Monday, 13 May 2013

Duncan Campbell of Kiltearn

Under the hand of God, Rev. Duncan Campbell became a Christian through the ministry of Robert Findlater in Glenlyon. Later Campbell became minister in Kiltearn, Ross-shire, the location in which Findlater had grown up. Campbell also married the daughter of John Macdonald, the Apostle of the North, who preached often for Findlater. The inter-connections give an insight into the providential control of God. 

Duncan was born at Glenlyon on the 21st August 1796. Despite living an outwardly moral life, he was taught that he needed new birth by the Spirit and was converted at the age of twenty-one. In particular he was helped by a sermon Findlater preached from  Jeremiah 8:22: ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?’  Ephesians 2:4-5 (‘But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he has loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved') also helped him find peace with God.

After studying at Edinburgh University, Campbell was licensed on March 1, 1832, at Moulin by the Presbytery of Dunkeld. Initially he served as an agent of Perth City Mission. On January 23, 1834. he was ordained and inducted to the Mission Church of Lawers. These were days of spiritual revival to which he often referred in later years. Another change in location occurred in 1837 (when he became minister of the parliamentary charge of Innerwick, Glenlyon), and it was followed by a move north on March 17, 1842 (when he  became parish minister of Kiltearn).

His younger brother David (1799–1877) became a minister before him. He was also a minister in Glenlyon (1832-36) and in Lawers (1855-77). In between he was minister of the East Church, Inverness (1836-38) and Tarbat in Ross-shire (1838-55). In 1840, Tarbet experienced a spiritual awakening at its July communion at which Dr. Macdonald, Ferintosh was preaching. The revival spread throughout the area into other presbyteries. Daily services were common and were attended by large crowds; at times the cries from the audiences drowned out the voice of the preacher. Several years later, several of the converts in Tarbert died during an outbreak of fever in the community.

David Campbell had a ministry in which he experienced revival. Writing in 1864, he recorded: 'I witnessed three religious revivals – one in Breadalbane and Glenlyon in the year 1816; one in Tarbert and other parishes in Ross-shire in the years 1840 and 1841; a third in Lawers in the year 1861. Let sovereign grace have all the glory' (Annals of the Disruption, 9-10).

In 1835 Duncan married Margaret Macdonald in Edinburgh. She was the daughter of Dr Macdonald, Ferintosh. Her brother John describes Duncan 'as a man of God, esteemed and respected'. Shortly afterwards John wrote her a letter giving her some advice including this counsel: 'May the Lord make you a mother in Israel, even to His own little ones ! Be a fellow-worker in promoting your husband's ministry — by prayer, by character, by the hand, by the lip, work for your Lord in heaven. The pious wife of a gospel minister may be of incalculable benefit in winning and encouraging souls; but she who is not so will incur the fearful responsibility of arresting the Lord's work. Render yourself, then, up unto the Lord as His; walk in the Spirit, and seek constant love, light, and strength.' 

In addition to marrying the daughter of the Apostle of the North, Duncan was also related to the preacher who succeeded his father-in-law as minister of Ferintosh Free Church (Malcolm Macgregor' s mother was Duncan's cousin).

Duncan spent thirty-two years in Kiltearn. In 1843, along with his brother, he joined the Free Church of Scotland. In doing so, he 'resigned one of the best livings in the Church at the call of duty, thereby incurring altogether a loss of some thousands of pounds for conscience sake'. He had to move his family to 'an old wreck of a house' on which he had to make 'considerable repairs at my own expense'. Yet when he reviewed these times after more that two decades (in 1865) he wrote: 'My days are now drawing to a close, and I have great cause to praise the Lord for His goodness to me and mine. He has borne with my manifold infirmities and shortcomings.... Having now had the trial of twenty-two years as a Disruption minister, I bless the Lord for honouring me to be one of that band of witnesses to Christ' (Annals of the Disruption, 407). According to a brief mention of his ministry in Religious Life in Ross, 'he was much esteemed as a faithful evangelical minister of the gospel'.

