I have been studying Romans 9-11 recently for a preaching series on Israel. It’s wonderful to look at this section of Paul’s letter. Have you come across this phenomenon? Everyone is talking about how good something is? They tell you that you really ought to watch it, or read it, or taste it? And something in you just thinks: ought to, I’m missing out, am I? And the very energy that is coming toward you, probably for good, somehow loses its way, and you feel extremely disinclined to engage.
I got that for quite some time with The Chosen, the crowd-funded, app-based drama based on Jesus’ life. I still haven’t watched all the episodes yet, but having seen a few of them, I know enough to regard them very highly. They are like a lectio divina, an imaginative reading of the gospels, giving you a possible context for the Lord’s dealing with people: giving you a sense of awe at the completely different way he went about helping people. Making the events of the gospels seem fresh, and dynamic. How he wins Peter over, how he rescues Mary. How he intrigues Nicodemus from early on.
So I guess there is the danger, with an institution like the letter of Paul to the Romans, that we lose the sheer awe and power of the original thought process, of the context of what Paul was writing, and we look at fragments of reflections of what Paul wrote, in comments of others, in modern treatments of it. I’ve always been a believer in immersing yourself in the text, whether it be a Shakespeare play, a poem, or indeed Holy Writ (where it is the most important of all to sit at the feet of Jesus, to still our hearts, and to listen).
But Paul’s letter, and in particular Romans 9-11, does have a lot of twists and turns. I’ve been using Logos Bible Software, and a workflow called the Michael Heiser method, to study each designated section. I did look at all three chapters as an overview first. It is a very rich section of thought, and it contains a number of different ideas, including Israel as a remnant, how the gospel actually gets preached, Paul’s personal burden towards his fellow Israelites, and this metaphor of the cultivated olive tree as a picture of the people of God.
While this brief blog post is not the place to lay out in full an interpretation of the passage (and I will admit that I am using various companions, from Douglas Moo’s excellent commentary which I don’t own on Logos, by the way, also to Martyn Lloyd Jones’s commentaries, and other Bible reference works too – Stephen Runge’s commentary on Romans with its diagrams is quite suggestive): while it’s not the place to do that, something is starting to emerge in my spirit as a sense of the corporate people of God at this time, which includes Jew and Gentile, which points to the incredible glory of God, and which gestures at the consummation of a more amazing and stupendous plan to rescue humankind than we have even realised.
We might think that we understand (if, that is, we have some knowledge of the New Testament and have expressed belief in our heart, and confession with our mouth, as Romans 10:13 of course puts it) how God has saved us in Jesus. Perhaps in a way, for example, that the disciples certainly didn’t get it when he was arrested, when Peter denied him, when the couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus mournfully recounted the loss of the Messiah to that shadowy companion figure.
But is it possible that we don’t yet really get it at all? That there is such an in gathering yet to arrive, after the gospel has come to all the world, where ‘all Israel will be saved’, that redeems and makes good all the promises that God has made? It scarcely seems possible in this secular age. We need to keep holding on, and praying, and getting God’s heart and His plans.
My plans change all the time. But God knew what He was about from the very start, and like a master artist, a genius craftsman, he has taken the raw materials of His creation and there will be something beautiful to marvel at. To Him be the glory forever.
As a teacher (even if only part-time now!) half-term always helps me to slow down, and I take at least a day somewhere just to laze around, pursue interests as they come upon me. But I can’t tell you how many different projects and thoughts are whirling around at the moment relating to church! I’m very excited about them as well.
First, we have the Jubilee weekend coming up. Things are shaping up for that. I’m trying to get into a groove editing Roger’s transcripts of the FLS (Fellowship Life) talks, and having an endpoint where I want to report or bring something is quite helpful. I have swiftly realised I am not going to have much together for March 20th, but it at least is starting a conversation. Watch out for some more blogposts on what I am learning as I transcribe all about Fellowship Life!
What’s a real blessing about this Conference is we have started getting in touch with lots of ex-members of the Fellowship and quite a few have signed up to come along on Zoom, so make sure you don’t miss out! It also means that I am spending some time having face to face conversations with people as we plan it. I’m grateful for all those who have already come forward with stories of ‘the early days’ and great testimonies. What will make the weekend extra special is that Chris Cartwright will be joining us on the Sunday to celebrate with us. We will be putting out a programme in early March for the Saturday.
