Christianity has in its favour the greatest hymns ever written.
There is no denomination in Christendom that has more superb catalogue to its credit than Anglicanism. So it is with the timeless Christmas classic “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Originally published as a Christmas Day hymn by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), it was included in John Wesley’s Collection “Hymns and Sacred Poems” in 1739. The previous year Charles had experienced a conversion in London on 21 May, 1738 and felt renewed in his faith. Soon he began to spread the good news of the Gospel and write the great hymns he is known for. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” displays that now bygone era and captures Wesley’s new found zeal. It is a glorious hymn.
When I was a boy I used to love listening to it on the opening credits of the 1951 version of Scrooge with Alistair Sim. It has never left me to this day. Unlike many of the shallow and theologically bland chorus’s sung in many independent congregations around the world, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” upholds the fabulous dignity of Biblical splendour. It presents in a glorious array the celebratory narrative of the Incarnate Christ. Inspired largely by the King James Version, Charles Wesley’s original lyrics read like so:
“HARK how all the Welkin rings
“Glory to the King of Kings,
“Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
“GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say
“CHRIST the LORD is born to Day!”
These words were adapted in 1758 by George Whitefield (1714-1770), and read like so:
“HARK! the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconcil’d.
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumphs of the Skies;
Nature rise and worship him,
Who is born at Bethlehem.“
Whitefield’s version was published in 1782 in Tate and Brady’s New Version of the Psalms of David. But the story doesn’t end there. In 1855 musician William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915) gave the song a new lease of life by adding music by Mendelssohn (1809-1847). This is generally the hymn tune we sing today.
Wesley wrote, “Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild, “GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!“. Those original words by Charles Wesley proclaim the pure truth of the Gospel and rightness of the One and only person of Jesus Christ. The only peace that can ever be attained on this earth is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Remember this and never forget, works that have begun, do not always end there. They can go on to future generations and never be forgotten.
This season, go and find yourself a great carol service and sing your heart out until the place becomes unglued. Let the false teachers commence. Let them argue their way into apostacy. Let the world turn in on itself. Let the weak try and rule the strong by fear. Let them try and take away your freedom and right to think. But you, keep yourself unspotted from the world and know that they can never take away your right to sing!
Keep warm this Christmas and sing!
Over recent weeks many people have mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth 11 and since many have written tributes and messages of condolences, I thought I too should write some brief reflections.
In this post I would like to reflect upon my earliest memories of the Monarch and conclude with a brief perspective on her faith.
In the 1980’s (when I was a boy), my parents took me to London. This was a memorable event and seeing that city for the first time was a monumental experience.
I grew up in the north of England and the Lake District was my favourite place on earth. But still, the thought of going to London took my breath away.
It was a warm day when we arrived in England’s capital. I gazed up at Big Ben in awe and wonder. All around me were red telephone boxes and London taxis. ‘The Queen lives near here‘ I thought.
My parents bought me a souvenir. This was a small Britain’s Deetail Queens Guard metal figure. Afterward they took me to the area of Buckingham Palace. These are memories I cherish very deeply.
Back in those days my parents loved the Royal Family and whenever the Queen appeared on television we all sat around and watched. In our home there was never any challenge of those who were in authority, we accepted rules and that was that. But growing up in the north of England was tough and life was difficult. Many working class people hated the lifestyles of the rich and as a youngster I was horrified to learn that a certain group of protesters had thrown eggs toward the Queen during one of her visits to Manchester. Why would they do that I thought?
Times were changing I suppose. But change does not always bring stability and stableness does not always bring change. Life became tougher and the north became a difficult place to live. But for me, Queen Elizabeth 11 remained an enormous presence and gave our nation a sense of hope, identity and continuity.
I will remember Elizabeth 11 with fondness as the only Queen who will ever reign in my lifetime. All of us have been affected in some way by this extraordinary person and all of us will be effected by the Queens absence. As the saying goes you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
When I learned of the passing of Elizabeth 11 on 8th September 2022, I felt chocked. I didn’t believe it. But when I realized it was true, I sat in silence and cried. Perhaps you also felt this way?
On Friday September 9, 2022, I attended an evensong service at Manchester Cathedral and read some of the tributes people had written. There for my first time “God save our gracious King” was sung.
“The removal of the crown, orb and sceptre to be returned to the high alter at the Queen’s committal was full of appropriate symbolism reminding the world that all human authority is on loan from the King of Kings himself and that he is the one who rightly holds all the instruments of power; conferring them for a finite time onto one of his servants before taking them back at the end of their life to pass onto their successor.”
