Archive for August, 2019

Bicentenary Celebration of the Birth of Joseph Scriven – Author of “What a Friend we have in Jesus”

August 28, 2019

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On 10th September next it will be 200 years since the birth of hymn writer Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819-1886) and I hope to use the occasion to distribute tracts, based on the title of his beautiful hymn. On Saturday 14th September free hourly bus tours of sites connected with the hymn writer will take place in Banbridge, County Down and these can be booked through the Visitor Information centre in the town. I have a lovely early memory of discovering Corbett Lake; near Banbridge and pictured in the old photograph above, it reminds me that Joseph Scriven’s formative years were spent in this area. Joseph did write other hymns and poetry but I believe that “What a Friend we have in Jesus” is sung universally and has been translated into multiple languages.
I have one very personal and poignant memory of the singing of this hymn. One hot Sabbath summer morning far away on the Greek island of Crete, I was feeling downcast as we tried to find an International Evangelical church in a certain town there. Then somewhere on that street, carried on the warm breeze I heard the sweet strains of music and singing in my own language… “What a Friend we have in Jesus…” In that instant I felt the singing of that familiar hymn and the beautiful name “Jesus” touching my very soul and it brought tears to my eyes; I felt the Lord’s Presence very strongly at that moment.
Indeed the singing of the hymn has touched many a troubled heart over the centuries. Little did Joseph Scriven know when he sat down in his little room to pen a few comforting words to his mother who was going through a time of great sorrow, that in years to come those words would touch hearts all across the world. When a Christian neighbour (who helped Joseph in his later years) discovered the manuscript, he asked him who had written these beautiful words, to which Joseph replied… “I wrote it. The Lord and I did it between us.”
Life’s journey, along with happy times, inevitably also brings trials, temptations, grief and trouble but praise God, Jesus our Saviour is a certain Refuge for all who put their trust in Him. Not everyone wants to know about our sorrows but there is “a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18v24) Unlike earthly friends and acquaintances who may indeed “despise, forsake thee,” this Friend is faithful, loving and caring throughout life’s most troubled and sorrowful moments – and He is but a prayer away.
The Bible tells us that “there is One God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1Timothy 2v5) Do you know this Friend today? He gave His life for you, so that you may have abundant life now – and eternal life in His Presence in the next.
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14v11&12) It is better, surely, to repent of your sin now and ask Him into your heart, while on this side of eternity – than to face Him as Judge on that Day when the small and great stand before Him.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7v21) His will is that you repent, commit your life to Him today, obey His Word and trust Him for all your tomorrows.
What a Friend you will have in Him as Saviour – a Friend and Confidant who will all “your sorrows share,” and a Friend who will “take and shield thee” throughout life. Only in His arms will you find the great “solace” for which you seek.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Look out for Old Bibles in Charity Shops

August 21, 2019

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Here in Ireland when someone passes away, relatives often have house clearances with many old books and even Bibles being deposited in charity shops. I have, on occasions, picked up books which are well over a century old… and sometimes I have found interesting little notes and even faded letters tucked away between those musty pages. In their hurry to dispense with what some thoughtless beneficiaries see as “sentimental rubbish” belonging to the deceased, they either throw the lot on a bonfire or pack it in a box to give away to charity shops.
There are a world of stories, personal life experiences and thoughts to draw on from these findings, I believe, and some old letters or indeed telegrams are of great historical importance and should never be lost. I have a copy of an old telegram written to my great grandfather (whose wife had died some years previously) concerning his only son (my Great Uncle Johnnie) who had been shot in 1920’s New York by someone trying to rob from the business he worked in. He was only in his early twenties and I can only imagine the shock on his father’s face when he received that telegram.
These thoughts sprung to mind when in recent times someone gave me a copy of “Bible Gems… A Birthday Text Book.” This tiny book with its royal blue cover has a Bible verse for every day of the year and also served as a “Birthday Memoranda” in bygone days. One birthday I noted was of an “Arthur Sheppard” who was born in February 1862. There are other names noted, none of which are familiar to me as I believe they are English – not born anywhere here in Ireland. I would like to think that the person who had noted the birthdays, prayed for these people and that the little introduction applied to them…
“They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.”
“Thine for ever! God of love,
Hear us from thy throne above,
Thine for ever, may we be,
Here and in eternity.”
Arthur Sheppard, whoever he was, has long since gone into eternity but here is his name, written in faded handwriting in a tiny book – and I would love to think, in the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” I wonder did he ever think that someone would be writing “online” about him 157 years later… If Arthur Sheppard returned, he would no longer recognise this world now, with all the technological changes that have taken place.
Nevertheless, some things have never changed in this world. Certainly, as I have said in a previous blog, human nature is much the same as it was “back in the day” and these days as depraved as it was in “the days of Noah.” A few months ago in a charity shop I picked up an old Bible, which despite the fact that it contained both Old and New Testaments, was very light in weight, as the pages were so thin. This one was given to a certain young boy as a special prize, presented by a certain “Boy’s Brigade” in May 1943. I find some Bible notes very interesting, but this one contained two tiny handwritten notes… nothing marked on the Bible itself. Whether the young man himself would have written these, I’m not certain and I felt that I should tread carefully by not naming him as there is a possibility he is still alive…
There is nothing sensational about these Bible notes. It’s just that I would be concerned that whoever wrote them all those years ago was perhaps not thinking for himself. On one of them was written: “Don’t hold-up your Bible Class – Uphold it.” Perhaps the young person who wrote this “held up” his Bible study by asking a question and he was told to “uphold it – not hold it up.” Questions are not always welcome in some communal Bible studies and from experience I have seen that some “Bible studies” are more like “dictatorships.”
On the other note was written: “My Bible Class Membership means a pact to act.” I’m not sure exactly what that vague statement meant but deep down I sadly feel that the person who was leading the Bible study may or may not have been a Christian. That sad reality was the same back then as it is today. Praise God, nevertheless, His Word never changes and He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
I remember talking to a lady at a Christian convention in years past, who told me that she had decided that the King James Version of the Bible was “too old fashioned.” “I got myself a new version and threw that one in the bin,” she said. I can’t remember my reaction…. probably just an open-mouthed horrified stare. At least if she had deposited it in a charity shop, someone else could have benefited from it but I will pray that even this discarded Bible will be used somehow to reach someone.
In my own society I feel that materialism has such a grip on people that they are discarding everything that they don’t see as relevant to their affluence in the “here and now.” When a loved one dies, their diary and their Bible notes may well be thrown out in favour of possessions with monetary value. They don’t see the wisdom in learning from the experiences of previous generations, particularly those who truly knew their Lord as Saviour. Also, there are areas of the world today where people are hungering after the Word of God and yearn for their own personal Bible and there are organisations which need used Bibles and good Christian books to take to English speaking areas of Africa and other countries.
If you find old Bibles, do use them prayerfully in your own distribution and witness. Certainly there are migrants living in centres here and in other countries who would benefit from Christian literature in their midst. The Lord said that His Word would not return unto Him void. (Isaiah 55v11) Everything in this material world shall one day be burned up in that Great Harvest of the world – but those unseen attributes which have for their foundation the Person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ shall survive into eternity. Let us use what He has provided prayerfully and to His glory, while it is still day – “for the night cometh when no man can work.” (John 9v4)