Second, we are going to come in on the Really Good News campaign that Elim is running. As I write, Elim are running an exciting digital conference (some of which I will catch up with afterwards otherwise I won’t get this blog or church email written!) on how to reach out online. Personally I’ve been dipping a toe in the water with short Facebook live messages, and using Facebook Ads to give them a wider reach. I feel very challenged that I need to be outward-facing, and bold. Through March there will be real life testimonies shared from Elim, and we will share them on our Facebook page (anyone fancy setting up an Instagram account?). Then after an Easter service, and with a sign-up available on our website, we will run an online Alpha Course on Wednesday evenings. This is going to be a challenge but also really exciting. Please pray about how you might be involved in this.
And I could go on – I am on a learning curve at the moment. I am really enjoying following through Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in a Year on YouVersion – his and Pippa’s insights are excellent – but I feel that perhaps we might find a reading course that is a bit shorter, and not so demanding, for us all to join in with. This is a great opportunity not just to read the Word daily, but also to share daily our thoughts with others we know and pray for. I am also personally excited that we are doing live worship on the Zooms now, and grateful to those who are committing to that – not to mention the Kids Zoom and the popularity of that. I am inviting guests week by week to the older group, so watch out for an invite to come and say Hi and share something of your testimony!
We are getting in touch because you have walked with us for some of the way before or since March 1971 when Chichester Christian Fellowship was first brought together by the Lord. Some of you are part of the King’s Gate Church now, and by being part of these celebrations will learn more about our roots, others of you have been key players along the way.
Since that time, by God’s grace, many have come to new birth in Jesus, many believers across the land and internationally have been inspired and encouraged by the Fellowship, a new flag was raised for the priesthood of all believers, for freedom in worship, for clear biblical teaching in an age of woollyness and liberalism, and for rich, deep ‘koinonia’ style Christian living, ‘holding all things in common’. Of course, a major provision, not just for the Fellowship, but more widely too, was Roger Price’s teaching ministry and leadership within the church. Alongside this, and around that time, was a host of other, like-minded ministers who also contributed.
Personally, I have been revisiting Roger’s teaching. I first listened to it via the Tape Library as a teenager, 3 / 4 tapes each week – and I eagerly collected the fresh batch of tapes, I can assure you. Recently I have been listening to and now in the middle of transcribing the 24 talks of the Fellowship Life Studies.
Since I have had the privilege of being Lead Elder at King’s Gate, I have seen the importance of discipleship and growth in maturity in Christ in a different light, and found that the insights that Roger brings (into among other aspects group dynamics, moving in the Spirit, and practical approaches to church life) are not readily found elsewhere, even in the plethora of church growth and discipleship literature that is available today. I believe it’s time to make it more widely available in a helpful format to the Body. Writing this letter today is providing me with fresh impetus to continue with the transcriptions, and I will hopefully have something to share with you by March – please pray!
Equally, CCF Tapes, ever-faithful to the ministry and prayerfully moving forward, has been exploring different ways of making Roger’s teaching more widely available, and with the demise of the Biblevoice website, are moving towards making more of the BBS available as free downloads on the CCF Tapes website, which is an exciting move.
Saturday 20th March – on Zoom
While it is hardly in the spirit of ‘koinonia’ to merely meet online (do see FLS1 for more on this), it is incredible how technology has been our ‘manna from heaven’ in these days, and King’s Gate Leadership have decided that we wanted to go ahead with this celebration on this weekend, even though we sadly acknowledge we cannot meet in the flesh. This does in some ways widen our reach – and you are very welcome to tune in, for whatever time you can make, for any of the day.
You are warmly invited to join us. If you would like to join us on Zoom for the whole time, please allow for 9:30 to 4pm. Also ensure that you have some provision for lunch, as with some full sessions lunch may take you by surprise otherwise. We are sorry that at this juncture we cannot offer you the hospitality of a lunch! We will be getting in touch next month with more information about the programme for that day.
