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18th century reproaches


William Law, a very difficult man to live with, shatters our complacency and self-excuses:


"I take it for granted, that every Christian that is in health, is up early in the morning; for it is much more reasonable to suppose a person up early, because he is a Christian, than because he is a labourer, or a tradesman, or a servant, or has business that wants him."


"We naturally conceive some abhorrence of a man that is in bed when he should be at his labour or in his shop. We cannot tell how to think anything good of him, who is such a slave to drowsiness as to neglect his business for it."


"Let this therefore teach us to conceive how odious we must appear in the sight of Heaven, if we are in bed, shut up in sleep and

darkness, when we should be praising God; and are such slaves to drowsiness, as to neglect our devotions for it."


And then, even more caustically:


"Sleep is the poorest, dullest refreshment of the body, that is so far from being intended as an enjoyment, that we are forced to receive it either in a state of insensibility, or in the folly of dreams.”


"Sleep is such a dull, stupid state of existence, that even amongst mere animals, we despise them most which are most drowsy.”


"He, therefore, that chooses to enlarge the slothful indulgence of sleep, rather than be early at his devotions to God... chooses that state which is a reproach to mere animals, rather than that exercise which is the glory of Angels."


Redeeming the time


There is a lot to be said not only for getting out of bed a bit earlier than we are normally inclined for, but also - having won that fight - for making a list of useful jobs or activities which it is desirable to get done before day's end. It is really surprising what a salutary effect such a list can have on the quality and quantity of the day's achievements.


Also, it is desirable and probably necessary to re-cast one's standards of judgement regarding the relative value of the hours spent on this or that. Should the criterion be: What entertainment or relaxation shall I derive? or should it be: What's the good of all this? is there any intrinsic value or usefulness or unselfishness in what I have now taken up?


Young people especially are in need of this kind of regimen, for they are all of them inveterate time-wasters. Who was it said: Youth is wasted on the young? And so also is leisure.


One of the apostle Paul's most familiar aphorisms is that which he knew all his Ephesians and Colossians needed: "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” But isn't it strange that his apodosis does not run: "... because your days are few"? Perhaps, as he often did, he was jumping a step here: "Redeem the time because there isn't much of it - and there isn't much of it because these days are evil.”


If he could imply that then, how much more vigorous would his language be if written in the vileness of our deplorable 20th century? With world conditions and political affairs as they are who would have the crass idiocy to say: "There's plenty of time yet!"?


Paul and Daniel


Paul put point to his exhortation by making it through the medium of a Bible quotation - that oh! so familiar Daniel 2: "I know of a certainty that ye would gain the time (literally: buy time)" to save having your heads chopped off, said wrathful suspicious Nebuchadnezzar.


It may be taken as certain that that sorry assembly of sorcerers was not inclined to pass the time that day with a long drawn-out feast, or with the entertaining torture of a slave or two, or even with the seductive delights of temple houris. For them, that day, life was real, life was earnest.


And those who will bestir themselves to ponder carefully Colossians 4: 2-6 will be rewarded with another half-dozen glimpses of Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar to the glory of God.


Not for him the Lord's censure: "Thou wicked and slothful servant", nor even the (maybe undeserved) reproach thrown at the unemployed in the parable: "Why stand ye here idle?" Yet these last did at least stand. They were not layabouts. And when a call came, they responded readily enough.


Thus they, the last, became first.

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It is a thing not altogether unknown in some Christadelphian ecclesias, that the generations at opposite extremes fail to be interested in each other. Which is a pity, and not at all what Almighty God designed. In ancient Israel the Feasts of the Lord were family festivals. Passover and Tabernacles especially so - and it can hardly be that God wants His New Israel any different.


Yet how we tend to segregate! For in those enjoyable chatty times when formal meetings are concluded and nobody wants to go home because there are so many one wants to talk to, how perceptible it becomes that the old talk to the old (about ailments and grandchildren), and the young talk to the young (about clothes and cars and impending exams). Which is a pity. For these are the God-given opportunities for the age-groups to mix and so to get to know each other better. And if there were this intention in the minds of even a few, what a leavening of increased good feeling and affection would be bound to follow!




But alas, in our wisdom we have seen fit during the past thirty years to give every possible encouragement in the opposite direction. Every ecclesia has its Youth Circle and associated activities, which make it almost a virtue for our teen-agers to pull out from their parents. This in itself would be relatively unimportant, since it normally mortgages only one night a week, and that in wholesome activities (sometimes).


But we have gone on from these to encourage proliferation of a wide diversity of other functions, all of them concentrating on pulling our young people away from the family and away from the ecclesial family, so that now we have achieved a degree of lopsidedness (in Britain) in which the young folk will attend only the functions arranged for and by themselves, and the Fraternal Gatherings are attended only by the oldies. Which, again, is a pity.


Brother Philip Walker, as dedicated a disciple of the Lord as I ever knew, a man who gave much energy to the initiation of our Youth Circles, said to me shortly before he died that he now recognized, with much misgiving, that he had encouraged a mistaken emphasis. But enough on that for the present.


A worldy trend


One looks with a further misgiving on the development of other tendencies of a similar kind. The young folk want their holidays away from their parents (or is it the other way round?).


Also - and this is infinitely more serious - it has become commonplace for a well-paid youngster to move away from home into a flat shared with one or two buddies. It is hard to believe that many parents view such a change in the family pattern with enthusiasm.


The God-less social system we belong to imposes this practice on many of our youngsters who go away to college or university. But is it necessary for us to crow: "How right the world is in its judgement! Let us do all we can to accelerate and intensify family decay, to the glory of God." Every young Christadelphian who deliberately chooses to join in this trend is passing a vote of no confidence in his parents, and should be ashamed accordingly.


At the same time it needs to be recognized that parents far too often goad their children into this kind of reaction. An experienced grammar school teacher was once heard to remark that in his staff-room the comment was too often made: "The people least fit to bring up children are their parents."


