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Church history

When the Word of God is not preached

Half-truths, little tidbits of information used for one's own interpretation and advantage, can be harmful, even damnable. Zeal without knowledge can be destructive, extremely destructive. Indeed, this type of zeal can become the devil's toy.

*****

More than 250 years ago, a little girl was born in the parish of Ottery St. Mary, in the county of Devon in the west of England. The month was April and the year was 1750. Joanna Southcott, for so the girl-child was baptized, grew up in rather poor conditions. Her father, William Southcott, sprang from rich stock, but circumstances had reduced him from living on a manor to working a small dairy farm. A Church of England member, by all accounts, he read the Bible to his family. As she grew older Joanna was taught to help out on the farm, even running it for a time when her father was ill. She was capable girl.

Eventually Joanna left home to begin a career. Employed by an upholsterer in Exeter, she learned how to cut cloth, choose fabric, work with trims and sew welted edges. It was during this time that she became engaged to a young man by the name of Noah Bishop. Noah was a footman, whose duties at his place of employment included admitting guests and waiting at table. They seemed a well-matched couple. However, after a rather short courtship, Joanna suddenly broke off the engagement. The reason she gave her fiancé was rather strange - she let him know that an angel had appeared to her one night telling her that she must not allow her body to be defiled by a man. Poor Noah!! His intentions towards Joanna had been honorable. He concluded that she was deranged!

During Joanna's stint of employment with the upholsterer, a revivalist Methodist preacher visited the area. Notoriously amoral, he openly lived with a mistress and flirted freely with the opposite sex. Yet he was allowed in the pulpit, preaching loudly about sin and damnation. Proud and boastful of his salvation status, he openly thanked God for not making him like the other “sinners” in the congregation. All Joanna's fellow workers were afraid of him. Joanna was not. She saw through the man and was amazed that his hoax was accepted.

Leaving the employ of the upholsterer after breaking her engagement, Joanna began work as a domestic servant in Exeter. According to a later portrait drawing of her by artist and engraver William Sharp (1749-1824), we can conclude that Joanna was probably a sweet and pretty-looking girl in her younger years, becoming more buxom and well upholstered around the waist in middle age.

A woman in need of friends

Although she had been raised in the Church of England, Joanna joined the Wesleyans in 1792. Persuading others that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme. She also began to teach, preach (Had she never been taught regarding I Tim. 2:12?) and prophesy. A number of her predictions seemed to come about. Many of these “prophecies” referred to events that occurred during her lifetime. For example, she is credited with having foretold the famine of 1795, the bad harvest of 1797, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the deaths of several more or less well-known persons.

Was Joanna a loner? She surely needed Christian companions who loved her enough to caution her. Her feet and her mouth were steering her towards greater and greater heresy. The worst heresy was that she claimed to be the woman mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6. Quite a profession! She openly designated herself a prophetess whom God had divinely appointed to be the mother of the Messiah. (What happened to Isaiah 7:14? Did she not know the Christ Child had already been born?) Joanna must have been without Christian friends. Friends will caution you; friends will reprove you; friends will point you to the truth of the Gospel fulfilled; and friends will tell you of the hope of heaven and the danger of hell if you do not turn from error.

Joanna's followers were marked by peculiarity of dress, which resembled that of Quakers, the men sporting long beards. With thousands of adherents, among whom were some clergy, Joanna also began making and selling printed seals which supposedly guaranteed the buyer entry into paradise after the Apocalypse. (Even the familiar John 3:16-18 seems to have been lost on Joanna and her supporters.) Seating, it was said, was limited to 144,000, so buy seals while you can. Exorbitant prices were charged. Joanna, denying that she was profiting from the sale of these “indulgences,” continued to manufacture them. Some six or seven thousand were sold and a number of them are still in existence. They are small pieces of paper with a circle drawn in the middle. In this circle are written words which imply that the buyer is saved. Every one of these seals was signed by Joanna Southcott.

In addition to teaching and lecturing, Joanna also wrote some thirty or so books which were published during her lifetime. The manuscripts, many of which are written in different handwritings, are still available, pointing to the employment of an assistant.

Pregnant at 63?