Towards the end of his life, his mind was on his spiritual state. He became strongly aware of his sinfulness:  ‘Oh, when I think of sin, that abominable thing which God hates: my own sins, original and actual, the depth of my spiritual pollution; I feel as if my very flesh would consume.’ He referred to Bible verses such as ‘My soul doth melt and drop away, for heaviness and grief’ and ‘Behold I am vile’ – ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ Nevertheless he knew himself the remedy that he had preached to others: ‘Oh, the love of Christ! The blood of Christ! I thank God for Jesus Christ my Lord.’ He accepted his situation in a submissive manner: ‘As to my illness I have no will in the matter. I’m wholly resigned to His will. I lie passive in His hands. His will is best. If He will leave me here a little longer, I’m satisfied; if it is His will to take me home, His will be done.’

On the day he died (October 21, 1873), he asked his elders to come and see him in order to bid them farewell. During that visit they heard the final words he spoke in this life: ‘Jesus – Jesus – Christ crucified – Come with me now through the swellings of Jordan.’

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Highland Harvester

Highland Harvester is the title of a book 
written by George Mitchell which was
 published in February 2013 and charts the 
life, times and legacy of Peter Grant (1783-
1867). He is known in the Scottish 
Highlands as ‘Peter Grant of the Songs’,
 and is arguably the most influential Gaelic 
hymn-writer of the nineteenth century.
 His collection of hymns ran to twenty
editions. Professor Donald Meek writes of them: ‘Grant’s hymns will remain forever as an integral part of the Gaelic spiritual heritage of the mainland Highlands, the Hebrides and areas far beyond, where Gaelic speakers have settled.’
Peter Grant was a powerful Gospel preacher, the second pastor of Grantown-on-Spey Baptist Church, where he served for forty-one years. He worked on his farm, Ballenta, which his family has worked for three centuries, and took no stipend from the church for years. He preached at least five times a week and usually spent a few weeks each summer as an itinerant preacher.
The small Baptist Church in Grantown grew to 292 members and had several outreach Sunday Schools and preaching stations in the Grantown area. The Lord visited the community in gracious waves of revival during Grant's ministry, with two to three hundred people attending each of two midweek prayer meetings. Up to 1200 people attended the baptismal services he conducted in the River Spey.
Peter had no English until he was thirteen years old, and was succeeded in the pastorate by his son William, who also spoke Gaelic. William himself ministered to many of the 2000 or so navvies who camped in the area during the building of the Highland Railway.
George Mitchell obtained many of the papers on which he researched this remarkable Highland revival from Yvonne, the widow of John Fisher of Inverness, and Dr Ian Grant (Peter’s great-great-grandson) writes: ‘I think George Mitchell has captured the essence of Peter Grant in all his character.’
The book reveals Peter’s warmth in his family letters – he had ten children and seventy grandchildren – and the analysis and extracts from his preaching stir the heart. We capture the spirit of a remarkable preacher, whose sole resources for many years were a Bible and a small English dictionary! The book also illustrates the global reach of this Highland ministry.
Peter Grant lived through a fascinating kaleidoscope of social, historical and theological changes. These included the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellions, the control of the Moderates within the national church, the missions of the Haldane brothers, the Agrarian Revolution, the Highland Clearances, the Hungry Forties, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Disruption of 1843.
Eric Alexander writes: ‘I knew almost nothing of Peter Grant before reading this excellent book. May the book be widely used to create a longing for true revival in the church in the twenty-first century!’

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Account of a Scottish Highland Communion

On Sabbath week (23d July, 1843) we enjoyed an opportunity of witnessing in the West Highlands one of those impressive spectacles which have been of frequent occurrence in the rural districts of the country since the disruption of the Church — the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper in the open air. The services were of such a peculiarly interesting character, and excited so much attention throughout an extensive tract of country, that, for the benefit of those who have never witnessed sacramental solemnities under similar circumstances, we shall endeavour to describe them.

