Sunday, 22 February 2009

William Wilberforce


William Wilberforce is one of my heroes. A talented orator, many of his fellow politicians said he could be Prime Minister but instead he devoted himself to what he felt called by God to do-The abolition of slavery. A year after read a biography telling his life story, I had the privilege of being an extra (as an MP) in the filming of the Wilberforce biopic Amazing Grace. Both highlighted what a remarkable man he was.
William Wilberforce was born in Hull, Yorkshire to Robert Wilberforce (1728–68), a wealthy merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, A sickly child, William was their only son. After his father's death the nine-year-old slightly built Yorkshire boy went to live with his aunt and uncle in Wimbledon. William became interested in evangelical Christianity through the influence of his aunt, but his stanch Anglican mother, alarmed at the youngster's increasing non-conformist leanings, bought him back to Hull. Another influence on William's faith was the former slave trader, John Newton, who had become the vicar of Olney in Buckinghamshire. However after it was decided that the evangelical Newton was a bad influence on the him, they lost contact and William drifted away from God for a time. At Cambridge University he pursued a hedonistic lifestyle enjoying cards, gambling and late-night drinking sessions. He was also developing an interest in politics and at the age of 21, whilst still a student, he was elected Member of Parliament for Kingston Upon Hull. Wilberforce's eloquent speaking voice whilst making political speeches was immediately noted as was a tendency towards tardiness. He was seen as a man, who whilst weak in health and insignificantly small in body was blessed with an unique gift of witty and eloquent oratory. After hearing him speak, Dr Johnson’s biographer, Boswell, wrote: “ I saw what seemed to be a shrimp mount upon the table but as I listened he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale.”
However in 1785 a journey across Europe with a Christian friend, Isaac Milner changed his life for ever. During the trip, Wilberforce's reading of the Bible and Philip Doddridges book, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul brought him to a spiritual crisis and he returned to God. At first Wilberforce wanted to go into the church but eventually his friends persuaded him to stay on as an MP. One friend was John Newton, with whom Wilberforce had renewed acquaintance.
Around the time of Wilberforce's conversion, a British campaign to abolish the slave trade, originally by Quakers had began to gain support from within the evangelical wing of the church. In the 1780s over 100,000 Africans were being shipped abroad every year and more than half were being carried on British ships. The testimony of John Newton and many others about the cruel conditions, the slaves had to endure convinced many that something had to be one about it.
As he grew in his faith, Wilberforce had become interested in humanitarian affairs. He became a leader of the Clapham Sect, centered on Holy Trinity Church, Clapham in London, a fellowship of influential Anglicans who prayed several hours a day to get laws changed, lobbying hard to MPs. Wilberforce was seen as a potential key figure by the slave trade abolitionists and after a number of meetings and exchange of letters he saw that God was calling him to be a figurehead of the movement. He said "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners." In 1791, Wilberforce moved in the House of Commons that the import of African slaves be banned but lost the vote 168-88. In 1793, another vote to abolish the slave trade was narrowly defeated by eight votes. The war with France effectively prevented any further serious consideration of the issue, and as politicians concentrated on the threat of invasion, there was a decline in public support for several years. However, despite battling ill-health , Wilberforce refused to give up and in 1804 he bought another bill to Parliament. Though that was defeated, a radical change of tactics, which involved the introduction of a bill by another MP banning British subjects from participating in the slave trade to the French Colonies and an increasing amount of abolitionist MPs in the House of Commons, finally bore fruit for the persistent Wilberforce, In 1807, the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire though all existing slaves were still bound to their masters. A blind, elderly John Newton witnessed the passing of the bill in the visitors gallery. Britain was the first Western country to abolish the slave trade and much of this was due to the persistence of William Wilberforce MP.
As a postscript, in 1833 all slaves in the British Empire were released, with the British Government paying a huge sum to compensate all the Slave owners. When the dying Wilberforce heard this news on his deathbed, he mumbled, "Thank God that I have lived to witness a day when England is willing to give 20 million sterling for the abolition of slavery."
  • Sunday, 15 February 2009

    Kumbaya


    I recently researched for Songfacts the story of the traditional spiritual "Kumbaya." This is what I found.
    "Kumbaya" originates from the 1920s. It has been traced to the African-American Gullah people, who live on the Sea Islands just off the states of South Carolina and Georgia. In their Creole dialect “kumbaya” means simply “come by here” and this tune began as a Gullah spiritual where the former slaves living on the Sea Islands sang the lyric “Come by here, my Lord, come by here.” It is thought that American missionaries taught the song to locals in Angola, and it was in the African country where it was rediscovered. The spiritual was brought back to America where it became a popular tune in the folk revival and civil rights movements of the 1960s and a standard campfire song.
    Peter Seeger recorded this in 1958, but it was Joan Baez’s live version in 1962 that really helped boost its popularity. In 1969 the vocal group, The Sandpipers took this song to #38 in the UK singles charts.

