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At the weekend, I wrote about Acts 9:36-43, the account of Peter raising Dorcas from the dead.

Dorcas became a role model for charity, particularly for women. It is not unusual to find stained glass windows depicting her, especially in Anglican and Episcopal churches. The example on the left comes courtesy of Wikipedia and can be found in St. Michael’s Parish Church, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

Dorcas Societies — Dorcas Circles in the US — exist today in many churches around the world. They are known not only for supplying clothes to the needy, which is what Dorcas did, but also food and practical help to those who need material assistance.

Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches celebrate her feast day on January 27 (Protestant) or October 25 (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic). The Catholic Church calls her St Tabitha. Protestants have a joint feast day remembering Dorcas, Lydia of Thyatira and Phoebe, two other notable women of the early Church — and the New Testament.

The early theologian, Basil of Caesarea (St Basil the Great), referred to Dorcas in his work, Morals (rule 74):

That a widow who enjoys sufficiently robust health should spend her life in works of zeal and solicitude, keeping in mind the words of the Apostle and the example of Dorcas.

She is also commemorated in poems by Robert Herrick (“The Widows’ Tears: Or, Dirge of Dorcas”) and George MacDonald (“Dorcas”) as well as in religious paintings.

John F MacArthurLast week, I wrote about two of John MacArthur’s Grace To You blog posts about St Peter.

MacArthur had three more, all from the end of July 2017, which I have just found.

My post today excerpts MacArthur’s entry of July 26, ‘Peter: Raw material for leadership’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

So often, we think only of Peter of the Gospels rather than Peter post-Pentecost. As I explained last week, Peter had a powerful, Spirit-driven ministry, which included healing miracles. Yesterday’s post concerned his raising — through the power of Christ Jesus — Dorcas from the dead.

Jesus prepared his friend and Apostle for the future. MacArthur opens his post with this:

Are great leaders born or made? Peter is a strong argument for both. Without the Lord’s discipleship and tutelage, he never would have been more than a fisherman. But true leaders also require certain innate gifts—think of it as the raw material of leadership.

Peter had the God-given fabric of leadership woven into his personality from the beginning. Of course, it was the Lord who fashioned him this way in his mother’s womb (cf. Psalm 139:13–16).

MacArthur details the raw leadership characteristics that made Peter into a great Apostle.

Peter was inquisitive:

Leaders need to have an insatiable curiosity. They need to be people who are hungry to find answers. Knowledge is power. Whoever has the information has the lead. If you want to find a leader, look for someone who is asking the right questions and genuinely looking for answers …

In the gospel accounts, Peter asks more questions than all the other apostles combined. It was usually Peter who asked the Lord to explain His difficult sayings (Matthew 15:15; Luke 12:41). It was Peter who asked how often he needed to forgive (Matthew 18:21). It was Peter who asked what reward the disciples would get for having left everything to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:27). It was Peter who asked about the withered fig tree (Mark 11:21). It was Peter who asked questions of the risen Christ (John 21:20–22). He always wanted to know more, to understand better. And that sort of inquisitiveness is a foundational element of a true leader.

Peter showed initiative:

If a man is wired for leadership, he will have drive, ambition, and energy. A true leader must be the kind of person who makes things happen. He is a starter. Notice that Peter not only asked questions; he was also usually the first one to answer any question posed by Christ. He often charged right in where angels fear to tread.

There was that famous occasion when Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Several opinions were circulating among the people about that. “And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets’” (Matthew 16:14). Jesus then asked the disciples in particular, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis added). It was at that point that Peter boldly spoke out above the rest: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The other disciples were still processing the question, like schoolboys afraid to speak up lest they give the wrong answer. Peter was bold and decisive. That’s a vital characteristic of all great leaders. Sometimes he had to take a step back, undo, retract, or be rebuked. But the fact that he was always willing to grab opportunity by the throat marked him as a natural leader.

Of course, Peter made some glaring errors in judgement, such as his attack on the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane during Jesus’s arrest:

A typical Roman cohort consisted of six hundred soldiers, so in all likelihood there were hundreds of battle-ready Roman troops in and around the garden that night. Without hesitating, Peter pulled out his sword and took a swing at the head of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. (The high priest and his personal staff would have been in the front of the mob, because he was the dignitary ordering the arrest.) Peter was undoubtedly trying to cut the man’s head off. But Peter was a fisherman, not a swordsman. Malchus ducked, and his ear was severed. So Jesus “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). Then He told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Think about that incident. There was an entire detachment of Roman soldiers there—perhaps numbering in the hundreds. What did Peter think he was going to do? Behead them all, one by one? Sometimes in Peter’s passion for taking the initiative, he overlooked the obvious big-picture realities.

Properly channelled, Peter was able to use his initiative to build the numbers of the early Church:

to do the task Christ had for him, he needed moxie, chutzpa—courage to stand up in Jerusalem on Pentecost and preach the gospel in the face of the same population who had lately executed their own Messiah. But Peter was just the sort of fellow who could be trained to take that kind of courageous initiative.

Peter got involved:

There’s a third element of the raw material that makes a true leader: involvement. True leaders are always in the middle of the action. They do not sit in the background telling everyone else what to do while they live a life of comfort away from the fray. A true leader goes through life with a cloud of dust around him. That is precisely why people follow him. People cannot follow someone who remains distant. The true leader must show the way. He goes before his followers into the battle.

Jesus came to the disciples one night out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, walking on the water in the midst of a violent storm. Who out of all the disciples jumped out of the boat? Peter. There’s the Lord, he must have thought. I’m here; I’ve got to go where the action is. The other disciples wondered if they were seeing a ghost (Matthew 14:26). But Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus answered, “Come” (Matthew 14:27–28)—and before anyone knew it, Peter was out of the boat, walking on the water. The rest of the disciples were still clinging to their seats, trying to make sure they didn’t fall overboard in the storm. But Peter was out of the boat without giving it a second thought. That is involvement—serious involvement. Only after he left the boat and walked some distance did Peter think about the danger and start to sink.

People often look at that incident and criticize Peter’s lack of faith. But let’s give him credit for having faith to leave that boat in the first place. Before we disparage Peter for the weakness that almost brought him down, we ought to remember where he was when he began to sink.

And, in the early hours of Good Friday, although Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter — and John — followed Jesus to the high priest’s house:

And in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, Peter was the only one close enough for Jesus to turn and look him in the eyes when the rooster crowed (Luke 22:61). Long after the other disciples had forsaken Christ and fled in fear for their lives, Peter was virtually alone in a position where such a temptation could snare him, because despite his fear and weakness, he couldn’t abandon Christ completely. That’s the sign of a true leader. When almost everyone else bailed out, he tried to stay as close to his Lord as he could get. He wasn’t the kind of leader who is content to send messages to the troops from afar. He had a passion to be personally involved, so he is always found close to the heart of the action.

I will post on MacArthur’s other two articles about Peter. I hope these will give all of us a more positive perspective on this great saint who did not hesitate to preach Christ and Christ alone.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:36-43

Dorcas Restored to Life

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.[a] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics[b] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

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Last week’s post, about Peter’s healing of the paralytic Aeneas, explained why St Luke — who wrote Acts — shifted focus for a few chapters from Saul (St Paul) to Peter. Briefly, Saul had fled Jerusalem for his home city of Tarsus for a time.

Peter had a dramatic ministry:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Peter, healing miracle, Aeneas

The following post also gives insight into Peter’s character and personality:

John MacArthur on Peter

Peter was ministering in Lydda, which was where he healed Aeneas. Last week’s post had more on Lydda, past and present.

Lydda was close to Joppa, where Dorcas lived. The city’s modern name is Jaffa. BiblePlaces.com has a good page on the history of the port accompanied by photographs. It is near Tel Aviv and is not to be confused with Haifa, which is a modern port created by the Israelis.