This is perhaps reflected in the choice of a particular hymn sung at her funeral. It was based upon Psalm 121: 1, “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills” a favourite Scripture of Mary Jones who’s story inspired the founding of the Bible Society in 1804.
I believe the Queen will leave behind an enormous legacy to this country. We will never see the likes of her reign again. Like many people, I am very thankful for the commitment, loyalty and uprightness with which the Queen lived out a life of service.
But no matter who we are, rich or poor, blind or lame, weak or strong, all our lives will come to an end. What happens then? For those who live for this life only, life is but a fleeting moment. But those who live for Jesus Christ live for an eternal destiny in glory.
As a Christian I believe all those who are in the faith are brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no inequality in Him. All my life my late mother Joyce, would sing the words of the famous hymn, “I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross, and exchange it some day, for a crown.” It is an eternal truth that in heaven there will be no kings or queens, no rich or poor, no hatred or division, we will all be made equal and we will all wear a crown.
Queen Elizabeth 11 believed that Jesus Christ has made all things new and when He returns the dead will rise again, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5: 29)
Speaking about her faith, in 2011, the Queen said this, “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”
I believe those words are thoughtful, and to be cherished.
As we remember the Queen, please do not forget her faith. Because we all have evil within us and power in the wrong hands can be lethal. We all have the Queens faith to thank for her many years of service and strength. In this world we need peacemakers who are willing to give their lives in the service of others. Let us not forget that as God loves us, He gave us so great a gift, Christ Jesus King of Kings, and without Him we have no hope.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the singularly most important event that has ever taken place since time began. It is such a powerful event that many people have no idea what to make of it. On the one hand some choose to ignore it, while on the other theologians, historians, lecturers, intellectuals, and artists want to explore it.
Artistic representations of the resurrection differ throughout the centuries. The earliest images are believed to be in Rome while later more westernised images appear around the world. Some of these images depict the resurrection in various ways. For many, the resurrected body is presented as clean, and free of scars, yet still containing the nail holes in His hands and feet and the spear hole in His side. While others may present a slightly more rugged body bearing the marks of a crucified man.
In many ways, these artistic representations have conditioned our minds. In the days before film and photography, paintings and stained glass windows served as the earliest cinemas. They presented Biblical stories for artists and Church goers who could not read. In our time Church buildings are not the only representatives of the Bible, movies and television programs have projected Biblical stories into our vision and in many ways have come to dominate how we see the resurrected Jesus. Biblically inspired films often depict the resurrected Christ as One who has suffered the pains of the cross yet risen as a new body with all the scars, wounds, and potential disfigurements airbrushed out. In many depictions the only damage to remain on the resurrected body of Jesus are the nail holes in His hands and feet. Many representations show nothing of the scars left from the crown of thorns, or the scourging, or the damage made to His face and body when He was hit and beaten (Matthew 26: 67, Mark 14: 65, Luke 22: 63-65, John 18: 22. Matthew 27: 27-30, Mark 15: 16-20, John 19: 1-3).
Although the gospels do not give us any graphic details about the passion, Josephus offers insight into how cruel Roman scourging could be and in one incident a man was so severely beaten that his bones were laid bare (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, chapter 5.3).
In my opinion, it is possible that the resurrected body of Jesus still retained the scars inflicted during His passion. Likewise, the whole point of the resurrection is lost if a person assumes Jesus’ resurrected body was not the same body that was crucified. The point of the resurrection is that Jesus rose again in the same body that was crucified and in the same body that died. None of this is denied in the gospels and yet the texts read as though there was something different about the resurrected body. For example, in Mark 16: 12 Jesus appears to two disciples in “another form”. In Luke 24: 13-31 the two people on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Him. Luke claims “their eyes were restrained” until He broke the bread and their “eyes were opened” and suddenly He vanished from their sight. In John 20: 14-15 Mary Magdalene saw Jesus but did not know it was Him and supposed He was the gardener, yet in verse 16 when she turned, she knew it was Him. Yet in John 21: 7 Peter recognises Him.
Clearly there was something different about the resurrected body of Jesus and this is also affirmed in Philippians 3: 21 where Paul describes His resurrected body as “glorious“.