In 1813, Joanna now being 63 years old, and living with two lady companions, began to take on the appearance of a pregnant woman. Her stomach grew rounder and rounder, and she announced to her followers that she was now about to become the mother of the promised Child spoken of in Revelation 12. She asserted that redemption would be completed in herself. (What happened to Hebrews 9:12?) She would bruise the serpent's head and the immediate aim of her life was to destroy the devil.

Possibly due to a tumor growing within her abdomen, Joanna presented herself to the public as one shortly to give birth. Those who believed what she spouted, waxed enthusiastic. Holding collections, they sent a delegation to an expensive cabinet-maker and bought a cradle - a fashionable cradle, richly ornamented and decorated. They set this up in a specially prepared place and began to collect accessories. Baby blankets, pillows, linens and embroidered sheets began to accumulate. It was, after all, for a miraculous child and who would not want to hail this baby with luxury and comfort!

The excitement over this apparent pregnancy and upcoming birth was palpable among the population, especially in the London area. The number of eager followers were said to have numbered around 100,000. Most of them were illiterate and rather credulous, but some were middle-class and clergy. They all fully believed the claptrap and nonsense. (Where there is no prophetic vision people cast off restraint - Proverbs 29:18.) One pastor even offered to resign from his diocese if the “Holy Joanna,” as he called her, failed to give birth to the Messiah.

The days and months passed. No baby was born. In August of 1814, a physician by the name of Dr. Reece, examined Joanna, to “ascertain the probability of her being in a state of pregnancy, as then given out.” He affirmed that she was indeed with child. Other doctors were called in, reputable medical men, and they, as well, concluded that she was pregnant. More weeks passed and Joanna herself, despite her grand delusions, became uncomfortable with her bulky stomach. She hesitatingly allowed that she might have been deceived by some spirit, either good or evil. Dead but still causing problems As the year of 1814 drew to a close, Joanna Southcott died. She died surrounded by a few of her ill-informed disciples, and she died without giving birth. She had been barren. Prior to her death another surgeon had been called in by Dr. Reece and he had, without any uncertainty, declared that Joanna was not in the family way, that she was ill, and that he did not foresee any hope of her recovery. Before her death at the end of December 1814, she had been confined to bed for ten weeks. Dr. Reece, who was in attendance during her last hours, immediately after Joanna died, wrote to the editor of the Sunday Monitor:

“Agreeable to your request, I send a messenger to acquaint you, that Joanna Southcott died this morning precisely at 4 a.m. The believers in her mission, supposing that the vital functions are only suspended for a few days, will not permit me to open the body until some symptom appears, which may destroy all hopes of resuscitation."

Holding on to the hope that Joanna would resurrect, something she had predicted, her followers wrapped her body in warm blankets, placed hot water bottles at her feet, and kept the room warm. Crowds assembled around the house, hoping and waiting for her to rise from the dead. However, it was all to no avail and her body began to putrify. Even as decomposition set in, there were those who swore not to shave their beards until Joanna's resurrection. Likely a great many men with very snarled and lengthy beards were consigned to the grave in the years that followed. A later autopsy showed that Joanna Southcott had suffered from dropsy which had killed her. She was buried in Marylebone cemetery on January 2, 1815. Laid into her coffin, she was interred under a fictitious name. The authorities feared that if they did not do this, grave robbers might want to open the tomb, ransack her remains, and profit by the sale of her bones. Prior to her death Joanna had dictated a will in which she professed to have lied, professed to have been prompted by the devil. In this document she insisted that after her death, the cradle and all things with it, should be returned to the people who gave them. The 1568 Bishops' Bible reads Proverbs 29:18 in this way:

When the worde of God is not preached, the people perishe: but well is hym that kepeth the lawe.

In twenty-first century English language this translates freely as:

When the Word of God is neglected, ignored or not preached properly, the people will perish: but discerning people who hear the Word of God and obey it, are blessed.

Again, where God's Word is not preached, people become fools, believing anyone and everything. Strange and ludicrous as Joanna's story is, many Joanna's have walked the earth in the past and are still walking it. A William Davies (1833-1906), leader of a Latter Day Saint schismatic group, taught his followers that one of his children was the reincarnated Jesus. Lou de Palingboer (1898-1968), founder of a religious movement in Holland, claimed to be “the resurrected body of Jesus.” And a couple of years ago, a parish in the Church of Sweden, tweeted out that Greta Thunberg, teenage climate activist, was an appointed successor to Jesus Christ. Pregnant with self-deception and self-importance, such people give birth to the wind and reap the whirlwind. Make sure you are able to recognize such frauds. Make it your 2020 resolution to become better acquainted with God's Word and to read it faithfully each day!