Reflections on Greencastle: a Royal Medieval Castle – and Mankind’s Need through the Centuries

August 9, 2019

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I have felt led to produce some tracts on themes of historical interest to give out in the areas where they are situated. The following, written about the lovely ancient Greencastle in Co. Down, is one of those…
Greencastle, like most ancient castles and fortifications throughout Ireland has a colourful history spanning the centuries. Built in the 13th century by Hugh de Lacy in the 1230’s, it guarded the entrance to Carlingford Lough in medieval times. Lying close to the tiny village of Greencastle which now hosts a ferry transporting visitors to and from Greenore in the Republic of Ireland, many famous names in history are associated with it. Hugh de Lacey, John de Courcey, Edward Bruce, Sir Nicholas Bagnall and Oliver Cromwell are just some of those names.
Today the little hamlet of Greencastle, the green pastures and the familiar sight of the castle are somehow comforting to me in a world that is changing too quickly… and not always for the better.
The familiar coastline here and the nostalgic scene of Greencastle surrounded by green pastures, reminds me of childhood days and carefree walks along the sandy shore from Cranfield to visit this beautiful old castle. I am reminded of shared experiences with loved ones who are long since gone…
What stories the stones of Greencastle could tell me if they could speak and yet the ancient battles and human drama associated with it have long since faded into the misty oblivion of historical records. But of course not all historical records can be trusted because of the very nature of mankind…
Yes, famous people down through the centuries of Greencastle’s existence have come and gone. It has been said that human nature is the same in every era. Indeed it is true to say that…. “there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1v9)
Mankind’s need of a Saviour is the same today as it was in 1230. Well over a thousand years before the first stone was laid in Greencastle, the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to give His life for you and me and every other person who was ever born into this world. “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1John 2v2)
Some day, as His Word says, He will return. “Surely I come quickly,” the last recorded words of Jesus tell us in Revelation 22v20. Are you ready for His return – or for the moment when you will depart this life? The Bible assures us that we can be ready – and that we can know that we are ready. We cannot have this assurance in our hearts because of all the good works that we have accomplished. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2v8&9) It is after we trust Him as Saviour that our good works are evidence of a new life begun in Him.
We must firstly acknowledge our sin, repent of it and put our trust in the all atoning sacrifice, once for all, of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary, for He has paid the price for our sins. “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10v17&18)
God is no respecter of persons and the famous people connected with Greencastle, like all of mankind had to die and face judgement: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9v27&28)
Even the ancient solid stones of Greencastle will some day be no more for the Bible tells us that this old world will soon pass away and that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21v1).
But repentance and simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s shed blood at Calvary will stand the test of time and eternity. He longs for you to put your trust in Him alone today, so that you may be ready for that great Accounting Day when the “small and great” (Revelation 20v12) stand before God. May you know the wonderful joy, peace and assurance in your heart of the knowledge of sins forgiven and the promise of a Home in Heaven.