The name Dorcas is Greek. Dorcas’s name in Aramaic was Tabitha. Both translate as ‘gazelle’ or, as Matthew Henry notes, ‘doe’, signifying a pleasing creature. She was a baptised convert and her life’s work was devoted to others (verse 36). Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

1. She lived at Joppa, a sea-port town in the tribe of Dan, where Jonah took shipping to go to Tarshish, now called Japho. 2. Her name was Tabitha, a Hebrew name, the Greek for which is Dorcas, both signifying a doe, or hind, or deer, a pleasant creature. Naphtali is compared to a hind let loose, giving goodly words; and the wife to the kind and tender husband is as the loving hind, and as the pleasant roe, Proverbs 5:19. 3. She was a disciple, one that had embraced the faith of Christ and was baptized; and not only so, but was eminent above many for works of charity. She showed her faith by her works, her good works, which she was full of, that is, in which she abounded. Her head was full of cares and contrivances which way she should do good. She devised liberal things, Isaiah 32:8. Her hands were full of good employment; she made a business of doing good, was never idle, having learned to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), to keep up a constant course and method of them. She was full of good works, as a tree that is full of fruit. Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker: Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus–We do not talk great things, but we live them. Among other good works, she was remarkable for her alms–deeds, which she did, not only her works of piety, which are good works and the fruits of faith, but works of charity and beneficence, flowing from love to her neighbour and a holy contempt of this world.

Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the poor. She fell ill and died. The widows who attended to her prepared her body but, instead of burying her, laid her in an upper room (verse 37). John MacArthur explains:

Now, the custom of the Jews at death was immediately to bury the body, since they did not do any embalming. They would merely do what they called the washing, the Mishnah prescribed a certain washing, and then the burial immediately. But in this case, they didn’t bury her, which was very unusual, because dead bodies were a very unsacred thing in Israel to a Jew, and they didn’t let dead bodies hang around.

Henry adds information about the water and says the room where Dorcas was laid out could well have been the meeting place for the disciples of Joppa:

they washed the dead body, according to the custom, which, it is said, was with warm water, which, if there were any life remaining in the body, would recover it; so that this was done to show that she was really and truly dead. They tried all the usual methods to bring her to life, and could not. Conclamatum est–the last cry was uttered. They laid her out in her grave-clothes in an upper chamber, which Dr. Lightfoot thinks was probably the public meeting-room for the believers of that town; and they laid the body there, that Peter, if he would come, might raise her to life the more solemnly in that place.

MacArthur goes on to say:

They know Peter’s nearby, and they also know Peter has the power to raise the dead if the design of God is that; and so rather than burying her with great faith, they take her body and they stick it upstairs in the upper chamber.

The disciples in Joppa sent two men to Lydda to get Peter to make the ten-mile walk to see Dorcas (verse 38). They did not tell Peter why they came, but simply said he needed to go with them right away.

Peter needed no persuading and went with the men to Joppa. When they reached the house of Dorcas, the grieving widows showed him some of her handiwork, among them undergarment tunics (verse 39).

Henry wrote that the widows were likely to have been poor and recipients of her charity. MacArthur thinks that the widows helped her and that she led their ministry, the original Dorcas Circle.

There must have been quite a hubbub, as Dorcas was a pillar of her community. Peter, as Jesus did when He raised Jairus’s daughter, got everyone outside (verse 40). No doubt, the widows wanted to see what he would do, but Peter — as did Jesus — needed to be alone.

Peter knelt and prayed. Henry points out that this was a greater task than healing Aeneas. It involved restoring life:

in this greater work he addressed himself to God by solemn prayer, as Christ when he raised Lazarus; but Christ’s prayer was with the authority of a Son, who quickens whom he will; Peter’s with the submission of a servant, who is under direction, and therefore he knelt down and prayed.

Peter turned to the woman, and, as is so often with the miracles documented in the New Testament, asked her to do something, in this case, arise.

She opened her eyes and, upon seeing Peter, sat up. He extended his hand to Dorcas, which Henry says was not done solely to help her but also to welcome her back to life. He then summoned the ‘saints’ — quite possibly, including male disciples — and the widows to see Dorcas restored to life (verse 41).

News travelled quickly around Joppa and many more souls believed in the Lord (verse 42). Henry was certain that word of the miracle extended beyond that port city:

it being a town of seafaring men, the notice of it would be the sooner carried thence to other countries, and though some never minded it many were wrought upon by it. This was the design of miracles, to confirm a divine revelation.

Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, at the home of a tanner named Simon (verse 43). Luke’s inclusion of Simon’s occupation is an important detail. Tanning leather was one of the lowliest occupations. Even today, tanning, whilst necessary, is looked down upon. It is a smelly business.

MacArthur explains:

One of the most despicable trades in the mind of a Jew was that of a tanner, because a tanner, you see, dealt with the dead…the skin of dead animals, making leather. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a tanner. He was despised; and, in fact, the Mishnah said if a woman had a husband who took on the trade of a tanner, she had the right to divorce him, because he went into something so defiled. A tanner was not respected. Not only that, it was ceremonially unclean.

However, Peter chose to stay with a tanner, revealing that, even though he knew all the social opprobrium about the occupation. Peter lodged with someone who was among the lowest of the low.

MacArthur adds that Peter’s stay was not a short one, either:

He stuck around a couple years, and the whole time he lived in Simon’s house, and he never turned him into a carpenter. He let him be what he was. He didn’t make him change. 

I would not be surprised if Simon’s social status increased as a result. Peter might have taught the people of Joppa a valuable lesson in inclusion and humility.

Next time: Acts 10:1-8

John F MacArthurAt the beginning of August 2017, John MacArthur posted a few articles on his Grace To You website about St Peter.

As I have been posting on the Book of Acts and am currently studying more of St Peter‘s ministry, this is serendipitous.

MacArthur says that the post-Pentecost Peter was a very different man from the one in the Gospels.

In ‘Peter: The Servant Leader’, MacArthur says:

Restraint, humility, and servanthood aren’t obvious leadership qualities in the corporate world. Nor are they character traits that readily spring to mind for modern churches focused on growth and vision. But Christ prioritized those three qualities as he cultivated future leaders of the Christian church, most notably Peter.

MacArthur surmises that Peter — before and after he received the Holy Spirit — had the driven personality of a CEO (emphases mine):

Most people with strong leadership abilities don’t naturally excel when it comes to exercising restraint. Self-control, discipline, and moderation aren’t common qualities among those who live life at the head of the pack. That is why so many leaders have problems with anger and out-of-control passions. Anger-management seminars have become the latest fad for CEOs and people in high positions of leadership in American business. It is clear that anger is a common and serious problem among people who rise to such a high level of leadership.

Peter had similar tendencies. Hotheadedness goes naturally with the sort of active, decisive, initiative-taking personality that made him a leader in the first place. Such a man easily grows impatient with people who lack vision or underperform. He can be quickly irritated by those who throw up obstacles to success. Therefore he must learn restraint in order to be a good leader.

Therefore, during His time on Earth:

The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter’s mouth and taught him restraint. That is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.

Jesus also taught Peter about humility, especially when the Apostle found that he had denied Him three times, as foretold:

Of course, as usual, Peter was wrong and Jesus was right. Peter did deny Christ not once, but multiple times, just as Jesus had warned. Peter’s shame and disgrace at having dishonored Christ so flagrantly were only magnified by the fact he had boasted so stubbornly about being impervious to such sins!

However, the Spirit-filled Peter went on to become a great preacher and, as we know from Acts, a great healer. Peter also wrote epistles to his flock:

… when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said:

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5–6)

He specifically told church leaders, “[Don’t lord] it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter’s life, his message, and his leadership style.

