3rd in Lent

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of they Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle Ephesians 5.1-14
Gospel S. Luke 11.14-28

The Epistle and Gospel are the same as had been used in the ancient British Church, but the Epistle has been increased from 9 to 14 verses, a good example of how the Reformers desired Scripture portions to be long enough to make good sense, but, wisely, not too long to deter simple readers.

The Reformation in Britain, says A.R. Needham, differed from that on the Continent by a special love of the Scriptures. First Wyclif and afterwards his Lollards had been disseminating them for 150 years, under pain of de haeretico comburendo. There was something of a revival amongst this persecuted and hunted group. This can be demonstrated by the numbers burned under the Act increasing from only three or four in Berkshire in the early 1500s, to five in Kent in 1511-12, two in London in 1517, seven in Coventry in 1519 and six in Lincoln in 1521, besides hundreds apprehended during that period of twenty years. Lollards were to the fore in smuggling Tyndale’s Bible into England in 1525 and 1526.

In 1537, a Protestant Bishop, Edward Fox of Hereford said to his fellow bishops: “Make not yourselves the laughing stock of the world; light is sprung up ands is scattering all the clouds. The lay people know the Scriptures better than many of us.”

So when the Chained Bible was put in the churches in 1538, its impact in Southern England can hardly be exaggerated. Illiterate people learned to read in order to study it. Crowds gathered daily in St. Paul’s Crypt, and other churches to listen to it being read. It opened up for all to see a huge gap between what the Church was teaching and what the Scriptures taught. That same love of the Scriptures was later transmitted from here to America, giving us a bond that has lasted.

Cranmer had the insight to allow two years for the Bible to do its own work, before starting to change the Latin Mass into English Scriptural services. Our Prayer Book had a simple purpose, Scripture teaching, and it took the hearts of Englishmen by storm, and held them until the 1960s. Its twin secrets were the vast amount of beautifully translated Scripture it contained, and the simple clarity of justification by faith alone which shines out in the Communion Service. The Roman Mass had multiple emphasise, including Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension as the objects of the Last Supper. Surely, it is easy to see ‘the Lord’s Board’, as the Reformer’s called it, concentrated on one thing only in the Gospels – the atoning death of Christ.

Let us turn to Scripture.

Why was Ephesians 5 retained for this Third Sunday in Lent by the Reformers? Evan Daniel says, “It contains an exhortation to purity, and a warning against fellowship with ‘the unfruitful works of darkness’. The unclean body invites unclean spirits to take up their abode in it.” There is a point when we let evil in, and the great increase in mental disturbance we see today, and it’s connection all too often with the abuse of the body and mind, links in here. So also the immense hardening of our people against the sweet simplicity of the Gospel, shows that once Satan is allowed in, he cannot be ejected until Christ personally does so by His Holy Spirit.

Why was the Gospel of St. Luke retained? Satan, the strong man armed, occupies man’s heart and only Christ, the stronger than he, can eject Him. This is obvious when we look at all the various ills plaguing us, and the favourite ways of getting rid of them. Is the National Health Service performing badly? More management! More money! Are certain housing estates plagued by evil? More money! More education! More law! Is manufacturing going downhill? More money! More regulations! Are the prisons overcrowded? Are the law courts creaking under the load of litigation and crime? More money! More education! Is something wrong in the nation? More inspection! More government! Do people despise and hate one another? More interference! More laws! Make thought a crime! Truly G.K. Chesterton was right when he said that Christianity was the only solution that had never been tried.

The early Christians were very much aware of Satan’s power, and in the end they exorcised Satan routinely before they would baptise. We do not wish to return to that, and are very wary of exorcism as practiced today. However, we most firmly hold that only Christ by His Holy Spirit can free men, and put a situation right. What does the National Health Service really need? More vocation! And that comes when Christ is the One calling to sacrificial and costly service. And that only comes when a man is renewed in the spirit of his mind, born again and made a new creature by the Gospel. Then he is freed to serve and can spoil Satan’s goods and free his captives. That applies to all the ills we have listed. Christ alone can cast out the strong man armed. All human attempts leave his goods in peace, for he just comes back in another form. Christ alone binds him, spoils his house, and bars his return.

Kier Hardy was the man who founded the Labour Party, in Shoreditch Town Hall in London, and any book on the Labour Party will give you his speech at the time. They are very proud of it. Now Kier Hardy was a born-again Christian, and he made another speech in the very same place a few short years later, which you will never find in the most detailed book about the Labour Party. They keep complete silence about it. So much so that nearly all party members have no idea it ever took place.

In that second speech in Shoreditch Town Hall he said, and sadly I have to recollect the words which I heard from the mouth of Mr. Neville Knox, the Town Clerk of Harrogate and the President of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, from memory.

“Brethren, I made a great mistake in founding this Labour Party. I regret it deeply. I did wrong. What I ought to have done was to send men two by two round the country from door to door, preaching the Gospel. I am leaving the Labour Party and going to do what I ought to have done from the beginning, devote myself to this.”