“Let your lives Preach”

(This article first appeared in The Call in 2008)

The title of this article is, of course, the words of our ancient Friend, George Fox.

We do not give GF’s words great prominence for one good reason – one of which GF himself would have approved. It is not him whom we preach, but Christ Jesus crucified, raised, living as the Head of the Church.

But GF is one of our respected fathers and mothers in the Lord, a faithful apostle unto death, and the man who first articulated the doctrines and testimonies to which we have been drawn by the Lord.

Fox’s words quoted above have, by a later generation, been deliberately and prominently misquoted. On a rock popularly called “Fox’s Pulpit”, up on Firbank Fell, in Northern England, a plaque has been fixed, bearing the false words – “Let your lives speak”. These words Fox did not say! His true words had a specific content and context.

They were addressed to the church, to the assembled and gathered people who heard and obeyed the voice of the Shepherd. Each of these four words had its own import, its own significance. Taken as a whole, they were a prophetic utterance as truthful and faithful today as they were when they were first spoken.


Scripture says: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.” (Thessalonians 5:19,20)

There is one God, who is the same to all, whose fire is, to the faithful, a refining and purifying fire, and, to the unfaithful, a consuming furnace. He is Light to all, and enlightens all, revealing and convicting of sin. To those who will turn their eyes to the Light, he is a guide and a way; to those who turn away, he continues a reproach and a condemnation. This Light is in all men, and is there to be regarded and heeded. But some – even those who profess – do not obey.

The word “Let” reminds us that we must co-operate, obey, submit, accept that reproach and conviction for our sins, turn our eyes to the Light. It takes our active participation. It takes our willingness to let the idol of self slip from our hands. It takes our reaching to take up the cross instead.

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, reminds the church that no self-consciousness, no desire to submerge into the world and to fit in, is an excuse for ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and others, nor the clearest leadings to speak as directed by God. Hence the importance of GF’s first word in his famous phrase.


This simple word is addressed to the church as a communal whole, and to each member individually. Each one is responsible for his or her own life, and the community for the community’s. the command of Christ, expressed simply here by GF, is direct to each one of us and to all.


This is an all encompassing word. Apologists for modern quietism say that this as-near-as forbids one from speaking out; but rather one should pursue only salvation by works, without faith. Let them read the letter of James, and see what that apostle witnesses about faith and works.

One’s life, and our lives as a church, includes everything we do – working, eating, sleeping, resting – yes, and speaking, and writing!

In Christ’s own words: Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) and tellingly, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32,33)

Oh what volumes these simple words say about remaining silent!


Preach what? What does the word mean?

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” (Matthew 24:14)

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature… And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:15 and 20)

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15)

Has ever anything been more clearly stated? By word and deed, the very existence of the church, its whole prophetic purpose to the world is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not to “speak” of worldly values, but to preach the Gospel.

So, friends, let your lives preach!

The First Motion

This article first appeared in The Call in 2007

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

A few years ago a Friend, dressed in a grey suit without any lapels, a white stock, and a broad-brimmed, grey hat, attended a meeting. It was not a regular meeting for worship, but rather a gathering that had been called to consider and discuss the Gospel message that had been entrusted by the Lord to George Fox and his generation of Friends. There were a couple of able and  knowledgeable speakers who gave a good account of this, of the theology behind it, and of their own faith.

Not all those attending received it well, although all listened with respect and patience. The gathering, though open to all-comers, was taking place at a liberal meeting-house where, these days, the Name of Jesus Christ is usually not spoken of, and when it is there can be a hostile reaction.

Half way through the day, there was a break for lunch. Trestle tables were pulled out, and bring-and-share fare set upon them. Thanks was returned, and the meal began.

While everyone was eating, the person sitting opposite the plain Friend asked him why he dressed that way. Make no mistake, this was a challenge; in liberal meetings there is a current of intellectualism, and therefore a love of debate. The Friend sensed this, paused, and asked the Lord what he should say. The Lord, true as ever to his promise, gave the Friend the necessary words.

He spoke one word – “Love”.

That one word, unexpected as the opening gambit of a debate, silenced the questioner, and gained the attention of everyone at the table. The Friend was not debating, he was bearing witness, speaking of what he knew. He went on somewhat thus:

“The Lord had shown me so much love, that I was moved to share it with others, and to share what I had experienced, and to show them how much I love God in return, how much I love them, how much he loves them. I found that I couldn’t do this if it was easy for me to submerge into the crowd. My everyday clothes were a kind of a camouflage, a temptation for me to fall back into my old ways, and become again what I was before I experienced God’s love, before I realized and acknowledged in my own heart how much he loved and loves me.

