20180907

A Word of Testimony to Jesus


I was born in 1959 and grew up on a housing estate in South Wales. From my earliest years I knew the name 'Jesus'. I now know that not everyone refers to him that way. Some say Iesou or Iesu, others Isha or Yeshua, but to me he was always 'Jesus'. 

Early vague impressions
My earliest impressions were all positive but were unhelpfully embodied in traditional pictures of Jesus as a bearded young man in a long white gown. Our local chapel had a graveyard and one of the more flamboyant Victorian graves boasted a statue of an `angel' (ie a winged young hermaphrodite in a long gown). Despite the missing beard, I thought this must be a statue of Jesus (perhaps marking the site of his burial!). I think this was because from the beginning I had picked up the idea that above everything else Jesus is good. It seemed to me that anyone who was good must look good. 
As I grew a little older I remember pointless arguments in my unbelieving home as to Jesus' physical appearance. I had come to the conclusion that there was no reason to suppose him to be the blue-eyed, blonde of Sunday School pictures. I was particularly keen on the idea that he was of African appearance. I had never met anyone of a different race to my own European one but this was the 1960s and I think I came to this rather odd conclusion because I was aware of the oppression of people of colour in different parts of the world. Jesus, it seemed to me, was a man on the side of the oppressed, one who himself had been persecuted and so even if not black in reality he was at least so in spirit. 
A little more research established the fact that Jesus was most likely to have been of Middle Eastern appearance. We had a beautifully tooled book at home (a Seventh Day Adventist production I later learned). It included several pictures of Jesus, still very romantic, but clearly suggesting he was Jewish. 
So I came to believe that Jesus was a Jew (whatever that might mean). I believed he was a man, but no ordinary man - one who transcended racial barriers and even human ones. Sometimes this latter perception was bolstered in rather bizarre ways. For instance, at the Sunday School we would sing a song I knew as `Jesus bits of shine' (you may know it better as 'Jesus bids us shine'). Yes, I thought, Jesus was majestic, a 'sparkly Jesus' even. Then from somewhere else I picked up the chorus of the Negro spiritual 'Michael row the boat ashore'. When I asked my mother who Michael was she told me it was another name for Jesus. She held to this view, I guess, under the influence of the Watchtower teaching that she was receiving at the time. I believe Calvin also identified the Archangel and the Christ but most evangelicals would not accept that today. For me, even though the information was not necessarily accurate, it added to my conviction that this man Jesus was definitely someone very special indeed. 

Later clear impressions
So, throughout my pre-teens, my notions of Jesus remained decidedly vague. However, in 1970 I began to sit regularly under the faithful preaching of the Word of God. The Scriptures speak first and foremost of Jesus Christ and it was through the exposition of the Word, in public and in private, that I eventually came to a clear understanding of who Jesus really is. Since about 1971 I have felt that Jesus knows me and that I know him, personally. In 1973 I sought to underline that conviction publicly by being baptised by immersion. 
I now realised Jesus is not simply a very special man but the God-man. He is God, it is true, yet he is also a man. As a man he came to earth from the glory of heaven and as a man he died on the cross on behalf of sinners. Also as a glorified man he is now at the Father's right hand in heaven. By means of his Holy Spirit he comes to those who put their trust in him. I have put my whole life in his hands and I firmly believe that he lives with me and in me by his Spirit. It is a developing relationship not a static one but from my own viewpoint I would say there are five leading characteristics in my relationship to him. 

I. Jesus is my Friend
Who is your best friend? Without hesitation I have to say Jesus is. That can sound trite I know but I have no-one like him. I tell him absolutely everything. There are no secrets nor can there be. There are things I tell Jesus I would not tell my own dear wife. Not a day passes, sometimes scarcely a daylight hour, without us speaking. Often - on my best days - we are inseparable. We are always together. Life without Jesus is impossible to contemplate. It would have no meaning. I love him with all my heart. Nothing grieves me more than to let him down. The better I know him the more amazed I am that he should want to be a friend to me but that is what he has always been. 

