From Horsepower to Rolls Royce
Someone has said, Imagine you had never driven a car before. In your village all you have are horses and carts. A car appears one night in a field. No one quite knows what to make of it. Eventually, seeing it has wheels, people decide that it must be a vehicle of some sort. So they hitch it to a team of horses and drag it around.
The folk driving the horses are proud to have cracked the problem, and to be “driving” the car. But of course they are not doing anything of the sort. Driving the car needs quite a different set of skills. In the beginning, when someone suggests that, no one else wants to listen. It could be dangerous. It sounds crazy when all you are accustomed to is horsepower.
Coming to God directly, in the name of Jesus Christ in prayer, or hearing God speak personally to you through the Scriptures which have been translated into your own language, or receiving from God immediately strength and grace to help in times of need, or personally knowing your sins have been forgiven and you are going to heaven saved by the precious blood of Christ – such things seemed very dangerous in the entire church 500 years ago.
It was impossible to get anywhere without the horse of Mother Church, said Rome. Martin Luther’s great contribution was to teach people to live by faith, trusting personally in God day by day. Living the Christian life is the same as learning to drive the car by activating its own inner horsepower, rather than chaining onself to the energy derived from priests and altars and confessional boxes and rituals and penances. A new birth, from above, creates new life with new resources in every single Christian. Such power is channelled aright by the holiness of the indwelling Spirit and the wise counsels of the enduring Scripture.
Bartholomew F. Brewer was raised in a home where his mother attended daily Mass, not missing even one day for over twenty-four years. He says, “Our family faithfully recited the rosary every evening. We were encouraged to make regular visits to the ‘blessed sacrament” (“Far From Rome, Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Roman Catholic Priests” edited by Richard Bennett and Martin Buckingham, Banner of Truth, 1994, p.17).
Then his mother began to deal with God directly, reading the Bible avidly, and expressing the longing that there be more biblical emphases in the Roman church, more attention to the spiritual aspects of life and a greater emphasis upon Jesus, even a personal relationship with him. Bartholomew F. Brewer had become a priest and marvelled at the changes in the life of his mother. As they discussed the teaching of the Bible he saw increasingly the difference between New Testament truths and that of the Roman church.
Mrs Brewer left the Church of Rome and it was not long before Bartholomew had joined her but he was still not a Christian. He says, “Through reading the epistles to the Romans, Galatians and Hebrews I finally understood that I had been relying on my own righteousness and religious efforts and not upon the completed and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic religion had never taught me that our own righteousness is fleshly and not acceptable to God, nor that we need to trust in his righteousness alone. He has already done everything that needs to be done on behalf of the believer. Then one day in church the Holy Spirit convicted me of my need to repent and receive the gift of God.
“During all those years of monastic life I had relied on the sacraments of Rome to give me grace, to save me, but now by God’s grace I was born spiritually: I was saved. Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, like the Jews of Paul’s day, I had gone about establishing my own righteousness, not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom.10:2-3)” (ibid. p.25).
People who hitch a car to a horse and tug it about are not driving a car though they may use that language. Any men who think they have Omnipotence under their control and can by costume and ritual dispense God to others are deluding themselves and all they influence. Learn of God. If anyone is in Jesus Christ he – and he alone – is a new creation.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]