This acid untruth at least crystallizes out the unhappy fact that, especially when children are in their teens, parents often make a botch of their personal relations with their maturing youngsters. There is either a lazy indifference to many things the offspring think highly important, or a crass failure to recognize that children do not stay children.


To be sure, parents have both a right and a responsibility still to require obedience, but "Forbid as little as possible" is a mighty good rule for parents at such times. However, once a parent has said "No", that should be firmly insisted on, unless a reasonable compromise heaves in sight.

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Parents who do not go absolutely all out to cultivate good relations with their teen-age children are asking for trouble. This is specially true regarding father and son. In Christadelphian life there is a widespread weakness here.


The same goes for the relationships between old and young in the ecclesia. Lack of mutual understanding not infrequently sets up a certain amount of strain.


Thoughtless young


For instance, the young, with no thought to the irritable reaction of their conservative out-of-date elders, naturally go in for the fashions of their own age-group - hair-styles, clothes, beards, cosmetics - and thereby provoke no little head-shaking.


On the other hand how often has it happened in such situations that the oldies have sadly failed to appreciate that if only the youngsters have a basically sound attitude to the Truth of Christ these other features of their age group are relatively unimportant superficialities that will be outgrown one day.


Mark Twain once wrote: "When I was a boy of fourteen I could hardly stand to have the old man around; but when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”


Short-sighted old


The corresponding fault of the older folk in the ecclesia is a very natural failure to recognize first, that their younger generation has energy which needs to be - ought to be -harnessed to wholesome activities, and, second, that most of our youngsters have a fairly well-developed sense of responsibility.


Too often the elders of an ecclesia assume that wisdom will die with them. Too often there is love of office and of the exercise of power by those who give whole-hearted approval to the idea of retiral at 65, or earlier if possible, but who when well over 70 still have no use for the same principle in the ecclesia.


But how the younger need to realise that long experience of life breeds in most ecclesial leaders a sense of judgement which does not come easily to a man in his teens or twenties. Forgetting this truth, Rehoboam made a sorry mess of things.


No one can question the wisdom with which Paul wrote to Timothy:


"Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an ensample to them that believe.” Over the years not a few grow into a fulfilment of this wise advice, but if a young brother makes it his deliberate clear-cut aspiration to fulfil both sides of the exhortation, can he possibly fail to achieve it?

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WITH a title such as this, lifted out of Psalm 25 (or, Hymn 39, as you will), this chapter is off to a bad start. For, as soon as the younger generation sees it, there will be an inward groan at the prospect of another ill-tempered lecture from one of the oldies. And the older readers will, with a certain satisfaction (or relief), recognize at a glance that this chapter is about "them", not "us":


"Here I can relax. There is nothing here bidding me achieve an uncomfortable reformation. It will be interesting to see what the prescription is for these deplorable thoughtless youngsters."


Regrets about the past


But indeed those who so comfort themselves should not be allowed to forget that they were young once, and that all young people prove themselves fools at some time or another, and usually often. So there is never any shortage of shameful memories, rarely any lack of "sins and faults of youth" for which forgiveness may still have to be sought.


It may be, too, that if many a young man (or young woman) were to realise how probable it is that one day they would have plenty of repining over a mis-spent youth - the sowing of wild oats, or the assiduous cultivation of bad habits - then (it may be) forewarned would be fore-armed; and thus happier, more profitable, years would ensue. It may be! In this field of education human nature does not learn readily. I make no doubt at all that before ever the Prodigal left home, his Father, accustomed for years to reading his son's mind, knew what was afoot and warned him solemnly against the un-wisdom of it, but of course he went just the same.


Even the imperative of Holy Scripture can be lightly disregarded when inclinations run strongly the other way.


"Flee!... Pursue!"


Hence, then, Paul's blunt exhortation to the young man for whom he had such marked affection: "Flee also youthful lusts.” Every one knows that in King James's Bible this word "lusts" is not normally restricted to the specialised purple meaning which invariably goes with it in our modern sex-ridden society. But can anyone doubt that in this context that is the meaning Paul intended? And would anyone say, would any of our youngsters say, that such an exhortation is not tailor-made for our time?


It is useful also to note that Paul's imperative is, in Greek, continuous: "Keep on fleeing.” There will never be a time when you need feel so sure of yourself that instead of seeking safety in flight you can confidently stand and fight.


Paul's next imperative shows no abatement of wisdom: “But follow - that is, pursue, keep on pursuing - righteousness, faith, love..." This is what those pretentious fellows, the psychologists, used to call: "expulsive power of a new affection." Right, for once!

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Day dreaming


This "fleeing" and "pursuing" must inevitably mean - and here is another imperative - a farewell, however reluctant, to one of the most entertaining and seductive and abominably evil habits that beset human nature. I mean (if you haven't guessed) indulgence in fantasy - beguiling the time - when you are loafing in bed, or sprawled in an armchair, or walking down the road, or even listening to a drab uninspiring exhortation -with the kind of film show which your imagination can readily turn on even without encouragement.


This prostitution of a God-given faculty can be, with young people (and the girls especially), a vice with a grip of steel. "The imagination of their evil heart" is a Bible phrase which recurs time after time. Always, in a couple of dozen places, this word "imagination" comes in an evil context. Only once is it used in a good sense: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind (imagination) is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. " Here, once again, is the heavenly psychologist insisting on the expulsive power of a new affection.


And how it is needed, if only (but alas, not only!) because the corrupting power of this evil goes almost universally unrecognized, as you may learn by a diligent enquiry amongst your Christadelphian friends as to when they last heard an exhortation warning against this obsession.