I prayed. I asked God for guidance, and he led me to this witness. He led me to wear clothes which marked me out as different, as someone who did not share the world’s values. But they were not clothes which said ‘Look at me’, they were and are only a means to an end. And I thank God… and I thank thee friend…” (turning to the person who had first addressed him) “… for giving me this opportunity to speak of my experience.”

The Friend’s opportunity extended through that meal-time and for some time after. Everyone who heard stopped to listen, no one offered any objection, no one offered any counter-argument, no one objected to his speaking of God and Christ. The liberal folk set a great deal of store by “personal experience” and therefore could not speak against the Friend, because all that he said was from experience. And no one could speak against love!

William Penn said, “Love is the hardest Lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.”

John Woolman, describing his leading to travel amongst the Native American peoples, said, “Love was the first motion…”

Friends, do you understand God’s love to be at the root of everything you do and say? Do you know it to be the first motion – the most immediate and important driving force – in your life? When asked, what can you say? Are you children of God’s Light, and have you walked in that Light? And does what you say, and do –  everything you bear witness to by word or action – come inwardly from God, from what you know of him, from your experience of his love?

Fear not, little flock

This article first appeared in The Call in 2006.


I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.”

Ezekiel 34:14-16

We are a small people, scattered throughout the UK and the wider world. Although spiritually we trace our existence back to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting disciples in Jerusalem, through the centuries to the awakening of George Fox, through the assaults upon the Truth which were resisted by the likes of John Wilbur in America and John G Sargent in Britain, through the independent existence of the Friends meetings of Bournbrook and Fritchley, as a contemporary organisation we date from 1993, when our discipline was drafted.

Since then we have held our yearly and half-yearly meetings fairly consistently. Certainly since 1995 there has been at least one regular, local meeting for worship in Jesus’ name (Goshen, in Scotland). By the Lord’s grace we have survived; we have carried a small but still-burning lamp.

We have attracted to us, and brought to the feet of Jesus, many individuals who have found fellowship through The Call. We have provided a Friend in Finland with a certificate to say he is one of our number, thus enabling him to bear witness against military service, to the Glory of the Lord. We have welcomed a little worshiping community (Richland-Ashland Friends) into fellowship with us. In so many little ways, the Lord has let us serve Him. We praise His name.

One of the most difficult issues in our witness and theology, is the Apostasy. With love, we say that as much as the non-professing world is fallen, so professing Christendom has fallen away from the Truth, abandoned principle and experience in favour of institutionalism, liberalism and dry bibliolatry. This is a big claim, and it seems arrogant of a little body to make it.

A Friend, often quoted, said of the Church that it consisted solely of “those who hear and obey the voice of the Shepherd”. Do we hear His voice? And if we do, what do we say to those who challenge us that “it must be a poor and weak Gospel which makes so little inroad into the Apostate world”?

The witness of the Friend whose writing came before us recently was this: that Scripture itself tells of apostasy, from Genesis when Adam and Eve were disobedient and were expelled from Eden; through Exodus where the Children of Israel bowed before a golden calf; through all the books of Chronicles and Kings, where so-and-so “did evil in the sight of the Lord”; through the exhortations of the prophets to Israel to turn back to the Lord; to the books of the Evangelists who tell as much of those who did not believe in Jesus Christ as of those who did; through the letters of Paul and the other Apostles which exhort believers to keep the faith and to avoid false prophets and those who would cause a schism in the Church; right to the book of Revelation, which tells how humankind is finally winnowed as God’s creation is wound up.

Faced with that great witness we may, if we stand on God’s sure ground and speak what He gives us by His Holy Spirit, that the Scriptural history of apostasy continued until the present day. It afflicted and afflicts not only those who do not believe and do not profess to believe, but in a great part those who do!

To whom does it fall to call the world, and especially professing Christendom out of apostasy? The same body that is called upon to preach the Gospel – the only body that can preach the Gospel – the body whose very existence itself preaches the Gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ.

Are we that Church? God will judge that.

We do know that we feel His favour, that some of us have been led to labour in His name, to speak in answer to His urging, and above all to keep alive our little flock by feeding on Him, hoping that all has been according to His plan, His will, and to His glory. We seek none for ourselves.