Yet in John 20: 24-29, Thomas will not believe until Jesus shows Him the nail holes in His hands and the spear hole in His side. On this occasion the doors were shut and suddenly Jesus appeared. Thomas sees the wounds with his own eyes and believes, so clearly the physical resurrected body of Jesus still bore the wounds of His crucifixion.
This begs the question: if His body retained the nail and spear holes, could it have also retained the scourge marks and other scars from His beating? It would seem logical to assume if the body retained the nail and spear holes it would retain other scars also, including the marks made by the crown of thorns.
Isaiah 53: 5 does not write about the stripes as though they are going to disappear, but as though by their very existence, we are healed. It is therefore possible that His body bears the marks of His passion as a witness to His death and resurrection.
In conclusion, I believe it certainly is possible that the physical resurrected body of Jesus Christ bore the marks made by the wounds inflicted upon Him when he was beaten, scourged, and crucified. It could help explain why some of the disciples did not recognise Him. Isaiah 52: 14 says “His visage was marred more than any man” so we can agree that after such a horrific beating, His appearance would have dramatically changed from His usual appearance. Also, He would have had a new robe on which would not have been the same garment and tunic He wore normally. His original clothing was destroyed at the crucifixion (John 23-24) This may have also made His appearance appear a little different to the disciples.
It should be noted that all the disciples forsook Him at the crucifixion apart from John, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus. Peter witnessed moments of trial. Both Mary Magdalene and Peter recognised Him, which could mean they knew how much He had been beaten.
Although the gospels make no direct mention of it, I believe it is possible, though I cannot prove it, that the resurrected body of our Lord Jesus Christ retained the scars and marks of the physical damage that was inflicted upon Him as He bled to death for us and our salvation.
It is a picture and a reality of hope, that no matter what life throws at you and how horrible people can be at times, those who believe in Jesus Christ will rise up and follow Him. We too will win in the end.
Believe in Jesus today. He died for you.
Biblical Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient tablet containing what could be the earliest known example of the Hebrew name name of God, Yahweh.
The Tablet was found on Mount Ebal mentioned in Deuteronomy 11: 26, 29.
The ‘curse tablet’ is an extraordinary discovery because it was found on a site believed to be the altar of Joshua. If proven beyond doubt it could be the most significant Biblical find since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946/47.
The use of Hebrew would also predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 1,350 years. Meaning the ancient Israelites had a much more advanced knowledge of Hebrew than modern scholars have thought.
If true the ‘curse tablet’ could prove the Books of Moses were written earlier than modern scholars have claimed. I say this because in recent years many modern sceptics have sought to challenge the claim that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. The use of Hebrew, they say, is too advanced. Yet Jesus said “If you had believed Moses, you would be Me: because he wrote about Me.” (John 5: 46). Clearly Jesus believed Moses was the author of the Torah.
I believe people today have to live with one of the biggest problems in history, they have lost confidence in the Bible. Secularists and revisionist modernisers have sought to drive away peoples trust in the Bible. But God is forever drawing them back.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is yet to be discovered by many people and for believers, telling people the truth about Christ is a little like doing archaeology, we must remove centuries of layers to uncover the truth.
The ‘curse tablet’ is great news in a world hell bent on destroying itself. If proven to be true, it is an excellent discovery. But don’t take my word for it. Look it up, see for yourselves! Have faith and be assured the Bible is true from cover to cover. Go tell someone about Jesus Christ today.
It has been exactly ten years to this very day that I have been presenting Biblically inspired articles on this website. One of my first articles was published on October 18, 2011 on the theme “The Experience of Visiting Biblical Sites” Today, on October 18, 2021, I am continuing to share that joyful experience with my latest documentary.
This documentary is dedicated to my mother Joyce Sutherland, who went home to be with the Lord earlier this year.
I feel now a sense of completion that an era, or particular season, is drawing to to close. Ten years is a long time and I sense somewhat of a closure.
Over the last ten years I have stated many things that I believe, and that I will always do. So as a testimony to my faith, the articles published here will remain and represent a particular era of my life. I have much more to do and see and next year it will be exactly ten years (again) that I have been making Biblical Documentaries. These films simply reflect my personal faith. That will also be made complete.
But as for now, I sense a wind of change. I have said for many years “There’s an East Wind coming” and I believe it has come and will. But for now, as I withdraw to my curtain of silence, I leave you with a quote from THE COLLECT out of the Book of Common Prayer, for this day, October 18, SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST.