The day will have variety to it: we want to share the work we have done in recalling the early years, and stories of God’s provision and life among us. We want to share some clips of Roger’s DVD teaching (which we can do over Zoom). I would like – if I’ve done enough – to bring some highlights from my transcriptions of the Fellowship Life Studies. And of course we will make lots of time to worship, to mix in different breakout rooms, and to catch up with each other as well. Knowing the rigours entailed in being fixed to a screen, we will provide some regular screen-breaks too.
If you have any relevant photographs, or anecdotes, and could take a few moments to get them to us (on the email address below) we would have the chance to include them on that day or in any documents we produce. Looking back, I know you will have thoughts on HOW your involvement in CCF/King’s Gate was part of your spiritual pilgrimage, and what you gained from it. All the glory goes to God in all of this – and if there were any failings, well let’s own up to those ourselves!
Sunday 21st March
You will also be very welcome to join us for a special Zoom service. You may or may not be aware that in recent years we have connected and are friends with Elim Pentecostal Church (there is a story there!) and the General Superintendent, Chris Cartwright, who is appreciative and aware of Roger’s ministry and the influence of CCF, will be joining us to share, to encourage us for the future and to help us mark 50 years of faithful witness for Jesus.
Can I take this moment to encourage you, whether you’re able to join us on this weekend or not, that while for ourselves we may have many regrets and I’m sure errors yet to discover, God does not make mistakes, and he works in miraculous ways through the twists and turns of our lives. One of the miracles of Christian fellowship is the prophetic and timely input that I have received down the years from unexpected or serendipitous encounters. I believe that our 50th celebration will be one of these. Please join with me in praying for it, for each other, and if at all possible, to join us in just under two months’ time. We are spreading the net as wide as possible, but if you are in touch with other former members who may be interested, please let them know. I will be creating a central list of people contacted, and I can supply this if you are interested.
As a quick summary of possible action points from this letter:
Put the date in your diary if you are hoping to come
Any stories / photographs of the Fellowship over the years, just get in touch
Finally check in with others you know, to see if they are coming too!
Looking forward to renewing contact and fellowship with many of you, meeting some of you perhaps for the first time – we would so love you to be a part of this unique event.
Lead Elder, the King’s Gate Church
On behalf of the Leadership Team and trustees of the King’s Gate Church
On a wet Tuesday afternoon, with the brittle twigs and branches trembling outside my window and the dusky grey of the sky threatening to merge into them with the evening, it’s good – it’s always good – to just step back from the to-do list for a few minutes and reflect.
For our church, we have been in and out of lockdown. We have not been able to gather to worship in the way that we have always done (for coming up to close to 50 years now!) for about 9 months. Instead, Zoom, muted worship, Youtube videos, acapella singing, breakout rooms, and pre-recorded video has been the order of the day.
We reached a breakthrough point towards the end of 2021 when we started livestreaming from the hall we usually meet in. We are still wanting to do this when we get back to the Hall, from our YouTube channel. But it’s still early days for us with that.
And now firmly into 2021, the chilly, uncertain and yet pregnant New Year, I do feel that we are embarking on the next stage of our journey as church. We are holding a Kids Zoom now before the main Zoom service, and we are now inviting those of us who can to play songs live on Zoom.
Also, with our YouTube channel more established, we may be pre-recording more sermons and putting them up on the website, worth visiting https://www.thekingsgatechurch.org.uk/. We also have a church Facebook page, and may be putting some more content up on there as well.
Theme for the Year
Our theme for the Year is Peace, and being a piece of the puzzle. Within this, we are also looking forward on March 21st to celebrating 50 years since the founding of Chichester Christian Fellowship, our ‘mother church’ so to speak. We are inviting old faces (not so much of the old) to come and celebrate with us, and to have a catch-up. The Fellowship was strongly associated with the teaching of Roger Price, and we are planning (via Zoom) to view some curated video clips of his teaching, to retrace the history of how the Fellowship came to be and grew rapidly in the 70s and 80s, and to also perhaps release some more of his teaching in book or booklet form. For more information about Roger Price’s teaching you can visit http://www.ccftapes.co.uk/.
