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Exhorting and Testifying

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Ch. Title
3. The Faith of Abraham — and of Brother Ordinary 
4. Christine's Baptism
5. Follow Me
6. Children of the Book
7. “What fellowship...?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
8. “Joy in Heaven"
9. The Elect of God
10. “Why reason ye in your hearts?"
11. Worried to Death
12. “I love my master"
13. Our Christadelphian Hypocrisies
14. “Be not moved away”
15. Watch therefore
16. Seven Better Things (Ecclesiastes 7)
17. Zaccheus
18. The Traitor — The Strange Case of Judas
19. At the Graveside
20. “The iniquity of us all”
21. The True Christmas Gladness
22. Our Atheism
23. Temptation
24. On Being Sorry for Oneself
25. Dark Light (Luke 11:33-36)
26. “Members one of another”
27. The One Body
28. On Being Contented
29. “Mercy and Sacrifice”
30. Human Verdict
31. The Power House
32. “Seasoned with salt”
33. “Divers Manners”
34. The Twenty-third Psalm
35. God’s Altar
36. Our Modern Judaists
37. Benevolent Fund
38. “Keep this commandment” 1 Timothy 6:13-16
39. The Father of the Faithful
40. “Made perfect in weakness”
41. “Fraternally yours”
42. Sunday Routine
43. Conflict of Loyalties
44. How to Lick Yourself into Shape
45. Faith or. Works?
46. James and “respect of persons” (James 2)
47. “Worthily . . . unworthily”
48. The High Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:23-27)
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More than once readers of my books have commented:
“As I read, I can almost hear you saying the words.”
Yet, in fact, only a very small fraction of what I have written has also been spoken, so perhaps the explanation is that I can’t help writing in the same commonplace style and idiom in which I talk.
The contents of this volume fall into a different category. It has not been my habit to write out the many Sunday morning discourses which I have been called upon to deliver. But, now and then, after such a ministry, I have had the urge to get the gist of the talk on to paper. The contents of this volume are an assemblage of such — some in outline, others in a fair amount of detail.
Also, spaced throughout the book are four examples of the hortative powers of my old friend, the late Philip Hinde. I reckon it an honour to have his tidy incisive insight associated with my own work. How I wish that one so good-natured, so unself-assertive, so wise with the wisdom of Holy Scripture, were with us still.

