Alfred Place Baptist Church

6:23-24 The apostolic Benediction

Ephesians 6:23&24 “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

I have told you of one of my pastoral visits to the local hospital. I went around the beds of the other patients in the ward and then got engaged in conversation with a stranger, a middle-aged woman. I spoke to her about the gospel, but she could barely listen to what I had to say and replied stonily, Words . . . only words. In the text above, the final verses of the letter to the Ephesians, are some of the greatest words of Christianity, peace, love, faith and grace big golden words. How can we save these concepts from becoming mere words? How can we know their reality and power in our lives?

Remember the context of these words. Paul has been writing this letter to the Ephesian congregation, and he began it with a doxology; Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephs. 1:3). Let me begin, Paul is saying, by expressing praise and thanks for the blessings that have come into our lives from God through Jesus Christ. Isnt he a great and glorious God to treat us in this way? Blessed be God our God! That is how Paul starts the letter in magnifying the Lord who had changed their lives so magnificently. Now he is ending it by speaking well of these Ephesians and of every Christian who reads this letter. It begins with the divine abundance of grace and peace to all who have faith. It ends with peace and love with faith to all who have known Gods grace. Let us look at the blessings every Christian receives from God and at the nature of the life to which these blessings leads.

1. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ONE OF GROWING BROTHERLY PEACE.

Peace be to the brothers! In six of the first seven years of my life Wales was in a state of war with the Nazis, and for the next seven years of my life we were living in times of hardship, shortages and rationing. Today, over fifty years later, we are a prosperous and semi-free society, a bit better off than our neighbours, well placed in the markets of the world. Yet do Welshmen enjoy a state of peace? There is something unhappy about living in Britain today. I might express it by asking this question, If things are really so good, why does everything feel so bad? Were not short of money, but we are short of joy, and affection for our fellow citizens and peace of mind. Let me use this analogy, that Wales today is not suffering from life-threatening cancer – society isnt collapsing – but from nonspecific ailments, neuroses, heartaches, allergies and depressions.

You have rejected faith in God, believing rather in man, in science and politics, but these past years must have been a period of growing disappointment for you. There was an obituary in the Times on Thursday (30 March 2006) of a historian whose name is Pauline Meiggs. She was described as a socialist campaigner. When she was at school in Palmers Green in London she came across the works of William Morris and she took to heart his dictum: There are only two ways to be happy – to be a socialist or to do work worthy of socialism. Well how happy are socialists or conservatives or nationalists today? Things that appeared real achievements seem to be turning to dust and ashes. You have paid for your own house but your children dont know how they can begin to buy one. The pension you hoped would give you an enjoyable retirement turns out to be worth very little. Young men shout and chuck beer cans around in the streets. There is a hint of menace in the city nights. There is increasing drug activity amidst school children. Your son has just graduated from university but no employer thinks his good degree is worth much. Your elderly parent has fallen downstairs and been negligently treated in the local hospital. You have access to unprecedented amounts of material on the Internet but you have to endure unwelcome foul material arriving on your modem; it stares brazenly at you each day. The mass media is unprecedentedly debased. In the schools there are no music teachers, and a quarter of the pupils have difficulty reading and writing. The state compels us to educate our children, constantly stating the importance of education, but Caesar cannot define what is man, or why the world exists, what is right or wrong or what is the purpose of life. In our wealthy society expectations have been pitched very high, and all too often theyve been disappointed. Those whose hopes had been in government and laws and social action suffer most from dis-peace. Bureaucrats, necessary though some may be, are rarely helpers of our joy.

Much of this unease reflects areas of our lives which go far beyond what politics can achieve. I am saying that no solution to the lack of peace is ever going to come from Whitehall or from the Welsh Assembly. You are looking in the wrong direction. There are other issues to be faced – the living God, spirituality, truth, morality, and teleology – that is, knowing what mans end in life is. The Ephesian congregation was also living in a restless society but its members had all found peace with God through Jesus Christ, and they functioned as a support group of shared convictions. They all knew where theyd come from and also where they were going. They knew how they should live and they possessed new resources in Christ and grace for their mutual responsibilities. They entered an alternative society from the one into which theyd been born.

