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Big Ben’s chimes

January 2011 | by Timothy Cross

Big Ben’s chimes

London’s Big Ben must be one of the most iconic landmarks in the UK. When I was 8 years old, my father and I were taken up Big Ben. We climbed the tower’s 334 steps – it has no lift. With hindsight, I realise that I was very privileged; security being what it is today, the general public are prohibited from going up Big Ben.

‘Big Ben’ technically refers to the thirteen and a half ton bell housed in the St Stephen’s clock tower, on the north east end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The name though has become synonymous with the 96.3m high, four-faced tower which houses the great bell.

     Interestingly, there is a plaque in the clock room of Big Ben on which is some verse, based on Psalm 37:23-24. The verse may be said in time to Big Ben’s quarter bell chimes. It reads:

     All through this hour

     Lord be my guide

     And by Thy power

     No foot shall slide.

Preaching

Can we glean any spiritual lessons from Big Ben? I believe we can.

     Big Ben’s thirteen and a half ton bell, when struck by a huge, mechanical hammer each hour, has an unmistakable sound. We had to cover our ears when we stood by it. On a clear night, the guards at Windsor Castle are able to hear it – and they are some 25 miles away. All this is comparable with the preaching of the gospel.

     In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 Paul reminded the Thessalonians how ‘the Word of the Lord sounded forth from you’. Almighty God ensures that his elect will hear the gospel of salvation and believe.

     God, by his Spirit and through his Word, makes his people hear. In the ears of God’s elect, the gospel will have an unmistakable sound and the ring of truth, that it is no less than the voice of God himself speaking.

     The kingdom of heaven is furthered by the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Romans 1:16). Romans 10:17 tells us that ‘faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ’.

     The New Testament verb ‘to preach’ means ‘to herald forth’. Through heralding forth – or, sounding out – the gospel of Christ, sinners are saved. God uses means.

     Through preaching, sinners are convicted of their sin and lost plight, shown the crucified Christ as the answer to their need, and enabled to cleave to him for full and eternal salvation.

     Big Ben’s chimes then remind us of the preaching of the gospel. ‘We preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23):

     The gospel bells are ringing

     Over land from sea to sea

     Blessed news of free salvation

     Do they offer you and me.

     For God so loved the world

     That his only Son he gave

     Whosoe’er believeth in him

     Everlasting life shall have.

Providence

Big Ben reminds us also of God’s providence. In Psalm 31:15 David looked up to heaven and said, ‘My times are in thy hand’. Knowing that our times are in God’s hand is a great comfort to the soul.

     If our times really are in God’s hand, we can safely leave them there. He is a sovereign God. There are no ‘accidents’ in his children’s lives. He has everything under control and knows how to tailor and taper our circumstances for our eternal good; and is doing so.

     He is working out the intricate details of our lives according to his eternal plan for our good and his glory. ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen’ (Romans 11:36).

     As the hands of Big Ben turn inexorably and the hours pass by, how good it is to be able to make David’s confession our own and say to God, ‘My times are in thy hand’.

     My times are in thy hand

     Whatever they may be

     Pleasing or painful, dark or bright

     As best may seem to thee.

     My times are in thy hand

     Why should I doubt or fear

     A Father’s hand will never cause

     His child a needless tear.

Faithfulness

Big Ben reminds us also of the reliability and dependability of Almighty God, and how infinitely worthy he is of our trust.

     Big Ben is famous for its reliability. We are told that Londoners set their watches and clocks by it. Yet the clock has had one or two hitches over the last century and a half of its existence. Some heavy snow once slowed its hands down so that it gave the incorrect time. It has also known mechanical failures through wear and tear, which needed to be fixed.

     The God of the Bible, however, never fails his people. He is always faithful to his promises. Psalm 100:5 tells us that ‘the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations’.

     Lamentations 3:22-23 affirms: ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness’.

     Lastly, Big Ben sounds out a warning to us. It reminds us all that time is short. Job spoke for us all when he said, ‘My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle’. The hands of Big Ben may have stopped sometimes, but time itself is unstoppable.

     We are all heading for eternity. The psalmist said, ‘Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow’ (Psalm 144:4). This being so, the most important question we can ask ourselves is, ‘Where will I spend eternity?’

Brevity

The Bible would have us all hold in mind the brevity of time and the nearness of eternity. There is a heaven to be gained, a hell to be shunned and a Saviour who really saves.

     None of us are promised a tomorrow. How imperative it is then that we believe in Jesus, the only Saviour, while we may, before it is too late.

     The gospel exhortation is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31), for, ‘Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6:2).

     So there is Big Ben, one of Great Britain’s most famous landmarks. It chimes in the new year each year for many, and it is seen and heard on our TVs and radios most evenings.

     Heed, though, its spiritual lessons. The gospel of salvation is to be rung out until Jesus comes again. Almighty God is in control of his children’s lives and times.

     The God of the Bible is infinitely reliable and to be trusted. Time is short, eternity is near. Jesus is the only Saviour, and he saves for time and eternity.

     Time is gliding swiftly by

     Death and judgment draweth nigh

     To the arms of Jesus fly

     Be in time.

     O, I pray you count the cost

     Ere the fatal line be crossed

     And your soul in hell be lost

     Be in time.

Timothy Cross