2. Jesus is my Saviour
Of course, he is far more than a friend - he saved me. He lived and died so that all my sins could be forgiven and that I might live with him in Paradise forever. I truly believe that if I were the only sinner on earth Jesus would have died just for me and that there is no other way I could possibly have been delivered. To say I am indebted to him for everything is an understatement. Apart from Jesus I am nothing.

3. Jesus is my Shepherd
The Lord is my Shepherd. I say this because although he is my Friend and Saviour and although he lives in me, yet I still feel, within, a temptation to wander from him. It is madness I know but sometimes the temptation can be strong. When I do wander he gently brings me back and on my best days I am more than willing to follow wherever he leads. I am convinced this can be only for my good. Even when I pass through the darkest times I am not afraid because he is with me. Both blessing and trouble assure me of his guiding hand. He will bring me safely home. I trust him. 

4. Jesus is my King
He is also my King., my Lord and Master. Whatever he commands I am willing to do. Wherever he sends I am willing to go. I honour him. I respect him. I look to him. If necessary I am willing to give up my life for his sake and for the sake of his kingdom. 

5. Jesus is my God
Finally, I do not simply love and serve him: I worship him. I bow down before him not simply as my King but as my God. He is the absolute Lord of all of my life. Nothing is hidden from him. He has the right to demand from me what he will and to do with me as he please. I am nothing. He is all.

First published in Grace Magazine

Madness, evil and death

Flowers outside Kensington Palace following Diana's death
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The .I. same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead. Ecclesiastes 9:3
I was only 4 years old on 22 November 1963, but I remember it. It was the day President Kennedy died in Dallas. I guess my young sons will remember equally well 31 August 1997. It was the day Diana, Princess of Wales, died in Paris. Certainly they will remember 6 September 1997, when we walked the two streets from our door to where thousands had gathered to see the hearse containing Diana's coffin pass. The outpouring of grief that has followed this tragic death has been unparallelled. Not even the deaths of Eva Peron, Elvis Presley or other so-called 'icons' have caused such widespread grief. Even Mother Teresa's death has not been met with the same world-wide attention. 
We were all stunned by the news. Sometimes God shocks us. You do not know what a day may bring forth he says. At the same time no doubt, our hearts went with compassion to the families involved and especially to the young princes, William and Harry. 
But such a death also makes us stop and think. We need to consider, when God does such shocking things. Consider what God has done ... When times are bad consider (Ecclesiastes 7:13,14). There is no point in seeking to pry into God's inscrutable providence. We cannot say, for instance, 'If they had not divorced, she would not be dead'. There are too many Ifs between the two events. God has not built a law into this present world that evil always leads to pain. 

DEATH
Rather, as with every death, we call to mind God's sovereignty in life and in death. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21). Similarly it is a reminder of our own mortality. As the Preacher says All share a common destiny (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Even from the under the sun point of view, without considering the eternal dimension of heaven and hell, it is clear that everyone dies. Nothing can exempt you. The death of the princess brings this home. 
Beauty exempts no-one. Diana was lovely and benefited from the best beauty treatments of the day. But beauty is fleeting. Beautiful or ugly, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Fine clothes exempt no-one. It is tempting to think a person in fine clothes will never wear a shroud. Sharp dressers or slobs, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Youth exempts no-one. She was only 36. One can die at any age. Babies die, children, teenagers .... The same destiny overtakes all.
Personality exempts no-one. Diana had personality, charisma. But it could not save her from death. Life and soul of the party or rather lacklustre, we all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Fame exempts no-one. She was the most famous woman in the world. Celebrities and nobodies die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Riches exempt no-one. Wealth could not save her either. Man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. Rich or poor, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Power exempts no-one. Politicians failed to get land mines on to the political agenda; Diana succeeded. Yet your power cannot deliver from death. The same destiny overtakes all.
Troubles exempt no-one. Her life was certainty not without its troubles. But no matter how many troubles we face we still have to face the last enemy. The same destiny overtakes all.
Overcoming troubles to find happiness exempts no-one. She seems to have overcome many of her troubles. It is easy to get a false sense of security when that happens but only Christ has conquered death. Winners and losers in life, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Good works exempt no-one. A great deal has been said about Diana's compassion and concern. There is no denying her good works but they have not preserved her from death. Good works or none, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Religion exempts no-one. Sadly, there is no evidence that Diana knew the Lord. One of her last reported brushes with anything remotely spiritual was to consult an astrologer. Was she told what would happen? Even the true religion of faith in Christ leads to the glory of heaven by way of death. Whatever your religion you will die. The same destiny overtakes all.