These Ephesian Christians lived their lives in a city which was dominated by a vast temple to the goddess Diana, and her servants. That building was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. There were tens of thousands of people who believed that they had peace by simply going along with Diana and doing what Dianas priests and priestesses told people to do, just as their parents had done before them. Especially if you were old or poor or ill then any alternative to following Diana you considered to be subversive. You had little time for this new religion of following Jesus Christ. You clung to the security and familiarity of the status quo, but the peace that those Christians experienced required effort and energy and firmness; it needed armour-cladding to survive. Men prefer the soft options.

How did these Ephesians get this peace? Paul came to them as an eyewitness of what he had seen and heard, his interviews with many people who had spent some years with Jesus of Nazareth, and his own astonishing encounter with him. This Jesus was the greatest teacher that this world has ever heard. Still on this very day in the 21st century all over the world people are listening to what he said, and there are professors in thousands of universities who are examining his words and writing elaborate commentaries on them. Simple people as well as scientists and businessmen and government leaders read and memorize what he taught. But apart from his mind-blowing teaching this Jesus also did the most extraordinary things. He healed the sick; there isnt recorded a single case of anyone he failed to heal, and this return to rude good health happened to thousands of people. Lame people walked normally for the rest of their lives. Men blind from birth saw clearly for the first time and then on and on seeing clearly until they died. Jesus of Nazareth gave me sight, they said. People in the final stages of cancer were cured. The dead were raised; not many, but two men and a 12 year old girl were resurrected. Christ also lived a spotless life, utterly without blame; he wasnt corrupted by the power he had over the people he healed – and over their families. He didnt take advantage of them; he took no money at all; he had no fancy house. His oratory, which has never been excelled, drew thousands of people to hear him preach – we are told of 5,000 men and even 8,000 men on some occasions hanging on to his words until the late afternoon when they became very hungry and he fed them all by multiplying five loaves and two fishes. He made the most staggering claims, that he was going to judge the world, that we would know where each of us was going to spend eternity because he would tell us himself on the Day of Judgment. He claimed that unlike everyone else he existed in the beginning; Before Abraham was I am, he quoted. He claimed to be the only way to God; No man comes to the Father but by me. He claimed equality with God; I and my Father are one.

Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead, and on the third day after his death he was seen physically alive by his friends and apostle, women and men met him and spent hours with him. These meetings actually took place over forty days, in an upper room, in a garden, on a road, on a hillside, by the sea and finally he appeared to the apostle Paul himself on the road to Damascus . These sightings changed a very dispirited and despairing group of people who, after the Day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit, became boldly evangelical and told everyone that the man who had been crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem was now exalted and reigning as God and King.

Many came to believe in him confessing him as their Lord. They believed that Christ was the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the nations – not just the Jews. They had this problem with their own guilt and shame; God was spotlessly holy, while they drank iniquity like water. In Gods sight their sins were as angrily red as crimson. What could wash them away? What could appease the wrath of God towards them? Calvary ! – where the Son of God gave himself for their sins. He became their hope and the complete grounds of their forgiveness. They said, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and he was buried, and on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.

Here were a people who had peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The terrors of law and of God had nothing more to do with them. God was their Father, loving them with the same love he had for his beloved Son Jesus Christ, watching over them so that everything that touched them worked for their good. If they fell down and broke an arm – it was for their good. If a husband and father were thrown out of work – it was for their good. If love was unrequited – it was for their good. If death entered their home – it was for their good. Everything that affected them had to work for their good. What peace to know this – that they were gripped by the providential sovereign love of a heavenly Father, and that with God they had a Mediator. He would speak up for them and bring them spotless to God in the great day. Peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ!

That became the grounds of their own inward peace; they knew who they were; they knew that God loved them; they knew daily help; they knew where they were going and that they would meet again all those who had lived and died in Christ; they knew the Lord would meet all their needs; when their conscience accused them they confessed their sins to God and knew the kiss of his forgiveness; he knew all about them, but loved them still for Christs sake. They knew a growing loving relationship with Christ. Nothing would separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Because of all this they had a peace that passed all understanding. It was a divine peace; it was a gift of God; it was the fruit of the Holy Spirit; it kept their hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ.