MacArthur goes on to say that Peter learned about servanthood and love from Jesus, particularly during the footwashing at the Last Supper:

Love became one of the hallmarks of his teaching. In 1 Peter 4:8 he wrote, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The Greek word translated “fervent” in that verse is ektenes, literally meaning “stretched to the limit.” Peter was urging us to love to the maximum of our capacity. The love he spoke of is not about a feeling. It’s not about how we respond to people who are naturally lovable. It’s about a love that covers and compensates for others’ failures and weaknesses: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is the sort of love that washes a brother’s dirty feet. And Peter himself had learned that lesson from Christ’s example.

In ‘Peter: The Compassionate and Courageous Leader’, MacArthur traces the Apostle’s transformation.

In the Gospels:

The apostle Peter was not an obvious candidate for leading the early church. He was impulsive, reckless, and vacillated between chest-beating bravado and cowardly retreat—not exactly the kind of guy you’d want to have responsible for your own well-being.

MacArthur enumerates more lessons that Jesus taught Peter. Returning to the denial in the early morning hours of Good Friday, Peter was remorseful, to say the least:

His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered greatly. But his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others. They don’t stop very long to care for the wounded as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs.

This shows in his epistles:

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

MacArthur says that Jesus also prepared Peter to be courageous in the best sense of the word, because he was going to suffer in his ministry:

Christ told him,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

What did that mean? The apostle John gives a clear answer: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The price of preaching would be death for Peter. Persecution. Oppression. Trouble. Torture. Ultimately, martyrdom. Peter would need rock-solid courage to persevere.

The first Pentecost transformed Peter dramatically. He was no longer foolhardy but openly resolute in his faith:

Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel. They were solemnly instructed “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Soon they were brought back before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach. Again they told them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the knowledge that Christ had risen from the dead, had acquired an unshakable, rock-solid courage.

That divinely-given courageous faith sustained him throughout his ministry:

Peter was secure in Christ, and he knew it. He had seen the risen Christ, so he knew Christ had conquered death. He knew that whatever earthly trials came his way, they were merely temporary. The trials, though often painful and always distasteful, were nothing compared to the hope of eternal glory (cf. Romans 8:18). The genuineness of true faith, he knew, was infinitely more precious than any perishing earthly riches, because his faith would redound to the praise and glory of Christ at His appearing. That hope is what gave Peter such courage.

Peter said and did many wonderful things in the name of our Lord. He also converted thousands of people in Jerusalem alone. These are what I have covered in my study of Acts to date:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Simon, Aeneas, healing miracles, paralysis

Repentance of St Peter, Jose de Ribera, 17th cThere was only one time in his ministry when he briefly backtracked:

In Galatians 2 the apostle Paul relates an incident in which Peter compromised the gospel of grace due to intimidation by influential heretics. We see a brief flash of the old Simon. Paul rebuked Peter in the presence of everyone (Galatians 2:14).

To Peter’s credit, he responded to Paul’s correction. And when the error of the heretics was finally confronted at a full council of church leaders and apostles in Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke up first in defense of the gospel of divine grace. He introduced the argument that won the day (Acts 15:7–14). He was in effect defending the apostle Paul’s ministry. The whole episode shows how Simon Peter remained teachable, humble, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and correction.

(Image credit: Art Hermitage)

Peter and Paul were martyred together in Rome. This is why they are so often associated together and are both the patron saints of that great city.

MacArthur tells us about Peter’s martyrdom — and that of his wife. She was put to death before he was. He witnessed it. How horrible:

We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

MacArthur concludes:

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church.

It is important to remember the Peter that arose following the first Pentecost. Too many of us — Protestants, in particular — think only of the Peter of the Gospels, but he became a great, Spirit-filled Apostle who lived and died for Christ.

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:32-35

The Healing of Aeneas

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

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Last week’s entry ended with Saul’s — Paul’s — escape from the Jews in Jerusalem to the port of Caesarea. He set sail from there to return home to Tarsus for a time.

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

At this point, the Apostles were leaving Jerusalem to visit the newly established churches. Although there were thousands of converts in the city and the Apostles still ministered to them, there was no more that could be done there. So, they began travelling back and forth.

The Jews in Jerusalem had also turned their attention away from Christians to the Roman government. Saul’s departure helped facilitate this. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The church is in a state of rest. Verse 31 says, “All the churches had rest and they were edified, built up spiritually, and they began to multiply.” And this was for several reasons. This was, of course, due particularly to the work of the Spirit of God. But it was also due to the fact that Saul got out of town and didn’t create such a mess, so many problems. And it was also due to the fact that the Jews were now bugged by Caligula, the Roman emperor, wanting to set up idols in Jerusalem. And they were fighting the Romans. They didn’t have time to fight the church. So the church had a little period of rest here.

Eventually, most of the Apostles left Jerusalem altogether, as Saul found when he returned from Tarsus:

In fact, when Saul finally came to Jerusalem, according to Galatians 1, he said the only apostles he found there were James and Peter. The rest of them were long gone. The other ten were moving around preaching.

With Saul out of the picture for the time being, Luke resumed documenting Peter’s ministry. Saul — as Paul — does not dominate Acts until Chapter 13.

If you have been following this series on Acts, you might recall that once Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, he was utterly transformed. He not only became a powerful preacher but he was also able to heal and confer the Holy Spirit on others. He also had incredible powers of discernment and knew when people were lying. Here are the relevant passages:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Verse 32 tells us that Peter was on the move outside of Jerusalem. If we look at it in a contemporary context, he was performing duties of a bishop. However, then, he was not considered as such and went as an itinerant preacher. Matthew Henry explains Peter’s ministry:

As an apostle, he was not to be the resident pastor of any one church, but the itinerant visitor of many churches, to confirm the doctrine of inferior preachers, to confer the Holy Ghost on those that believed, and to ordain ministers. He passed dia panton–among them all, who pertained to the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, mentioned in the foregoing chapter. He was, like his Master, always upon the remove, and went about doing good; but still his head-quarters were at Jerusalem, for there we shall find him imprisoned, Acts 12:2.

He visited the ‘saints’ at Lydda. Henry tells us:

He came to the saints at Lydda. This seems to be the same with Lod, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, mentioned 1 Chronicles 8:12, Ezra 2:33. The Christians are called saints, not only some particular eminent ones, as saint Peter and saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ. These are the saints on the earth, Psalms 16:3.

A man named Aeneas lived there, bedridden with paralysis (verse 33). Peter went to heal him.

Note what Peter said to him (verse 34):

Jesus Christ heals you;

and:

rise and make your bed.

Peter, being full of grace, faith and the Holy Spirit, did not take credit for the miracle, but instead gave it to Whom it belongs.

As with other healing miracles, from Jesus to Peter, once the person is made whole and healthy again, he or she is asked to do something they had never been able to do or had not been able to do in many years. This is from Acts 3, when Peter healed a paralysed man at the temple:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

Henry says that these instructions indicate we are to make use of our God-given abilities:

(2.) He ordered him to bestir himself, to exert himself: “Arise and make thy bed, that all may see thou art thoroughly cured.” Let none say that because it is Christ that by the power of his grace works all our works in us therefore we have no work, no duty, to do; for, though Jesus Christ makes thee whole, yet thou must arise and make use of the power he gives thee: “Arise, and make thy bed, to be to thee no longer a bed of sickness, but a bed of rest.” (3.) Power went along with this word: he arose immediately, and no doubt very willingly made his own bed.

Henry reminds us of the spiritual element in every miracle:

Christ chose such patients as this, whose disease was incurable in a course of nature, to show how desperate the case of fallen mankind was when he undertook their cure. When we were without strength, as this poor man, he sent his word to heal us.