This article has been corrected to note that it was a parish in the Church of Sweden and not the Church of Sweden itself that tweeted “Announcement! Jesus of Nazareth has now appointed one of his successors, Greta Thunberg.”

Daily devotional

December 31 – The return of the King: Enjoying paradise forever!

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” – Isaiah 65:17 Scripture reading: Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5 The story of the Bible ends where it began: in the Paradise of a newly created world. The first Paradise was ruined by sin and cursed by God. Pain and punishment, sickness and sadness, disease and death resulted. But the story of the Bible has a “happily ever after” ending for all who trust in Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes again, the heavens and earth will be cleansed by fire (2 Peter 3:7,10-13). This is Good News. It will be a purifying fire that destroys all evil and purifies all that is good. It will be step one in God's work of “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Notice God does not say He will make “all new things” but that He will make “all things new.” While the absence of sin and its consequences will make the new creation feel very different from this fallen one, it will also feel very familiar: we will build houses and dwell in them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit, long enjoy the work of our hands; animals will populate the earth, living in peace without preying on each other; we will feast on the best of meats and finest of wines at the Bridegroom's banquet (Isaiah 65:21-25; 25:6-8). There will be no more curse. We won't even remember that sickness, sadness, sin and death once existed. We will dwell with God and each other in perfect harmony forever and ever. We cannot even imagine how amazing it will be (1 Corinthians 2:9). Suggestions for prayer Pray that you, in keeping with God's promise, would live each day looking forward to the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness, which God has prepared for those who love Him (2 Peter 3:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Brian Zegers has been serving the Lord by working with Word of Life Ministry as home missionary to the Muslim community in Toronto, Ontario since 2015.

Religion, Religion - Mormons

Mormons and Masons have their secrets. We don’t.

There’s nothing esoteric about the Christian faith. There is no secret mystery into which you must become initiated in order to be admitted. It’s not like the Gnostic sects where one had to become an initiate for years before he became a full member. Jesus spoke to this issue plainly when He said in John 18:19:

"I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, or in the temple court, where all the Jews assemble, and I didn’t teach anything secretly."

Christianity isn’t Masonry, or Mormonism, where you take vows “never to reveal and always to conceal” rituals that you are required to perform in a Lodge meeting or in a “temple” ceremony. It has always been completely aboveboard about its beliefs and practices. Indeed, as Jesus said, He always spoke “openly.” If an organization – or pseudo church – has anything worthwhile to offer, let it be open to examination. How can anyone vow to never reveal something before he knows what it is? That is one form of what the Bible calls a rash vow (Prov. 20:25, Eccl. 5:2-7, Judges 11:29-40). It is sinful to make a vow that one doesn’t know whether or not he ought to keep before he knows what it is he is vowing to keep secret. Suppose, after taking a vow, one were to realize that he must expose the error or sinfulness of what he learns – he’d then find himself in an intolerable position. On the one hand, he’d be obligated to expose it; on the other hand he would have vowed not to do so. That is an unacceptable dilemma, one into which one must never allow himself to be inveigled. One more thought – if a group of any sort has something worth becoming a part of, it has no right to conceal it from anyone; but like our Lord said, it is something that should be proclaimed “openly to the world.” If it’s worthwhile, spread it abroad. Why would you selfishly cling to it as private truth? If it’s not something worthwhile, then don’t get into it in the first place. On every score, then, no Christian should ever become involved in a secret society. A fundamental principle of our faith is to preach the message of salvation to all the world. We have nothing to hide.

Dr. Jay Adams is Dean of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and the author of more than 100 books. This post first appeared on his blog at www.nouthetic.org and is reprinted here with permission.

Science - General

Amazing green meat-eaters!