Even if there were not the testimony of Holy Scripture regarding this, the evil of it would be evident enough, for it is not only a time-waster (this is bad enough, but relatively harmless); it is also a tyrant, etching brain-tracks in your mind so as to make further indulgence all the easier (in other words, you get hooked!); but worst of all, it sets your affection on things below, as it gives free rein to what is hardly ever the better side of your human nature. How many of these home-made movies would you care to throw on a screen for the edification of your friends?


There is a biting irony in the incisive words of Ecclesiastes:


"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth... and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement. Therefore remove provocation (that which provokes God) from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh."


Let all young Christadelphians develop a tender remorseful conscience regarding their own powers of fantasy, and have done with this unspiritual window-shopping.


"The glory of young men is their strength", but only as long as they do not sell themselves to the Philistines.


Then, "wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy Word." And whereas "Word" and synonyms for "the Word" come in every verse of that 119th Psalm, "imagination" or its equivalents do not occur once in all those 176 verses.

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WHEN Paul wrote to him, Timothy was leader of the thriving ecclesia at Ephesus. That does not necessarily mean that he was then a man of maturing years. Indeed, all the indications point in the opposite direction. He was still Paul's "beloved son in the faith", and Paul still exhorted him: "Let no man despise thy youth. " But this was at least 14 or 15 years after Paul first took Timothy as one of his helpers in the arduous work of preaching in cities and lands where the gospel had not yet been heard. So Timothy must surely have been still under 20 when big responsibilities first came his way.


It is a fact which older brethren, prone to look down on the immaturity of young men, would do well to bear in mind. The ideal combination is doubtless that which Paul and Timothy together exemplified. The wisdom and experience of middle-age (for Paul was about 50 probably, when he made his first "missionary" journey), with the vigour and unquenched enthusiasm of youth.


Timothy not without faults


But Timothy was not the ideal preacher or ecclesial leader. Various small indications point to the conclusion that he was actually more retiring and self-effacing than he should be. His was a soft, passive, undynamic nature. It has been said that we need to cultivate deliberately the opposite virtues to those which we incline towards by nature. This seems to have been true regarding Timothy.


"If Timotheus come, see that he be with you without fear", wrote Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16: 10). The language suggests that Timothy was one who could be easily overborne by stronger personalities.


On another occasion Paul wrote to him: "I greatly desire to see thee, being mindful of thy tears" (2 Tim. 1: 4) - tears in a grown man! It suggests a soft womanly nature or else one in whom emotion was strong beyond control. Other words point to the former of these conclusions: "Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2: 3).


In the same epistle Paul forthrightly urged him: "Stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear..." There seem to be hints here that Timothy's timidity was allowing his own special gift from God to suffer neglect.


Paul's phrase is specially vivid: "Stir into flame the gift that is in thee" (RVm). And there is similar strong language in his concluding exhortation: "I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ", to whom you must one day answer ... (2 Tim 4: 1).


Timothy was evidently in need of these vigorous reminders. So Paul spared neither his own deep affection for his beloved son nor Timothy's own sensitive feelings. The exhortation is downright and forceful.


Modern Timothys


There are, alas, far too many with just the same defect as "beloved Timothy". In fact, not one here or there, but a great many have some gift from God which they neglect to use. True, Timothy's gift (prophecy or knowledge or interpretation?) came or was intensified by miraculous Holy Spirit power, whilst we have nothing of so special or supernatural a character. But that fact gives no one licence to say that Paul's exhortation is not for himself also.


Again, it is not to be thought that the gift to be stirred into flame is necessarily some talent for public speaking. The very nature of modern ecclesial organization lends itself to thinking on those lines. But the fact is that every individual member of the ecclesia is able to do his part (or hers) by the exercise of some special ability or bent or aptitude - or simply through having better opportunity than others.


The willing-hearted


For instance, in most ecclesias, there is some sister, a typist, who is always ready to take on useful jobs of that sort to help our the administrative and clerical side of the ecclesial work. There is a brother with an uncanny knack for doing simple repairs, whether it be an electric light switch or a too-collapsible chair. There are old sisters, creaking and infirm, who by their very presence at the meeting week in and week out, do more than they ever imagine to maintain good morale among the rest. Then, too, there is the brother struggling against ill-health, whose bright smile and warm handshake achieve more than many a Sunday morning exhortation. There are the few faithful who are always ready when there is a call to go to the home of an ailing brother for a Breaking of Bread service. There is the young brother who has all kinds of odd jobs thrown at him -tasks, very often, that nobody else wants to do - and who agrees readily with the cheerfullest smile imaginable and then does the job dependably. In every ecclesia there are people like these. And the ecclesia should be duly thankful that it has such in its midst.

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- and the unwilling


But in nearly every ecclesia everywhere, there are, too, those with undeniable gifts and talents and opportunities for serving Christ, who are nevertheless content to let those abilities go unemployed.


What would Paul write to the brother with a manifest flair for the explaining of Scripture, who busies himself in his own study at home and will not take the trouble to attend Bible Class? What would he say to the sister who is so wrapped up in her only child that she has neither time nor care nor even thought for the rest of the ecclesial family? What trenchant words would he have for the elderly brother who stifles conscience about his own lack of service in earlier days by throwing all kinds of discouragements in the way of the young and zealous? What admonition would Paul address to the brother of intelligence and exceptional education who perverts such blessings into the making of money or the realising of ambition? What would be Paul's comment on the individual of ample means who can find no time to visit the poor and widows, though there be time enough for weekending?


Only one talent


When examples such as these are cited, let not those who read relax with the comfortable feeling that their own mediocrity or insignificance exempts them from further responsibility! Nothing can more effectively strangle a vigorous ecclesial life than to have a majority of the ecclesia's members excusing themselves with the thought that, well, after all, it is only right and proper that brethren with ability and opportunity should be exhorted to bestir themselves in the work of the Lord.


But this appeal to "stir into flame the gift of God that is in thee" is for all — for the clever and the wealthy, and also for the poor and uneducated, the ungifted and the ordinary.