When the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw the man, they became believers (verse 35). That must have been a highly powerful moment. Henry tells us that not every person saw him, but enough did and many more enquired about the healing, therefore, it was persuasion enough:

We can scarcely think that every individual person in those countries took cognizance of the miracle, and was wrought upon by it; but many, the generality of the people in the town of Lydda and in the country of Saron, or Sharon, a fruitful plain or valley, of which it was foretold, Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, Isaiah 65:10. 1. They all made enquiry into the truth of the miracle, did not overlook it, but saw him that was healed, and saw that it was a miraculous cure that was wrought upon him by the power of Christ, in his name, and with a design to confirm and ratify that doctrine of Christ which was now preached to the world. 2. They all submitted to the convincing proof and evidence there was in this of the divine origin of the Christian doctrine, and turned to the Lord, to the Lord Jesus. They turned from Judaism to Christianity; they embraced the doctrine of Christ, and submitted to his ordinances, and turned themselves over to him to be ruled and taught and saved by him.

MacArthur adds historical and geographical information about Lydda and Sharon:

Lydda’s an interesting town. It’s very historic, very old. In the Old Testament it was called Lod, L-o-d. And it’s still called that today and if any of you have ever been to Israel, you’ve been there, because that’s where the airport is. And it’s about ten miles east of Jaffa or Tel Aviv. And so Lod is a very old, very ancient and in this time it was a very, very important city because it was right on the area of the trade route from Egypt to Babylon going east. And a lot of the goods that were dropped off at the seaport of Joppa went to Jerusalem right through Lod. So it was a very important kind of a mainline town …

Now Sharon here is not the name of a girl. It’s the name of a valley from Joppa clear north to the top of Mount Carmel, a long valley of many miles between the mountains and the sea of…Mediterranean Sea, that beautiful fertile valley. We drove right up through that valley. It’s become a synonym for fertility, Sharon. Beautiful and that whole valley…the gospel just went north, whom, as a result of the raising of this paralytic.

In closing, MacArthur makes an excellent point about Peter and his ministry which we can apply in our own lives — even as laypeople:

Everybody who’s active seems to be able to find enough to do. The little principle the rich get richer can apply in terms of spiritual richness. Boy when you get into rich ministries you’ll find that you’ll…first of all, you’ll bear fruit and then you’ll bear more fruit and then before you know it, you’ll bear much fruit. And Peter, with all the burdens he carried, and I know he was a busy guy and I bet you people wanted his time and demanded his time and wanted to talk to him and sit with him and counsel with him and have him speak for their groups and there this and that. And yet God kept opening new ministries. There was never any end to it. I really believe people that if you ever want to be fruitful in the ministry of Jesus Christ, you’re going to have to now get in the mainstream of what God is doing. God does not go up to the shelf and dust you off for some great, important ministry. Start where you are. There are so many things needful to be done, to pray, to teach, to minister to others needs, to use your spiritual gifts. And as we begin to do this, as we’re into the mainstream of the priorities of what God is doing, He’ll butt us right up against ministries right after the other …

Peter was moving. And it came to pass as he was going around everywhere, God zapped into Lydda right where He wanted him. Now if you’re active in doing what God’s doing, if you’re caught up in the mainstream, then you’re going to find so many ministries, your life is going to be abundantly enriched beyond which you could even dream. If you’re too busy doing your thing, then you may not even know ministries exist.

Next week’s reading will feature the dramatic miracle concerning Dorcas.

Next time — Acts 9:36-43

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Percy Dearmer on the Fourth Prayer Book and the King James Version of the Bible

Percy Dearmer on historical background to the Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

Percy Dearmer on the Savoy Conference for the Fifth Prayer Book

The clergymen who participated in the 1661 Savoy Conference produced a revised — Fifth — Prayer Book that was first issued on May 19, 1662.

Today it is referred to as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is still in use.

Chapter 11 of Dearmer’s book describes a remarkable volume considering that the Savoy Conference was half-Anglican and half-Puritan.

The preface, which Robert Sanderson, the Bishop of Lincoln, wrote was comprehensive. It laid out the history of the previous Prayer Books and made it clear that all attempts were made to revise liturgies and a set of services to satisfy, in Sanderson’s words:

all sober, peaceable, and truly conscientious sons of the Church of England.

Dearmer tells us that 600 alterations were made to produce the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. He summarises them this way:

The changes described in this Preface are — 1. (DIRECTIONS) for the better direction of the officiant, 2. (VERBAL) the alteration of obsolete phrases, 3. (SCRIPTURE) the use of the Authorized Version, especially for the Epistles and Gospels, 4. (ADDITIONS) some new prayers and thanksgivings, especially for use at Sea and an order for the Baptism of Adults.

Directions needed to be given to avoid the disputes of the past, especially with the Puritans. A hymn was authorised for Mattins and Evensong, or Morning and Evening Prayer, respectively.

Dearmer tells us that the Consecration of the bread and wine for Holy Communion was made clearer and returned to Church tradition from antiquity rather than embrace a more Calvinist construct:

The rubric before the Consecration (“When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered,” etc.) was added, and also the direction for the Fraction and other Manual Acts, heretofore left to tradition. The very questionable rubric providing for a second consecration by the mere repetition of the Words of Institution was reinserted. The two rubrics were added ordering that what remains of the Sacrament after the Communion shall be covered with a linen veil, and afterwards reverently consumed.

The Black Rubric about divine Presence in Holy Communion was re-added and revised:

with the crucial alteration of “real and essential presence” to “corporal presence.”

Other ceremonies were clarified. Directions for the publishing of wedding banns were included. The Visitation of the Sick no longer mandated confession. Dearmer explains:

The words “Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if,” etc., were substituted for “Here shall the sick person make a special confession, if,” etc.; and the words “if he humbly and heartily desire it ” were added.

Certain words, more Anglican in nature, returned or were added to the Prayer Book:

The more important were: In Divine Service and in the Liturgy, “priest” was substituted for “minister at the Absolution. In … the Intercessions, “Bishops, pastors, and ministers” was altered to “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” In several places the word “congregation” was changed to “church.” “Forsake” was well changed to “renounce” in the Baptismal Vow.

The Epistles and Gospels were taken from the 1611 King James Version but the Psalter remained in the words from the 1540 Bible, because the old wording of the Psalms was very popular with churchgoers.

Psalm numbers were altered for certain ceremonies.

More hymns were authorised for Easter Day, and the Gloria was re-added.

A ceremony for baptising adults was added in response to increasing requests in English parishes and for missionary efforts in the colonies.

Prayers to be used at sea were added.

Two state services were added. The Accession Service (for the incoming monarch) was already there, but services for King Charles the Martyr and the Restoration were inserted. These were not taken out until 1854, with the Accession Service the only state service remaining.

Dearmer thought that the two state services were too political and ended up alienating some churchgoers, thereby causing a decline in membership in the Church of England:

They are … full of political opinion, their loyalty is expressed in extravagant terms, and they confide to Almighty God their denunciations of “violent and bloodthirsty men,” bloody enemies,” “sons of Belial, as on this day, to imbrue their hands in the blood of thine Anointed,” “the unnatural Rebellion, Usurpation, and Tyranny of ungodly and cruel men” — using for preference four words where one would have been too much.

This is magnificent, but it is not peace. Now, when we remember that these State Services (with additions in subsequent reigns) were cheerfully used throughout the country for nearly two centuries, we can understand the accompanying decline in the English Church. The Church of a party could not be the Church of a people; nor could a Church, which did nothing to supply in her Services the growing needs of succeeding ages, fail as time went on to alienate large sections of religious men.