It was the communion at Ardchattan, a parish situated on the banks of Loch Etive, well known to tourists as one of the most beautiful lochs in Scotland. The Rev. Mr. Fraser, the excellent minister, has joined the Free Church with all his people, the exceptions being quite inconsiderable, and consisting only of a few lairds, and such of their dependents as their influence has retained in the bondage of the Establishment. We are not aware whether the Presbytery of the bounds (Lorn) has of late even provided supplies for the vacant parish; but on the communion Sabbath of the Free Church the parish church was closed. It is a handsome new edifice, which was completed a year or two ago; and seen from the opposite side of the loch, as we pursued our way towards the place where the communion was held, it presented, with its silent and deserted courts, a sorry contrast to the animating scene that awaited us. The manse, a large and commodious one, and then just about to be vacated by Mr. Fraser and his Christian and noble-minded lady, stands on the same side of the loch with the church, but a mile or two farther up, near the site of the old place of worship; and it was a piece of ground in the neighbourhood of the manse which had been selected for the scene of the day’s solemnities. The congregation could be dimly descried across the loch when we reached the ferry, and the melody of psalms was wafted in soft and fitful strains athwart the rippled waters.

On landing on the opposite shore, and rounding a point which prevented us from seeing the congregation till we were full upon it, a scene of unsurpassable beauty and grandeur opened to the view, which we shall never forget. It was one of those sunny and silent Sabbath-days for which we have of late heard town congregations praying, that their fellow-Christians, driven forth from house and hold, might assemble for the worship of the Most High under the canopy of heaven in circumstances of external comfort; and just such a Sabbath as has often recurred, ‘and often been remarked, during the present moist and fickle summer, to make many hearts glad that their prayers for their friends’ and brethren’s sakes had not been disregarded.

It was generally computed that not fewer than three thousand people were congregated on this spot, many of them from a great distance, some of them having crossed mountain, and muir, and loch, for thirty miles round. It was the first communion of the Free Church in the district. None but those who have mingled amongst these warm-hearted and high-minded people, can estimate the depth of affection and the generous enthusiasm with which they have flown to the support of the Free Protesting Church of Scotland. This of itself is attracting hundreds from the mountains and the glens to the Highland communions; and never were seasons of greater solemnity experienced in a land which has long been characterised by the piety of its people.

But this occasion was rendered still more interesting by the presence of that eminent servant of God, the Rev. Dr. M'Donald of Urquhart, familiarly known throughout the Highlands as ‘the apostle of the north’; and of the Rev. Mr. M'Lean, from Cape Breton, we believe. This gentleman returned lately to his native country for the benefit of his health, and has been labouring with singular energy and success in the island of Mull, which has for long been under the undisputed control of Moderate ministers. Mr. M'Lean’s ministry there has been already singularly blessed. The islanders flock to him on Sabbaths and on week-days to receive from his lips a full and faithful exhibition of the gospel; and it was quite delightful to hear, in all quarters, of the great and good work which is going forward in Mull. So acceptable have been his ministrations, that, we rejoice to state, arrangements have been made for settling Mr. M'Lean permanently in Tobermory, the flourishing little capital of the island. In addition to these gentlemen, Mr. Fraser had the able assistance of the Rev. William Fraser of Kilchrenan, and the Rev. Mr. Bannatyne of Oban.