For me, what is on my heart currently is twofold. Worship, combined with intimacy with Jesus, and secondly mission. How can we sit in our houses, declaring God’s truth, without reaching out to those who need to hear it?
I think a lot of us shrink back from mission because it seems to be a big, all-encompassing Ask. But actually Jesus is only asking from us for the present. That’s all we have to give. Just a steady series of small ‘yeses’ to the one we love, one after the other. Let’s have a go at that this year, and walk constantly and faithfully with each other as we do so.
One of our Prime Time group shared earlier today that you never need to think you’re going for a walk on your own. Are you put off by tramping around with no one to talk to?
Well, you can go for a walk with Jesus! Talk to him (perhaps inside your head, if you need to!).
This is just one way that we can help ourselves to deal with the current lockdown.
Another thing (also shared by the same member of our group!) if you need healing, you need to do something to get that healing. Even if someone gives you a gift, if you don’t reach out your hands to receive it as they pass it to you, it will just fall on the floor. In the same way, are you sitting in the right position to receive the healing that God has for you?
Why not ask Jesus if you need to adjust your posture? We know our God is a good God. We know that His timing isn’t always ours. But there can be other reasons why God seems silent – sometimes it’s we’re not close enough to listen.
Our church has taken the theme of Peace this year, but with the thought of also being a ‘piece’ of the puzzle.
Do you remember those nine piece plastic slidey puzzles that looked perfect, but for one piece? Annoyingly you had to mess the whole picture up before you could solve it and everything look perfect!
What with a second lockdown, and lots of changes in our lives it’s possible that you might feel displaced. We should remember that God is in control and He knows what He’s doing. Some of us need to be shuffled round a bit before the perfect picture is created. And yes, you may have been in the right place originally and perhaps you’ll return there but you’ve been displaced for a while. Don’t fret about it. It’ll come good!
A few years ago I uncovered a path underneath the lawn in our back garden that I didn’t realise we had. It was simply concrete, but it was really useful. It reminded me of Jeremiah 6:16 ‘Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’
Why are we marking 50 years as a church in 2021? Does that not seem like a focus on the past, on being nostalgic – perhaps saying ‘Why aren’t things the same any more?’ The verse in Jeremiah ties up with the message I gave in my first Foundations talk earlier this term: just like Jacob, as the Lord leads us, we allow our history to encounter our destiny. We have to go back in order to go on. I’ve been interested for a few years now in reading about revivals – the Welsh revival was particularly powerful – and also I’ve been interested in the stories of how Chichester Christian Fellowship was birthed, back in 1971. It was part of the charismatic renewal that swept over America and the United Kingdom, as well as elsewhere. It affected the Church of England, as well as other denominations – some of CCF in particular hailed from the Brethren. I have been delighted to read Molly Hawkin’s book giving accounts of events in Chard, as that was a well for many in the 70s, and also Mike Davies book ‘Ello Duck’ which includes events in Chichester Christian Fellowship. I believe that in particular moving in the baptism and the gifts of the Spirit was a strength and something we are still called to move in. Martin spoke of ‘unblocking the wells’ and this is really important.
As a Leadership we had some prophetic words that I feel feed into our time of change into 2021. One was that this is going to be an important time for intercession, and that our prayers will save many around us. Can we be faithful in this and respond in obedience? Secondly, that Leadership is not called to ‘direct’ what happens among us – we’re not called to ‘cap’ or to limit what God is doing. Even this week we have seen giftings continue to be released among us, and there are more to come. If God gives you something to run with, go for it with our blessing!
Another word was that there will be some groundwork in the Spirit that will enable us to rise – a picture of a bird taking off from water, looking serene, but actually there is a lot of work going on underneath with the legs to make that happen. Yes, it’s the Lord’s church, but in obedience there is sometimes hard work to be done – foundations are often the most challenging part of the building to complete.