It was the man with one talent, not with five, who hid his Lord's deposit in the earth. How true to life is the parable there! Experience shows that it is the one-talent disciple who is most commonly afflicted with the grievous spiritual inertia which the Master reprobated. And the twin parable of the pounds issues pointed warning against the danger of a double sin. For when the servant hid his pound in a sweat-rag, he made useless both the pound and the sweat-rag! Neither was intended to be put out of use.


So let the one who deems himself of so little consequence that he has abandoned all hope or intention of being active and useful in the ecclesia begin to think again. Let each ask himself: "What small thing is there that I can do to help forward the service of Christ, the praise of God, and the well-being of the ecclesia?"


A deliberate conscious effort to please the Lord by some small extra labour or duty will not be despised by the one who bade his chroniclers tell everywhere how a woman anointed his feet.


Paul's exhortation to Timothy was pointed and practical: "Let no man despise thy youth: but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee... Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed to thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4: 12-16).


Three sons


Jesus spoke a parable about a man with two sons. "Go, work in my vineyard today", he said to one. "Why, yes, certainly, father, I'll go at once," was the bland, facile reply. But the vineyard never saw him, either that day or that week.


With what disappointment did the father turn to the other. "Son, go work in my vineyard, will you?" There came a crude reply: "Me? not likely! Do you take me for your slave?" But whilst the father grieved yet more, that boy thought again, then he repented of his rough response, and within the hour he was toiling in the vineyard, trying hard to make amends by extra-vigorous and more sustained effort for his earlier churlishness.


Which of these examples is to be followed? Or is there another which is better than either? - the son who first says: "Father, it is but little use I'll be in your vineyard, for I have neither the skill nor the strength. But since you wish it, I'll go and do what I can." And then he goes - and does more than he can!

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ASK anyone you know, be he raw inexperienced youngster not long new-born in Christ or one grown grey over many years in the Lord's service: "Will you be in the kingdom of God?" Ask that question point-blank, and require a point-blank answer: Yes, or No - and you will not get it.


There will be swithering, hesitation, an expression of pious hope maybe, or more likely of doubt with even a flavour of despair, but not from anyone a straight "Yea, yea" or "Nay, nay."


The latter answer would be just too much a self-condemnation, too frank a self-revelation. The former answer would be sheer presumption, wouldn't it? Am I the judge of all the earth? Is there anyone who dare make such a blunt assertion of his own worth?


Of course, questions of this sort need to be answered, not out of any exercise of dependable (sic!) personal judgement, but from the pages of Holy Scripture. And there we encounter only a series of "difficult passages. " Here they are with brief comments appended.


  1. "And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (1 Jn. 2: 28). Here two phrases seem to fix the reference to the Day of Judgement: "when he shall be manifested... at his coming." And "put to shame away from him" is surely a fairly close parallel to: "Depart from me, ye cursed..." Remarkably, the ground of confidence is not: "I have gained five talents more,” but a response to this exhortation to "abide in him.”
  2. "For if our heart (i.e. mind, as in scores of other places in Scripture) condemn us, God is greater than our heart" - and will therefore condemn us even more, since His purity is far higher than ours at our very best! This is the development of idea one would naturally expect. Yet, clearly, the implication of the passage is the very opposite: "... God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" concerning the ocean of weaknesses, frailties, and difficulties in which we struggle to survive. And the next verse continues: "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence (boldness) toward God" (1 Jn. 3: 20, 21). But is there any man whose heart does not condemn him? This is only possible for one who has an unquenchable conviction that he is dealing with a forgiving God. Le bon Dieu, il pardonnera, c'est son metier. God is good, he will forgive me, that's the thing He's good at. If this is true, and if a man knows it to be true, he has a right to feel confident, surely.
  3. "In this hath Love (the Agape) been perfected with us in order that we may have boldness in the day of judgement" (1 Jn. 4: 17). Here the first phrase is ambiguous because of the double N T meaning of agape. It is mostly the Christian virtue of Love. But in not a few places it is the Love Feast, the Breaking of Bread. In "Studies in the Gospels" ch. 192, it is shown that in 1 Jn. 4: 7 - 5: 3 (as well as in plenty of other places in John's writings) the reference is to the Love Feast, and in this verse certainly, for the Breaking of Bread is declared to be for "the remission of sins" (Mt. 26: 28). When a man knows that his sins are forgiven hasn't he a right to face the day of judgement with boldness?
  4. So also the writings of Paul: "And you that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel ... " (Col. 1: 21-23). But how can any man hope to stand "holy, and unblameable, and unreprovable" before God? Certainly not by means of his own efforts, no matter how dedicated they may be. The more maturity and ripeness of experience there is in Christ, the more evident the futility of personal endeavour. Two other phrases here resolve the difficulty: (a.) "present you" surely implies that what is done is done by Christ and not by our own poor selves; it is his achievement, not ours; (b.) "if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled", which clearly enough is the equivalent of the apostle John's "if ye abide in him" - in other words, the emphasis (by both apostles) is not on strenuous endeavour, which is where the modern Christadelphian nearly always puts it, but on thankful loyalty, "not being moved away from the hope of the gospel." How important here is that little word "if"!
  5. "Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1: 7, 8). Here is the same spiritual headache: How is it possible for anyone to be blameless in the day of Christ? And again the answer must be the same: Never by one's own merits, but only, and assuredly, through the merits of Christ. And again, also, there is the implied condition of continuing loyalty: "confirm you unto the end." The apostles evidently deemed this of higher importance than rolling up one's sleeves, and clenching one's teeth, and setting one's jaw. A man may go on saying, from now till Doomsday: "I will be good", only to be made disillusioned, miserable, and perhaps bitter, by failure. He must find the alternative that works. He must!
  6. The words of Jude's doxology are often repeated rather glibly without clear realisation of what they are saying: "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty..." It is as clear as the day (and, alas, as dark as the night) that none of us can present himself before the Glory of the Lord faultless. Yet there is no doubt at all that He is able to do this for us. And the context suggests that He does it by keeping us "unfallen" (RV), that is unfallen-away. Thus, once again, there is emphasis on loyalty to the Faith, no matter what the discouragements.