He also thought that, over the next two centuries, the public increasingly viewed the Church of England as an exclusive, establishment organisation. The Prayer Book, in his estimation, no longer served the needs of some people, who came to see the prayers as dry and outdated:

the poverty of our Visitation of the Sick has driven many thousands into faith-healing sects, and the inadequacy of The Burial Service has caused others to seek comfort in Spiritism.

Quite possibly. However, Dearmer does not address the fact that since the 17th century, mankind has gradually become given to emotion rather than logic. Consider the revival movements of the 18th century which used sensationalism rather than rationality to get theological points across. We now have no end of tiny Holiness churches which emphasise individual ‘experiences’ and ‘testimony’ over Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture. People don’t go for the Bible, they go for the show.

Dearmer concludes Chapter 11 by expressing his wish for a new Prayer Book. I wonder, had he been alive today, what he would think of The Alternative Service Book (1984) and its successor Common Worship (2000). The latter is an improvement over the former but is mind boggling with so many different collects and versions of various prayers. One wonders if all that is necessary.

Then again, my next door neighbour finds the most modern, pared-down liturgy irrelevant to her needs: ‘Why have liturgy at all?’ It looks as if we are approaching that point, complete with ‘healing services’ every few weeks. The more relevant the Church of England becomes in response to people like my next-door neighbour, the fewer the number of people attending Sunday services.

In fact, any Anglican clergyman that offers a 1662 service finds his church nearly full.

Yes, the 1662 service is still the only one that continues to draw crowds in the 21st century. It’s a pity more Anglican priests don’t understand that simple premise.

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:26-31

Saul in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.[a] But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the ministry of Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — in Damascus after his conversion.

That entry says that after his Damascene conversion, Paul immediately went out to preach in Damascus, then he went to nearby Arabia for a few years prior to returning to Damascus. By then, the Jewish leaders there — possibly in Arabia, too — were out to kill him. Fellow converts managed to get Saul safely outside of the city by lowering him in a basket through a hole in the wall surrounding Damascus. Saul was small, by the way. His Roman name, Paul, means ‘little’.

Fleeing Damascus, Saul went to Jerusalem. Matthew Henry posits that a case could be made for the possibility that Saul made another trip there, although we cannot know for certain (emphases mine):

This is thought to be that journey to Jerusalem of which he himself speaks (Galatians 1:18): After three years I went up to Jerusalem, saith he, to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But I rather incline to think that this was a journey before that, because his coming in and going out, his preaching and disputing (Acts 9:28,29), seem to be more than would consist with his fifteen days’ stay (for that was no more) and to require a longer time; and, besides, now he came a stranger, but then he came, historesai Petron–to confer with Peter, as one he was intimate with; however, it might possibly be the same.

In Jerusalem, Saul attempted to join the disciples, but the converts feared him (verse 26). It is no wonder, considering that Saul viciously terrorised converts and was involved in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (read here and here). He was on his way to Damascus to round up converts to bring back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on heresy charges. That was his idea, by the way, not something that came from the Jewish leaders, although they gladly went along with his plan.

So, Saul, a Pharisee, was a particularly bad hombre, which explains why his Damascene conversion was such a brutal one. It had to be:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Matthew Henry thought that the disciples in Jerusalem should have been kinder to him, but I am on their side. Paul had form. This is Henry’s argument:

They knew what a bitter persecutor he had been, with what fury he went to Damascus some time ago; they had heard nothing of him since, and therefore thought he was but a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The disciples of Christ had need to be cautious whom they admit into communion with them. Believe not every spirit. There is need of the wisdom of the serpent, to keep the mean between the extremes of suspicion on the one hand and credulity on the other; yet methinks it is safer to err on the charitable side, because it is an adjudged case that it is better the tares should be found among the wheat than that the wheat should any of it be rooted up and thrown out of the field.

Saul found a sponsor in Barnabas, who introduced him to the Apostles and explained his conversion story to them (verse 27).

John MacArthur did not have much to say about this passage, but Henry gives us possible reasons why Barnabas was convinced Saul was a legitimate convert:

How Barnabas came to know this, more than the rest of them, we are not told; whether he had himself been at Damascus, or had had letters thence, or discoursed with some of that city, by which he came to the knowledge of this; or whether he had formerly been acquainted with Paul in the Grecian synagogues, or at the feet of Gamaliel, and had such an account of his conversion from himself as he saw cause enough to give credit to: but so it was that, being satisfied himself, he gave satisfaction to the apostles concerning him, he having brought no testimonials from the disciples at Damascus, thinking he needed not, as some others, epistles of commendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1.

Henry’s conclusion is worth noting:

Note, The introducing of a young convert into the communion of the faithful is a very good work, and one which, as we have opportunity, we should be ready to do.

The life of St Barnabas is interesting. He was born a Levite, a priestly class from the Old Testament. In order to be a Levite, one’s mother has to be Jewish and one’s father must be a Levite.

Barnabas was born in Cyprus. Saul came from Tarsus, in modern-day Turkey. The Jews from that part of the world were called Hellenists. (Hellas is the Greek name for Greece.)

Barnabas was born Joseph. When he converted, he gave his worldly goods to the church in Jerusalem and the Apostles gave him his new name, which means ‘son of the prophet/consolation/encouragement’. He first appears in Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

It is possible that both he and Saul studied together under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Acts 11 describes his ministry in Antioch. Before his arrival, Antioch already had so many converts that the Apostles despatched Barnabas to oversee the church there. Barnabas was gratified by the number of new converts, but as he added even more souls, he realised he needed help and called on Saul, who stayed there for a year to minister with him.

A John Mark — who might or might not be St Mark, the Gospel author — is thought to have been related to Barnabas either as a cousin or a nephew. Wikipedia describes his involvement, Barnabas and Paul’s work and how Acts refers to them:

The successful preaching of Christianity at Antioch to non-Jews led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to oversee the movement (Acts 11:20–22). He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul (still referred to as Saul), “an admirable colleague”, to assist him.[10] Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (AD 44) with contributions from the church at Antioch for the relief of the poorer Christians in Judea.

They returned to Antioch taking John Mark with them, the cousin or nephew of Barnabas.[11] Later, they went to Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14). After recounting that the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus believed, the Acts of the Apostles 13:9 speaks of Barnabas’s companion no longer as Saul, but as Paul, his Roman name, and generally refers to the two no longer as “Barnabas and Saul” as heretofore (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but as “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Only in 14:14 and 15:12, 25 does Barnabas again occupy the first place, in the first passage with recollection of 14:12, in the last two, because Barnabas stood in closer relation to the Jerusalem church than Paul. Paul appears as the more eloquent missionary (13:16; 14:8-9, 19-20), whence the Lystrans regarded him as Hermes, Barnabas as Zeus[12] (14:12).

There is more at the link, however, this is to give you some insight as to how important these ministries were. St Barnabas is considered to be the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Cyprus. His feast day is June 11. He was martyred on that day in 61 AD in Salamis, Cyprus — the city of his birth. The Jews there were furious with his preaching:

Church tradition developed outside of the canon of the New Testament describes the martyrdom of many saints, including the legend of the martyrdom of Barnabas.[3] It relates that certain Jews coming to Syria and Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel, being highly exasperated at his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and, after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death. His kinsman, John Mark, who was a spectator of this barbarous action, privately interred his body.[16]

Wikipedia also puts forth the case for Barnabas and John Mark having been among the original 70 disciples:

Although many assume that the biblical Mark the Cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) is the same as John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15: 37) and Mark the Evangelist, the traditionally believed author of the Gospel of Mark, according to Hippolytus of Rome,[19] the three “Mark”s are distinct persons. They were all members of the Seventy Apostles of Christ, including Barnabas himself. There are two people named Barnabas among Hippolytus’ list of Seventy Disciples, one (#13) became the bishop of Milan, the other (#25) the bishop of Heraclea. Most likely one of these two is the biblical Barnabas; the first one is more likely, because the numbering by Hippolytus seems to indicate a level of significance. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, ii, 20) also makes Barnabas one of the Seventy Disciples that are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 10:1ff.