The number of small meetings which independently come together to wait upon the Lord has been growing in the UK. Not all of these use our discipline, or call themselves by our name. Some folk use the conservative discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting, others came together from and interest in the work of the New Foundation Fellowship. But they are all folk whom we know and love, people whom we visit, with whom we worship. They are, one and all, folk who have turned their backs on the apostasy of the world, as we have. We may not share a name, but we share the Name, above which there is no other.

There is much questioning amongst these independent meetings as to whether they should bond together, and be one recognised body. The Call does not pre-empt business carried out under the Lord’s ordering. However, we are sure that we will be called upon to bring before them the few loves and fishes that we have, to offer them in love, and to hope that the Lord will bless them, and feed us all with them.

The commandments of Christ.

(The following address was found in the files of The Call and is reproduced here in edited form. The author’s name has not been recovered.)

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another

John 15:15-17

For a Christian to be humble is to yield ones self to God, to surrender one’s own will to God’s will, to let go of our ‘self ‘ and let the Lord work through us. It is not to be hiding from the world nor is it to be a cowering figure afraid to speak truth, for fear of reproach.

It is to live a life   filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and the strength of God, and to speak God’s truth as and when it is given us to speak regardless of what may be thought of it. This is not arrogance, it would only be so if we spoke from our own will instead of the Lord’s will. It is to be cleansed by Christ of our own selfishness and desires, to lead a simple life, unfettered by the world’s vanities, fashions, values, or agendas and to give our lives over to the will of the Lord: to act as the Lord leads us, to speak as the Lord bids us. To be humble is to be rid of ‘self’, to seek for nothing for ourselves, nor to gain anything other than what the Lord wills for us, for is it not written: He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

A simple life is an inner life, a life lived in the spirit, a life of spiritual poverty, desiring only to serve the Lord and to be content in this, to spend our life cleansing all that the Light of Christ holds up before us, all that lies within us which creates a barrier between ourselves and Christ. Humility is accepting that we need to change and to be changed, and to be emptied of all that opposes such change. For such change to occur we must be filled with the Love of God and the Holy Spirit. But how can we be filled when there is no space within us due to the accumulation of so much that keeps us from seeing God. The Lord cannot light up the temple if the temple is not a fit vessel. What is already full of sin must then  be emptied out as the light of Christ blazes up within us to do the work on each of us that needs to be done. To paraphrase early Friends, sin must be eradicated, Satan must be banished from our lives by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Such a humility implies trust, a trust in the Lord, and acceptance of God’s grace. If we did not trust we would not be willing   to surrender ourselves to the Lord’s care, for to do so requires us to live a life of uncertainty as to where we will be led. Only trust or faith in the Lord enables us to embrace such a life.

A trust such as this is only possible with a great Love of God, who in turn loves all, and dwells within all, waiting for us to turn to his light and seek him out. We are called to love as God loves, open and accepting to and of ourselves and others, even our enemies. We are called to judge, (but not to condemn for that is the Lords right only) but only when we do so as a servant of the Lord, for if we judge on our own will then we judge as the world judges and we sin. When we judge in the Lords will we speak God’s truth and do the Lord’s work. To judge is the speak God’s truth to the world, it is not to condemn but simply to speak the truth. When we judge we act from a  knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, we know that something or someone is contravening God’s law and we are called to speak out. The act of turning to Christ in our lives is a judgement upon the world and its ways. For we are saying that the worlds ways are not the Lords ways, they are not The Truth, and we will not follow the way of error nay longer. So, to turn to Christ is to turn to the truth and speak this truth to the world and to ‘judge ‘ in that sense of the word.

For judgment through our own will is self righteousness and is not the Lord’s voice. It is always easier to see wrong doing in others than in  ourselves  this is why Christ admonishes us when he says to those who have not yet found their way to  God, “How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye, when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

When we seek to address someone regarding a matter of concern we should do so whilst speaking from the Lord, otherwise we are hypocrites

Christ’s Love exemplified ultimately this love when he sacrificed himself to redeem the world and show us the way to God. His Love was for all, even those who condemned him – his enemies – how can we love less than this and still call ourselves His Friends or disciples!

His Love was so great he asked for those who condemned him to be forgiven, he did not ask for vengeance or judgement upon those people. This Love demands that we do like wise in loving one another and loving our enemies, and leaving condemnation to the Lord.

