Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Four bits of advice, taken from a puritan journal

Proverbs 10:7 tells us that "The memory of the righteous is blessed". That is one of the best arguments for the study of church history that I know of. We are often blessed by studying the lives of past saints.

Such is the case with puritan minister Richard Rogers (1551-1618), who flourished during the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. I have drawn four practical applications from the following excerpt, taken from Rogers's diary, and dated December 22, 1587:

"The 6 of this month we fasted betwixt our selves, min[isters], to the stirringe upp of our selves to greater godlines. Veary good thinges we gathered to this purpose, ef[esians] 1:1-2, and then we determined to bringe into writinge a direction for our lives, which might be both for our selves and others. And till we ended all the time passed frutfully."

1. Rogers arranged regular meetings with his colleagues in ministry, so that they could encourage one another and pray for one another. Do you have a small group of peers who are sincerely seeking to follow Christ, with whom you meet on a regular basis? The writer to the Hebrews urged believers to fellowship often (10:25).

2. On this occasion, Rogers and his friends fasted and prayed together for a common purpose. Fasting and prayer are biblically-ordained helps for the Christian life. They can be especially powerful, I believe, when practiced by a group of believers (see Acts 13:1-3).

When was the last time you were challenged by a fellow Christian (or by your pastor) to do something difficult for the sake of Christ? When was the last time you challenged another Christian to this? Such a challenge carries more weight when the one making it is willing to participate, obviously.

3. Rogers and his friends made Scripture the basis of their gathering. Notice that they focused on Ephesians 1:1-2, and found encouragement from that passage. Is the Word of God at the center of your spiritual life? Do you reflect on what you read, and respond to it in your thoughts and behavior? The man or woman who does so is blessed (Psalm 1:2; James 1:22).

4. In the case of Richard Rogers and his fellow ministers, spiritual refreshment led to spiritual service. They decided, after reading Scripture, praying, fasting and having fellowship together, that they would write up a spiritual guide to edify themselves, and the wider church. Rogers himself was appointed to write this guide, and it was published, 15 years later, as a spiritual manual called Seven Treatises (1603).

Does the encouragement you receive through your time in the Word, in prayer, or with other believers lead you to give back to God, and to others? Paul said that the love of Christ compelled him to minister to others (2 Cor. 5:14).

The journal excerpt above may be found on page 69 of Two Elizabethan Diaries, by Richard Rogers and Samuel Ward, edited, and with an introduction by M. M. Knappen (1933).

Monday, January 21, 2008

From the 'Sun God' to the 'Son of God': Equiano's Journey

(Photo: Portrait in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; posted on Wikipedia)

Today is Martin Luther King day in the United States so it is a fitting time to remember someone who helped to set the stage for the civil rights movement some two hundred years before Dr. King. If you saw the William Wilberforce bio-pic, Amazing Grace, you remember the character of Olaudah Equiano. Well, soon after that movie came out I bought the Penguin Classics edition of Equiano's The Interesting Narrative for about £1 at a second hand book shop here in Edinburgh. It is a fitting title.

There is a lot that can be said about the man and the book. Equiano was born in 1745, in a region he referred to as Essaka, which is in southeastern Nigeria. His father was a chief or 'elder' in his village and Equiano remembered a comfortable early childhood. Strangely enough, he also remembered his own tribe selling slaves to slave traders (the slaves he remembers were prisoners of war, criminals, and 'adulterers'). There were also 'slaves' in his own village. But he was quick to show the difference between the humane treatment their servants received as compared to the brutality of the plantations of Virginia and the West Indies.

He vividly remembered seeing men walking past the village, [carrying] great sacks along with them'. He had no idea then that he would soon be bound and carried away in one of those sacks. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of ten. The book recounts all of the experiences leading up to the point when he was able to purchase his freedom in 1766 while living in the West Indies. After attaining his freedom he eventually resided in England where this account of his 'slave journey' became wildly popular.

The Narrative also chronicles Equiano's spiritual journey. He remembered the religion of his youth which included '...tossing a small quantity of food in a certain place for the spirits of departed relations' (p. 35). His people believed '...that there is one Creator of all things, and that he lives in the sun, and is girded round with a belt, that he may never eat or drink; but according to some, he smokes a pipe, which is our own favourite luxury.' (p. 40).

While in slavery he heard stories from the Old Testament many times. He began to see a 'strong analogy' between 'the customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews before they reached the Land of Promise.' (p. 43). As he began to grasp the elements of the Gospel, he saw a huge disparity between the message of Christ and the 'Christian' slave trade. In one striking passage, as he looked back on his experiences, he wrote:

O, ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God? [The God] who says unto you Do unto all men as you would men should be done to you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? (p.61).

Despite the tragic examples he witnessed, The Lord softened Equiano's heart to the truth of the Gospel, at which point

I thought I could very plainly trace the hand of God, without whose permission a sparrow cannot fall. I began to raise my fear from man to Him alone and to call daily on his holy name with fear and reverence...[and He] graciously condescended to answer me according to His holy word, and to implant the seeds of piety in me, even one of the meanest of His creatures. (p.88)

At one point in his travels he was in Philadelphia at the same time that George Whitefield was preaching in a small church there. Equiano pressed in among the crowd to watch him preach and said that he saw 'a pious man exhorting the people with the greatest fervour and earnestness, and sweating as much as I ever did while in slavery on Montserrat.' (p. 132).

As for his relationship to the civil rights movement in the United States, there is not a direct correlation. But one passage made me think of non-violent resistance and the tenor of the civil rights 'marchers' in the 1960s.

In the midst of [anxious] thoughts, I therefore looked up with prayers anxiously to God for my liberty; and at the same time used every honest means, and did all that was possible on my part to attain it. (p. 119).

Equiano's first person narrative of his slavery and freedom had an effect on the anti-slavery movements in England that was similar to the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass on the abolition movement in the United States. Although the civil rights movement owes a great deal to champions like Martin Luther King, Jr., it is also helpful to remember the battles that were fought and won hundreds of years before.


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