Back to today’s reading. With Barnabas’s introduction, Saul preached boldly for Christ in Jerusalem (verse 28). Not surprisingly, this angered the Jews, particularly the Hellenist Jews, the group from which Saul came. He was able to scripturally out-debate them which led them to become so hate-filled that they wanted to kill him (verse 29).

John MacArthur reminds us:

The Hellenist Jews. He was one of them. And you know who was the last guy to preach to them? Stephen. He picked up the mantle of Stephen and took off right at the point Stephen quit. He went right back to the Hellenist Jews. Went right back to their synagogues and started debating with them again. Boy just having gotten over the shock of Stephen, it must have been something to try to handle this guy.

Recall that the Lord told Ananias in Damascus, whom He sent to baptise Saul:

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

This happened in Damascus — and possibly in Arabia — and, now, once again, in Jerusalem. Saul, the persecutor, was becoming by divine intent, Saul the persecuted.

When his brothers in Christ heard of this plot by the Hellenists to kill him, they got Saul out of the city, took him to Caesarea — a port on the Mediterranean Sea — and shipped him back home to Tarsus (verse 30).

Matthew Henry examines the reasons why:

They remembered how the putting of Stephen to death, upon his disputing with the Grecians, had been the beginning of a sore persecution; and therefore were afraid of having such a vein opened again, and hastened Paul out of the way. He that flies may fight again. He that fled from Jerusalem might do service at Tarsus, the place of his nativity; and thither they desired him by all means to go, hoping he might there go on in his work with more safety than at Jerusalem. Yet it was also by direction from heaven that he left Jerusalem at this time, as he tells us himself (Acts 22:17), that Christ now appeared to him, and ordered him to go quickly out of Jerusalem, for he must be sent to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. Those by whom God has work to do shall be protected from all the designs of their enemies against them till it be done. Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony.

Verse 31 has several nuances. The Church was once more at peace. Saul, the chief persecutor, had been converted. He, the powerful persecutor turned convincing convert, had also fled the Hellenists in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were not interested in anyone else. Preaching continued and more Jews converted. Because all were walking in the way of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church grew and grew.

MacArthur adds a historical note about what was going on in Rome at this time and an instructive principle of the growth of Christianity, then and now:

… at this point in history a very interesting footnote comes out that you must understand. At this point, the emperor of Rome was Caligula. And Caligula attempted to set up idols in Jerusalem. And this got the Jews so angry that the Jews concentrated their fight against Caligula and consequently left the Christians alone for a period of time. That occurred at the same time. So Paul’s leaving and the Jews preoccupation with Caligula’s efforts to set up idols gave the church rest and as a result of the rest of the church it says “the church was edified and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was,” what, “multiplied.”

First it was edified and then it was multiplied. You want to know the pattern for church growth? People say to me, how do you build a church? You don’t build a church, you build a believer and the church will build itself. There it is, first edify, what kind of growth is that? Spiritual. Then multiply, what kind of growth is that? Numerical. You people who are here today aren’t here because we had a contest to get you here. You’re here in most cases, in fact, if not in all cases, because some Christians’ lives were changed and they touched your life. That’s the only way God ever intended the church to grow. And it grew.

MacArthur also tells us what Paul did next:

They put him on a boat and Galatians 1:21, he says, “Afterwards, I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was in Cilicia. What do you think he did there? It’s terrific. The indication of what he did is in Chapter 15:23 of Acts

It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting,” … “unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.” Guess what he did? He went all over the place founding churches. He was absolutely inexhaustible. There was no stopping the man. He was a human preaching machine. You couldn’t stop him. He got to Syria and Cilicia and even in Antioch and he took off preaching Jesus. Over in verse 41, he went through Syria and Cilicia later on confirming the churches that he had established. Fantastic. And he didn’t worry about anything. He was fearless. It didn’t matter what was going on. If they tried to kill him or not try to kill him, he was so bold.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 9:32-35

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Percy Dearmer on the Fourth Prayer Book and the King James Version of the Bible

Percy Dearmer on historical background to the Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

In that last post about the tumultuous events leading to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Percy Dearmer emphasised the joy that Anglicans felt on being able to use their once-forbidden Prayer Book again. In fact, demand was so great that it was reprinted five times that year.

Consensus was that a new Prayer Book was needed. The one in use dated from 1604.

Atmosphere during the Restoration

Even after the Restoration, memories of Charles I’s beheading and the oppressive Puritan Interregnum were still fresh in the minds of the English people.

The new Parliament passed laws ensuring that Puritans and other non-Conformists — called Dissenters during that new era — and Catholics were prohibited from holding public office and more.

In Chapter 10, Dearmer explains (emphases mine):

their worship forbidden by the Conventicle Act of 1664 under a final penalty of transportation, their extremer ministers refused permission to come within five miles of a town by the Five Mile Act of 1665, and their conscientious members debarred, in common with Papists, from all civil, military and naval office by the Test Act of 1673.

This was because many new Parliamentarians had returned:

to their native villages at the Restoration, to find the church smashed, the trees felled, and the home of their ancestors destroyed.

Although Dearmer, who wrote in 1912, was appalled by these draconian laws, he did acknowledge that:

The Puritan ministers also, who were ejected, were, after all, themselves intruders; for there had been a worse ejectment of Anglicans before. Above all this, there loomed in men’s minds the indelible memory of the martyrdom of King Charles.

Continued Puritan interference

The Puritans were not going to give up easily, however.

Before Charles II set sail for England in May 1660 — he had been in exile in the Spanish Netherlands — a delegation of Presbyterian divines (learned and pious theologians) went to meet with him at The Hague:

and asked that, as the Prayer Book had long been discontinued, the King should not use it when he landed. They also asked that his chaplains should give up using the surplice.

The new king replied:

with his usual keenness of wit, that he would not be restrained himself when others had so much indulgence.

Once Charles II was in England, the Puritans continued putting pressure on him and Anglican bishops, asking:

that the Prayer Book might be made like the liturgies of the Reformed Churches.

The nine surviving Anglican bishops replied that maintaining the status quo — holding on to existing elements of ancient Greek and Latin Liturgy — would give the Catholics less cause for complaint. (The Puritans had moved far away from ancient liturgy, parts of which were in the Anglican Prayer Book.)

In October 1660, King Charles declared that a conference would take place the following year to discuss a new Prayer Book.

The Savoy Conference

The Savoy Conference convened on April 15, 1661. It lasted over two months.

It was so called because the Bishop of London, Gilbert Sheldon, lived at the Savoy Hospital and held the conference in his lodgings there. (Today, the Savoy Hotel and Savoy Theatre stand on the site.)

In attendance were 12 Anglican bishops and 12 Presbyterian divines. Each side also had nine assistants, called coadjutors.

The Puritans expressed their usual complaints about the use of the word ‘priest’, the frequent participation of the congregation in prayers, kneeling for Communion, the use of wedding bands in the marriage ceremony, commemorating saints’ feast days, the Catholic nature of vestments and even the use of the word ‘Sunday’.

The Anglicans were not having any of it:

The Bishops replied to such criticisms as these by referring to Catholic usage, and to a Custom of the Churches of God, agreeable to the Scripture and ancient, and to the Catholic Consent of antiquity.

Dearmer gives us summary statements from both sides.

