Tag Archives: Dr Norman Snaith

An investment in faith

When I was christened in the parlour of our ground floor flat, common practice in those days, I was given a family name – another not uncommon practice. I was ‘John Gordon’ after my father, Gordon my mother’s surname. My wife was also given family names and so were our two daughters. That was just the way it was done then, unlike today when little bairns have fancy and unusual names. Once upon a time it was the normal thing to give a child a biblical name. They still do it, although parents and offspring may not be aware of it – it’s just a nice name. In the olden days to which I refer there was no question that a biblical name was the name of a character who, for one reason or another, had come down to us as part of biblical history. So we have our Adams, our Jacobs and our Sarahs, our Ruths, our Marys. In the deep south of the USA and in African countries people are proud to be a Moses, even an Ephraim, Ebenezer or Naomi or Leah and such like. I should not imagine anyone opting for Jezebel!

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is another name that may not be contender. Calling someone a Jeremiah is no compliment. All down the centuries, Jeremiah is denounced as the great pessimist of Old Testament times. His reputation is that of a ‘dismal Jimmy’, a melancholy sort of guy – one reason why we can thank our lucky stars our parents did not have us christened ‘Jeremiah’. However, thus far there is no suggestion that we have met up with the real Jeremiah. A more detailed portrait of this man of God, this great prophet, would reveal that he is much maligned, misunderstood and misrepresented. In his biography, the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, he is shown to have been a given very difficult assignment by God. For 40 turbulent years he gave himself to the service of the Lord, a vocation not marked by outstanding success. So much militated against him.

In the early days, Manasseh was king and the Bible has little good to say about him. With Manasseh around, Jeremiah was on a hiding to nothing. Certain of the Word given him by the Lord, Jeremiah showed tremendous courage in the face of such opposition and persecution. Jeremiah was the king’s thorn in the flesh, especially when he made it clear that God was on the prophet’s side. Religiously the king was a dead loss, a corrupter, schemer who indulged in his personal whims and fancy to shape Hebrew religion as he pleased. Dr Norman Snaith, who taught me Old Testament in College, did not spare the king. He tried to make our hair stand on end with indignation at the thought of Manasseh’s prostitution of religion. He accused him of every abominable thing he could think of introducing in the Temple. Although never a lover of priestly religion, Dr Snaith had some harsh things to say of those who tolerated the variety of dark superstitions initiated by Manasseh in the temple, despoiling the pure religion of Jeremiah, for which Jeremiah vigorously campaigned. He denounced those whose preaching was false, those who proclaimed all is well when there was no peace. Jeremiah was well aware that his message was not popular. Society was corrupt and Jeremiah dare not ignore it. He did not have a growing movement of supporters. Instead he was headed for defeat, imprisonment, death, exile. Few listened, few heeded, but Jeremiah continued to fulfil his calling. He is misunderstood and misnamed, so much so that few babies are named after him.

Jeremiah will be back next time.

Cheers from the grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For one reason or other, I am not sure which, I do not find myself dashing to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews for inspiration or guidance. I’ve heard numerous co-travellers on our Faith Journey declare Hebrews to be a favourite, cherished biblical reading, especially for the space the writer gives to faith in his teaching. Records reveal that in 65 years as a preacher, few sermons have emerged from the Epistle to the Hebrews. I suspect I am in a minority, but do not despair of me, all is not lost. There are two passages in the Letter to the Hebrews that I have turned to from time to time, the inspiration of a number of sermons delivered mainly at a Church Anniversary or All Saints. more often than not concentrated on Hebrews chapter 11.32 to 12.2 or 13.8. In spite of my stance on this Epistle, paradoxically the first is actually one of my favourite passages of Scripture; a beautiful piece and one I need to read or hear again and again: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (RSV) or the alternative Since we have such a huge crowd of men and women of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us run…… (Living Bible)

The Letter to the Hebrews – like many others – was written at a time when it was dangerous to be a Christian. Some of these early disciples must have been suffering terribly from the ill-consequences of making public their faith in Jesus in a hostile environment. The unknown author of this Letter writes to put heart into those Christians who, threatened with persecution, might easily give up. How did he do it? He reminds them of their heritage. Relates to them the testimony of the great pioneers and stalwarts of faith who, down the centuries, held to their belief in God through thick and thin. So many of them, he has neither time nor space to do more than mention some by name. It is an impressive Roll of Honour. Hopefully, it was what was needed to inspire those to whom the Letter is addressed to run with perseverance the race that was given to them. A Charge with our name on it. We do not need to be reminded that the Church in our country today appears to be losing the argument and there are those in our secular society who seem determined to engineer her demise. But that is nothing: there is a much more severe persecution of Christians in other countries – North Korea, iran and Central Nigeria to name three. But cheer up, press on, the writer to the Hebrews urges, there are all those pioneers who blazed the Way; all those veterans cheering us on (The Message.) Not an idle promise.Message

Looking back at the end of a long preaching ministry, I am reminded of countless times when I was keenly aware of a presence in the grandstand urging me to keep going with determination the race I was given to run – one of “Mr Wesley’s Preachers.” A couple of examples from early days. Dr Norman Snaith taught me Old Testament in College. Speaking to him at the Methodist Conference in Newcastle on the day he became President of the Conference, he asked where I was currently stationed. When I told him I was a minister in Haltwhistle he said “That’s interesting, my old dad was minister there once.” On my way home, I thought of the stories Dr Snaith told us about his dear old dad. I went back to Haltwhistle humbled by the thought of those in whose footsteps I walked. When I went to Thompson Memorial Hall in Sunderland I was told that Dr W E Sangster preached his last sermon from the platform I was to occupy each Sunday, before he was compelled to retire by the illness from which he was not to recover. Whenever I went on to that platform I felt humbled at the thought of the giants who had climbed those steps before me.

We have this large crowd of witnesses cheering us on in our Journey of Faith, but none would claim the sole, the major credit for taking us past the winning line. Run with eyes fixed upon Jesus who began and finished the race we are on. And it is the same, unknown writer who, in chapter 13:8 turns the command into a promise. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.