[Note: The item below expresses the views of the individual to whom the material is ascribed and does not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.]
God’s Beautiful Garden
WRF Member Rev. John P Wilson
Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCA)
I always thought it was a curious and lumbering name for a Christian organisation – but I never questioned it. It had always been there, or so it seemed to a six year old: the British and Foreign Bible Society. I knew for sure that I was British so, I wondered, who were the foreigners?
Each Saturday morning coins gleamed on the bench. Indeed, this is how I knew it was Saturday: coins were set out as pocket money for all five kids. It must have been a headache for mum each week, remembering to save all those coins after shopping at the Canterbury Road grocery store (where the kindly Mr Hillman would give me a broken Nice biscuit from the big glass jar).
While it always annoyed me that my elder brother got more than I did, I can remember the pleasure of getting a shilling and a penny (1s/1d) pocket money. The extra penny was teaching me to tithe, and so the pennies were saved and sent as my donation to the B&FBS.
Is there any other organisation in Australia that can match it for longevity? The Bible Society turns 200 and we in the Presbyterian Church of Australia don’t need any further reason to look again at our love of the Bible. The Presbyterian Church is committed to the Bible as the very word of God. We are convinced of this, because of the Bible’s ‘heavenly character, majesty of style, inherent agreement and many other incomparable excellencies’ (to use the Confession’s teaching). Front and centre of our Confession is our commitment to the Bible’s ‘infallible truth and divine aurthority’ (1:5).
Proudly, last month I represented the PCA, at both the NSW celebration in Government House (where the Governor of NSW, David Hurley, spoke convincingly) and also at the Victorian celebration in Queens Hall, Parliament House, where we heard from MPs Bruce Atkinson, Neil Angus and Murray Thompson.
The Bible Society of Australia may be 200 years old, but the Bible’s been here for over 229 years. The Bible’s value in this country extends back to when the Europeans arrived, to Rev Richard Johnson’s day. Not only did he bring his own copy with him on the Golden Grove, but we know of 4,000 Christian books and pamphlets sent with the First Fleet, including:
100 Common Prayer books
200 Church catechism books
On Sunday 3 February 1788, the first Christian worship service in the new colony was conducted by the chaplain, Richard Johnson. Johnson’s text came from Psalm 116: ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?’ The Bible that Johnson mostly likely read from was his large leather-bound King James Version that he carried with him on the First Fleet. Johnson’s Bible, together with his Book of Common Prayer, foundational documents in the formation of Australia, now reside under the care of St Philip’s York St Anglican Church in Sydney. If you’re interested in this, I’m sure that, upon proper enquiry, the Rector of St Philips will give you a look at these treasures.
It’s no wonder the Bible Society invites Australia to celebrate. The Bible was among our foundation documents during European settlement of 1788, though, of course, not every one believed it nor lived in its light. The Bible brought light to our indigenous (and first) Australians, though not followed by all. Our first Australians were people renowned for their spirituality but it was the Bible that brought true knowledge of the creator God and the one saviour Christ Jesus.
The Bible reminded the early settlers of the necessity for the rule of law: of fairness to all and justice according to God’s yardstick. The Bible reminded our forefathers to build schools for the young, hospitals for the sick, to care for the dying, comfort the bereaved and to provide churches in every community – firstly by crown grants and then by encouraging voluntarism among the faithful.
It was the Bible that inspired early newspaper editors to write as they did and to print Sunday’s sermon for all to read. It was the Bible that drove the enigmatic (and sometimes belligerent) Dr J D Lang to recruit the very best of Scottish farmers and craftsmen and persuade them to emigrate down under.
The Bible was read and loved by several of our early leaders and governors. Its principles was a guiding light as Australia emerged from prison camp to a free and industrious country.
Enough of foundations … what of today? Are you reading the Bible for yourself? Are you in God’s garden of Scripture – delighting yourself in its beauty?
John of Damascus (a loved 8th century church theologian) wrote: ‘Therefore, let us knock at the beautiful garden of Scripture. It is fragrant, sweet and blooming with various sounds of spiritual and divinely inspired birds. They sing all around our ears, capture our hearts, comfort the mourners, pacify the angry and fill us with everlasting joy.’
Do you linger in God’s garden? How unique is this privilege – we rise each morning and before idle chat, before we switch on the flat-screen for Kochie and co., before FB and emails … we enter into the sweetness of the garden of Scripture to delight ourselves in the mind of God. This is POWERFUL. The discipline of allowing God to address us first before text messages do is a POWERFUL entry into the day.
What are you doing with the Bible? The Bible – is the most powerful tool we have. This is what changed the course of nations. This is the book that turned Europe upside down in the glorious days of the Protestant Reformation. J C Ryle reminds us: ‘The grand lever which overthrew the Pope’s power in Germany was Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German tongue … and the seeds for this work were first sown by Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible many years before.’
It’s also the grand lever by which God changes you and me:
a) It’s through reading the Bible that the Holy Spirit gets our attention and sets out everything we need to know about salvation. Paul writes: ‘the Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3:15). In other words, the Bible (the Scriptures) points out everything we need to believe – it shows us the condition of our heart, the beauty and righteousness of the Saviour Jesus Christ and the need to trust him.
b) It’s through reading the Bible that the Holy Spirit disciples us and build us up in the faith. Paul continues: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Through the Bible, the Spirit guides us on what sort of life pleases God and brings honour to his name. The teachings of the Bible enable us to live well in the home and at work. They teach us how to bear patiently with the trials of life. The Bible speaks to our doubts, rouses us when we are lazy, comforts us when we’re sad, leads us away from temptation and equips us to think wisely when faced with the complexities of life.
In reading the Bible our hearts are warmed by the majesty of our God, we grow in heaven’s wisdom, we keep the devil at arm’s length, and, perhaps best of all, we are drawn closer to Jesus Christ. I think it can be fairly said that Jesus draws near as we read the Bible, as he did on the Emmaus Road. Jesus came up to the debating disciples as they questioned what might be the meaning of recent events. Jesus spoke to them from the Scriptures and made everything clear. The two disciples said: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us ... and opened the Scriptures to us.’
Finally, let me offer a practical suggestion. Choose a month that remains in 2017 and let every PCA congregation celebrate with Bible Month, where the preaching is on Scripture, mid-week cell groups are studying what God promises about Scripture and members stand on street corners offering free copies and conversations with any public inquirer.
How can your congregation celebrate Bible Month? I’m happy to assist by receiving from you preaching suggestions, study selections and other ideas – for celebrating during your Bible Month. I’ll post them on the PCA website for all to use.