EVIL AND MADNESS
Then think of the evil and madness surrounding Diana in life and death. Think of the divorces that marred her life; the adulteries; the way she was photographed and turned into an `icon'; the way her presence could totally transform the presentation of issues. Think of the bizarre circumstances of her death - the jet-set romance that led up to that night, the paparazzi, the excessive speed, the apparently drunken driver, the furore that has followed. Think of the massive TV and radio coverage - and scarcely a word of biblical truth and sense. Think of the supposedly Christian funeral that centred on the one created not on the Creator, its high point not a hymn but a secular song from an avowed homosexual, no sermon from God's Word but a powerful scathing speech that mentioned God but once. Great is Diana taken out of the pagan stadium and into the church itself! Think of the banishing of the National Lottery from the TV screen, hiding in a corner as it were until the coast was clear! Think of supermarkets and sportsmen respecting the Princess but not the Prince of Glory. Think of the madness and evil of a nation spiritually empty with a religious hierarchy so bankrupt as not to have a word of genuine comfort for the spiritually starving. 
Meanwhile from 'above the sun' it has been made clear: After death, the judgment. Diana, Dodi Al-Fayed and the chauffeur are all either in heaven or hell. We are all headed to one or other too. In the madness and evil of this present time let's look to the Lord and pray for mercy.

this article first appeared in Grace Magazine at the time of Diana's death

The creativity of a 19th century evolutionist

Ernst Haeckel
DOWN'S SYNDROME is a chromosomal disorder found in certain babies. Not so very long ago it was better known as mongolism. The reason for this is that in the 20th century evolutionary science held to the view that as the embryo develops it recapitulates the supposed evolution of the species from its more primitive forms. A baby found to be suffering from Down's syndrome was thought to be under-developed, having reached only the stage of development of the (supposedly) inferior Mongol peoples.
It sounds staggeringly inept, frighteningly racist and staggers belief. Yet that is why until surprisingly recently the word mongol was used to refer both to people of a particular Chinese ethnic origin and those suffering from Down's syndrome. 
One of the chief popularisers of this so called biogenetic law or recapitulation theory was the Professor of Zoology at Jena, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). His 1868 History of Creation popularised and extended Darwinism. He denied being a materialist but much of what he said sounded very much like it. He coined the now familiar term ecology and in his best selling Riddle of the Universe he claimed that plants were conscious. It is perhaps understandable that one of his followers declared that Haeckel's name would become a shining symbol that would 'glow for centuries'. 
However, the recapitulation theory, though warmly greeted at first, was not set to last for long. The theory is often summarised in the phrase 'ontology recapitulates phylogeny'. The idea was that the various stages of human evolution are observable as a fast forward re-run in the development of the human embryo. Thankfully this nonsense has long been discredited and is no longer acceptable to modern scientists. 
Haeckel was an atheist. He endeavoured to apply Darwinist principles in politics and society. He has been described as attempting to synthesise 'romantic folkism with scientific evolutionism'. Through his later Monist league he was a major ideologist for racism and nationalism. His likely influence on the future author of Mein Kampf (`My struggle') cannot be overlooked. Thankfully, however, the horrendous racism of the Third Reich has also been rejected on a large scale. 
On the other hand, if you pick up a modern edition of Gray's Anatomy or a textbook such as Scott Gilbert's Developmental Biology you will find that they contain drawings based on Haeckel's 1874 work that purport to show embryos of various species all looking remarkably similar in their early stages of development. 
However, it seems that this part of Haeckel's legacy is no more trustworthy than his recapitulation theory and scientists are being slowly awakened to the fact. Haeckel, if we may put it this way, was rather creative in his efforts to promote an evolutionary view. Last summer an essay appeared in the journal Anatomy and Embryology by Dr Michael Richardson of St George's Hospital Medical School in London. There he says (according to The Times
This is one of the worst cases of scientific fraud. It's shocking to find that somebody one thought was a great scientist was deliberately misleading. It makes me angry.
He describes the drawings as 'misleading and inaccurate' or, in the vernacular, 'fakes'. 
Dr Richardson has put together an international team of experts to demonstrate the inaccuracy of Haeckel's drawings and it seems that this particular plank of evolutionary theory is being abandoned for good. Of course, for Bible believing Creationists there are few surprises here. As long ago as 1989, in his book The Long War Against God, Henry Morris wrote that even in his own lifetime Haeckel was
forced to admit that he had "Schematised" (or better "fabricated") the famous series of sketches supposedly showing that the embryos of all mammals (including man) are essentially identical for some time after conception. These fallacious drawings have been reproduced in text after text since they were first developed by Haeckel as part of his atheistic propaganda.
But, of course, no-one listens to Creationists and their crack-pot ideas! 
We do not suppose that all evolutionists are crooks. Nevertheless, their blind faith in an unbiblical and atheistic theory does leave them susceptible to being hoodwinked in this way. If Dr Richardson was angry when he realised that Haeckel had deceived him, how will he feel when he realises that the whole evolutionary theory, to which he continues to be committed, is built on sand? How we should weep in compassion for those who have believed this lie.
This article first appeared in Grace magazine