The problem of Judas is a very difficult one. But the question is surely worth asking: Was there any serious difference between his betrayal of his Lord and the way Peter, in spite of blunt warnings, repeatedly denied his Master, with oaths and curses? Yet he survived to become the inspiring leader of the early church, whilst despairing Judas went and hanged himself. And why did he? - because now he knew that the one he had sold was indeed the Lord of Glory. "He'll never forgive me!" But Peter, for all his weakness, knew his Lord better than that, and that was the saving of him.


In the parable the ten virgins were all foolish, or they wouldn't have fallen asleep. But some were wiser than others, having with them a reserve supply of oil. The others can be pictured rushing off to knock up the village store-keeper, to make good their deficiency; and at last they come with lamps burning beautifully, eager to present themselves faultless - before a shut door! It was folly enough to be without oil. It was worse folly to attempt what they did. Instead why did they not go to meet the Bridegroom without lit lamps and tearfully plead that he forgive them for their spiritual inadequacy - and, of course, he would!

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First, is it forbidden in Holy Scripture? Certainly, ancient Israel was explicitly commanded that there must not be marriages with neighbouring peoples:


"Neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly" (Dt 7: 3, 4).


"Else if ye do in any wise go back... and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you... they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land..." (Joshua 23: 12, 13).


And the ghastly example of Solomon's declension (1 Kgs. 11: 1-11), when read and pondered, is at least a grim warning of what can happen to a man who, deeming himself to be spiritually secure, chooses to marry away from the faith of Israel.


In a variety of ways the people of God were warned against a definite evil. There must be no sowing of two kinds of seed together,

no ploughing with ox and ass together, no weaving of wool and linen together. But there must be "holiness" fringes to one's garment as a perpetual remainder of obligation to live a sanctified life (Dt. 22: 9-12).


In themselves none of these four things were either spiritually bad or spiritually good; then why did God command them, except to impart an important lesson?


N.T. emphasis


The trend of New Testament teaching follows the same pattern. The widow who remarries is to marry "only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7: 39). Clearly the words establish a principle for any others contemplating marriage.


The wife of an ecclesial leader is required to be "faithful in all things," a phrase which does not mean "love her husband," but "full of faith, The Faith" (1 Tim. 3: 11).


Man and wife are to be "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet. 3: 7). The apostle insisted on this, "that your prayers be not hindered." And who can question that, when man and wife are not one in the Faith, their prayers are hindered? This is Peter's counterpart to Paul's insistence that one of the primary considerations in life shall be ability to "attend upon the Lord without distraction" (1 Cor. 7: 35).


How are such aspirations as these to achieve fulfilment if one partner has not the slightest inclination to attend meetings for worship or instruction?


What kind of an atmosphere is likely to exist in a home where man and wife go off to different churches?


How is it possible to bring up children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6: 4) when one parent has to attempt this single-handed or even against the inclination, and maybe the deliberately exercised influence, of the other parent?


In every religiously-divided marriage the scales are loaded heavily against the spiritual well-being of the children. It follows, then, that the brother or sister in Christ who chooses deliberately to contract a marriage of this kind is acting selfishly. For the sake of personal inclination he (or she) is gambling recklessly with the future of the (as yet unborn) children.


A further Biblical conclusion makes a situation of this sort even more bleak. When Paul expounds the meaning of Christian marriage this is the kind of language he employs:


"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church... Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it... This is a great mystery: but / speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Eph 5: 22-25, 32).


If these words are pondered carefully, it soon becomes evident that Paul is not saying that the joining together of man and wife makes a useful prototype of the spiritual union of Christ and the church; but, quite the other way round, he is saying that God designed human marriage so that it might provide a small-scale replica of the relationship between Christ and his redeemed. A true Christian marriage is intended by God to be dominated and actuated in every respect by a conscious aspiration in both partners to reproduce in their personal experience the big grand spiritual ideal - "the great mystery... concerning Christ and the church."


It is here confidently asserted that when two people marry with the earnest intention of coming as close as they can to this deaf (so help them God!), there is no problem whatever in married life which is not capable of immediate and satisfying solution.

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Scales loaded


But now consider what is to happen to the marriage in which from the start one partner has no sympathy with such idealism, indeed knows nothing about it. How does the Lord in heaven esteem that marriage? Even if, in such an instance, through a spirit of mutual toleration there are no tensions, no cross purposes, it still remains to be asked: What spiritual helpfulness is there about such a union? Has a man (or a woman) any right deliberately and with self-indulgence to load the scales against his (or her) own self-dedication to Christ? Is this wisdom?


Paul's incisive exposition leaves those who choose such a course of action without excuse - as those who have flouted his words, and later by the grace of God have learned better, can most emphatically testify. The idealism of the life in Christ is taxing enough, in all conscience, without that deliberate choice which makes it all the harder. There is specially strong testimony to the truth of this from those who have come to Faith and Baptism after marriage and without being followed to the Cross of Christ by the wife (or husband).


There can, then, be no manner of doubt that, from the double witness of Holy Scripture and practical experience, marriage out of the Faith is both wrong and downright foolish (and in the Book of Proverbs isn't folly a sin?).


Ecclesial attitudes


However, human nature being what it is, it happens. And then arises the tricky question: What, if anything, should the ecclesia do about it?


Nay, what ought the ecclesia to have done about it? Isn't there a proverb about locking a stable door?