    Sunday, 8 February 2009

    How Creation Proves The Existence of God

    In a letter to the Corinthian church, St Paul wrote that the gospel is open and revealed to everyone, except those who refuse to believe. He added that the “god of this age”, who of course is Satan, has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light. (2 Corinthians 4v4) . All too frequently these days, on the radio, TV and newspapers, when referring to Christian issues, the comment is made that religious believers are deluding themselves. These secular commentators who seem to pop up in the media with desperate frequency have been blinded to the light of Christ’s gospel. They cannot see it, understand it or comprehend it and are deluding themselves when they decry it.
    One of the areas where to me it seems to me particularly bizarre that so many people reject the existence of God is if you look at His creative acts. To me in the same way you look at a watch and infer there was a watchmaker, you look at creation and infer there is a creator. There’s a story about Henry Ward Beecher the US congregational minister and political activist, who possessed a beautiful globe depicting the various constellations and stars of the heavens. Robert Ingersoll, an agnostic visited Beecher admired the globe and asked who made it. “Who made it” said Beecher satirically, “Why nobody made it, it just happened”. St Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” (Romans 1v20). St Paul wrote this 2,000 years ago, and today with all the advances in science, we have a much greater knowledge and understanding of this planet in this incredible universe, which God created. A universe, which shows God to be a God of might, intelligence and intricate detail; a God of order and beauty; a God who controls powerful forces.
    Because of the rapid advances in scientific knowledge in modern times, particularly in the new ways that things around us can be observed, measured and evaluated, scientists have discovered many other remarkable things. Taken alone they would just be considered quirks or oddities, but taken together- and there’s an awfully large number of them- they tell an awesome story. Here's just a few of the many examples of how this wonderful universe surely didn't haapen by chance but instead reveals to me that it was created by a creator God .
    I don’t know if any of you have experienced a total eclipse of the sun, when the moon passes from our perspective exactly in front of the sun, blots it out to our eyes and it goes all dark. It appears to us that the sun and the moon are the same size, but they are not. The sun is around 400 times larger than the moon and the only reason they seem to be the same size is that the sun is 400 times further away from us. And there is a God ordained reason for the fact that the Sun and the Moon are the size and the distance away that they are for if this was not the case we would not exist or at best we’d live as scraps of amoeba or bacteria. The Sun itself is just the perfect size for life on Earth. It is also the perfect distance from our planet, as for life to occur, the sun needs to be not so near that the water in the oceans boils away and not so far that it freezes over. Earth is the only planet in the Solar System within that zone. If we were 5% closer to the Sun we would burn to a crisp in a runaway greenhouse effect. If we were a tad further away from the Sun, we would suffocate in a cloud of carbon dioxide. If the Moon was a little larger, our tides would swamp the earth. If it were a little smaller there would be no tides.
    Moving outwards into the Solar System, we discover that Jupiter, the largest planet, is in just the right place to act as protector of Earth, by capturing asteroids and comets, which otherwise could threaten us and knock lumps out of us.
    If the force of gravity that exists in this universe was pushed upwards a bit, the sun would have burned out faster, leaving not enough time for the Earth to have become formulated in its present form as perfect for life. Also if the relative masses of protons and neutrons were changed by a hair, stars like the sun would never have happened, since the hydrogen they eat would never exist.
    The Big Bang, the massive explosion, which many scientists believe was the way in which the universe was created, is a statistical miracle. It has been that had the explosion differed in strength at the outset by only one part in 1 followed by 60 noughts, the universe including this planet on which we live would not exist. Also Stephen Hawking has calculated that, “if the density of the universe one second after the Big Bang had been greater by one part in a thousand billion, the universe would have recollapsed after 10 years. On the other hand, if the density of the universe at that time had been less by the same amount, the universe would have been essentially empty since it was about 10 years old.
    Incidentally centuries before the telescope was invented and man realised that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 100 billion stars plus that there are another 100 billion galaxies each of 100 billion stars, the Bible told us in a number of different places that the number of stars was countless. When the Old Testament was written man reckoned the number of stars that existed to be the number of stars visible to the naked eye, which is around 1,500. Yet in the Book of Jeremiah 34 v 22 we see the Lord promise to Jeremiah “I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore”. How did Jeremiah know that the amount of stars was a countless amount comparable to the amount of grains of sand on the seashore?
    Going back to my spiel, scientists have discovered how finely tuned the earth is in so many ways. The magnetic field is just right, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is just right, the rate of rotation is just right, the size and properties of the Earth’s crust are just right. The list goes on and, in fact, scientists have come up with a list of twenty things that need to be just right and how, if any one of them was slightly different, life on Earth just would not exist.
    A few decades ago the American astronomer Carl Sagan summed up the then viewpoint of the majority of the scientific community’s beliefs about the place of the Earth in this universe. He said: “Our posterings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe are challenged by this point of pale light (upon our world). Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.” Today many scientists are reconsidering their views and are now starting to consider the possibility that the whole Universe seems to be constructed for one purpose only-to make life on Earth possible. For instance the agnostic British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle who died in 2001 reluctantly admitted in his later years that the universe appears to be delicately tuned for life: He wrote “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology (of the universe)… The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
    And its not just advances in our understanding of the universe. A solitary sperm and a single egg can fuse under any circumstances and can grow into 8lbs of human baby. All the information needed for learning to read, to write, pulling the curtains or playing the piano is in that first cell. As scientists have studied the human cell they have been astounded at the vast amount of information in the form of a language embedded in the DNA molecules contained within the cell. If you unwrapped all the DNA contained within the cells of an average human’s body, and laid it end to end, it would reach to the moon and back 8,000 times.
    Several British newspapers reported just a few years ago how one of the world’s most renowned atheists, Sir Antony Flew, had recently renounced his atheism because of the compelling evidence of the DNA molecule. He had been persuaded by “the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.”
    From the orderly pattern of the enormous universe, the galaxies and our planet with its amazing creatures, to the equally wondrous and complex microcosm of the cell, the evidence shouts an unmistakable message that Christians are not deluded: We are the result of a Master Designer!

