Signs of the Times

We are living in interesting and significant times, with a number of notable anniversaries co-inciding.

31st October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

Martin Luther unwittingly commenced the Protestant Reformation when he posted his 95 Theses for discussion on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.  Europe and the world benefitted from the liberation of Christian conscience through the recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Balfour Declaration is a paragraph in a letter by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on 2/11/1917 informing the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland of the decision of the British War Cabinet in London, which on 31/10/1917 took a final vote in favour of establishing a Jewish National Home for the Jewish people.  By the evening of the same day, the charge of the Australian Light Horse was completing the victory in the Battle of Beersheba, the first victory in the campaign of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) to re-capture Jerusalem and Israel during World War I.  On 11/12/1917 British General Sir Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem, without a shot being fired, becoming the first Christian to control the city in centuries, and being the first time since the Jewish Diaspora that a friendly power occupied the land.  It was of immense global significance and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said: “The moral effect of the victory was tremendously important. It was an earnest of the fulfilment of the Balfour Declaration.”

Allenby entered the Jaffa Gate after dismounting his white horse and walked into the city for the official ceremony on the first day of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah.  He refused to enter “booted and spurred into Jerusalem where my Lord walked.”

14th May 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the rebirth of the nation of Israel – “Who has heard such a thing? who has seen such things? Shall the Earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?” Isaiah 66:8.

6th June 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem and flying the Israeli flag on the Temple mount.


To see ourselves as others see us

I have just received this birthday card from one of my younger sisters:

Gaelic proverb: A friend’s eye is a good mirror

Or to use the language of our Scottish bard, Robert ‘Rabbi’ Burns, in his poem To A Louse:
On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church, 1786

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.”

Another pioneer dies – leaving an honourable, global and on-going legacy

On the day of John Glenn’s funeral, another pioneer died.

John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, restored American prestige in 1962 when it seemed that the Soviet Union was moving ahead in the space race.

A lesser known pioneer died today, aged 96 years old. However, his name is known to every medical doctor in the world, and by most health service personnel. He is US doctor Henry J.Heimlich, who popularised the manoeuvre used to help victims of choking. Countless numbers of people have been saved from unnecessary death by his pioneering technique, co-developed with Dr. Edward A.Patrick, whose name is not as celebrated.

Rather than describing the technique, you may be able to see it in action in this extraordinary video recorded on a US motor cop’s dashcam (a camera mounted on the dashboard of a car) – if restore the link! The picture shows the traffic policeman doing the manoeuvre on the choking woman, which dislodged the food from her throat.


Heimlich used the technique himself this year in his retirement home.

Henry Heimlich: wikipedia entry

Hogmanay and a Happy New Year

We brought in the New Year with our growing family. Since the children have left home a few years ago, Elizabeth and I have become accustomed to watching their lives from a distance.

However, there are happy reunions when they make their occasional and seasonal return to Ebenezer, and this Hogmanay was one of them.

Christine and Mark, James and Debbie, and Alasdair and Esther with little James William joined us for the occasion. Rachel skyped from Colorado, America, just as we sat down for our evening meal, so with the handheld tablet perched on the table, I got a rare collective family photo of this Hogmanay. The last time that we were all together was four years ago. On that occasion Alasdair had begun to join the family circle and spent his first Hogmanay with the whole family at Ebenezer, with the thought that Rachel would be in Colorado the next year and Esther married. So 31 December 2009 was the last Hogmanay and New Year that we were together as a family.

It has been a particularly cold and stormy winter, with the lowest air pressure recorded at Stornoway since December 1886. So it was cosy to gather around our glowing wood stove after our meal with our expanding family. We had family worship, in which we usually read consecutively through the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as sing our way consecutively through the Scottish metrical version of the book of Psalms. On the 31st day of the last month of the year, we had reached the 31st chapter of the book of Proverbs, a book of spiritual wisdom.

We decided to exchange our presents in the evening instead of the customary arrival of the New Year, as young James William had to take to bed before midnight.