The first thing a student of nature learns, is that it is fatal to generalize – an exception can be found to almost any general rule. Most of us, for example, would define animals in terms of food capture – they go out and get their food – and we'd define plants as sedentary manufacturers of their own food, using sunlight for energy. Nevertheless there are plants that dine on animals: quite the reverse of the expected! Tempting embrace Probably the most famous meat-eating (carnivorous) plant is the Venus Flytrap. In scientific jargon it is named Dioneae after Dione, mythical mother of Venus, goddess of love. This is an apt name when one considers how the plant lures and catches victims. The trap consists of two fringed lobes, seemingly hinged by the midrib, at the end of each leaf. The lobes are bright red in the sun and they exude sweet scents to attract the unwary insect. Once a suitable insect has landed on the trap, it snaps shut in a fraction of a second. Interlocking "teeth" prevent escape of the victim. The more it struggles, the more tightly the trap closes. The leaf now releases a slimy fluid which contains enzymes able to digest protein. Then, once the meal has been digested, the fluid containing the new nutrients is reabsorbed into the leaf. Dry once again, the leaf opens and the victim’s empty shell falls away. The trap is again ready for business. [caption id="attachment_5383" align="alignright" width="560"] PROMINENT "TRIGGER HAIRS" – 3 ON EACH SIDE – SPRING THE TRAP![/caption] Clever, clever, clever! How does the leaf surface "know" when a suitable victim has landed on the trap? Prominent hairs on the surface of each lobe are trigger mechanisms. Raindrops and small insects fail to spring the trap. Two hairs must be touched, or one hair moved twice in order to produce closure. This ensures response only to large insects, not useless small ones. How is the message of a suitable victim translated into slit-second action? No one really knows. An electric charge has been shown to flash over the leaf surface as the trigger hairs are stimulated. One guess suggests that the charge produces a rapid change of some chemical, from soluble to insoluble (eg. from sugar to starch), in the cells of the upper half of the leaf. Water then moves into the lower leaf cells which now contain relatively more dissolved solids. These cells swell, causing the leaf lobes to move together. This sounds plausible but slow. Obviously it is not the final answer. One would suppose so specialized a plant would have many less complex relatives. Such is not the case. The genus contains only one species. Even this species is very restricted in its occurrence. The plant’s natural habitat is sandy soil within 100 miles of Wilmington, North Carolina. Except for another genus with a single species, there are no similar plants. So many important parts It is conventional scientific wisdom that the trapping mechanism of Dionaea developed in response to nutrient-poor soil conditions. It is difficult however to imagine how transitional forms could exist. If the sweet aroma did not attract insects, the trap would be useless. Without rapid closing, or without teeth on the lobe edges, the insect would escape. Without suitable gland cells to release and absorb digestive fluids, all the rest would be useless. It is easy to see why Darwin called the flytrap ‘the most wonderful plant in the world’! It is more difficult to understand how he could have presumed evolution of such a precise mechanism. Natural selection could not select for traps which lacked any one component of the system. Only the fully developed system, produced by the Creator, can account for these amazing plants.

This article first appeared in Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 8, Number 1, 1981, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science” which we review here, and you can buy here.

Daily devotional

August 16 – From conquest to covenant

“…and afterward [Joshua] read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.” – Joshua 8:34

Scripture reading: Joshua 8

At first, it may seem that the last verses of Joshua 8 are out of place and don’t belong here. Why the sudden shift from combat and conquest in the first part of the chapter, to covenant and commandments in the last part of the chapter? It is because the detailed account of Ai’s defeat by Israel given to us in the first 29 verses of this chapter establishes the reason why Israel praises God so profusely in the last part of the chapter!

This is seen even more clearly when chapters 7 and 8 are viewed as a whole. For remember that in chapter 7, Israel was experiencing the curse of the LORD’s anger because of unconfessed sin. But once that sin is propitiated, in chapter 8, Israel experiences the great blessing of the Lord in its defeat of Ai. So how appropriate for Joshua to take a break from fighting and to gather all of Israel to Mount Ebal in order to give praise and thanksgiving to God. Joshua reminds them of both the promised blessings of God and of the promised curses of God found in the covenant.

The covenant renewal in verses 30-35 teaches Israel that their success in the conquest of the Promised Land comes not because of them, but in spite of them. Their success comes not when Palestine is rid of pagans, but when their heart is rid of sin! With Israel, may we too praise our mighty, majestic, and merciful God.

Suggestions for prayer

Thank the Lord for His covenantal faithfulness. Thank Him for sending His Son to be our curse for us. Thank Him for crediting us with Christ’s righteousness.

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Ed Marcusse is the pastor of the Oak Glen United Reformed Church of Lansing, Illinois.


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