The tent was pitched and the table spread upon a plot of smooth greensward skirting the loch, and sloping upwards from the water’s edge till it terminated in a knoll, rising to the level of the ancient sea-beach, which is seen running with remarkable precision in parallel lines on the banks of Loch Etive, as in all the manifold lochs which intersect this part of the Highlands. It was on this knoll, formed by a massive rock, and glittering with wild flowers – the stone-crop, the blue-bell, Milton’s ‘euphrasy,’ the thyme, and the tormentilla – that the great proportion of the multitude were seated, full in view of the tent, which was placed with its back to the water. Contemplated from this beautiful spot, with the solemn associations of the day and the occasion crowding upon the mind, the surrounding scenery assumed the aspect of one august temple. A few miles to the left, and closing the view of the loch in that direction, Ben Cruachan was seen in all his magnificent proportions, from base to summit, relieved against a serene sky — his rugged scalp of bare red granite glistening in the sunshine, and contrasting with the broad shadows cast upon his flanks by the passing clouds. The peaks of the Glenorchy hills, seen far off over the shoulder of the lofty Ben, formed the background of the view in that direction. In front lay the district of Mid Lorn, with its ocean of swelling hills; and away to the right, the rest of the gorgeous panorama was filled up by the lofty hills of Mull and the dark heights of Morven. At the foot of the loch, and commanding a strait where the tides flow with a tumultuous rapidity and power which often set all navigation at defiance, stood the ancient castle of Dunstaffnage, once the seat of Scottish royalty, and still a proud and beautiful ruin. Doubling the promontory, we come upon another fort, the castle of Dunolly; and within sight of Dunstaffnage stand the interesting remains of the vitrified fort of Beregonium. Duart and Ardtornish castles are in the distance; and almost every island and every headland bristles with its old fortalice or keep, reminding the stranger of no very remote age when this lovely and romantic land was the seat of lawless power and feudal despotism – when the chiefs were tyrants and the people serfs.

It was in such a scene, and on such an occasion, when the contrast betwixt the Highlands as they were and as they are was suggested to the mind by external objects so striking, that one could appreciate the full force of Dr. Chalmers’s thrilling appeal in behalf of the home missionary labours of the Church of our fathers:

‘Come and see the effect of her missionary exertions. It is palpable, and near at hand. It lies within the compass of many a summer tour; and tell me, ye children of fancy, who expatiate with a delighted eye over the wilds of our mountain scenery, if it be not a dearer and a worthier exercise still, to contemplate the habits of her once rugged and wandering population. What would they have been at this moment, had schools, and bibles, and ministers been kept back from them? and had the men of a century ago been deterred by the flippancies of the present age, from the work of planting chapels and seminaries in that neglected land? The ferocity of their ancestors would have come down, unsoftened and unsubdued, to the existing generation. The darkening spirit of hostility would still have lowered upon us from the north; and these plains, now so peaceful and so happy, would have lain open to the fury of merciless invaders. O, ye soft and sentimental travellers, who wander so securely over this romantic land, you are right to choose the season when the angry elements of nature are asleep! But what is it that has charmed to their long repose the more dreadful elements of human passion and human injustice? What is it that has quelled the boisterous spirit of her natives? – and while her torrents roar as fiercely, and her mountain brows look as grimly as ever, what is that which has thrown so softening an influence over the minds and manners of her living population?’ (Dr. Chalmers’ Works, Vol. xi. p. 233).

We had a ready answer in the scene before us. It was – what might long ago have Christianised and civilised distracted Ireland – the Bible in the school and the Bible in the church, read and expounded in the native language. We have often heard of the attention which Highlanders give to preaching in Gaelic, but never before had an opportunity of witnessing it. Dr. M'Donald was the first minister who preached from the tent, the action sermon to the Gaelic-speaking population being assigned to him: and while his sonorous voice rose high and clear as the sound of a trumpet, all heard and all hung upon his words, with an eagerness which we never saw equalled under the most eloquent discourse to a Lowland congregation. Wherever there was a prominence on the knoll which projected a group in strong relief from the mass, there they sat, like a study of heads in statuary, all looking earnestly at the preacher, and all rooted immoveably to the spot. The universal attention was infectious, and Sassenach ears, albeit unused to the music of the mountain tongue, listened too with pleasure, till they began to attach intelligible ideas to these unwonted sounds.