Finally (not the last word but the last one I feel led to share at the moment!) there was a pool of light that everyone in the church family was walking into. How do we get into that pool of light? We just choose to step into it! No one’s going to pull you into it. But it’s where we want to be – and because as a church we firmly believe in the priesthood of all believers, all of us lead and all of us follow. We can copy those who are following close behind Jesus! As you continue being yourself in Him, others will copy you – so be encouraged by that! Remember that others see you differently to how you see yourself. As we move into 2021 there will be some more teaching on copying – children learn by copying parents and other adults and those they see. So as we are called to ‘hand the baton on’ we need to allow people to copy us, and move on in discipleship. It’s both fun and a challenge at the same time!
This follows the verses where God promises to bless Abraham and he points out that he has no heir.
7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Questions to consider:
Are there any differences between this promise and the one given in Genesis 12 v.1-3?
How does the narrator make the conversation with God more tense? What does this make us aware of as readers?
Why doesn’t Abraham take part in the ritual? What does this show about God’s intention towards Abraham?
What might have been the effect on Abraham of knowing that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land?
Write down ONE MORE thought / question that occurs to you as you look at this passage (you may find the Did You Know? box helpful here)
Did you know?
This was the third reference in Genesis to Abraham inheriting land.
This act of cutting animals in half has no other event like it in the Bible
Abraham fighting the vultures off symbolizes his role as protector of the covenant, and the vultures could represent the enslavement that Israel is to experience in Egypt
This is the first time that God appears as fire, but not the last. The smoke may represent ‘divine inscrutability (that God is unknowable).
The land God promised to Abraham in this passage:
PASSAGE TWO: Genesis 18: 16 – 33.
This is just after the men visiting Abraham have promised his son will be born next year, and Sarah laughed.
Abraham Pleads for Sodom
16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
33 When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Questions to Consider:
Abraham is a patriarch (the father of the Jewish nation) yet what is the main role he plays here?
What does he believe about God and how does this get expressed?
What do we learn from this passage about bringing requests before God?
What does v.22 suggest about how God appears to Abraham here? Does this raise further questions, and if so, what are they?
Write down one more thought / question that occurs to you as you look at this passage.
ALTERNATIVE STUDY:Hagar, Sarah and Rebekah – look at how they are referred to in the NT. Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose name was changed by God. Could you argue that Sarah had a greater faith than Abraham? She had to conceive, carry and deliver Isaac in her 90s! Both Hagar and Rebekah hear from God and receive blessing from Him. Hagar is referred to in Galatians 4:21-31. Sarah is referred to in 1 Peter 3:1-6. There are some excellent articles on Women of Faith here.
LOOK AT THE NEW TESTAMENT:
Abraham is used in several key New Testament passages, there are 73 occurrences of his name.
The gospel of Luke makes many parallels with the Abraham story including Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and many references to Abraham, e.g. Luke 6:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which refers to Abraham’s bosom.
He is referred to in John 8:31-59 several times as Jesus argues with the Jews. Here the important point is to be the spiritual children of Abraham rather than simply his physical children.
He appears in Acts 7:1-8 (among others) in Stephen’s sermon before he is stoned.
He also appears in Paul:
Romans 4:1-25. This tells us how Abraham was justified by faith, not through the law. Compare James 2:21 which appears to contradict this! What was the role of the law according to Paul in Romans? Look at Galatians for more on this.
Galatians 3:6-29 – John Stott on this argues that the ‘blessing’ of v.8 is a double blessing of salvation through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is a very complex passage, and it could be argued that Hagar and Ishmael come off very badly. This may help: “But In his analogical application, Paul was not addressing the question of whether or not Hagar and Ishmael had faith in the Lord; rather, he was only using them and the incident to support his point about removing things that threaten the fulfillment of the promise in Christ Jesus. Those adopted into the covenant through the Seed, Christ, are like Isaac; they are to live in freedom from the bondage of the law (Gal 5:1).” Ross, A., & Oswalt, J. N. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary: Genesis, Exodus (Vol. 1, p. 137). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Possibly the BEST use of Abraham in the NT is in Hebrews 11:1-40. This is a tremendous chapter to read through and be encouraged. You could do a whole series of studies on this chapter looking at the characters who are referred to.