May that peace be yours more and more, Paul is praying at the end of this letter. Peace be to the brothers! May this whole family of God know an overflowing peace that embraces all who trust in Christ. Then what diligence we must show in maintaining this peace. Where is the justification for Sunday confrontations on the steps of the chapel in the light of these words? If you take this word seriously as the climactic word of the epistle then you will heed what Paul has already written, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephs. 4:3).

2. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ONE OF GROWING DIVINE LOVE WITH FAITH.

Love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ [be] to the brothers ! Pauls main concern is that the church experiences a growing affection for one another. Paul describes this love as love with faith and by this he means love informed by faith, a love that has been educated and transformed by their faith in the true and living God. This love has its origin and example and enabling in the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. By the way, do you see in that word and such extraordinary testimony to the divine nature of our Saviour – from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Youd miss it if you werent a Bible person. There they are joined together – God and Jesus Christ; these two persons are the ones who are the givers of love with faith.

i] Love shows itself in affection.

The New Testament exhorts us to love one another with pure hearts, fervently. The world primarily thinks of love in that particular way in the affection of men and women for one another, long friendships, family love and married love. There is much of this affection in the world – a man will lay down his life for his friend, and that is admirable. We dont disdain falling in love or family love or being a loving friend, quite the reverse. We think that its good to pat someone on the back or give him a hug and say, We do appreciate who you are and what you do. You hear of families in which children have grown up without being shown any affection from one or both parents. How heartbreaking. I have been reading the autobiography of the philosopher Roger Scruton, Gentle Regrets, and he writes of the tense relationship he had with his father. In his last year in school Roger won a scholarship to Cambridge University and after a few days he felt he ought to tell his father. This is what he writes, It seemed right to tell him, when I met him at the bus stop one day, that I had gained a place in Cambridge; he looked at me in silence, and then walked away. He came home that night surly, taciturn and drunk. For months he found it impossible to speak to me, except in angry monosyllables. I was forcing him to re-live his great misfortune, which was that of being taken from school at the age of 14 by a violent and illiterate father, to be compelled to work at menial jobs in the fruit market. This father couldnt enter into the joy of his sons success.

You hear people say, My parents have never told me they loved me or shown me love. What fearful deprivation. Some of those parents lived righteous lives, and that is a valuable inheritance. They made personal sacrifices to feed and clothe and house their children, and that is not unimportant. But it is in a host of affectionate gestures that love is displayed, in smiles of delight lighting up a face, some surprise actions, and gifts of time and tenderness. Love shows itself in affection. Are all Christians very good at this? No, but you have to cry to God to melt your stony heart, and help you to show more affection.

ii] Love shows itself in deeds.

You can have kind words, but without acts of love the words are empty. John says, But whoever has the worlds goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17). You see a Christian in need; can you do something to meet that need? Have you tried? Have you talked to her about it? Maybe you cant help. Lets not love in word only, but in deed and in truth. How has God loved us? What example does God give to us? Has God ever shouted, I love you! from heaven? Not once. Has he written it in the sky? No. When he saw us ruined by sin did he come up to us, give us a sweet hug and disappear? No. See what God has done! First, he spent time talking lovingly about himself and ourselves to prophets to whom he said, Now go and take these words to men. Words came first; words at first hearing, before love at first sight; that is always the gospel way, so that we can understood God and ourselves. God started with words, but he didnt stop with words. Then he established a sacrificial system which he set up. By the shed blood of a spotless lamb a sinner might be assured that the guilt of his sins had been removed, but God didnt stop there; in the fulness of time God acted again; he sent his own Son to come into the world. Jesus didnt arrive at a palace born of an Emperor but he uttered his first cry in a stable, and he lived for thirty obscure years in the home of a carpenter. What humiliating love. Then Christ took a course of action which inevitably led to his giving himself in our place upon the cross. Can you believe it? God put his Son to death on our behalf. That is how he expressed his love for us. It did not stop with great true words but it went on to deeds of love. This is the New Testaments forceful appeal – since Christ laid down His life for us . . . we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16). So love with faith from God is affectionate love, and it is love in action.

iii] Love for others of the highest standard, as you love yourself.

