When I hear Dr. R.T. Kendall teaching the bible or think back to amazing conferences where the late Rev. Jim Graham did the same, I think for a few moments of giving up bible teaching… and then get over it. When I think of the Rev George B. Duncan who was my minister following my conversion I think I may as well give up preaching…and get over it and continue preaching. When I read the poems of Norman Macaig or the poetry or short stories of George Mackay Brown I am embarrassed that I ever think I have written anything one could call “a poem”: their poems and mine seem to be from different planets in terms of skill and beauty. Well, sooner or later I recover from that self deprecating way of thinking: Pavarotti may have been a great tenor but it does not mean that no other singing is worth listening to or for that matter that we should shoot every crow!
To that list of humbling experiences I would add this: when I read anything by Henry Drummond, who was a Scottish 19th. Century biologist and evangelist, I think I may as well give up trying to express anything to do with the Christian faith! When I read his writings I am not sure if I even have a brain! I want to share with you some of his words, words which I could never have written given a month of Sundays.
Before you read what follows, I want to in invite you to shut your eyes, read the text from Revelation in the title of this blog; now shut your eyes and think of the life to come. What images fill your mind? If you don’t cooperate and play along with me here and do this before reading on, you won’t get the full impact of Henry Drummond’s words. NOW, ONLY IF YOU HAVE PLAYED ALONG THUS FAR, compare what you have seen, thought or felt, with these words of Henry Drummond (Oh well, I tried to help you get the most out of this blog! Some of you won’t have paused and played along but will go straight on and read H.D’s words anyway.. I hope you still get an appropriate sense of impact and even of shock!)
“By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church– “I saw no Temple therein”–is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City–the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away– is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands – passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life…
The Heaven of Christianity is different from all other Heavens, because the religion of Christianity is different from all other religions. Christianity is the religion of Cities. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the market-place, the working-life of the world…
….with actual things, with Humanity in its everyday dress, with the traffic of the streets, with gates and houses, with work and wages, with sin and poverty, with these things, and all the things and all the relations and all the people of the City, Christianity has to do and has more to do than with anything else. To conceive of the Christian religion as itself a thing, a something which can exist apart from life; to think of it as something added on to being, something kept in a separate compartment called the soul, as an extra accomplishment like music, or a special talent like art, is totally to misapprehend its nature. It is that which fills all compartments….Take away people, houses, streets, character, and it ceases to be. Without these there may be sentiment, or rapture, or adoration, or superstition; there may even be religion, but there can never be the religion of the Son of Man.”
Happy consternation and revelation to you all.