Our great loss: Robert Sheehan 1951-1997

It is difficult to put into words how great the sense of loss felt by those who love the Reformed faith at the passing of our dear brother Bob Sheehan. One correspondent quoted from Southey's Life of Nelson: 'The death of Nelson was felt in England as something more than a public calamity; men started at the intelligence and turned pale, as if they heard of the loss of a dear friend.'
If this were a more godly time that is how Bob's death would be greeted. It is certainly how it has been greeted not just in this country but across the world by those who have benefited from Bob's ministry either personally or through his writings.
We all have personal memories, of course. I picture Bob in full flight expounding Scripture and explaining truth to eager listeners. I see him in private conversation on a tube train or immediately after a meeting, typically with a smile at some anecdote or other. I remember too his ability to cut through the fog of confusion and disagreement that sometimes descends in a committee to bring us safely to a united decision. Then I think of an impressive spontaneous contribution at a Banner Conference, listing five reasons why Spurgeon eschewed the systematic expository method. I remember too how, with typical self-effacement, as he sat down he whispered that he was only able to say what he had as he had recently been preparing a paper on Spurgeon.
Then I recall a Sunday morning at Childs Hill early in my ministry when he and Wendy turned up unexpectedly. My reaction at the time reminds of an anecdote I later heard Bob share. It was of how as a student he was out preaching. Before going in a deacon warned him that if he should see an old man at the back slipping out just before the final hymn he was not to worry ... Dr Lloyd-Jones often did that! Bob's application to himself then and subsequently was that if the presence of a great preacher makes me fearful, how much more should the fact that I preach always in the presence of the Living God. In my situation, however, things were exacerbated by the fact that we were attempting a capella singing that morning in the absence of our only pianist. During the second hymn the singing broke down and I was at a loss to know what to do. Suddenly it was Bob to the rescue. He strode to the piano and taking the tune book from my hand he proceeded to accompany us with competence through the rest of the meeting.
Finally, I remember Bob in his final extremity, following the first of three brain haemorrhages that combined to take his life. Though flat on his back he was still typically lucid and systematic as he explained his situation. 'There are three possible outcomes ...' he explained. And then I remember him saying, `But I feel so weak, so very weak'. It is sobering to see how low our heroes can be brought by the hand of God. As he raised up Bob to preach his Word so now he has taken him to be with him - which is far better. He gave. He took. Praise to his name.
The loss, however, is ours. Our hearts go out to Wendy and to the rest of the family and to the congregation at Welwyn in their great loss. We in the wider Reformed world share in that loss too. We shall especially miss:
1. His commitment to the Reformed Faith. There was no question of his solid orthodoxy. One felt safe when he was tackling a subject either in print or at a conference or in private conversation. He not only held to the truth firmly but was able to articulate it clearly.
2. His erudition. Bob trained as a young man at the London Bible College but his theological education clearly did not end there. I remember him once at the Metropolitan Tabernacle revealing that he was considering his study programme not just for the coming year but for the coming ten years. His valuable contributions to systematic, historical and practical theology were all equally learned.
3. His youth. Bob was born in the fifties. There is a difference between the generation that grew up in the fifties and sixties and those from before that time. To hear someone this side of fifty expound ancient truths brings its own particular encouragement. It is tempting to ponder what might have been had he lived another 40 years but we submit to the Lord and give thanks for the years in which we did benefit.
4. His wisdom and vision. I was particularly aware of this in connection with the Evangelical Library. Bob became chairman of the trustees just a few years ago. His efforts did not please everyone but there can be no doubt that the situation there has been transformed. The Library is on a better financial footing than it has been for many years.
Bob's wisdom was not only biblically informed but of a very practical nature. I remember once arriving at the station in Derby, following a Carey conference, to find that flooding was blocking the line. My instinct was to sit and wait patiently. But not Bob. There he was over at the taxi rank negotiating a good price for the trip back to Welwyn for himself and his companions. Such practical wisdom is rare. How it will be missed.
5. His energy. Although there were enforced periods of inactivity due to illness and a great deal of time must have been spent on study there was a tremendous energy about Bob that will again be sorely missed. He wrote a great deal for Grace and for other magazines, spoke at several conferences and colleges, travelled to various countries and was often in the vanguard of new initiatives. His very manner breathed life. Part of the tragedy of his final weeks in coma was to see a man so active reduced to virtual stillness. How we need men of such energy!
6. His broad fellowship. Bob lectured and taught Greek at the School of Evangelism in Welwyn. He also lectured at the LRBS and had recently accepted an invitation to join the faculty at LTS. Few would find themselves acceptable at all three institutions. Despite clear and decided views and little appetite for organised unity there was nevertheless a real desire for that true organic unity found in Christ. The widespread sympathy evoked by his illness and death bears ample testimony to that fact.
So what shall we say? This death is sobering. It forces us to look to God. We dare not forget that we are entirely in his hands. But is there not more to say? Surely this loss should stir us, under God, to seek a better grasp of the faith, study harder, seek greater vision, work more vigorously for the kingdom and do what we can to foster organic unity. By God's grace, may it be so.
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine.