The Puritans said:

To load our public forms with the private fancies upon which we differ, is the most sovereign way to perpetuate schism to the world’s end. Prayer, confession, thanksgiving, reading of the Scriptures, and administration of the Sacraments in the plainest, and simplest manner, were matter enough to furnish out a sufficient Liturgy, though nothing either of private opinion, or of church pomp, of garments, or prescribed gestures, of imagery, of musick, of matter concerning the dead, of many superfluities which creep into the Church under the name of order and decency, did interpose itself. To charge Churches and Liturgies with things unnecessary, was the first beginning of all superstition.

If the special guides and fathers of the Church would be a little sparing of encumbering churches with superfluities, or not over-rigid, either in reviving obsolete customs, or imposing new, there would be far less cause of schism, or superstition.

The Anglicans said:

It was the wisdom of our Reformers to draw up such a Liturgy as neither Romanist nor Protestant could justly except against. For preserving of the Churches’ peace we know no better nor more efficacious way than our set Liturgy; there being no such way to keep us from schism, as to speak all the same thing, according to the Apostle. This experience of former and latter times hath taught us; when the Liturgy was duly observed we lived in peace; since that was laid aside there bath been as many modes and fashions of public worship as fancies.

If we do not observe that golden rule of the venerable Council of Nice, ‘Let ancient customs prevail,’ till reason plainly requires the contrary, we shall give offence to sober Christians by a causeless departure from Catholic usage, and a greater advantage to enemies of our Church, than our brethren, I hope, would willingly grant.

The Anglicans won.

The one thing both sides did agree on was including Scripture readings from the Authorised — King James — Version of the Bible.

The Savoy Conference ended on July 24, 1661.

Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

On November 20, 1661, a committee of Anglican bishops was appointed to revise the Prayer Book.

They completed their work on December 20. The Convocations of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury approved the Fifth Prayer Book.

On February 25, 1662, the new Prayer Book was annexed to the Bill of Uniformity.

After passing both Houses of Parliament, the Bill of Uniformity received royal assent on May 19.

The legislation then became the Act of Uniformity, and the Fifth Prayer Book — the Book of Common Prayer — was made mandatory for public worship in the Church of England. And so it remained until 1984.

Dearmer concludes:

It is sometimes said as a jibe against the Prayer Book that it is part of an Act of Parliament.

Yet:

our present Prayer Book was not one whit less the work of the Church, whose rights and liberties were most carefully safeguarded at every stage. The troublous century which we call the Reformation Period began with tyranny and oppression, but it ended with the establishment of constitutionalism in 1662; and the royalist Parliament which enforced the settlement, did at least represent the people.

The next entry will concern the 1662 Book of Common Prayer itself.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:23-25

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Saul of Tarsus preaching to converts in Damascus in their synagogues.

They had already been converted. He was originally going to the Syrian city to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial on charges of heresy.

On the way, Christ made sure Saul had his Damascene conversion, described in the posts below:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

After his three days in spiritual solitary confinement, he immediately went to preach to the converts there.

Verse 23 tells us that ‘many days had passed’, then Saul had to leave Damascus.

How long a period of time is that? In Greek — St Luke’s language, and Luke wrote Acts — it was a very long period of time. For whatever reason, Luke omitted Paul’s three-year stay in Arabia, near Damascus.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

Luke here makes no mention of Paul’s journey into Arabia, which he tells us himself was immediately after his conversion, Galatians 1:16,17. As soon as God had revealed his Son in him, that he might preach him, he went not up to Jerusalem, to receive instructions from the apostles (as any other convert would have done, that was designed for the ministry), but he went to Arabia, where there was new ground to break up, and where he would have opportunity of teaching, but not learning; thence he returned to Damascus, and there, three years after his conversion, this happened, which is here recorded.

John MacArthur also refers to this period, similarly mentioning Galatians 1:16-17:

He says after his conversion, “neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and abode with him fifteen days.”

MacArthur describes this part of Arabia:

What was he doing in Arabia? Well, God sent him there, no question about it, but there’s several things to consider. That part of the world had an Arabia that’s a little different than the Arabia we know today. It’s much north of that and it was called Nabatean Arabia. And it is very likely that at this particular time in history Nabatean Arabia had actually included the city of Damascus. According to some geographical indications, Damascus would have actually been in what was known as Arabia. So that Damascus would be a city on the very frontier of Arabia which would be to the east of it.

We discover in verse 23 that the Jews plotted to kill him. Recall Saul’s powerful personality which made him a great Apostle, although he was not part of the original Twelve nor the replacement for Judas (that was Matthias, Acts 1).

Whatever happened in Arabia, his robust personality and fervent preaching sparked opposition from powerful people. Our commentators have their own theories.

Henry thought the Jews in Arabia were out to get Saul because he — a Pharisee and one of the best — converted to Christianity. Recall from last week’s reading that Saul did not preach about his conversion but Christ alone, saying that He is the Son of God. The more Saul preached, the greater his faith and sermons grew. The Jews did not want people seeing that. Saul was the greatest walking advert ever for Christianity.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The Jews took counsel to kill him, being more enraged at him than at any other of the preachers of the gospel, not only because he was more lively and zealous in his preaching than any of them, and more successful, but because he had been such a remarkable deserter, and his being a Christian was a testimony against them.

MacArthur thinks differently, that Saul got under the skin of Aretas, who ruled over Nabatean Arabia:

Now this Nabatean Arabia as it’s called was ruled by a king by the name of Aretas. That’s indicated to us in 2 Corinthians 11:32. It tells us that. And Aretas, it says in that same verse, had put a governor in Damascus and put a garrison to guard the city. Now that’s interesting. Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews to catch Saul. Now why? What does Aretas care about Saul? Why does he want to give a garrison of soldiers to stand at the gates to capture Saul? The only answer that I can come across in my own thinking and this is my own thinking, is that somewhere along the lines Saul has irritated Aretas.

However, by saying that Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews, MacArthur makes Henry’s point. Aretas could have exercised his own power here. After all, these were his troops. Instead, MacArthur says he lent them to the Jews.

Saul discovered the plot against him and we discover that ‘they’ — the Jews — were watching the city gates around the clock (verse 24). Henry tells us:

they incensed the governor against him, as a dangerous man, who therefore kept the city with a guard to apprehend him, at his going out or coming in, 2 Corinthians 11:32.

It would appear then that the Jewish leaders goaded Aretas into lending them his troops to apprehend Saul.

As the Jewish leaders did with Jesus, so they were doing with Saul. The leaders in Jerusalem during Jesus’s time and those in Damascus during Saul’s time saw both as temporal threats to their authority and privilege. No doubt Aretas worked hand-in-glove with the Jewish hierarchy the way the Romans did in Jerusalem.

To recap, Saul left Damascus soon after his conversion to go to Arabia. He stayed three years. He had to leave because of the tension he caused to the Jews during that time, who then got the ruler involved. He returned to Damascus. The Jewish leaders were watching the gates continuously, with military guards, to capture Saul.

However, disciples in Damascus helped Paul to escape the city (verse 25). Saul crouched in a basket, and they let him down through an opening in the city wall.

In the final part of the conversion story, the Lord, in summoning Ananias, told him of his purpose for Saul (Acts 9:16):

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

The Lord did not let Saul of Tarsus off easily. Saul had terrorised converts in Jerusalem and arranged for them to die by stoning (e.g. Stephen, the first martyr). He was now going to let Saul get a taste of his own medicine.

However, the Lord was merciful to Saul in making him aware of the plot — possibly through someone notifying him — and in delivering him — with other men’s help — safely outside the city walls.

God sends help in human form when we need it.

This reminded me of the story about the man trapped in a severe storm who needed to be evacuated. He prayed, ‘God, please rescue me!’ A rescue boat came by. The man refused to get in. The prayer-rescue offer-refusal cycle happened twice more before the man prayed once again, ‘Why, Lord, did you not rescue me?’ The Lord replied, ‘I sent you three boats and you still didn’t get in.’