This Love is not an airy, superficial love, it does not imply that ‘anything goes’ as in the period of the 1960’s for example-do what you will was the prevailing belief, or today with quick fix man made religions/new age systems of belief. This love is a life changing powerful love, lived out and expressed in accordance with Scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit and It is the failure to live in this way that has brought the world to it’s present state, a disobedient people turned from God’s truth and destroying Gods creation.

The world chooses the delusion that needs will be satisfied in full by technology and science, yet the real need is ignored, spiritual need from which all others needs are truly met.

Love means caring about others, this means that Love may sometimes demand of us placing ourselves in the firing line or, giving a stern word or rebuke as the occasion demands, or be seen as politically incorrect by others/society. However, in the world today the emphasis is on individualism, and ‘individual rights’ and it runs counter to the societal norm for anyone to speak out in a way that is seen as diminishing this notion that  as individuals we can behave as we please and no one has a right to gainsay what we do or say. As Christ’s ‘Friends’ we may well be called to speak out on matters that contravene God’s laws regardless of what others think of this.

This type of individualism however runs counter to serving God, as this means pursuing one’s own way without God’s guidance and setting up modern forms of idolatry and false Gods – money, ambition, success, egoism, inappropriate use of and reliance on technology. The world has not changed much since the time of Christ except that there are fewer people of faith today than then. To paraphrase early Friends again, Satan still stalks the earth, evil is abroad in the world, and the Lamb’s war continues though his army seems fewer in numbers today.

The Gospel of Christ is probably even more necessary today than at any time in our history. If we see someone acting in a way as to cause harm to himself or others Love may demand us speak out – not in judgement but to point out the error in their conduct for the benefit of all concerned so that they do not cause harm through ignorance of what they are doing and its consequences. For example, a child putting its hand up to a pot of boiling water, the parent may shout at the child and grab its hand with force, causing the child to cry. But such an act is done with love, not seeking to distress or hurt the child, but to prevent the causing of serious harm. God loves us the same way, he may rebuke us, or deal us a strong lesson because he Loves us and wants to free us from sin and error which prevents us from coming closer to him.

God in turn demands of his people, that in obedience to his call, they rebuke and act to free others from sin and error in order to lead them closer to God. We are called to return blows with love, to the world this seems an odd response, but to do otherwise only perpetuates cycles of violence, retaliation which are forms of sin, and conflicts with Christian Love and Christ’s command to keep the commandments of Moses, and to Love one another, and forgive our enemies. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

If we are wronged we can speak out in response to the other party with Love but still speak with determination, resolution, and judgement (God’s Truth). We can speak the truth in our defence when someone wrongly accuses us of an offence as Christ did to the Pharisees and others, we can also be clearly determined in the nature our responses as when Christ drove the money lenders from the temple, which too was an act of Love. If our own lives are to be temples for the Lord to dwell in, they must be cleansed of all that stands in the way of the Lord touching our lives enabling the  in pouring of the Love of Christ. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” But we must first seek that spirit within us, turn to the light of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and clear away the debris that conceals it from us. We must cast out Satan from our lives as The Lord cast him out of Heaven.

The commandments of Christ all hinge around Love, which is many faceted, it can take the form of tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, rebuke, challenge, anger (it is fine to be angry so long as we express our anger in the Lord’s will ,without hate or malice). Christian Love is not a call to lay down and hide or to be weak willed, it calls us to stand up and be counted amongst God’s children and possibly receive ill responses from others for doing so, it can lead us to be in places and do things we feel uncomfortable with, but need to be done, the lives of the Apostles reflect this. Love calls us to practice in our daily lives the commandments of Christ and not to compromise them to accommodate the world or to ‘fit in’ with the world, or to adjust them to be politically correct and conform to the latest social and political agendas. Love will lead us to a more intimate relationship with our Lord and Saviour, to find great joy even in our tribulations, and to a deeper more meaningful love for life and all creation.

My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.

Proverbs 3:1-8

News of Friends’ Meetings

The Meetings page has been updated to include details of a worshipping group of Friends in London.

Also worth mentioning is the Ripley Quaker Meeting in the Midlands, a thriving meeting of faithful Friends.

We are certain that the Lord will bless these groups of believers.

My Lord and My God

(reproduced from a lead article in The Call, issue 2004/2)

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” [John 20:6,7]

The world of religious relics is a mysterious and controversial one, and has been so for many centuries. One of the most famous relics is lodged in Turin, and purports to be an ancient burial shroud. When tests upon this cloth revealed what appeared to be the image of a bearded man with bloody marks on his body and head as if from scourging and a crown of thorns, wounds on his hands and feet as if from crucifixion, and a wound in his side as if from a spear-thrust, there was much excitement. Was this, as Roman Catholic devotees claimed, the shroud which had wrapped Christ in His tomb?