These questions highlight the intensely important ecclesial duty of providing clear and recurrent education on Christian marriage so as to forestall such issues. If young people are well instructed on the right lines their minds will be shut and will remain shut to all temptation of this sort. This is a consideration of first-rate importance.


But suppose, as may happen in the best-regulated ecclesial families, the problem does nevertheless arise. Then, what is to be done about it?


For most of this century the commonest practice has been to apply an automatic excommunication of the foolish offender, until such time that there has followed an acknowledgement that the principles of Holy Scripture have been flouted.


Now and then one reads: "Brother Y. Z. has married out of the Faith, and by that act has placed himself out of fellowship. " And yet sometimes this is certainly written regarding one who has no wish whatever to cease from fellowship. Then how near is this to ecclesial hypocrisy? Why not be honest and say: "We have excommunicated Bro Y. Z. for his marriage out of the Faith"?


This has not always been considered Christadelphian practice. In earlier days there was a good deal of variation in attitude even though the act itself has always come in for reprobation. And right now there are "soft" and "severe" ecclesias.


Arguments both ways


It is known that Dr. Thomas did not view with very great favour excommunication of the offender. Nor is it difficult to see why.


Whilst stringent discipline vindicates high principle in drastic fashion, in a big proportion of instances (so experience has often proved) it has meant the permanent spiritual dereliction of the one subjected to such discipline. Would it not be infinitely better to find some way of saving such a one for Christ, and peradventure the new partner also? Is it wise to turn a potential convert into a highly indignant critic and even a bitter enemy?


Again, not infrequently the doubt has been expressed that current procedure might even prove to be an incitement to hypocrisy. How much sincerity can there be behind the deliberate planning of a marriage over a period of months, followed some time later by a ready acknowledgement of fault in this very matter?


It is often argued, very shortsightedly: "Here is an offence against the law of Christ. Therefore disfellowship must follow!" Then is every infringement of the law of Christ to receive like treatment? In that case, how long before we are all of us out of fellowship, and the ecclesia of Christ has gone up in smoke?


If it then be argued: "But this is a sin manifest to all the world and now of permanent duration," then is not good standing in the ecclesia being made to depend on one's ability to keep besetting sins secret? Again, how near to hyprocrisy?


There is also the pragmatic argument: "But we must excommunicate, for otherwise there will be nothing to stop the rot." Pour encourage les autres? And it has to be admitted that this is a view of the problem which has dominated the thinking of many, perhaps of the majority.

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The command of God?

The question needs to be asked: Even though the wisdom of Holy Scripture is so pointedly against marriage out of the Faith, is there any specific instruction that in such cases the extreme act of discipline must be applied? Is there Biblical justification for such drastic action?

The simple answer to this enquiry, is: No. Reprobation of the act, yes! But no indication of stringent measures to be taken.

In a discussion of these problems, in The Christadelphian, 1956, page 105, the late Brother John Carter had this threefold comment:

"It is evident that the ecclesial action of withdrawal does not rest on a specific command that such an action should take place."

"It appears then that the decision of ecclesias that this particular action is one where fellowship depends upon the acknowledgement of the offence, has been made not in response to a particular command in the Scriptures, but in the best judgement of the brethren."

"Where the offence is recognised there is call for sympathy and help, for if the rule rests on the decision of men (sincerely and earnestly framed though it has been) it follows therefore that the greatest care should be exercised in its application so that the spirit of Christ governs all operations of the rule. "

So, then, in attempting to resolve such problems there should be three main motives:

a. The honouring of the relevant principles of Bible teaching.

b. The recovery of the offender.

c. The conversion of his (or her) partner.


Then, without dogmatism, may it be suggested that these aims and intentions are most likely to be achieved by adoption of measures something like the following?:

  • An open statement of marked ecclesial disapproval, expressed at a full meeting with the offender present. Does not Paul counsel: "Them that sin rebuke before all" (1 Tim. 5:20), a thing that is never done in modern ecclesias? If such a course as this is adopted, it can never be said that there has been a condoning of that which Scripture censures. The quiet wigging sometimes administered in private by two of the elders, the rest of the ecclesia being in complete ignorance of the transaction, is hardly adequate to the seriousness of the situation.
  • At the same time that this rebuke is expressed ought there not to be also an earnest declaration of the ecclesia's desire for uninterrupted fellowship with the offender, at the Lord's Table? This suggestion may seem revolutionary, yet it is surely entirely in the spirit of Christ. Experience over long years teaches one to believe that in such (and similar) cases as these the dominant consideration in the minds of the brethren should be the maintaining of fellowship, and not its severance. The parable of the True Vine is eloquent regarding this. And there need be no misgivings that to have an offender present at the Breaking of Bread somehow defiles the rest. Such a protest is not only selfish but preposterous (Judas was at the Last Supper!) And how can there be defilement when the ecclesia has already expressed its pointed disapproval of what has been done? In any case, "to his own Master he standeth or falleth." If there has been an error of leniency, all will be set right one day. The Judge of all the earth may be trusted to do right. How odd if then He censures the unforgiving spirit and accepts the one whom the ecclesia has ostracized!
  • As a continuing reminder to the ecclesia, and especially the offender, it might be a wise thing to exclude the latter for an appreciable period of time from ecclesial office and from offering congregational prayers and from publicly reading the Word of God.

It may be that, unperceived by the writer, there are in these suggestions practical or Biblical flaws (not the latter, please God!). But it is believed that the spirit of these recommendations is somewhat in advance of the automatic root-and-branch method not uncommonly in operation at present.

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ONE of the worst things that can be said about us Christadelphians is not that we have long been in a state of fragmentation, but that we put up with it.


If there is one Bible doctrine that is more basic and more obvious than all the rest, it is this: "There is One Body. " Nobody among us denies that the Bible teaches this plainly. Nobody believes that there is any alternative offered. Yet from our very earliest days division has taken place - approximately at the rate of once per generation. And Sunday after Sunday we go with relative complacency to the Lord's Table, but with never a confession of our wilful rending of our Lord's seamless robe.