    Sunday, 1 February 2009

    Medicine Amongst the Hebrews in Old Testament Times

    Unlike the many magical and folk medical treatments being used by the rest of the world in around 1000BC, the Hebrews were using innovative health techniques given to them by God based on science.
    In Old Testament times the priests acted as doctors and much of the scriptural legislation dealt with maintaining good health. Of the 613 commandments in the Pentateuch, 213 were of a medical nature, which in the main stressed the importance of social hygiene and preventative medicine.
    In the Book of Numbers we see that amongst the instructions given by God to Moses and the Hebrews was that if a woman was suspected of being unfaithful, she was to be taken to a priest and made to drink some impure water. If she was guilty, she was taken ill, if innocent she would have no harmful effects. The emotion of guilt would produce the illness.
    God also gave Moses and the Hebrews basic sanitary instructions, which prevented cholera and many epidemics. In the Book of Deuteronomy we see they were told to designate a place outside the camp, where they could relieve themselves. They were told to have as part of their equipment, something to dig with, and when they had finished they should dig a hole and cover up their excrement.
    An innovative divine sanitary instruction included in the Book of Numbers ordained that if somebody was to touch a corpse he was considered unclean for seven days and would have to wash with water on the third and seventh days. The washing procedure thereby cleared the unclean person of germs and protected others from exposure to harmful bacteria.
    In the Book of Leviticus we see a person with an infectious disease was instructed to wear torn clothes, let their hair go unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out “unclean, unclean.” They had to live alone away from anyone else, the first ever example of quarantine. The unusual rituals were to prevent others coming near and catching any contagious diseases for fear of starting an epidemic.
    Even the Seventh Commandment “you shall not commit adultery” was God’s way of preventing epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. People with a series of sexual partners ran a high risk of catching such diseases, which they were likely to pass on to later sexual partners, including their spouses.
    Later in the Old Testament there is an example of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, now widely taught as an emergency treatment for heart stoppage. This occurred when the Old Testament prophet Elijah gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the son of a widow.
    These are just a few of the numerous instances where the Bible contains medical information, which predates by centuries man's actual discoveries of related principles in the field of medicine.