Remember what our Lords half brother James warned of a spirit of favouritism which he could see coming into the living church of the New Testament. We can all slip into enthusiastic love for our favourites, for certain people of personality, or breeding, or wealth. We quiver with excitement when we see them coming to church and we line up to talk to them and ask them to our homes for Sunday dinner, but we dont do that for the nondescript and the poor and the quiet, for people with a past. This was what James was pleading with the New Testament congregations – remember he is talking about love – My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, dont show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, Heres a good seat for you, but say to the poor man, You stand there or Sit on the floor by my feet, have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. (James 2:1-4). Love your neighbour as yourself. Treat everyone as you would treat yourself and dont you treat yourself well? You put yourself in the best light dont you? You excuse your own weaknesses; you forgive your sins; you accept yourself; you pamper yourself, dont you? You sit in your comfy chair, and the light is just in the right place. You ask your wife to prepare your favourite food, the meats you like and the puddings. You want your electric blanket to be set at a certain temperature. You treat yourself well, and there is no harm in that as long as you do the same for others, and thank God, I hear many of you doing that all the time.

I stand in awe of you when I hear you putting stumbling, falling, foolish people in the best light. They are under pressure; they are lonely; they have no one to share things with. They havent had the blessings youve had . . . and you are patient and loving with them. Your spirit is one of love combined with faith in God – the God who constantly pardons and forgives you. That spirit is wonderful. You know your own hearts. You know that but for the grace of God youd be behaving as badly as some Christians can occasionally behave. You love yourself, and so you must love your neighbour like that. You are to give up for them, to sacrifice for them, to deny yourself to provide for them, to spend yourself for them. That is loving your neighbour as yourself.

iv] Love for others is pervaded by self-sacrifice.

Think of Christ, how on the night before he suffered and died, the Lord didnt tell his disciples in the upper room, I love you. I’d like to give you a talk on the divine love and tell you how it works. Instead, our Lord washed his disciples feet. John 13:3-5 says, Jesus . . . got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. God in the flesh was stooping to wash dirt off the feet of his selfish disciples. Now thats love! Jesus didnt do that every night. One night . . . one great example of the humble self-denial which was always in his heart. I would think there needs to be in all our lives such a period, some kind of actions like that which prove that grace has conquered us. The time we forgave an erring husband; the years we spent with a handicapped baby; the period we gave to caring for a husband or a parent who was suffering with dementia; the period we spent trying to help an alcoholic. We humble ourselves as Jesus did. Elizabeth Elliot was willing to go back to Ecuador with her daughter to the people who had murdered her husband – the savages became her kinsmen. Jesus washed their feet and then said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn.13: 34&35). He had demonstrated his love for them by washing their dirty feet; by taking the role of a slave; by doing the distasteful thing, the sacrificial thing. Loving one another is not just feeling little pangs of emotion. It is serving. When you willingly sacrifice what you want for the good of another, when you choose to fill the need of someone instead of satisfying your own need, then you really love (no matter what your emotions may be). That is love with faith from God and Jesus. That was Pauls final longing for the Ephesian congregation. A pervasive peace and an informed divine love.

3. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ONE OF GROWING DIVINE GRACE.

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (v.24). Grace you have, and may you know it more and more. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ refers to a number of things: to his mercy and active love. He completely forgives a woman of her many sins and accepts her as his own disciple as she shows her undying love to him, weeping before him, pouring fragrant oil over him. He speaks of his pardon to a thief dying alongside him, Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – his mercy. May that grace of Jesus Christ be with all of you who love the Saviour for ever! May your lives show his grace. Think of his wonderful attractiveness of character, that he was free from any meanness or awkwardness of personality, accessible to everyone, often taking the initiative in going to people, holding children in his arms, entering their homes for a meal. There was a leper who had been exiled for years from being with people. The Lord Jesus not only went up to him and spoke to him but he put his hand on the lepers skin. That man felt the warm touch of another human being for the first time in years. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – his winsome attractiveness. May that grace of Christ be with you! It also refers to the strength of Christ to totally change a brash young fisherman like Peter, a Pharisee like Nicodemus and a cruel bigot like Saul of Tarsus. It was his omnipotent grace that transformed those men. That grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! These are his final words.