We watched a BBC documentary on How Auld Lang Syne Took Over the World. This was due to its emotional content, its catchy pentatonic tune and its unique call to an expression of corporate bonding in its distinctive crossover handshake. It was acknowledged that very few singers know all the words, (my father is one of the few who learned it as an Ayrshire lad), but the theme of recollected friendships is enough to make it the tear-jerking global phenomenon that reminds us that human beings are longing for the reconciliation and friendship that only rarely surfaces in life.

The New Year is a more important celebration in Scotland than any other annual national celebration. Just after the chimes of New Year, the new technology allowed Alasdair’s parents to join us on Skype and then Rachel joined us also on Skype and we sang together her choice of Psalm 67 as our introduction to the New Year.

Although the family has left home, such reunions remind us that our family is growing. The next generation has arrived and is arriving, and our expanding family is a reminder that God is “gathering together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” Eph 1:10. The family of God is growing on earth and in heaven. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” Eph 3:14-15.

A Happy New Year to all my readers, and may none of you miss out on this heavenly blessing.

Mrs James Boyd

Yesterday, Debbie Fisher became Mrs James Boyd.  It was a delightful occasion and Elizabeth and I are very pleased for James and Debbie.
The first Mrs James Boyd, the first of many loves in my life, was married on 5/1/51 and passed away on 10/11/10.  The last major function she attended was the marriage of our youngest daughter Esther to Alasdair Macleod; so Esther Boyd became a Macleod, while my mother had exchanged her MacLeod to become Mrs James Boyd. Naturally I was not there to witness that earlier happy occasion, with one foot of snow on the ground, but I was pleased to witness another Snow Queen become Mrs James Boyd yesterday.
The day began and ended well.  The sun was shining in a blue sky when Elizabeth and I had our family worship.  Our usual practice is to sing through the Scottish metrical Psalms consecutively and this morning we reached Ps 45 – the Marriage Psalm.  Then we drove my father James Boyd senior to his namesake’s marriage.  The venue was the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Airdrie, and herein lies is a circular tale.  Senior James Boyd’s grandfather was also James Boyd, who had been the precentor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kilbirnie, where they are hearty singers, my namesake Donald Boyd in Kilbirnie told me.
During the morning, the skies darkened and the snow came down as a white carpet for our Snow Queen, who arrived to be “given away” by her father Jimmy.  Her mother Helen looked on, and her sister and bridesmaid Hayley watched through tears of joy, as James and Debbie publicly exchanged their marriage vows before God and the assembled congregation, sealed with a loving (and rather lengthy) kiss.
Best man Alastair Manderson dug deep into his sporran for the wedding rings, and the Rev. Andrew Quigley solemnly pronounced them “man and wife”.  The minister then preached a pointed and useful sermon.  He said that the best advice he could give James and Debbie came from the chapter he had read from the Bible: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” Col 3:16.  He noted that those who dwell with us in our homes influence and change our lives more than those who occasionally visit us.  The Word of God had come to dwell in the hearts of this young couple, and it had influenced and changed them.  He concluded by presenting them with the Bible he had used in the service, that it might dwell in their new home with them, to fashion their lives for Christian service.
The Marriage Register was signed using James Boyd senior’s proverbial black ink fountain pen, to record in indelible ink his only grandson’s marriage to the next Mrs James Boyd.
As our Snow Queen emerged from the church for photographs, the sun had clothed itself once more in an azure sky to give the bright backdrop for photographs of the radiant smile on her cherubic face, and of her gorgeous white dress.  Our bekilted man of the moment provided added colour with the best man and bridesmaid in their supporting roles.
After the bridal cars left the church for the reception at the Cartland Bridge Hotel in Lanark, the snow closed in behind them to lay a long white train behind the Snow Queen as she travelled in her stylish white car with her prince Charming.  The sun blazed a trail in front of them and so Debbie with her beloved James arrived at the reception in brilliant sunshine, where a multitude of photographs were taken with various groups of family and friends, including the four generations of James – James Boyd senior, Jimmy Fisher, James Boyd junior and his little nephew James William Macleod.
After a sumptuous wedding meal, we had speeches from Jimmy, James and Alastair, while yours truly took up the rear.  Jimmy told us how much he loves his daughter, James followed by showing how much he loves “my wife”, and Alastair demonstrated how much he loves making fun, at James’ expense if need be.  Jimmy’s pain in giving away his eldest daughter was relieved only by his coming to know the character and qualities of the Christian young man to whom she had given her heart.
The day ended well.  James, as the head of a new Christian family, conducted family worship for the first time with his family and friends.  We sang Ps 1 to begin the practice of consecutive Psalm singing.  He read also a chapter from the Bible.  Yes, you’ve guessed it – he began at the beginning, at Genesis 1, the first chapter of the first book of the Bible.  He made a few comments as he went along, to show that he had learned something from his father.  Thus our young Christian couple have begun the godly practice of reading consecutively through the Old Testament and New Testaments at family worship. One effect of being born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God 1Pe 1:22 is that by dwelling in the Christian’s heart it creates a genuine, pure and fervent Christian love which will endure as long as the Word of God itself, “which lives and abides for ever” 1Pe 2:23.
It was a good day, and a new Christian home has begun where Christ will be loved, honoured and served, and where the Word of God will dwell richly to change hearts and lives.
“Lo, children are God’s heritage,
the womb’s fruit his reward.
The sons of youth as arrows are,
for strong men’s hands prepared.”  (Psalm 127:3-4)
“Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them.” Ps 127:5