When more tests, including carbon-dating, suggested that the artifact was no earlier than medieval, many people were not surprised. The middle ages were, it seems, awash with dubious relics – pigs’ bones masquerading as those of apostles, enough nails supposedly from the crucifixion to melt down and make a warehouse full of kettles, and so on. In the case of the Turin shroud, one could only marvel at the subtlety and ingenuity of the fake. Certainly the features of the man accorded with medieval ideas of Jesus’ face – bearded rather than the clean-shaven man of earlier icons – and that lent weight to the view that the shroud was bogus.

However, that was not the end of the story. Historical record showed that a box in Oviedo, in Spain, had been there several centuries before the now-established date of the Turin shroud. In that box was a small piece of cloth, said to have wrapped Christ’s head. When test were carried out of that piece of cloth, there were indications that the available DNA matched that retrieved from the shroud. The dating of the shroud was in doubt once more!

More detective work was done on the shroud – for example, how it must have been folded when it suffered water damage, which gave some clues as to how it had been stored. One of the more startling finds was some stitch-work in the shroud which was typical of that found only in 1st century Judea!

That is how things stand in what can only be considered a fascinating endeavour of religious archaeology. But what if it could be taken further? What if the archaeological equivalent of, say, Joseph of Arimathaea’s laundry-mark was found on the shroud, or a provenance for the Oviedo kerchief in the handwriting of the apostle Peter? Would that confer any kind of legitimacy on the current holder of either relic? Would either suddenly acquire miraculous properties? Would either prove what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Jesus?

All of the above would be claimed – make no mistake about it – but the answer to the above questions is certainly “No”. Would there be, notwithstanding, and increase in religious fervour, attracting new devotees to the relics? Almost certainly yes!

But consider the apostle Thomas, who would not believe in the resurrection, until he had seen and touched Jesus. Upon seeing his risen master, he said, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” [John 20:28,29]. On one level, this is clearly a call to people to believe without any experiential evidence. But the nature of Thomas’ belief is astonishing, and the way it brings him to his knees before Christ is little understood.

One could arguably call Thomas the first Christian. He was totally overthrown by his experience. It went deeper than simply touching Jesus’ body – he himself was touched by something more profound than a mere physical experience, more convincing than a persuasion to intellectual belief. Thomas was the first believer truly to acknowledge Christ as the Word of God, who was with God and was God. What a stupendous thing for someone born and raised in Judaism to address Jesus thus. And Jesus does not rebuke him for that, knowing that the Truth has been revealed to Thomas. No one can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit [Phil 2:11].

Christ’s words do acknowledge Thomas’ belief, in all its spiritual depth. And, yes, they commend those who believed the accounts that Mary and Peter brought back from the garden, and those that come to believe now without physical proof. But they are also a call to the depth of belief that Thomas experienced, to calling out “My Lord and my God”! This is a realisation of the very thing that Jesus told his disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].

We are called by Christ to open ourselves to this deep, spiritual reality, in which we will know, by the Holy Spirit, that He is our “Lord and God”, by that very spiritual work in us that worked in Thomas. For those whom Christ gathers unto Himself in this way, there is no need to lay their hands, remotely, upon His wounds, by seeking a piece of cloth or some other relic – as there is no need for the light of sun or moon in the New Jerusalem. Blessed are those who, without such outward things, nevertheless come to the belief and faith of Thomas, and doubt no more.

Sin no more

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

(John 8:3-11)

The familiar story above is known to us principally from John’s gospel, where it appears in the King James Bible and others. It does not appear in the Greek text of Vatican manuscript 1209, which is perhaps the most referred-to, but does appear in other Greek texts in that position. Some translations omit it entirely, others place the passage after John 7:36, others after John 21:24, others still insert it after Luke 21:38. It can be argued that it does not sit easily in these narratives anywhere, and is a record of an isolated incident.

Some gain-sayers who hold the whole of John’s gospel to be a hoax, written by Judaic detractors to counter the other gospels, and to discredit Christ (an astonishing claim in the first place!), cite the story as showing, simultaneously, his indecision and his collusion with the woman taken in adultery. These arguments come amid a jumble of dark non-sequiturs to numerous to mention; and present to us a John we do not recognise, and a Jesus we do not recognise from reading John!