It is not the justice of the Lord Jesus Christ being with them because that is getting what you deserve. It is not the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ because that is not getting what you deserve. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which is actually getting what you don’t deserve. It is by that grace men are saved, not by works. Grace and works are like two buckets in a well, when grace goes up then works must go down. It is the grace of Christ that opened Lydia ‘s heart, that enabled her to believe, that joined her to himself. It is that grace that declared her righteous. It is that grace that adopted her into the family of God and made her a joint heir with him of a glorious inheritance. It is that grace that kept her persevering until the end.

It is the grace of God the Son who is also the God-man, the God who has been touched by the feeling of our infirmities, who sympathises with us in our griefs. It is omnipotent grace, omnipresent grace, omniscient grace. It is infinite, eternal and unchangeable grace. So it can uphold you, strengthen you, comfort and keep you and make you more than triumph in every trial. This grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can keep you from falling and present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy. Whatever is good for you the grace of Christ can supply. Whatever is bad the grace of the Lord Jesus can prevent. Whatever you desire his grace can provide. It is grace to desire to expound this whole letter to the Ephesians, amongst the very greatest of all apostolic compositions, and it is grace to complete what was begun three years ago.

It is sufficient grace, abundant grace, inexhaustible grace. It is an insult to that grace to imagine that you will find yourself in any circumstances in which that grace cannot keep you. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus looking at Peter sinking in the waves and he wrings his hands in horror unable to deliver Peter? Can you imagine the dying thief asking Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom and Jesus forgets him? Can you imagine blind Bartimaeus pleading to Jesus for his sight and the Saviour being unwilling or unable to help him? This grace is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free – just like the ocean.

Walk for five minutes from this building and you arrive at the seaside. If you have a bucket or spoon you can start to dip it into Cardigan Bay to fill a vessel. After you have taken ten spoonfuls out of the Atlantic Ocean do you begin to panic? I am using up all this water! It will soon be exhausted. Carry on with your spoonfuls! There is a super-abundance there for you, more than you can ever use or even imagine. The immense grace of One so great as our Lord Jesus is more than sufficient for so insignificant a being as you.

Spurgeon says, It seems to me as if some tiny fish, being very thirsty, was troubled with fear of drinking a river dry and Father Thames said to him, Poor little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee. I should think it is, and inconceivably more. My lord seems to say to me, Poor little creature that thou art, remember what grace there is in me, and believe that it is all thine. Surely it is sufficient for thee. I replied, Ah, my Lord, it is indeed.

Put one mouse down in all the granaries of Egypt when they were fullest after seven years of plenty, and imagine that one mouse complaining that he might die of famine. Cheer up! says Pharaoh, poor mouse – my granaries are sufficient for thee. Imagine a man standing on a mountain and saying, I breathe so many cubic feet of air in a year. I’m afraid that I shall ultimately inhale all the oxygen which surrounds the globe. Surely the earth on which the man was standing might reply, My atmosphere is sufficient for thee. I should think so! Let him fill his lungs as full as ever he can, he will never breathe all the oxygen, nor will the fish drink up all the river, nor the mouse eat up all the stores of the granaries of Egypt ! Nor will you with your spoon and bucket ladle out all the water from the Irish Sea .