Two significant deaths

There have been two significant deaths in the past three months – Christopher Hitchens and Steve Jobs.

I feel sorry for Christopher Hitchens, an intelligent atheist, who died yesterday.  He had a powerful intellect, like Richard Dawkins, but this is nothing if one is spiritually blind.  The smallest child can see the sun which a congenitally blind person cannot see.  No amount of reasoning can convince a congenitally blind person that there is a sun in the sky and a Universe to see.  They can only be convinced of it by belief of testimony – the very thing that Richard Dawkins erroneously calls blind faith.

I admired Hitchens’ forthright talk, but he trusted his rationalism which is an insufficient foundation upon which to trust.  The pity is that he never met his theological match, and thus, left to himself, he failed to find God.  He never humbled himself enough to ask God to reveal Himself to him.  The intelligent find it very difficult to humble themselves before God.  Rupert Murdoch spoke of the most humble day of his life; the day, not he, was humble.

I feel sorry for Steve Jobs.  The foremost entrepreneur of our age, who was born only two days after me, he had a profound influence upon our generation.  In one sense, he gained the whole world, but as the Lord Jesus Christ said: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mk 8:36-37.

I know that neither of these men would want my sorrow.  It is too condescending for them.  Well, I consider that attitude condescending.  It is part of the pride of intellect.  So it doesn’t change my mind.  I feel sorry for such wasted lives, such wasted intellect.  Must I change my feelings to please such secularists?  Do they want to control my feelings as well as my thinking? That is how I feel, and it is not only true humanity that feels it, but it is also true spirituality.  “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?” Ezk 33:11.

Jesus said: “If you do not believe that I am God’s appointed Messiah, you shall die in your sins” Jn 8:24.  No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  “He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”  Lk 19:41-42.  I feel sorrow for such people.

They are now in eternity and learning more than they ever knew here in time.

The Rage Against God: a book written by Christopher’s brother, Peter Hitchens, “describes Hitchens’s journey from the militant atheism of the far political left and bohemianism to Christianity, detailing the influences on him that led to his conversion. The book is partly intended as a response to God Is Not Great, a book written by his brother Christopher Hitchens in 2007.” Wikipedia accessed 24May2013.


Patrick Hamilton

482 years ago today Patrick Hamilton was burned to death in front of the gate of St Salvator’s College, St Andrews, on 29/2/1528 for preaching the doctrines of the Bible. He was the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, which reintroduced the Gospel of God’s free salvation to sinners through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the next 30 years, persecution continued until the death of the aged Walter Mill who was martyred on 28/8/1558, also at St Andrews. He was the last martyr before John Knox spearheaded the Scottish Reformation in 1559-1560. John Knox had been a follower of George Wishart who was also burned at St Andrews on 1/3/1546.

The Martyrs Memorial at St Andrews was erected to the honour of Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart and other martyrs of the Reformation era. The initials PH and GW are set as monograms into the cobblestone paving at the places of their execution not far apart from each other. Wishart was burned in front of St Andrews Castle, and Hamilton in front of the gate of St Salvator’s College. Although 18 years separated their deaths, they were burned on the same day of the year as Hamilton died in a leap year. Today is the anniversary of both of their deaths.