This is a word given by our Elder Emeritus, John, last Sunday – it was at the end of an Open Meeting and a spontaneous word:
The Lord’s been laying something on my heart for the last few days, which I’ll just share fairly briefly with you. Let’s turn to John 5. It’s a story you all know very well, of the fellow at the Sheep Gate, the Pool of Bethesda. v. 3 ‘in these lay a multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed, waiting for the moment of the water.’ It’s interesting – we forget that angels were active in that time. They’re still active today. It’s easy to think – not much was happening before Jesus, but there was angelic activity.
Whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well. When Jesus saw him lying there, he said to him ‘Do you want to be made well?’ It’s a very interesting and perceptive question. The sick man answered him, ‘Sir I have no man to put me into the water but while I’m coming another steps down.’ Perhaps he thought, maybe this fellow will get me down into the water. He was looking at Jesus as a man, in his humanity. Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walked’. Immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. When did the healing take place? Just after the comma. ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ You can’t take up your bed until you’ve been healed. Rise.
That’s the word that has been on my spirit for several days now. Rise. I believe God is speaking to his church and saying in these days we must rise. We must stand in the authority, in the grace and in the calling that is ours.
And we need to respond to that in faith. We’re a heavenly people. Philippians 3:20, I’m sure you’re all familiar with this, but in case you don’t remember the reference, you’ll be familiar with the verse: ‘Our citizenship is in heaven.’ We’re a heavenly people, not an earthly people.
We don’t draw our sustenance primarily from the earth. We draw our ideas from the earth.
We don’t draw our strength from the earth. We don’t draw our validity from the earth. We don’t draw our authority from the earth, we don’t draw our being form the earth, or our identity from the earth. We don’t get anything from the world. All we get from the earth is that which sustains our physical bodies, that that is not who we are.
We draw from heaven. We mustn’t forget that. The only people on earth who have power and authority over the enemy is us. There’s a job we can do in these days that nobody else can do. We alone have that authority, as Jesus says I give to you authority over the devil. It’s ours. You remember Colossians 3, ‘if then you were raised with Christ,’ you are all raised people. We’re not self-raising. God has raised us. ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.’
I believe God is saying to his people “I want you to rise in these days.”
How we do that is a more difficult question to answer. We’re obeying the government. But we must find a place in the Spirit where we rise up. That’s a key methodology, if you like, in the church, is knowing how to rise in Jesus. Knowing how to rise up above our circumstances and above what’s going on. I’m not talking about denying our circumstances, being in denial about what’s going on, but to rise above them.
Some people, when they’re infirm, are under their infirmity. Some people rise above their infirmity. You can be people not healed but still rising under your infirmity. Where do you see your identity? What do you think your authority is, and rising up above it. I know a number of people in the church who have daily problems physically. But they rise above them. They ascend. You can either view yourself as defeated, crushed, locked down – or free. It’s about how you think. It’s the thinking that transforms us. It’s our mind – be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
So we need to set our mind on heaven. If you’re in Christ, by definition you’re an overcomer. I’ve preached this many times. By definition you’re the victor. No matter what’s coming against you, you have overcome. I’m not saying some of the things that come against us aren’t painful, aren’t grievous – but somehow we have to find that hidden place.
Our life is hid with Christ in God. It’s the hidden life we’ve got to seek out an draw from. We’re not functioning as it should be, so we have to dig deep, we have to dig the well. We have to sing to the well, saying Rise Up within me. Digging into the Word of God, as we’ve heard already this morning. Finding a place to praise the Lord on our own, even if we are tone-deaf.
What we mustn’t do is just lie down under Covid19. We have to be active in the Spirit. What did Jesus say: Rise. And what did the man do? He got active. Faith was ministered to him, and he stood up. Stand up, beloved, in faith.