Other books by Harry Whittaker
Available from Biblia, 23 Thirlmere Avenue, Standish, Wigan WN6 OAT
The Time of the End
Jews, Arabs and Bible Prophecy
Studies in the Gospels
Studies in the Acts of the Apostles
Samuel, Saul and David
Genesis 1-2-3-4
Revelation — A Biblical Approach
Bible Studies — An Anthology Isaiah
Of Whom the World was not Worthy
Letters to George and Jenny
Seven Short Epistles
Israel in the Wilderness
Through Patience and Comfort of the Scriptures
Five Minutes to Twelve
Available from C.M.P.A., 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham B28.
Enjoying the Bible
Joseph the Saviour
Abraham — Father of the Faithful
Wrestling Jacob
Hezekiah the Great
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1. Faith Through Experience
“What things so ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mk. 11:24).
Many a reader of the Gospels must have felt vaguely — or maybe more than vaguely — the existence of a difficulty in these words of Jesus. A little careful thinking, and the difficulty becomes a serious one. Can it be that Jesus is actually bidding his disciples attempt the impossible, or — worse still — the absurd? How can he, in the true spirit of prayer, ask for what he believes he is already receiving at the very moment of asking? It also becomes no easy matter to find a parallel to these words - read thus — elsewhere in Scripture.
Very probably most readers almost subconsciously seek to evade the difficulty by changing the tense of one of the verbs, "believe that ye will receive them, and ye shall have them”. But alas! the facts are all the other way. And, furthermore, experience very often fails to square with the words when read like this. That verb should read actually as a past tense, not a future, “believe that ye did receive them, and ye shall have them”. At first, this more correct translation only serves to make confusion more confounded, as a careful re-reading of the words will make only too plain.
The solution to the problem is eminently simple, and leads moreover to a clear and concise enunciation of the most fundamental of all principles behind effectual prayer. It will be noon that Jesus here is teaching a lesson of superlative importance which even the most mature among us must learn and learn again in the course of the years.
Let the careful reader apply here the concise wisdom of House, the centenarian Master of Magdalen College, Oxford: "Verify your references.” He will then soon observe that the word “them” is printed each time in italics — the translators’ hint to the student that there is no such word here in the original; it has been supplied to complete the sense. Normally, of course, these small liberties are thoroughly justified and exceedingly helpful. Just occasionally, as here, the well-intentioned addition becomes a stumbling block. Then let those superfluous words be lightly scored out. Now try again. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye did receive, and ye shall have”.
Immediately, the whole point of the Lord’s advice (or commandment) is perceived to be astonishingly simple and yet profoundly important. In effect he is saying: ‘When you pray, build on your past experience! Recall how in days gone by your prayers, far from going unheeded in the counsels of heaven, have brought an immediate response — clear, vivid, impressive, convicting! And by recollection of what your Heavenly Father did then, strengthen your faith in this new time of need. And your prayer will be heard! For His ear is ever open to the prayer of fervent faith — the faith that justifies.
There is much the same implication behind the familiar words of James: “The energized fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”, and the context of these words gives reinforcement to the same idea.
The Same Theme
This nurturing of one’s faith by building on past experiences is a theme on which Scripture is eloquent. Here are only a few of many examples that might be cited:
(a.) “If thou shalt say in thine heart, these nations are more than I; how can I dispossess them? thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt”
(Deut. 7:17,18).
(b.) “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine”
(1 Sam. 17:37).
(c.) “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:6,7).
(d.) “We trust not in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; ye also helping together by prayer for us” (2 Cor. 1:9-11).

(Other examples deserving attention are: Ps. 22:4; 34:1-11 and 37:25; 2 Tim. 3:11; Mark 8:14-21; Gen. 50:19-21; and contrast 1 Sam. 23:26; 24:2.)
By all means let readers mark the striking difference that there is between the way this principle is used by many today and the way the Bible bids us use it. Modern evangelists ever seek to convert others by “giving a testimony” (as they call it) out of their own experience, whereas Scripture rather teaches that we should use this means to convert ourselves!
The Visible Hand
Personal experience of the Providence of God is something which, from its very nature, is bound to weigh far more with those who have known it at first-hand than it is with those who just hear of it from others. Therefore, it is a spiritual debt owing to oneself to seek out from the welter of past experience those Instances in which the ways of Providence have been so palpable as to be almost the visible hand of God — those amazing combinations of apparently trivial and fortuitous circumstances which, as events have later proved, were fraught with heaven’s design and blessing; those spiritual emergencies when there was nought to be done but to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord”, and help was forthcoming in the most unlooked-for way. “Believe that ye did receive, and ye shall have.”
One last point. Does any one, reading these words, find himself saying half-aloud: “But this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me; I can’t recall anything of that sort in my life”? Let that reader take heed to his ways. Let him re-cast his outlook. There is something wrong, something strangely deficient, about the Christian life and spiritual outlook of one who has no such sterling to draw on in the bank of experience.
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  • 3 years later...

2. The Value of a Symbol

It is easy to overlook the part played by symbolism in the life of an ordinary man or woman. Yet there is not a single one of us who does not treasure a ring or a lock of hair, a book or a particular kind of flower, not because of its own intrinsic value or beauty, but because of its sentimental value as a reminder of bygone days or faces seen no more. And were I here to suggest that all this is mere emotionalism, it would be a safe assumption that the deepest feelings of the majority of my readers would be sorely outraged.