Mr. Fraser, the late minister of the parish, preached an excellent sermon in English, to a small body of the people, in a barn attached to the manse, preparatory to dispensing the communion there. The audience was much impressed; and when the sacred elements were brought forth, and the Lord’s people were invited to come forward to His table – spread out with rustic simplicity in that bald ‘upper chamber’, dimly lighted by narrow loop-holes, seated with rude benches, and swept through by the passing breeze – there was something so touching in the scene and its accessories, that all present seemed overcome at once by the same emotion, and not a few wept.

The services here were concluded with a very seasonable and soothing discourse by Mr. Bannatyne, when most of the congregation joined the main body in the open air. Here the services were if possible still more affecting. Mr. Fraser of Kilchrenan was addressing the last table of communicants, with much energy and affection of manner. The same earnest attention and unbroken stillness prevailed amongst the people. The table was stretched in one long line in front of the tent, where Dr. M'Donald was seated, the benches running parallel on either side. The preacher closed his animated address, and as the elders moved noiselessly along, carrying the consecrated memorials of redeeming love, the eye, in glancing along the rows of devout communicants, might have fallen upon the figure of some venerable man in a shepherd’s plaid, swaying himself backwards and forwards, unconscious of aught but his own thoughts – and whose stooping posture and thin white locks testified to the winters he had weathered amongst the surrounding heights. There were many such fine specimens of the cottage patriarch, pious and grave men, seated at the table of communion; and decent matrons in homely but comfortable attire, wearing no bonnets, but with caps as white as the driven snow. All seemed profoundly affected. Many shed tears. Surely that was a day of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and a day long to be remembered in the district.

Mr. M'Lean addressed the people after the communion, in Gaelic, in which language all the open air services were conducted, and was listened to with unflagging interest. After a song of praise, which had a peculiarly pleasing effect in the native tongue, the benediction was pronounced by Dr. M'Donald, and the congregation began to disperse. One solitary vessel was seen on the loch during the day, a handsome yacht, which had conveyed a party of warmly attached friends of the Free Church from Oban to Ardchattan. Now its surface was dotted far and near with boats filled with people; and up amongst the hills and glens groups were seen slowly wending homewards in all directions. In a brief space scarcely a vestige of the multitude was anywhere to be discovered. The boats had rounded headlands, and disappeared. Families and friends who took sweet counsel together as they left behind them the scene of sacramental solemnities, and whose hearts burned within them by the way, while they sought again their quiet hamlets and mountain sheilings, were lost sight of as they receded into the shadows of the hills. And the thought came home impressively to one’s mind, that here was a great congregation separated, which could never surely all worship together again on this side of eternity.

Next day there were thanksgiving sermons in English and Gaelic, Dr. M'Donald preaching to a congregation of several hundreds in the latter language. A churlish landlord, who had refused a site for the Free Church, prohibited his farm-servants from attending worship on the fast-day and the preparation and thanksgiving days; and on one or other of these occasions sent them to hay-making, although it rained! In order to accommodate his people, and others in similar circumstances, as well as many from a distance who still lingered in the neighbourhood, Dr. M'Donald consented to preach again in the evening, after working-hours. When Mr. Fraser made the announcement of an additional sermon, which it was known that many from a distance would remain to hear, at great personal inconvenience, he expressed in Gaelic a hope that the people living in the neighbourhood would show every kindness in their power to those who were far from home, reminding them that even a cup of cold water given to them in the name of disciples, would not lose its reward. When the congregation turned to go away, it seemed as if every countenance beamed with tenderness and brotherly love.

Notes of a sermon by Duncan Campbell of Kiltearn

This sermon was preached at Rosskeen at the close of the Communion Sabbath [20th June 1858].  The Rev. John H. Fraser, minister of Rosskeen, said: ‘I can yet recall the appearance of the vast crowd, as in his closing appeals he became most pathetic, and the echo from the gable of our church seemed to second him.’ Details of Campbell’s life can be found here.

‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing’ (2 Tim. 4:8).

After reviewing the period of his life which had passed since Christ met him, the Apostle alludes to the comfortable frame of mind which he then enjoyed. As if he had said, I have wrestled and pressed toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; and in all my difficulties, trials, and temptations, I have by grace been able to keep the faith. In the text we have the glorious prospect which the Apostle had before him: ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.’ I am now ready to be offered – the time of my departure is nigh. My fightings and my wrestlings with enemies from within and without, will soon be at an end, I am ready to enter the eternal world, into the joy of my Lord.’ Let us now consider the following points: (1) The crown here spoken of; (2) The Person by whom this crown will be bestowed; (3) The time when it shall be given; (4) The character of those who shall receive it.

1. The crown here spoken of, which the Christian warrior has in view, and shall attain. This is a crown of righteousness. You know that a crown is the symbol of power and dignity, and those who wear earthly crowns are raised to the very summit of earthly power and glory – to the place where all earthly happiness and power are supposed to centre. What an idea this gives of the heavenly mansions, where every saint wears an immortal, unfading, everlasting crown. The crown here mentioned signifies the whole happiness of heaven, a crown purchased by the blood of Christ; attained by the Christian warrior in the way of holiness. This crown signifies perfect and eternal conformity to the law of God. The gems of it are perfect holiness.

2. The Person by whom the crown shall be bestowed. Who shall give it? – ‘The Lord, the righteous Judge.’ This illustrious person is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the righteous Judge, and is well fitted for this great and important work. He knoweth all the actions of men, and sees the motives from which they all proceed. He can distinguish the least spark of grace from the fairest profession of the hypocrite. He shall be righteous in dooming the wicked to eternal misery, and in awarding to the righteous life eternal.

3. The time when it shall be given – ‘On that day,’ that is, the day of his appearing; when in a particular sense he will place the crown of eternal glory on the head of all his followers. That, however, does not mean that they shall remain in a state of inactivity from the day of death till that of the judgment; nor that there is an intermediate state between death and judgment, to prepare for heaven. No! for no sooner is the soul of the believer released from his body, than he is with God. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ ‘On that day’ – a day pregnant with happiness and misery; terror and joy. The last day when Christ shall raise the bodies of his saints, and fashion them like his own glorious body. That day when the elements shall melt with fervent heat. That day when Christ shall separate between the righteous and the wicked. On which hand will you be in that day? What will be the words that will be addressed to you?

4. The character of those who shall receive this crown – ‘They who love his appearing.’ Paul loved and longed for the second coming of Christ. He knew that though his head might be cut off, and his body burnt, and his ashes cast to the four winds of heaven, nothing could separate him from his Saviour and crown. But Paul is not the only one who shall receive this crown, ‘but also all who love His appearing.’ Believers, all of them, love and long for the appearing of Jesus. For, on that day, all their enemies will be subdued; Satan shall no longer tempt, and secret sins shall no longer harass them. Death as a handkerchief shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away, and they will be for ever with the Lord.

In conclusion: (1) See here the blessed and happy end of believers. At the latter end they shall attain to perfect deliverance from sin, and perfect knowledge of their God and Saviour. (2) There is a reality in religion. It is no fancy – no imaginary dream, but a spiritual, substantial reality. It supports and comforts the Christian under the trials and bereavements of this world. At the moment of dissolution it sweetly calms the mind, and supports the soul. At that dread hour, which no child of Adam can avoid, when all earthly things fly away, and eternity opens to view in all its solemnity, it assuages his fears and raises his hopes, leading him through Jordan’s waters, till it conducts him safely to Immanuel’s land. 