Firstly, if the passage is rightly placed in Luke’s gospel, then the arguments against it as a piece of John’s writing must fall straight away. Again, if its non-appearance in the most referred-to early text is taken to mean it did not appear in scripture at all, then similarly it cannot be used to discredit John’s gospel as a whole. And even if it did, new scholarship has suggested that John’s gospel was written much earlier than at first supposed, which would throw doubt on the “intention” to counter the three synoptic gospels.

Let us take it on trust that the passage belongs where it is commonly found, and that John’s gospel occupies the accepted chronological place. We need have no fear of either assumption!

The Scribes and Pharisees are seen throughout the gospels trying to trap Jesus into saying something that they can use to condemn him, in breach of Mosaic law. In this incident he confounds them again – he traps them, not vice-versa – which hardly lends weight to the charge that this is a work designed to discredit him! They bring to him a woman who has been apprehended in the very act of committing adultery, and demand to know from him what should be done with her. What does Christ do in the face of this demand?

He acts as if he does not hear them, but bends down and writes on the ground! “As if he does not hear them” is only inferred in the text, the words having been added by translators to give clarity, but the inference is surely clear. This is the point at which gain-sayers say he is indecisive, playing for time whilst thinking of something to say. But we know Jesus to be the Christ, the One anointed with the Holy Spirit, and no word nor silence of his, no action or stillness, is without precise purpose. Each small thing is prophetic. By ignoring them, he is not playing for time; rather he is forcing them to wait upon him.

By writing on the ground, he is saying, “You are in the letter, but not in the Spirit!”

By writing on the ground, he is saying, “You are in Adam – Atham, the red earth – and in his fall.”

And when he has picked his moment he faces them and, without contradicting the law of Moses, simply says, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, and then goes back to his writing upon the ground, as if they can have no more to say or do which would interest him on this occasion. He has put the matter squarely back on their shoulders, given the responsibility back to them. But in doing so, he has gone to the heart of each man’s being, his words have struck deep, illuminated the sin in the heart of each man there and forced each man to face it. One by one, starting with the most senior – who may have been supposed to have been the most respectable of them – they do nothing more than leave!

Jesus is left alone with the woman. He asks where are the men who condemned her? They are gone, and he says, “Neither do I condemn thee.” What? Is he letting her off? Does he feel that her sin was so trivial it can be ignored? Well, the gain-sayers may think that, but look what he says next:

Go, and sin no more.”

He clearly acknowledges that she has sinned. His words state that she should do so no more.

It is certain that the woman had been aware – or at least by then made aware – that she had committed a sin. It is written in Exodus 20:14 and in Deuteronomy 5:18, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That hadn’t stopped her before! Only Christ – Χριστος, the Messiah, the One anointed by God’s Holy Spirit, the Power of God by which God brought to pass all that was ever brought to pass – had not only the knowledge of her sin, but also the right to judge her and to mete out punishment or mercy as he willed, and the authority both to command and to enable her to “sin no more

How far all this is from a crude attempt to blacken the name of Jesus! How true the reverse is, that this simple narrative shows his authority, power, gentleness, and wisdom. This we know, because we feel, working within and among us, the same authority, power, gentleness, and wisdom as are witnessed by Scripture.

(from The Call, 2005, issue 1)

A spirit to guard against

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 5:1-11

We read in the gospels how Jesus preached to a multitude in a desert place, and when the day was over, the disciples would have sent them back to their villages to buy what they needed for a meal. But Jesus told them to feed the crowd themselves. Between them they had five loaves and two fishes, which they knew did not even begin to be enough for the crowd. But when Christ blessed and broke the bread, the food was enough for everyone. Not only that, but when they gathered up the leftovers, there were twelve baskets full.

Christ shows us, by this miracle, that he feeds all those who gather in his Name; and not only that, but there is spiritual food in abundance for others too – the twelve baskets representing the twelve tribes of his people.

The food was provided by the disciples (the account by John says that a lad had the provisions). What if the spirit that, in later days, entered Ananias and Sapphira had entered some of the disciples? Maybe that spirit seems to be a rational one – “Oh I need to keep a little back for such-and-such a purpose, but the common purse will still be well provided for!” What if the Lord had only two loaves and one fish, would he still have been able to feed the five thousand? Of course. “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, and other verses). Likewise, the Church continued when the two liars had passed away.