A bad inheritance


The iron-curtain method of resolving a disagreement came in at a very early date. So far as can be ascertained, it was an infection from the Church of Scotland; for in the nineteenth century Scottish theology was passing through stormy times, and "split the kirk" became a recognized specific when there was a bad situation. A generation or two ahead of us the Plymouth Brethren also went in for the same sort of radical purblind surgery.


It would be an intensely profitless diversion to investigate whether or not we have out-Heroded Herod. It would be much more to the point that we face frankly how bad this part of our inheritance is (though, in all fairness, it needs also to be recognized that our forbears bequeathed us much of superlative value). It will not do to be placid about the patchwork character of our quilt, even though our own corner of it keeps us tolerably warm. Ought we not rather to be either hot with shame or cold with horror that such blatantly evil results are allowed to continue?


Majority opinion


But - BUT - BUT - (one can hear the expostulations!) it is incumbent on all ecclesias, isn't it, to make firm repudiation of false doctrine and of any evil way of life. And if some are unwilling to do this, what alternative is there to division?


These statements involve serious false assumptions.


One is that in certain circumstances it is a virtuous thing to "split the kirk". Such a procedure is never virtuous, but always wilful, a dogged assumption that "My judgement is bound to be right; how can anyone be so wicked as to disagree?"


Yet from earliest days the principle has been accepted by every member of every ecclesia that "resolutions shall be carried by a majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). Sadly, there is no alternative method available to us.


But what poor sportsmen we are (to put it at its lowest level!), for how often has it happened that "if you won't allow me to be referee as well as player, I'll join another club.” Even ungodly worldlings recognize how deplorable such a spirit is. We, the unworldly, who have given our hand to abide by a majority decision whether we like it or we don't, conveniently forget that principle in time of stress.


Maintaining purity?


But is it not a far higher duty to keep the Truth pure? So, if the majority make a wrong decision, must not a firm stand be taken?


Here, the unpalatable but undeniable truth has to be faced that the Truth cannot be kept pure. There has never been a pure ecclesia. Nominally pure, maybe. But "he who walks in the midst of the candlesticks with eyes as a flame of fire" knows the sorry truth about every individual in every one of those lightstands. These faults notwithstanding, he holds all the ecclesias, whatever their quality - even Sardis and Laodicea -in his right hand (Rev. 1:20).


And in any case, a righteous stand against error can be taken without indulging in irresponsible surgery. It is always possible to make protest - firm, loud, and clear - against some tolerated abuse; and if then no notice is taken, the protester has at least unloaded the responsibility from his own shoulders.


The Lord Jesus tolerated the continuing presence in dead Sardis of a handful who had not defiled their garments. He did not regard them as defiled because they continued to share fellowship with the rest.


To be sure, there are deplorable evils - besetting sins, encouragement of all kinds of evil thinking, and not a few respectablised iniquities - in the life of every redeemed sinner in the ecclesial family, so that a small-tooth comb applied to any one of us would mean disastrous revelations. But, the apostle Paul counsels, when there is an example of an evil way of life - unrepented incest (as at Corinth), drug-pushing, trade union politicking - then the wholesome ecclesia ought to take drastic steps. But if it is too lethargic or cowardly for this, then having protested against the toleration of the abuse, I must come to terms with the discouraging truth that I am a member of a Sardis ecclesia, and make the best of the situation. But "split the kirk"? - NO!

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False doctrine


Doctrinal problems fall into a different category, but they too can be dealt with in a more tidy fashion than the shambles we have so often created.


The Bible passages about excommunication of unworthy brethren are all written about the false teacher; Titus 2:10,11,13; 3:10 (where "heretic" = "the leader of a faction"); 2 John 7-11; Romans 16:17. If a man begins to show sympathy with false doctrine, then in the first instance, he can be required by the elders to refrain from any form of propagation of the ideas he is in love with. If that condition is accepted, then - continuing in the wholesome atmosphere of a sound ecclesia - there is hope that by degrees he may recover sanity. And if he doesn't, his silence on controverted matters brings harm to nobody, and his own standing with the Lord can be safely left to an infallible judgement in the Last Day.


This is Paul's principle: "Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye; but not to doubtful disputations." In other words the price of his continuing membership of the ecclesia is a permanent silence regarding questions which the ecclesia disallows. And this is the spirit of Paul's writing in several other places.


Contamination by association


Suppose, however, that there is an ecclesia which either refuses or cannot bring itself to make a firm and wise decision regarding some problem. Then does this mean that that ecclesia has declared itself unfit for the fellowship of those with which hitherto it has gladly been in communion?


This is a problem of considerable importance today, for in such a situation in recent times some have not only decided that the weak or tolerant ecclesia is unfit for fellowship but also that all other ecclesias not echoing their censure are likewise unfit for fellowship. Thus, without introducing iron curtain schism, an iron curtain has been very effectively lowered, to the grievous detriment of ecclesial life over wide areas. This is hypocrisy of the worst sort. There is no need to say anything more about it than that, for before very long the Lord himself will be taking such a deplorable situation in hand.


Marriage problems


Lastly, in this all too short review of a thorny question, what about the wretched marriage problems with which the world has so vigorously invaded the ecclesias in modern times?


The first and obvious answer is: Prophylactic education of a very clear and emphatic character. In these days there must needs be clear and frequent Biblical instruction regarding these questions.


But this is not being done! Some are touchy about these matters, and so there is a decided inclination to let sleeping dogs lie. What is this but cowardice? Faithful elders will see to it that the minds of all are properly educated, whether the process be pleasant or disturbing. And of course the best time for such renewal of instruction is when there are no marriage headaches raging.


Even so, the wolf will not be content to stay at the door.


Sooner or later he will get inside.