‘Lord I want to lift my hands up in prayer. You said, pray ‘Our Father who is in heaven.’ We lift our hands to heaven this morning. You reign. You haven’t been moved by this. You foresaw this from the beginning of the world and you have made provision for your body. You have not left us and your Holy Spirit is with us now. I want to pray that we as a church, that we as individuals, will look at you, and see the Lord in his glory, and feel filled with the Holy spirit. Our Father, my Father. I’m your son today, God. As a son I have rights. I come before your presence, and lift up my hands in prayer. I pray, Your Kingdom come. We ask that your kingdom will come in Jesus’ name. We pray for a manifestation of the kingdom of God within us. We pray for a breaking out of the Kingdom of God within us. I don’t know how we do it God but I pray that you will show us in Jesus’ name. Let your will be done, on earth even as it is in heaven. I don’t know whether your will’s being done, I strongly suspect it’s not, but I pray that it will be. We have the authority to call down the will of God onto the earth. We call down your will, o God, and we say, Let your will be done. We reject the will of man, we reject the will of scientists, and we call for your will to be done on earth even as it is in heaven. This is what we look for God. I pray you will stir up your church in prayer as never before. Lead us to be seeking you and praying to you. We don’t accept this disease. We don’t accept the rulership of void19. We don’t accept the bondage of covid19. Not to be stupid or revel, but in our spirits to rebel. Let healing come to your body. Let us walk free. None of these diseases, the scripture says, so I pray in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I pray for our government, give them wisdom, and we pray your grace on them, that the will of God might be done. I pray people will stop turning to scientists, stop turning to the politicians, and start turning to you. From the Lord our God comes deliverance. We put our faith and trust in you. Those who are feeling lonely, suffering, depressed, who can’t get hospital appointments – we pray for all these people. Under the surface there’s a whole bunch of suffering going on – deliver us from this, and we stand in the gap, and ask for your deliverance. We put our trust in you. And all the people of God said – Amen.’
I am now just into Part 5 of The Mirror and the Light, and I should warn, this contains spoilers. I have read hundreds of pages since my last review, and at one point I certainly said to myself, ‘If it’s a choice between reading and writing a review, I’d much rather continue to read.’ This has to be a compliment to Mantel’s superb prose.
It’s only this novel, recently, and Atwood’s Testament, that in hardback has furnished this reader with a thread marker; this has become enormously useful due to the size of this volume. It’s now unwieldy to hold and read at p.655, with a mere 230 pages to go. Too much to read in one day, I note (with the rain tumbling outside, its an attractive prospect to entirely immerse myself in Cromwell’s final doom).
I cannot hope to cover in this short review the few hundred pages I have read, but I note that last time I was commenting on Cromwell’s indiscretion with a woman – it would be remiss of me not to note an even bigger mistake, as a conversation with Bess Seymour turns on a mortifying misunderstanding: Cromwell believes he is wooing on behalf of his son, but Bess assumes that he is after her himself. This dialogue set-piece repays careful re-reading from different perspectives! Who knows when you might find yourself in a similar delicate position. This piece of dialogue is Austenesque (is that the word?) recalling Elizabeth Collin’s presence of mind during Darcy’s proposal, and I do think Cromwell’s precipitous failures with women in this volume are a substantial indicator of how the tide will turn against him, try for example this retort:
‘In other respects I agree,’ her voice is icy. ‘I think there has been a misunderstanding. I am offering my person to one Cromwell only, the one I marry. But which Cromwell is it meant to be?’
His mind flies back to his conversation with Edward. It lands, light as a fly, and begins to crawl over it: over every meaningful pause, every ellipsis. Were names spoken? Perhaps not. Could Edward have supposed – could Edward have mistaken – yes, he supposes he could. (.481)
Part of the fun here is the confusion present in a conversation we as readers did not witness. Cromwell is desperate to marry into the King’s family (as Bess is Jane Seymour’s sister) – it is unfortunate shortly after that Jane Seymour dies, leaving his son Gregory not so well-attached as he would have liked. Mantel captures well throughout the novel the stance that women have to take in being bargaining chips – recently we are given Mary’s words on possibly being married: ‘she says she will do as her father tells her, but that given her choice, she would rather stay in the land of her birth and remain a virgin. It is a modest answer, which no one can fault.’ (p.646). This reflects the religious tenor of the time, and Mary’s devout piety – but also the lack of control that women had over their destiny, similar to Bess Seymour. Her final parting shot at Cromwell as he recovers from the impression that he has been wooing her for himself (and perhaps this would have been preferable – to make his last years happier?):
‘He is all together better than me – ‘ I, he thinks, who am so soiled in life’s battle, so seamed and scarred, so numb, so unwanted, so cold.
‘Stop,’ she says. ‘First, too few words. Now, too many.’