But the spirit that entered them is still abroad in the world when, for reasons that may seem all too sensible at the time, people have their eye on some agenda, some arrangement, some way of doing things that may even seem right and holy to them; and when there is a multitude to feed, and as few as two disciples come forward with a loaf or a fish, the others are obstinate and refuse to share. But the Lord takes their meagre provisions, feeds the hungry, and gathers up the twelve baskets of leftovers. He feeds those who will come to him, those who will share.

The spirit that entered Ananias and Sapphira, however, is a murderous, wrecking spirit, which seeks to pull down the Church. Whoever does not gather with Christ, scatters abroad (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).

This seems a hard lesson for us, but it is a necessary one. No matter what the reason may be that tempts someone to hold back and let others bring loaves and fishes for the Lord to bless and break, it is a false reason. It scatters abroad, while Christ gathers. This temptation must be resisted.

No matter what you strive to build, you labour in vain if the Lord does not build (Psalm 127:1). No matter how good and holy your own agenda seems to you, if you let others be the ones who come forward with the loaves and fishes, then the spirit that was in Ananias and Sapphira is surely within you.

Friends – guard against this.

(from The Call, 2008 issue 1)


(The following extract is from a lead article in The Call 1998/2)

For nearly three hundred and fifty years we have been repeatedly asked one question, amongst many: why is it that we do not baptize our folk with water?

Our questioners cite much biblical precedent for the practice, and claim, not without strength to their argument, that it is clear that the practice was widespread if not universal in the early Church, and has passed down in some form or other to every branch of Christendom – with ours as an exception.

As with all matters of doctrine and performance, we have to be ready to answer such questions. But have our answers become pat and glib? In a way, we must thank our constant questioners, for forcing us to reappraise our doctrine, review our practice, and – importantly – submit it in prayer to the Lord, to ask if we are right to maintain this witness. If we can truly give the same answer – under the same anointing of the Holy Spirit – as was given by our first generation, then all well and good; if not, if our answer has become formal and sectarian, then we deserve not to be heard.

For a moment, pay attention to some of the language used by our questioners, concerning water baptism: they speak variously of “sealing their faith” with it, of “sacrament”, of “ordinance”, and of “rite”. Without labouring this point, it has to be said that the application of such terms depends upon human invention, because they are not applied to water baptism anywhere in the New Testament.

In the mid seventeenth century, many of these terms were at the centre of bitter conflicts, even wars, as the various sects contended with each other as true Christianity. Persecution of Catholics by Protestants, Protestants by Catholics, and even Protestants by other Protestants, was rife!  (Some Groups, such as Quakers and our peaceloving friends the Anabaptists, suffered at the hands of both sides). Amongst their contention was who should be baptized – infants? youngsters? adults? – and how – sprinkling? pouring? immersion? Also how, if at all, did the bestowal of the Holy Spirit depend upon all these?

But in the midst of all this conflict about the superficial aspects of Christianity (with which the Devil was well pleased!), the Lord called and assembled our first generation, to be his people. He gave them his promised baptism with the Holy Ghost, and charged them to go out into the world and bear a strong and courageous testimony, by doing without water at all, to the efficacy, sufficiency, and truth of his baptism. In this, that generation were his prophets.

Reading it and quoting it in the same Spirit in which it was given forth, our first generation were more truly attentive to the Bible, and believed it more fully, than any “sect” of the time. They drew to others’ attention what was revealed in Scripture about baptism, and proved it by their lives.

But “can any man forbid water?” say our questioners, echoing Peter (Acts 10:47), the apostle to whom Christ first charged the feeding of his sheep. After all, Christ was baptized (Matthew 3:15) and his disciples baptised with water even though he did not (John 4:2), and there are many other such baptisms shown later in Scripture. Let this be clear: we forbid no one anything – the choice is theirs! Neither did our first generation ever coerce anyone to their way; they simply acted upon the immediate command of Christ. Neither is it claimed that water baptism was not known in the early Church; clearly it was.

There is not enough space here to compile an exhaustive exegesis to show the biblical soundness of this prophetic witness. Let it suffice for now to say that Christ’s promised baptism, to all and not just to his disciples, is with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33 inter alia); and that John was to decrease and Christ increase (John 3:30). There is witness borne to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit before , or without, the application of water (Acts 10:44), and of the application of water without the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2,3). Peter, who firstly asked whether any man could forbid water to those (already) baptized with the Holy Spirit, later recalled and understood the promise of the one baptism of Jesus Christ  (Acts 11:16). There is also evidence in scripture of the earliest contention about baptism (1Corinthians 1:11-15), foreshadowing the bloody conflicts, into the midst of which our first generation stepped.