“ALMIGHTY God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the soul: May it please thee that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In 1800 Mary Jones set off on an epic journey 26 miles barefoot to buy a Bible. Living in extreme poverty and having worked and saved 6 years, Mary managed to acquire enough money.
In those days Welsh Bibles were very rare, so rare in fact that Mary had to walk 2 miles to nearby farm to read one. In Bala however, a man by the name of Thomas Charles was known to supply them. So Mary, determined to own one followed her heart and her destiny.
In 2018 I was blessed to visit Bala for the very first time. The house where Thomas Charles lived is on the high street and it was here where Mary received the Bible she had so eagerly desired.
Nearby is a museum called Mary Jones World and the grave of Thomas Charles is in the church grounds. Here visitors can learn all about the story and find ways of connecting with it. In our day and age it is not so easy to understand why any person would save for such a long time and walk such a distance to get a Bible, after all you can get a copy anywhere. But this reality is a reality because of Mary Jones herself. Thomas Charles was so inspired by what Mary Jones did, that he helped establish the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. Because of Mary Jones, billions of Bibles have been printed and distributed around the world.
What a wonderful gift.
Mary Jones was an outstanding individual and she followed her election and knew that the Bible was worth more than all the materialistic wealth this world can offer.
But if we look at the world around us, ask yourself a question; have we gotten any better since our nation abandoned the Bible and turned to its own ways? Have we united? Has the Church grown or improved? And what about you, have you improved and made this world any better? Have you found any better ethic than the Sermon on the Mount?
Go out, look at the world around you and see for yourself. Ask the question, are we any better as a nation since they abandoned the very Book that established her values?
Or will you learn the lesson, and take that gift and read it for yourself and believe. All I know is that for all this world can offer, for all her worldviews and all her happenings, the Bible is for me the greatest Book in the world and for all my faults, I know that faith in Jesus Christ is enough to save a man. And prayer changes things!
Over the years I have always known my Sutherland name has implications of Scottish ancestry. Over recent years I have uncovered those details and yes, my Scottish ancestors go back to the ancient Kirk of Scotland, Dunrobin Castle and beyond. But what of my English ancestors on my mothers side?
My mother’s ancestors, on my grandmothers side, descend from Welsh origin through the surname of my great grandfather Henry Jones. Yet my mothers father was English through and through.
This grandfathers surname was Smithies, a direct ancestry that can be traced back to an area in Northern England known as Middleton. Here my English ancestors have direct connections with St Leonards, an ancient parish with a Church on a hill. It was here, at St Leonards, where 16th century reformer John Bradford preached and also directly referenced in his farewell to Lancashire and Cheshire. Bradford pleaded with them “Turn unto the Lord, yet once more – I heartily beseech thee.”
The Church was established in Saxon times and was also the place where the Lindsfarne Gospels and the bones of St Cuthbert were temporally kept. The Church was also attended by the Bamford family, from whom came Samuel Bamford.
At present the baptismal records directly trace my Smithies ancestors to 1658. This is a fantastic discovery for me knowing that I have been walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.
For me, after 35 years of being a Christian, I am resolved to know that in the Church of England I am standing in the right place.
The English word ‘Church’ has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The most common is a building, a place of worship, of bricks and mortar, history, structures and things. The original English word however is derived from the Greek adjective Kyriakos meaning ‘the Lord’s House’.
Church in the New Testament however is from the Greek Ekklesia, meaning Congregation. Tyndale’s 1526 and 1534 Translations immediately spring to mind here. For Tyndale, the Christian Church was never a building or a hierarchy of bishops, popes and prelates, but a collective of equal souls, united in faith and bound together through the Bible. This concept is entirely Biblical, and even though the early New Testament Church did not have the entire Canon of Scripture, they had the Apostles teaching.
For them, the Ekklesia, was not merely a gentile thing, but was known and lived among the Jews.
While there certainly were many ‘Churches’ scattered throughout the cities of the New Testament, most, if not all of them were house Churches. I have visited many ancient sites throughout the Biblical lands and a majority of early ‘Church’ buildings were constructed centuries later. Despite this, the New Testament recognises there is only one Church. The modern ideas of pulling out of one Church and setting up your own is alien to the New Testament. Likewise, the idea of popery and one man leadership is unknown. What we see is a plurality of elders and deacons and a collective of equal souls.