Doesn’t it make unbelief seem altogether ridiculous so that you laugh it out of the house? Our Lord feeds all the fish in the sea and the birds of the air, and the cattle on the hills. He guides the stars and upholds all things by the power of his hand. Isn’t his grace sufficient for thee? And if your burden were 10,000 times heavier wouldn’t it then be sufficient?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ keeps coming and coming and coming to us. He gives and gives it to us, and we do nothing but take, take, take, and then he gives more, and yet more. The risen Christ met his disciples on a mountain in Galilee . They had all forsaken him and fled leaving him alone in the hands of his enemies. Then Peter with swearing denied him, and Thomas denied the possibility of his resurrection. What did he say to them when he met them? Did he scold them? Did he say to them, You’ll never find me trusting you lot again? No! He sent Mary with a message to his brothers. He told her, Tell Peter especially I am looking forward to seeing him. He is not ashamed to acknowledge weaklings as his brethren. To those men who had seen his miracles and heard his teaching and then meanly abandoned him to his tormentors the Lord Jesus said, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. I will entrust you with my message to sinners. Here is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only does he forgive us but he gives us work to do and strength to do it.

This grace of Christ protects us day by day. How widely embracive is that protection? To the hairs on your head, says the Lord Jesus. It is all embracive. In the microscopic world of the cells of our own bodies the gracious Jesus is there constantly monitoring and scanning us destroying all that is life-threatening, and preserving us day by day until our life’s work is over.
How often have our possessions been kept by the grace of Christ? We have gone off on vacation and left the back door not only unlocked but ajar. No one discovered it. We once went to Kenya and left the electric wall fire on in the bathroom for the entire two weeks we were away. The grace of Jesus Christ kept us and ours. That is the protecting grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is always active, never for us to presume – men are sinners and a thief and rapist and murderer lives in the heart of everyone here – but prevailing enough to give us peace. How encouraging that is when we think of our children going off to work in a distant place or on vacation far from Wales , or that they went as students to settle in a university town, and we know that in those places there is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ protecting them.

Think of the grace of Jesus Christ protecting us as we travel. We are aware of how Paul’s sea-voyage to Rome was overruled by the Saviour, but in all our little journeys too. I was speaking to fifty men in Maesycwmmer on Thursday night and the four men from Crickhowell were welcomed especially by the chairman because on their journey home a month earlier their car had hit black ice on the Heads of the Valleys road and it had turned over a few times. One of them said to me that it was like being inside a washing machine. None of them was injured. A.A.Hodge once repeated a story of the great Dr Witherspoon President of Princeton who lived in the countryside of New Jersey two miles north of the Seminary. One day a man rushed into his presence, crying, Dr. Witherspoon, help me to thank God for his wonderful providence! My horse ran away, my buggy was dashed to pieces on the rocks, and behold! I am unharmed. The good doctor smiled at the inconsistent, halfway character of the mans religion. Why, he answered, I know a providence a thousand times better than that of yours. I have driven down that rocky road to Princeton hundreds of times, and my horse never ran away and my buggy was never dashed to pieces. Undoubtedly, the deliverance was providential, was Hodge’s comment, but just as much so also were the uneventful rides of the college president. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ protects us in our travels, but not that any of us might presume.

Again consider that grace of Christ upholding us in the greatest trials. From whence came such submission? Such trust? Such courage? Such constancy? The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – grace to suffer and grace to die. Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley were notable martyrs of the English Reformation. They died in circumstances of harrowing brutality. The words of the older man to the younger, as the procession reached the funeral pyre in Oxford , are worthy of perpetual remembrance: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England , as I trust shall never be put out.” That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is power that sustains us in the greatest trials.

Scholars have recently discovered, among the disbursements of the Oxford bailiffs, Winkle and Wells, the following items chillingly listed:

For three loads of wood faggots to burn Ridley and Latimer 12 shillings
Item, one load of fir faggots 3 shillings 4 pence
For the carriage of these four loads 2 shillings
Item, a post 1 shilling 4 pence
Item, two staples 6 pence
Item, four labourers 2 shillings 8 pence.

What painful reading. Another job to be paid for. A little later Thomas Cranmer was burned at the same place. The memorial inscription in Oxford reads:

To the glory of God and in grateful commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who, near this spot, yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truth which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given, not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for His sake, this monument was erected. It is a monument to the sustaining grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which comes to all who love him with an undying love. May we love him like that, and more and more, undying, yes, and increasing as the years go by.

2nd April 2006 GEOFF THOMAS