an important centre and reinforced Christian influence, particularly in the common law of England. Winston Churchill in his ‘History of the English people’ says of this period, “We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.” The historian G M Trevelyan described Alfred as “the champion of Christ against the heathen.”

250 years later we meet Henry II (1154 -1189), another great figure in English history. Churchill said of him,” No man has left a deeper mark upon our laws and institutions than he.” He laid the foundations of the English Common Law on which the succeeding generations would build. This was based on Christian principles and there is abundant evidence for this. George Polson Q.C. in a lecture said, “To speak of the Christian content of the Rule of Law is to speak of the Christian content of English Law as a whole.” It was appropriate therefore that when the new law courts were built in the Strand in 1873, a life-size figure of the Lord Jesus Christ was placed over the main entrance. George Polson commented, “This was not put there just as an architect’s folly.  It was put there because of a belief that the administration of the Law in this country is founded on the Christian ethic.” Churchill looked back to the days of Henry II and his immediate successors and declared, “England became finally and for all time one coherent kingdom based on Christianity.”

Alfred’s great grandson was Edgar who became king in 959 and successfully united the English and the Danes as fellow subjects in his kingdom but in 973 his influence greatly increased when the Northern kings also submitted to him at Chester. For some reason his coronation didn’t take place until that year in Bath Abbey on May 11th. It is significant to us because the coronation took a form that has been repeated at every coronation since. The religious inspiration of the coronation, was Solomon’s coronation recorded in  1 Kings The ceremony took place within the context of a religious service of communion and the king was anointed in God’s name to rule in the name of Christ. That service drawn up by Bishop Dunstan became the basis for every coronation since

In 1689 Parliament passed the Coronation Oath Act by which the sovereign entered a covenant with God  and undertook to “maintain the Laws of God the true Profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed Religion Established by Law” When a sovereign is crowned in Britain he/she, with one hand placed on the open Bible, is required to take a solemn oath before Almighty God, “ To uphold by the utmost of my power, the Laws of God within the realm, and the true profession of the Christian Gospel.”  One looks at that statement and wonders what has gone wrong.  How could it be so forgotten as to allow so many laws contrary to God’s law to find their way onto the statute book?  How could a situation be allowed to arise in this country so that Christianity is marginalized and things explicitly forbidden in God’s law are established in law?

 

In the modern coronation ceremony, the Sovereign takes an oath, swearing to govern faithfully with justice and mercy, to uphold the Gospel, and to maintain the doctrine and worship of the Church of England. In 1953, for the first time in this ceremony a Bible was given to the monarch, ‘To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and Gospel of God as the rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes’.

After this the Communion service proceeds and after the Creed the choir sings Veni, Creator Spiritus, the ancient hymn calling on the Holy Spirit. The Sovereign’s crimson robe is then removed and she is seated in the Coronation Chair which is placed facing the altar. Four Knights of the Garter hold a canopy over the Chair and, concealed from view, the Archbishop anoints the Sovereign with holy oil on the hands, the breast and the head. By this anointing, the monarch is solemnly set apart and consecrated for the duties of a Sovereign. Meanwhile the choir sings the anthem Zadok the Priest, the words of which (from the first Book of Kings) have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973. Since the coronation of George II in 1727 the setting by Handel has always been used. The Archbishop then delivers several crown jewels to the Sovereign. First, he delivers the Orb, a hollow golden sphere set with numerous precious and semi-precious stones. The Orb is surmounted by a cross, representing the rule of Jesus over the world; it is returned to the Altar immediately after being received. Next, the Sovereign receives a ring representing the “marriage” between him or her and the nation. The Sceptre with the Dove representing the Holy Spirit and the Sceptre with the Cross are delivered to the Sovereign. As the Sovereign holds the two sceptres, the Archbishop of Canterbury places St Edward’s Crown on his or her head. Then the leaders of the nation swear loyalty to the sovereign in the carrying out of this covenant with God.  So in word, music, worship and insignia the nation’s covenant with God is clearly set out in the coronation of the monarch. Will the unbelievers try to change the coronation service and banish the crown jewels to the rubbish dump?

This is our Christian heritage. Libby Purves, writing in ‘The Times’ newspaper (30/11/1999) about the present state of Christianity, said,”Even atheists should be interested, for Christianity touches everybody every day. In the past thousand years it has been by far the largest single influence on culture, institutions, law, education, and the structure of society in these islands. The Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version hover over our literature, our lawyers and academics are clerically robed, our law enshrines commandments (modern compensation law depends on ‘the neighbour principle’ drawn from the second line of Moses’ tablet).”  She concluded, “Christianity leaves great big footprints over every aspect of national life.” When Broadcasting House was opened in 1931 this statement was placed at its entrance in Latin “This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being director general. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.” How Christian is that! See Philippians 4:8-9

The foundation and fabric of British society is completely Christian. And one could go on to illustrate that influence from medicine, education, social action, the law, and trade-unionism, the struggle against slavery, racial equality and women’s rights.  This is the heritage unbelievers want to destroy and banish from our history.

It is time for us to return to our early thoughts.  Britain is not just any nation.  Like Israel, it is covenanted to God at every coronation and its monarch is covenanted to uphold the Christian religion and laws. Like Israel, God has blessed it greatly, which we may look at in another issue.  But God demands faithfulness from his people.  Scripture shows, as in the case of Saul, Solomon, Jeroboam, Reheboam and a host of other kings and their people, that, if they are unfaithful to Him, judgement follows.  Yet, He is a patient and merciful God and He always holds out the possibility of mercy, if they repent and turn from their evil ways

The Church bears its share of the guilt for today’s national apostasy. It needs to speak a prophetic word to the situation in the nation.  It needs to speak prophetically to every element in society, from top to bottom.  Surely it is time for the leaders of the nation to rise up and lead the people in national repentance and time for the people to turn to the One they have so greatly offended.

In the 1660s London was like Britain today; sin was rampant. God punished London first by the Great Plague in 1665 when thousands of its citizens died.  But when the plague abated, the people returned to their sinful ways.  Then in 1666 the great Fire of London occurred.  It spread throughout the city and consumed everything. 84 churches were destroyed and overnight the wealthy became paupers.  But wise heads saw the spiritual dimension of this. Sir Edward Turner gave a speech before the king at the convening of parliament in which he said, “We must forever with humility acknowledge the justice of God in punishing this whole nation by the late dreadful conflagration of London.” The King, who was much given to sin, responded to this and called for a day “ of solemn fasting  and humiliation to implore the mercies of God, that it would please Him to pardon the crying sins of this nation, those especially which have drawn down this last and heavy judgement upon us..”  We need such leadership from parliament and the monarchy today, for we tread a dangerous path today.