This is not the place to attempt to explore all the complications of modern divorce-and-remarriage problems. Here, then, let it suffice to say that even if the ecclesia decide that the best it can do is to put up with a bad situation or after a while to come to terms with it, it should in any case declare loud and clear (and not via a tactfully worded note through the post) that it strongly disapproves of what has been done. An ecclesia that will do this in a plain forthright fashion can hardly be itself accused of condoning evil even if the offenders are received at the Lord's Table. After all, the Lord Jesus was willing to have Judas at the Last Supper even though he knew what vile betrayal was being contemplated. There is always hope for a man who wants to come to, and is received at, the Breaking of Bread. But what hope is there for him if he is permanently debarred from "the cup of the new covenant for the remission of sins"?

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JOHN the Baptist was not a man who believed in prophesying smooth things. He was not as one that had a very lovely voice. Even so, in pointing men to Christ, he made alluring promises: "He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk. 3: 16). Which thing duly came about, in scenes of great excitement, on the Day of Pentecost four years later.


But John's austere spirit would not allow him to hide the other side of the picture. He also presented Messiah as one "whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. " Fire of a very different character!


Threshing and winnowing


After the threshing, to separate out the wheat the farmer used a large shovel - a "fan" - to throw the mixture of wheat and chaff as vigorously as possible in the face of a stiff breeze. The heavier kernels of wheat fell to the ground a short distance away. The light chaff was deposited by the wind a good deal further off.


This process finished, the wheat was carried away in sacks, and the chaff got rid of by putting fire to the windward end of the pile. Immediately it flared up. Within a matter of minutes flames roared violently through the entire inflammable mass. Here was fire no man could quench until all was reduced to light ash, itself to be blown away. And then the flames died down of their own accord.


That, said John in solemn tones, in the only alternative to what I showed you earlier - either you allow yourselves to be consumed by the fire of God's Holy Spirit, either the zeal of God's House shall eat you up, or you have no better future before you than that worthless chaff. "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord" (Jer. 23: 28, 29). So, "choose you this day whom ye will serve" - your Saviour or yourself.


The temple where John himself could have served as priest, had he so chosen, had the inextinguishable fire of the Lord on its altar. But that temple stood on the site of a threshing floor (2 Sam. 24: 24, 25), and a generation later fire inextinguishable burnt there, for there was then nothing but spiritual chaff.


John had quarried his figure of speech (as indeed nearly all his teaching) from an inextinguishable Isaiah:


"Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel" (5: 24).


The Lord's cleansing fire


But again the alternative is at hand: "I (lamented Isaiah) am a man of unclean lips (as though defiled by the unclean people he was sent to)... mine eyes have seen the Lord of hosts.” But then came a Fiery Being with a coal of fire from the altar of the Lord, and thus his unclean lips were purged. And the immediate effect of that cleansing was: "Here am I; send me" (6: 1-8).


Always the options are the same. At Pentecost men saw the token of the Holy Spirit inspiring humble men of God: "cloven tongues like as of fire. " But Peter's message that day was not out of balance: for he not only promised: "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit", he also echoed the dire warning of the prophet Joel: "Blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke" (Acts 2: 3, 19). Neither then nor now can a man be asbestos-clad on either side of God's iron curtain.


Malachi's (and John Baptist's) prophecy of the Day of Judgement presents the same alternatives: "The day cometh that shall burn as an oven... all that do wickedly shall be stubble... ashes under the soles of your feet." Whose feet? Those for whom the Sun of righteousness, that fiery ball of unquenchable fire, will arise with healing in his cherubim-wings" (4: 1-3).


John used this Scripture with vigour. But he also brought home the force of Malachi's other figure of speech: "Who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire" (3: 2). This fire separates metal and dross so that the metal is more pure than ever, and the worthlessness of the dross more than ever evident.


There will be a day - how far away now? - when this process will operate most infallibly.

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Accordingly, the One who will be Judge of all bids men exercise a searching self-discipline.


Either it is this: "Every one shall be salted for the fire (of the altar): and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt" (in the light of Lev. 2: 13 this parallelism in Mk. 9: 49 holds no difficulty). A man gives himself, disciplined and dedicated, to the Lord who has called Him -


Or, it is this: "Better to enter life maimed, halt, with one eye... than to be cast (all complete and self-fulfilling) into Gehenna, the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mk. 9: 43-48).


What, then, is to be done?


If the Christadelphian body is to achieve a much-needed Reformation to make it spiritually presentable under the gaze of those "eyes as a flame of fire", there is to be personal individual Reformation provoked by profound consciousness that we are members one of another.




We - every one of us - are to take a straight clear look at ourselves and "thoroughly amend our ways and our doings.” Is there one reader of these words who can coolly say that in plain truth he is more than half dedicated?


But what, of a really practical nature, needs to be done? The really honest clear-sighted individual can review his own way of life and his own mental attitudes and within a minute can put his finger on the most obvious flaws and the most urgent needs.


If indeed there are any doubts, then this is where man and wife can help each other almost infallibly, for did not RLS write, with uncanny insight: "To marry is to domesticate the recording angel" (I could almost believe that he was inspired to write that!).


And if not married, then what is friendship for? A country walk with a true friend and with topics of this nature on the agenda can do you almost as much good as a recording angel.


Again, intention!


But in the end we must all come back to the simple miserable truth already worn threadbare in these elementary essays that, if there is intention to be a genuine disciple of the Lord who issued the call to discipleship, then he will not need to go on saying to us through the pages of Holy Scripture, nor whispering to us through the niggles of conscience, nor shouting at us through the saintly example of others:


Follow me.


In these pages the word "repent" has hardly been used at all, but its meaning is, one devoutly hopes, written across every paragraph.


Putting it differently, if there is intention, then (as the modern jargon has it) the reader has "got the message" - and the rest, please God, will follow.



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