If symbolism plays so strong a part in the ordinary affairs of life, how much more important must it be in our relationship to God! Of this fact we are, as a community, deeply conscious - and this in spite of the singular absence of ritual from our religious practices. In fact, it can almost be said that we have no ritual at all apart from the rites appointed by our Lord himself.

Sacraments and Symbols

Of the value of Baptism and the Breaking of Bread as symbols there can be no question. Their fitness and appropriateness in every detail are immediately evident. Of these we cannot not speak particularly. But there are associated ideas to which occasionally some thought might be given. For instance, since baptism is a burial, which is more appropriate in the act of baptism? – a sudden plunging under the water or a gentle lowering of the body until it be quite covered? At a funeral, which is more seemly? – to throw the body into the grave, or to deposit it gently and reverently?

Again, it is customary in many ecclesias, perhaps in most, to cover the table at the Breaking of Bread with a cloth of white linen and to take the bread and wine from a plate and cup of silver. But why white linen, why silver? If, indeed, these are used among us simply because they are used in this way by others, then we have the feeblest of all possible reasons for so doing, and there can be only divine displeasure for such thoughtless imitations. But if, on the other hand, we see a highly appropriate Biblical significance in all such details, the are we the more blessed in our partaking.

By it those participation can be the better reminded of the One Body, to be broken as an act of fellowship but not as an act of disfellowship.

For instance, how much better off the ecclesias would be if all had a decided prejudice in favour of having a small complete cake or loaf of bread prepared for out rite of fellowship. Certainly, there is more fitness about such an arrangement that there is in the sharing of a slice of bread, specially cut and squared merely for convenience’ sake.

I still remember, too, with lively appreciation, the practice of one old brother who at the table was not content to break off for himself a tiny fragment such as others commonly took, but who habitually tore off quite an appreciable piece, as who should say, “This opportunity comes my way only once a week: I must have as much of Christ as possible”.

The trivial may be symbolic

For the same kind of reason, I have often found impressive the practice adopted in some ecclesias of allowing the exhorting brother to have a seat in the congregation until the moment arrives for his ministration. That the exhortation should be spoken by one who comes literally from among his brethren serves to emphasize that he is a soldier of Christ exhorting fellow-soldiers: a pilgrim encouraging fellow-pilgrims. There is thus a quiet reminder to all that his discourse is no lecture or censure from one who is righteous to those who are sinners, but rather that in exhorting his brethren, he is also exhorting himself.

How you handle Bible and hymnbook at a meeting is a thing of no consequence. Yet, to me it is. Usually one volume is laid down on top of the other. But for I have carefully avoided superimposing hymnbook on Bible – simply to emphasize in my own mind their relative importance. Much as those hymns are cherished, can they have priority over the Holy Writings?

This matter of the importance of a symbol can be expected to weigh fairly considerably with those who take seriously the practical duties their life in Christ. Consider, them, its application to cremation which, nowadays, is fashionable enough. The word is used advisedly, Whilst it is perfectly true that Scripture nowhere enjoins a particular mode of disposing of the dead, and whilst it is even more certain that God can and will just as easily re-create the body whether in the last day it be part of mother earth in a cemetery or whether it be dust sprinkled in a Garden of Memory or preserved in an urn on the mantelpiece, nevertheless, if a symbol has any value at all, there can be little question what brethren and sisters in Christ will desire for themselves.

Let the phrases be pondered, “… till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. “Buried with him by baptism into death.” What becomes of baptism as a symbol if burial is done away with?

Then on the other hand, should we or should we not be impressed by the fact that in Scripture men invariably associate the burning of the body with the worship of “horrid Moloch” or apart from Scripture, equally horrid Hindu “suttee”. And is it nothing to us who pass by to the grave, that our Lord time and again used cremation as a symbol of everlasting destruction?

These words are written only for those who wish to heed them. Almost all the foregoing ideas reckon among things of lesser importance. Nought is explicitly commanded. But a symbol does have value nevertheless.

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