In the New Testament, whether a Church be in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus or Rome, it saw itself as one body. It was a heavenly reality, being built in this world and on this earth, where Jesus Christ is exalted at the right hand of the Father and in the midst of the Church (Hebrews 2: 12) and is head over her (Ephesians 1: 20-23)
Today however, because of false teachers and false doctrine, divisions are as common as muck. Because of circumstances, historic divisions, tribalism, the idea of one Church (in a context) simply does not work. I say this because no person who actually believes the Bible and knows that truth, can abide with a fake unity that excludes truth. As though right doctrine can be set aside, and categorised as unimportant in the cause of unifying people. It really doesn’t work!
But in Acts 21: 20, when they heard they glorified the Lord and many thousands of people believed. Other Churches grew and when Peter wrote his epistles, Churches had scattered to the south coast of Black Sea, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1: 1) and this is in the context of persecution.
Thankfully, in England, we do not have any set persecution. Individuals may seek to undermine the faith and push down conservative values, but that will get them nowhere in the long run. A democratic society must be founded on freedom of conscience, belief and speech, otherwise we are not a democracy. So long as Christians do not attempt to force their beliefs on others, we are free to maintain them. If anyone seeks to force their beliefs and ethics upon us, they are guilty of doing what they condemn others of. Simply let them do their worst and their own extremist mindsets will expose their deeds.
This is actually quite a picture of the Church in the New Testament. Believers lived their lives, had families, met together, and the world did what the world always does. The New Testament Church never persecuted anyone, but visa versa. When read in this context, Romans 13: 1-7 makes perfect sense. The Church influences society, and works with the governments, but does not not rule them.
This is where todays independent Churches have got it right. However, I have come to understand that the idea of independent churches is unknown to the New Testament. Christ did not say I will build my churches but “I will build My Church…” (Matthew 16: 18). New Testament Churches may well have been established in various cities, but they were still part of one Church.
Thus, to answer my question, are independent Churches in the New Testament? My answer is no. But again, that is just my opinion.
Recently I had the honour of finding two historic relics connected to the ancient Parish Church of Deane. These wooden artefacts are mysterious and contain distinct wood carvings and contain the dates 1632 and 1760.
But what could they be? Well, as the picture shows they appear to be designed as frames to display items. This implies the intention behind these designs may well have been to hold objects of historic or cultural significance. Another possibility is that they were designed to hold family portraits and wood from two buildings that have survived the passage of time.
When these relics were brought to my attention, I recognised the reference to Deane Church. I immediately contacted Lee Higson (CVM, Lay minister C of E) and local Church historian Eric Morgan. Upon viewing the second relic I recognised a link. The reference to Peel Chapel implied these relics were artefacts preserved from internal structures and a building that has long disappeared. Peel Chapel was built in 1760 and demolished in 1874, and was a daughter Church of Deane.
The artefacts read:
“Relic of Deane Church 1632“
“Relic of Peel Chapel 1760“
The word relic is an interesting one and can have multiple meanings. The most common usage refers to venerated items of a saint. The church of Rome for example has many examples of relics allegedly connected to passages of Scripture or the lives of saints. In that context they are generally regarded as First, Second or Third Class Relics. Another usage is Contact Relics. However, I do not believe these items have anything to do with these classes or distinctions.
I believe these artefacts are what is known as Cultural Relics. This means the items are part of something that has long disappeared. They are basically keep sakes, recycled from historic structures of Deane Church and Peel Chapel.
These finds are thrilling and a special moment for any historian or history fanatic. For me, finding these relics was an extra special delight since Deane Church is the ancient place of worship once attended by George Marsh (1515-1555). As a Curate, Marsh ministered in this very Church, and is also the subject of a historical biographical documentary I released in 2014. Although there is no evidence the relics relate to Marsh, a 17th century Puritan link is possible.
Bolton and Deane was known historically as the Geneva of Lancashire and the tradition that 17th century Puritans would often get together and read the letters of George Marsh is widely established. These meetings are said to have taken place around the Noon Hill, Rivington Moor area. It should be noted that 1632 (the date on the relic) was the date when Charles 1 issued a charter for the colony of Maryland and 1620-1640 is the official timeframe for the Puritan Migration to New England. Maybe the first of the two relics are connected to structures or pews once used by Puritans in Deane Church?
These relics have now been returned back to the C of E. But what these relics are is a matter for research and discussion. How they will contribute to the history of Deane Church and Peel Chapel remains to be seen.
What can be certain is that finds like these can inspire hope that there is a future within the Church of England.