‘But you will? You will wed Gregory?’
‘Tell me when and where, and I will come in my bridal finery and marry whichever Cromwell presents himself. I am an obliging woman,’ she says. ‘Though not so obliging as you thought.’
She walks away on the grassy path, but she does not hurry.
Just to pause and appreciate the asperity and dignity of Bess’s dialogue here, conversing with a powerful man (and having expressed moments before the desire to have Thomas Cromwell’s children) – her irony that Cromwell had failed to supply enough words to make it clear that Gregory was the Cromwell being offered (yes, younger and fresher – and highly satisfactory as it quickly transpires, but coming with no titles, unlike Cromwell who is a Lord, a Baron and soon to be Knight of the Garter). In seven words she judges Cromwell, and I wonder if this might stand as an epitaph for him: First, too few words. Now too many.’ Mantel certainly gives the reputation that Cromwell cannot be read, cannot be second-guessed. He appears currently (which is around 1539, so not long before his execution) to prefer to supply Henry with pregnant pauses, rather than supply enough rope to hang himself with (although we guess that’s coming, and wonder which of his bad-tempered judgments will indict him). But what a superb final position-statement that Bess gives: ‘when and where’. The sarcasm over ‘bridal finery’ is not lost. It would be humorous, almost farcical, if the damage had not already been done between her and Gregory. When Gregory lets slip shortly after that Bess has informed him about the misunderstanding, Cromwell seems crestfallen as if he hoped she would keep it quiet.
For me, one of the great pleasures of the novel is the rapport between Cromwell and his cronies, his proteges – both his son Gregory, Rafe Sadler, and in this novel Call-Me. It is part of my interest in the final section as to how those relationships will settle at last. This set piece appears to put Cromwell at odds with his only son, who has to insist that Cromwell does NOT write to Bess, and leaves her for himself alone.
I must mention one other episode (I won’t dwell on Hans’ painting of Henry, although that occasioned several wonderful scenes) – and this is the burning of Father Forrest, who does not appear to recant his Popery. It is ironic that I have just read of another burning (described in much less detail, just hinted at) of Lambert – this time a Reformation man – and Cromwell is unable to stand and defend him. This appears to me very much the beginning of the end for him. But Mantel’s description of Forrest’s burning is transfixing, almost as dramatic as Anne Boleyn’s beheading in ‘Bring up the Bodies’ – I will give a snippet:
When the heat reaches him Forrest draws up his blistered bare feet. He contorts himself, screaming, but is obliged to let his legs down into the fire…this stage seems to last a long time, the flames reaching upward, and the man’s efforts to escape them ever more feeble, until at last he hangs and does not resist, and his upper body begins to burn. The friar raises his arms, which have been left free, as if he is clawing towards HEAVEN…at a signal, the executioners step forward and with long iron poles reach into the flames, hook the roasting torso from its chain, and pitch it into the fire below. It goes with a scream from the spectators, a rush and spurt of flame; then we hear no more from Father Forrest.
Cromwell appears increasingly obsessed with executions, not only his childhood memory of seeing Joan Boughton burned, but also what he anticipates will be his end. Currently he is suffering from a fever, as I read, and it is getting so bad that he has been asked who he would like as his final confessor. I was moved a couple of pages ago as Henry asked him could they pray together, and enquired how Cromwell proceeds in his prayers. Feeling as if I am inside Cromwell’s head, I know that Cromwell does not pray too well – perhaps has little headspace for it – and sadly I can relate to that at times! Perhaps he has already got to the point where he doesn’t hope for mercy any more.
However Mantel tries to play it, or tries to hide it, we are following the documented fortunes of a monster – at least, someone who became a monster through his rise, and ultimately became obsessed with something intangible, something other than simply modernizing England, but also about his own posterity. She is starting to paint his life in large tragic brushstrokes now – the chimera of greatness hanging around and off him since the start of the novel – a greatness that never really materialised for him. This is more akin to modern tragedy than to Shakespearean – more like a Krapp from Beckett (‘I wouldn’t go back, not with the fire in me now’) or even a Dame Blanche from ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ who had the pathetic desire to die in innocence.