Preparation for Reformation

There were three strands to the Scottish proto-Reformation:
1. the Lollard strand from John Wycliffe,
2. the Lutheran strand through Patrick Hamilton, and
3. the Calvinistic strand through John Knox. Only the third one succeeded in Reforming Scotland.

The poorly identified Zwinglian strand entered on the back of John Wycliffe’s earlier Lollard movement and with John Knox. Duncan Shaw has written on “Zwinglian Influences on the Scottish Reformation” in the Scottish Church History Society Records, Vol. 22, Part 2, 1985. The same volume contains an article by Professor Gerhard Muller on “Protestant Theology in Scotland and Germany in the early days of the Reformation”, which compares Patrick Hamilton’s theology to that of Luther and Melanchthon. However, Lollardism did not succeed in reforming Scotland.

Patrick Hamilton’s Lutheran teaching was slowly influenced by and replaced by Zwinglian elements, and the combination of Zwinglian elements with Calvinism in the teaching of John Knox finally ushered in Scotland’s Protestant Reformation. John Knox has the honour of being known as the Reformer of Scotland.

However, Knox’s success came on the back of 30 years of faithful witness to the doctrines of grace, a witness sealed with the blood of a series of martyrs who were faithful unto death. Hamilton’s youth, nobility and gracious bearing had a strong influence so that the “reek of Patrick Hamilton infected all on whom it did blow”.  (This saying in slightly different forms may be found in Laing’s Knox, i. 42; Calderwood’s History, i. 86; and Spottiswoode’s History, i. 130.)  The bloody persecution prepared Scotland for John Knox’s ministry.

Hamilton was in the vanguard of this movement. On 9/6/1523 Patrick Hamilton enrolled in the University of St Andrews, the same day that John Major was received as Principal of St Mary’s College. Major had formerly been teaching in the College of Montaigu, Paris, where Hamilton graduated MA in 1520. Hamilton became convinced of the Reformation doctrines and visited Germany where he was impressed by Martin Luther and Melanchthon. He composed what became known as Patrick’s “Places”, which is the earliest Scottish doctrinal production and decidedly Lutheran. They are likely named after Melachthon’s Loci Communes of 1521. They were translated by John Frith, the English martyr, and embodied by John Knox in his History of the Reformation, and by Fox in his Acts and Monuments.

Hamilton returned to Scotland to promote the Reformation there. He confounded his opponents with his mannerly opposition to Roman Catholic teaching of ‘salvation by keeping the rules of Roman Catholicism’, but his youth, manners and noble birth did not protect him from the blood-thirsty persecutors who speedily secured his death by burning.

There had been earlier martyrdoms in Scotland, such as Paul Craw, the Bohemian Hussite preacher, who was burned at St Andrews in 1433. However this 30 year period of persecution from the death of the young, noble Hamilton in 1528 till that of the aged, august Mill in 1558, was that period when the blood of the martyrs nourished the seed of the church.


The standard biography of Patrick Hamilton for many years was Patrick Hamilton, the First Preacher and Martyr of the Scottish Reformation, by Peter Lorimer, D.D., Edinburgh and London 1857. Lorimer was the Professor of Hebrew and Exegetic Theology at the English Presbyterian College, London. Half a century later, in America, another biography appeared Patrick Hamilton: The First Lutheran Preacher and Martyr of Scotland, William Dallmann, St Louis, Missouri, Concordia Publishing House, third revised printing, 1918.

The 400th anniversary of Hamilton’s death was commemorated in St Andrews with an open air service on the site of his martyrdom pyre, and by a series of addresses in the Town Hall by the Professors of Ecclesiastical History in the Universities of Scotland. These addresses were published as Patrick Hamilton: First Scottish Martyr of the Reformation, edited by Alexander Cameron, The Scottish Reformation Society, Edinburgh 1929.

The most recent contribution to his memory is the first biography in almost 100 years Patrick Hamilton – The Stephen of Scotland (1504-1528): The First Preacher and Martyr of the Scottish Reformation, by Joe R. D. Carvalho, AD Publications, Dundee 2009.

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