Friend, what think you of this? What have you been doing since you had a being? Adding actual transgressions to original sin? What have you been doing here today? You are journeying to eternity, you know not when you may be called to enter it. Oh! have you entered on the Christian Course? Take these things to heart. Where shall this great multitude before me now be in thirty years? The greater number in heaven or hell. What a thought! Ross-shire hearers – after all your privileges, will the greater number remain despisers of the precious Saviour, and rejecters of the great salvation? Better that you had never had a being than that from listening to the voice of mercy, you harden your hearts, and delay coming to Christ. All things are ready. Yet there is room. Hear, and your soul shall live. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Transfiguration of Jesus

A theologian called Brentius commented on this event as follows: ‘No synod on earth was ever more gloriously attended than this. No assembly was ever more illustrious. Here is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. Here are Moses and Elijah, the chief of the prophets. Here are Peter, James and John, the chief of the apostles.’

The event described by Mark and Matthew and Luke, but interestingly not by John, is called The Transfiguration of Jesus. It occurred six days after the famous confession by Peter at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ. After listening to Peter’s confession, Jesus informed the disciples that although he was the Christ, yet he was going to suffer. This information caused confusion amongst his disciples, so perhaps the Transfiguration was designed to reassure them that Jesus was more than a man. Certainly Peter was profoundly affected by this event for he refers to it in his the second chapter of his second letter when he says that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty when they were with him on the Holy Mount.

It is clear from the Gospels that Peter, James and John were given special privileges by Jesus. No doubt, one reason for their receiving of those privileges is connected to the sovereignty of Jesus arranging it for them. Yet it is also the case that they wanted to be near Jesus more than the other disciples did. Usually, in the Christian life we receive from Jesus according to our spiritual desires.

In addition, Jesus was preparing them for their future roles, that of telling others about him after he had risen from the dead. When he had gone back to glory, there would be three men who had witnessed his glory and could testify about it.

Something happened to the body of Jesus while they were on the top of the mountain. The Greek word is the one from which we get the word ‘metamorphosis’ which describes a transformation from one state to another. Each Gospel account says that Jesus’ appearance shone as a very bright light and Luke adds that his appearance was like shafts of lighting. The light came from within him, and was not a reflected glory such as Moses had when he went up to Mt. Sinai.

This was an indication that Jesus is the Light, a common name for God. ‘In him is light and no darkness at all.’  God is light. This description of Jesus is stressed in John 1:3-9. He was the light that shone before the sun was or stars were created.

On the top of the mountain, Jesus’ disciples had contact with two men from heaven. Moses and Elijah were very important figures in the history of Israel. We are not told why they were the ones who appeared with Jesus, but scholars have come up with four possible suggestions. (1) Some say Moses and Elijah were symbolic of the Law and the prophets, the two important offices of Israel. (2) Others see them as being of significance here because their departures from the earth at the end of their human lives were unusual – Moses died in God’s presence on Mount Pisgah and Elijah went to heaven without dying. (3) Still others see this event as picturing the end of the world when the glorified Jesus returns with glorified saints (depicted by Moses and Elijah) to meet the as yet unglorified believers then alive on earth (depicted by Peter, James and John). (4) It is also true that the periods of the ministries of Moses and Elijah are the two other periods of which miracles are recorded in the Bible. Whatever the reason for their coming to the mountain, the important detail is that they were outshone by Jesus.

Moses asked on one occasion to see the glory of God (Exod. 33:18). God granted him his request in as much as was possible. To see God’s glory would be to see all that God is, and it is not possible for a sinful creature to behold it. But God allowed Moses to see some aspects of his character through what is called a theophany. So Moses had seen a manifestation of God on earth; when he went to heaven he would have seen further manifestations of God’s glory; but I would suggest that what he saw here on the Mount of Transfiguration was far superior to any revelation he had known previously.

The same can be said of Elijah because he received a revelation of God on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). He discovered that God was not in the storm, but in the still small voice, another picture of the grace and mercy of God. But as he listened to Jesus on this occasion he would hear sweeter words that ever he heard at Horeb.  After all, when he left Horeb, Elijah left with a message of judgement; but when he left the Mount of Transfiguration, he knew that his Master was on a mission of mercy.