Metempsychosis


When I was 11 or 12 I started to go along to the Young People's Fellowship at the chapel around the corner from my home. One Friday they had decided would be an 'Any questions' night with a panel of speakers. We were invited to submit written questions before hand. The idea appealed to me and so I put a question in the box - anonymously of course. On the night, they dealt with my question first. I had asked Does the panel believe in reincarnation? The chairman of the panel was rather facetious at first and simply said `No'. He did go on to give a proper answer, however, although I do not recall what it was. I was in gross ignorance at the time and it seemed to me that reincarnation was at least as likely as any of the other religious ideas I had heard tossed around. Where I had first come across the idea I do not know. 

Truth not imagination
Reincarnation, or metempsychosis as it is sometimes known, is the belief that the human soul passes through a succession of lives. It is a basic tenet of Hinduism and other eastern religions and is also found in various forms of animism. Plato, Pythagoras and other Greek philosophers taught similar things. Even the Church Father Origen is accused of sympathies with the idea. No doubt it is an idea which appeals to many. 
The theory holds that when a person or an animal (or even a plant) dies its soul transmigrates and is reborn to be another person, animal (or plant). Modern versions of the doctrine tend to limit transmigration to the human form alone. The late Laurens van der Post, with what one writer describes as a 'disarmingly na├»ve streak of vanity', believed that he had previously fought on the walls of Constantinople and had been a knight of the Holy Grail. New Ager and actress Shirley MacLaine believes she has been an Inca, a Russian ballet dancer, a monk in a cave and has had many other incarnations. Often people become convinced they have lived previous lives after hypnosis, acupuncture or use of some other 'therapy' or `channelling' process. Such experiences rather reveal the power of the human imagination and Satan's ability to deceive. Some supporters of reincarnation will also quote the 'evidence' of near death experiences. To be fair, such evidence is open to interpretation and often cuts both ways. 