Importantly, the apostles constantly warned of accepting the shadow, the outward show, for the substance; and they constantly warned of false messengers, even in their time, that lead the Church astray. They were wise in so warning, for history has shown how the Church slipped very quickly into centuries of apostasy, during which not only did water baptism become an important ritual, but also all kinds of idols, days, seasons, rules and so on, which were not so much as hinted at in the New Testament, gained prominence.     Thus the situation as it stood in the seventeenth century came about, and thus the Lord called us to be a people, a prophetic people in the face of that situation.

But it is no longer the seventeenth century. Rightly, we can be challenged that refraining from something can become as legalistic as doing it. Indeed it can! There has been ample time for the non-use of water to become no more that a sectarian peculiarity – and can we claim that none of us fell into that snare? It is doubtful.

But equally, the old ways and notions persist, against which our first generation stood, and it is necessary (at Christ’s command and only at Christ’s command) to continue faithfully to stand against them.

“So,” objectors ask, “are you calling us false Christians?” Be sure that God will judge that – who is true and who is false – and all who think they stand should take heed lest they fall! Also be sure that if all or any one of us is commanded by the Lord to say “False Christian” to someone, then we shall say it as bravely as any apostle ever spoke. But it is not generally to any perceived falseness that we now draw your attention, but to God and Christ. There are many of our questioners and objectors who genuinely and sincerely love the Lord, and who strive to obey and please him; and indeed we know and feel that any sincere prayer, any turning of heart and mind to the Lord, any step taken towards him, is attended by a measure of grace. In all such things, the Lord holds his arms out to us, and calls, “Come”, and draws us closer to him, into worship in spirit and in truth.

But equally, worldly notions hold us fast, and the Devil whispers seductively in our ear, encouraging our satisfaction with what we already have, urging us to eat manna stored beyond its day, bolstering our self-righteousness.

So, sincere Christians – our dear questioners – it is to the inward witness we would point you. We, as much as you, have an obligation to search inwardly and see where Christ leads us; also to sit with our Bibles open and our hearts and minds at the Lord’s mercy, to let his Holy Spirit guide our reading.

For we know, and can testify today, that what really seals our faith is that same Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We will not forbid you water, or anything; but there are those of us who were, for example, sprinkled as infants and thereby made not one whit better, who have since come to know the powerful, continuous, eternal baptism of Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost and fire. There are those of us, moreover, who, in answer to our beliefs of the time, were immersed in water; and whatever we felt at that time, now and since have come to know the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And indeed there are those of us who have never known the touch of water, but nevertheless have come to know the one baptism of Jesus Christ.

So can we say that we, today, are the Lord’s prophets? Let us bring this constantly before Him, so that the testimony can be constantly renewed. Amen.

Why Silent Worship?

Silent worship, open worship, listening prayer and unprogrammed meetings are all essentially terms for the same type of worship. It is a time that people meet together to listen to God and to hear His message through themselves and others… People generally gather together without saying much. For a while they may just sit, listening (praying) to God. If someone feels led, they may speak a short message or testimony, they may sing a song or request that a song be sung, or they could just read some Scripture aloud. Generally, though, most of the service is spent in silent listening…  Depending on how the Lord leads, there may be a few minutes of silent prayer, or several people may share what the Lord put on their hearts.

The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (I Kings 19:11-12). If you want to hear God speak, most of the time He speaks with a still, small voice. We need to be listening to Him so that we can know His will in our lives.

Prayer is not a one-way channel. Prayer should be a combination of talking to God and listening. However, most Christians today have lost that idea. They look at prayer as a time to make requests to God and give him thanks for things he’s done for us. These are valid parts of a prayer; we just need to remember that it is very difficult for God to speak to us if we are the ones that are always talking.

When we have open worship as a corporate body, it allows us to strengthen each other by what God speaks through us. Open worship gives God a distinct opportunity to speak to multiple people though others’ testimonies and challenges. Open worship gives the opportunity for God to express Himself spontaneously, through whatever gift he may give the person delivering His message. These gifts could be in the form of songs, devotionals, testimonies, or even sermons.

Be sure to listen. God doesn’t usually want to yell to get your attention. He has given us the free will to choose whether or not to listen, and most of the time he will not force his message on us if we have not given ourselves to him.

from an article by Nathan James, written 2002
originally published in The Call