We are told what Moses and Elijah spoke about: the exodus that Jesus would bring about when he died on the cross. This is a revealing insight into the way that the inhabitants of heaven perceived the work of Christ on the cross – an exodus is an achievement, not a defeat. Is it too much to suggest that when Moses and Elijah went back to heaven they informed the heavenly world of what they had discussed with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The baptism of Jesus - Identification with sinners

If the baptism was the opportunity for the Father to express his delight in Jesus, and the occasion of the Spirits equipping Jesus for his work, then as far as Jesus was concerned it was an act of dedication to his work. Now the time had come, and with eagerness he presses forward to the task. His whole heart and mind and body were committed to working out the salvation of sinners.

Luke tells us that as his baptism happens Jesus is praying. Now we know that Jesus was a man of prayer, therefore it is not surprising that he was praying. Luke is the Gospel writer who draws attention to the fact that Jesus prayed, and Luke highlights this aspect of Jesus at crucial events in his public ministry: he spent a whole night in prayer before he called his disciples (6:12); he prayed at the feeding of the 5,000 (9:16); when his disciples confessed he was the Son of God, it was after he had been praying (9:18); his purpose in going up the hill on which the transfiguration took place was to pray (9:28); it was as Jesus was praying that his disciples asked to be taught to pray (11:1); he prayed in Gethsemane (22:40, 46); he prayed for the soldiers at Calvary (23:34); he prayed in the house in Emmaus (24:30).

His baptism was also his first public identification with sinners. John had found Jesus request for baptism to be puzzling, after all Johns baptism was for those who confessed sins and repented of them. But Jesus over-ruled John and in baptism linked himself with sinners.

But his baptism by John also revealed that Jesus was committing himself to save not only Jews but Gentiles. It has been discovered that baptism with water was a ritual whereby Gentiles were admitted to Judaism. So while Jews too were submitting to the baptism it was a clear sign that Jesus was stepping across Jewish barriers to save Gentiles.

The baptism of Jesus - the coming of the Spirit

A feature of the baptism as the first public acknowledgement of Jesus and his role was the coming of the Spirit to equip Jesus for functioning as the Servant of the Lord. This does mean that Jesus did not have the Spirit before then. We are told in Luke that the Spirit was with him as a child.

The Spirit came in the form of a dove at the baptism. A dove is symbolic of two things: gentleness and peace, and these two features were to be the hallmarks of the way Jesus was to fulfil his mission. He was gentle in the way he dealt with sinners. Perhaps that is one reason why women liked to be in his company.

Think of occasions when he showed gentleness. Here are four: (a) he was gentle with the woman at the well; (b) he was gentle with the woman caught in adultery; (c) he was gentle with Mary Magdalene on the resurrection day; (d) he was gentle with Peter when he was restored from his fall.

Gentleness is not often regarded as a manly quality; somehow it is assumed that a gentle person is not a strong person. The only thing that can be said about such a notion is that it is nonsense.

Paul referred to this quality of Jesus when he was dealing with the schismatic Corinthians: Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you (2 Cor. 10:1). To be gentle is an essential feature of a ministers life; it is a qualification for an elder; it is a mark of all believers.

Throughout his earthly life, Jesus with the fullness of the Spirit exhibited continually gentleness and peace. Even on the cross with the dying penitent thief, in the midst of his own troubles, Jesus gave peace to him in a gentle manner.

We can see the range of the Spirits influence in the life of Jesus in his own words which he spoke in his home synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:17-20). Jesus detailed several aspects of what he would do: (1) preach the gospel to the poor; (2) to heal the brokenhearted, (3) to preach deliverance to the captives, (4) recovering of sight to the blind, (5) to set at liberty them that are bruised, (6) to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. We can see what peace he brought to those who were heartbroken and in spiritual chains.