The Fall not Karma
In Hindu thought reincarnation is closely connected with the idea of Karma. Evil deeds of past lives relate to this one and how we live in this life will affect future incarnations. According to this theory only those who are holy enough break through the cycle of rebirth into a moksha of ultimate reality and oneness with the Absolute. It can be a rather pessimistic and discouraging doctrine. I remember a former Hindu describing his disillusionment when he became convinced that a deceased uncle of his who was very holy had been reincarnated only as a cow! In John 9:2, 3 Jesus's comment on the man born blind rules out the idea of sins in some past life affecting this one. The man's blindness was nothing to do with anything that he or his parents had done before his birth.
Unlike the Christian doctrine of the Fall the Hindu theory cannot answer the question of the origin of sin and suffering, it merely pushes the question back in time. 

Scripture not human logic
Reincarnation does seem to take seriously the fact the soul never dies. However, each reincarnation is considered to be a new person and so the doctrine is denied in reality. There is an inner logic to reincarnation but it is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, there we read Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We live only one life. At the end of this one life we will go either to heaven or to hell. We will either be punished for our sins in hell or, if we have gone to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be forgiven. You cannot earn this forgiveness. It is the free gift of our gracious God. After death the believer's soul enters Paradise - not mere nothingness but a real and lasting encounter with the Lord of Glory himself. Nothing can begin to match such a hope. 

Resurrection not reincarnation
When we die our souls go to God and our bodies are left to rot. But a resurrection day is coming when body and soul will be re-united to stand before God for the final judgement. God has guaranteed this resurrection by raising the first already - Jesus himself. Jesus did not teach reincarnation nor did he live it. Rather he taught resurrection (eg Mark 12:26) and he himself rose from the dead. To believe in reincarnation, whether it leads to comfort or despair, is to believe a lie.
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine

20180821

Katherine Hankey Sermon Class

We sang the famous hymn Tell me the old old story recently by the Clapham sect poetess and one time missionary nurse in South Africa, Arabella Katherine Hankey (1836-1911) and it struck me that what she says there ought to be in the mind of every faithful preacher as he preaches.

1. Stick to the main thing
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love
We want it to be fresh and relevant but not new and not earthbound - just the good old gospel and how to get to heaven. Tell them about Jesus - that's what they need to hear.

2. Keep it simple, stupid
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary and helpless and defiled.
Don't try to be clever or expect too much. You're dealing with the weak and weary and with wanderers who need help.

3. Easy does it
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Don't be in a rush and don't assume things. Patiently explain it all - the whole plan of redemption and how sinners are saved.

4. Let's go through that again
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.
Be subtle but don't be afraid of repetition. You'd be surprised how quickly people forget things. And don't be afraid of repetition. It's amazing how quickly people forget things!

5. This is serious

Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Don't be flippant or uncaring. There is seldom need to shout. Seek to be filled with compassion. Be earnest. Love them. Take it seriously. Remember this is the gospel you are preaching.

6. What they really need
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.
Never forget that what they need more than anything else is not your pop psychology or the latest cliches but the gospel. Whatever their particular trouble, the answer is found ultimately in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

7. The ministry of warning

Tell me the old story when you have cause to fear That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
A warning note needs to be sounded for some. A gospel call implies a call to leave the world and its supposed charms. Don't be afraid to be negative where necessary.

8. With an eye on the goal ahead
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”
Death is fearful thing even for the Christian and the people you are speaking to will all have to face it one day, some sooner than others. In death, as much as in life, what they really need to face the final enemy is the same gospel that they needed in life. Preach conscious of that fact.