Saul, on the other hand, knew the Lord was sending him help in getting out of Damascus. May we all have such discernment.

Next time: Acts 9:26-30

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Percy Dearmer on the Fourth Prayer Book and the King James Version of the Bible

Percy Dearmer wisely skipped over the turmoil that was going on not only in England but in Europe during King James I’s (James VI of Scotland) and Charles I’s respective reigns.

However, some historical notes need to be added to understand the civil and religious strife during this time. The two intermingled, causing much violence and uncertainty.

Before getting to Chapter 10 of Dearmer’s book, I shall try to sum this up as briefly as possible.

James I was Charles I’s father. When the latter was of marriageable age, the Continent was experiencing political struggles between Catholic and Protestant royal houses and emperors. Spain was a powerful player at this time. People today would find it amazing to know that Spain ruled the Low Countries, but the Spanish Netherlands did indeed exist between 1581 to 1714.

James hoped to broker peace with Spain by marrying Charles off to Princess Maria Anna. However, as the Wikipedia account of Charles I‘s life and death tells us (emphases mine):

Unfortunately for James, negotiation with Spain proved generally unpopular, both with the public and with James’s court.[19] The English Parliament was actively hostile towards Spain and Catholicism, and thus, when called by James in 1621, the members hoped for an enforcement of recusancy laws, a naval campaign against Spain, and a Protestant marriage for the Prince of Wales.[20]

The Spanish Court — including Princess Maria Anna — opposed the match, and it never took place.

However, Charles did marry a Catholic, France’s Princess Henrietta Maria, in 1625, which did not stand him in good stead in England. He had succeeded his father as king in 1624 and was crowned formally on February 2, 1626. Tensions ran high:

Many members of the Commons were opposed to the king’s marriage to a Roman Catholic, fearing that Charles would lift restrictions on Catholic recusants and undermine the official establishment of the reformed Church of England. Although he told Parliament that he would not relax religious restrictions, he promised to do exactly that in a secret marriage treaty with his brother-in-law Louis XIII of France.[41]

Things were not well in the royal household at that time:

Disputes over her jointure, appointments to her household, and the practice of her religion culminated in the king expelling the vast majority of her French attendants in August 1626.[58]

However, not long afterwards, diplomacy with Spain ensued and his marital problems were resolved. In fact, Charles and his Queen consort:

embodied an image of virtue and family life, and their court became a model of formality and morality.[73]

That said, the religious issue of Henrietta Maria’s Catholicism did not disappear.

Taxes were high so that Charles could finance war. He also granted monopolies, which companies paid for. One of them was for soap:

pejoratively referred to as “popish soap” because some of its backers were Catholics.[108]

Another religious issue was the determination of Calvinists — Puritans — to become the dominant religious force. Yet another — on the opposite side of the aisle — was the popularity of Arminianism, which posits that man can accept or reject salvation. In addition, Charles’s diplomacy with Spain was viewed with suspicion, as a way of bringing in Catholicism via the back door.

Charles was concerned about the direction the Reformation was taking in England. The action he took proved to be unpopular:

In 1633, Charles appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury.[118] Together, they began a series of anti-Calvinist reforms that attempted to ensure religious uniformity by restricting non-conformist preachers, insisting that the liturgy be celebrated as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer, organising the internal architecture of English churches so as to emphasise the sacrament of the altar, and re-issuing King James’s Declaration of Sports, which permitted secular activities on the sabbath.[119] The Feoffees for Impropriations, an organisation that bought benefices and advowsons so that Puritans could be appointed to them, was dissolved.[120] To prosecute those who opposed his reforms, Laud used the two most powerful courts in the land, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber.[121] The courts became feared for their censorship of opposing religious views, and became unpopular among the propertied classes for inflicting degrading punishments on gentlemen.[122]

Conflicts arose in Scotland and Ireland. Parliamentarians in England were also furious with Charles. They impeached Archbishop Laud in 1640 and accused the king of tyranny.

On January 3, 1642, Charles entered the House of Commons to have five members of Parliament arrested on charges of treason. (Word had reached the men, who escaped by boat.) When Charles made his demand, Parliament refused to comply.

It should be noted that the monarch never enters the House of Commons. That Charles did so sealed his fate.

The result was the English Civil War which lasted from 1642 to 1651. It was fought between the Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers (Royalists):

The overall outcome of the war was threefold: the trial and execution of Charles I (1649); the exile of his son, Charles II (1651); and the replacement of English monarchy with, at first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653) and then the Protectorate under the personal rules of Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) and his son Richard (1658–1659). The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England ended with the victors’ consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament‘s consent, although the idea of Parliament as the ruling power of England was only legally established as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688.[2]

The period between Charles I’s death and Charles II’s accession to the throne is called the Interregnum, which had strong religious overtones:

The Interregnum was a relatively short but important period in the history of the British Isles. It saw a number of political experiments without any stable form of government emerging, largely due to the wide diversity in religious and political groups that had been allowed to flourish after the regicide of Charles I.

The Puritan movement had evolved as a rejection of both real and perceived “Catholicisation” of the Church of England. When the Church of England was quickly disestablished by the Commonwealth Government, the question of what church to establish became a hotly debated subject. In the end, it was impossible to make all the political factions happy. During the Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell lost much of the support he had gained during the Civil War.

Puritans dominated the landscape:

After the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War, the Puritan views of the majority of Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed on the rest of the country. The Puritans advocated an austere lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter were suppressed.[2] Pastimes such as the theatre and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be “virtuous”, such as opera, were encouraged. These changes are often credited to Oliver Cromwell, though they were introduced by the Commonwealth Parliament; and Cromwell, when he came to power, was a liberalising influence.[3]

Interestingly, independent Protestant churches flourished during this time:

The breakdown of religious uniformity and incomplete Presbyterian Settlement of 1646 enabled independent churches to flourish. The main sects (see also English Dissenters) were Baptists, who advocated adult rebaptism; Ranters, who claimed that sin did not exist for the “chosen ones”; and Fifth Monarchy Men, who opposed all “earthly” governments, believing they must prepare for God’s kingdom on earth by establishing a “government of saints”.

Despite greater toleration, extreme sects were opposed by the upper classes as they were seen as a threat to social order and property rights. Catholics were also excluded from the toleration applied to the other groups.

When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard succeeded him. However, Richard lacked authority and his rule was brief, 264 days:

The Protectorate came to an end in May 1659 when the Grandees recalled the Rump Parliament, which authorised a Committee of Safety to replace Richard’s Council of State. This ushered in a period of unstable government, which did not come to an end until February 1660 when General George Monck, the English military governor of Scotland, marched to London at the head of his troops, and oversaw the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

Understandably, no one in Britain wants a repeat of this, including the religious restrictions that took place during these years.

History lesson concluded, let us turn to Percy Dearmer.

He informs us that the Book of Common Prayer was abolished in 1645:

and its use made penal.

With Charles II’s accession to the throne, there was much rejoicing:

ENGLAND turned with shouts of joy from the rancour and violence of the Commonwealth, from the spiritual despotism of the Presbyterians and of the Independents who ousted them, and from the resulting distraction and impiety, to the Restoration of Church and King, and of free Parliamentary institutions …

However, the mood turned against non-Conformists, who were persecuted.

With the Church of England re-established, there was great hunger for the previously banned Prayer Book:

So great was the demand for Prayer Books that, before 1660 had reached its close, five editions of the old Book were printed.

But the Prayer Book had not been revised since 1604, and many agreed at least in this — that a new revision was needed.

This brings us to the theological background of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the subject of the next post in this series.

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