20180820

Getting to grips with Proverbs



Let a child choose between 500 pennies and a £5 note and he will choose the coins, while you, knowing the value of portable cash, probably prefer the banknote. Proverbs contain portable wisdom. They are brief and to the point. 
Proverbs is one of the Bible's more unusual books. It begins fairly conventionally but after Chapter 9, proverbs dominate. Proverbs appear elsewhere in Scripture but not in such profusion. How do we get to grips with them and with the book? To remember the following points will be a great help.
1. Seek Christ. To get the most from any Bible book you need to work hard, concentrating on seeing Christ there. In Proverbs wisdom is presented as a desirable, omni-competent woman who the father wants his son to marry. In light of the New Testament we see that such wisdom is found ultimately in Christ alone. He is the one to marry! 
2. These proverbs form a collection. Each one needs to be matched with others and compared with other parts of Scripture. As everywhere in Scripture there is repetition. Some proverbs are repeated exactly or with slight variations. An examination of context usually reveals their particular aim. Even where verses apparently jump from subject to subject, appreciating the context is important. Also take care not to let their intensely practical concern with material things and this world lead to an imbalance. Worldly success does not equal righteousness, as we surely know. 
3. Proverbs are proverbial! Do not read them as laws or in a literalistic way. We do not do it with English proverbs. We recognise the truth both of ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ and ‘many hands make light work’. However, with biblical proverbs, conscious it is Scripture, we tend to absolutise in a wrong way. Proverbs are designed to be memorable rather than theoretically accurate. No proverb is a complete statement of truth. It will not automatically apply in every situation. We must use common sense. If blessings or rewards are promised, it is important to remember they are likely to follow. There is no legal guarantee of success.
10:22 says The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. In the Old Testament God’s blessing was often of a more obviously material sort. To argue from this verse that ‘every believer is a wealthy believer’ is to ignore the rest of Scripture, which makes clear that wealth can be a curse or a blessing. It teaches rather that God's blessings are not superficial but worth having. Truly it can be said of those in Christ, All things are yours (1 Corinthians 3:21). 
14:23 says All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Sometimes hard work brings no profit. Every gain is wiped out in one fell swoop. However, there is a proverbial truth here that we must accept. 
See also 15:25 The LORD tears down the proud man’s house but he keeps the widow’s boundaries intact, 16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
4. Many proverbs need “transculturisation”. Some proverbs are expressed in terms rooted in Old Testament practices and institutions. Forgetting that leads to trouble.
25:24 reads Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. The verse may conjure up a man sitting on the corner of a house with a sloping roof, his feet in the guttering. That is not the picture intended. A transculturised version may be ‘Better to be in the spare room than share the house with a quarrelsome wife’.
What about 30:17? The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures It sounds pretty gruesome until you recall that this comes out of a culture living on the edge of a desert. The boy is warned not to wander off but will not listen. Maybe he gets away with it once or twice but a day comes when he wanders off and is lost. Days later they find his ravaged remains.
5. Proverbs follow a number of common patterns. Hebrew psalms employ various sorts of parallelism and Hebrew proverbs have certain characteristics too.
  • Chapters 10-15 contain mostly antithetical or contrasting proverbs, the ‘on one hand … but on the other …’ sort. 10:1 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. Some contrasts are simple, others more complex: 10:8 The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.
  • Chapters 16-22 contain mostly synonymous and synthetic proverbs. In synonymous proverbs the first line is repeated in different words: 11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed See also 16:11.
  • In synthetic ones, the first line is added to with a subsequent one: 10:22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. See also 16:3.
  • Simile. Straight similes predominate in Chapters 25-27 and one or two appear earlier: 10:26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him.
Some proverbs defy neat categorisation. Even within categories, there can be variation. Two more distinctive types worth noting are:
  • Ten better than proverbs, including 12:9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.
  • Six how much more proverbs, including 11:31 If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!
Awareness of such things can help us better appreciate the book.
Proverbs is not always easy to get to grips with but it is very worthwhile doing. Its own introduction promises to help you attain wisdom and discipline, understand words of insight and live a disciplined, prudent, godly life. It can make the simple prudent, give knowledge and discretion to young people and extend the learning of the wise and guide them. What a book!
Spurgeon once warned that though Solomon made a book of proverbs, a book of proverbs never made a Solomon. Getting to grips with Proverbs cannot guarantee anything by itself but it is a God-given book that can help you to be wise and holy. Do all you can to take full advantage of it.

This article frst appeared I believe in the Prtestant Truth Society Magazine