Eighteen-year-old Margaret Wilson could have saved her life by simply acknowledging allegiance to James II as the head of the church. She had already seen her older companion and friend Margaret Lachlison drown, tied to a stake, as the tide rose further out in the waters of the Solway Firth.
The soldiers pulled her up for one last opportunity to save her life. Asked again to submit to the oath of allegiance, she said, ‘I will not, I am one of Christ’s children; let me go’.
She was plunged back into the incoming waters which, within seconds, claimed her life — but not her soul. She had stood for truth above compromise in those cruel and difficult days for the Scottish Covenanters of 1685.
The plaque is still there today, though the waters of the Solway were long ago rerouted to provide shipping lanes in the estuary.
Has something changed?
So is that spirit still in us today? Or has something changed within the Western church? Are we really as concerned for truth as we imagine ourselves to be?
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). A commitment to Christ is not just mental assent, though we do need to understand what is involved. It is, rather, a commitment of soul, heart and mind, a commitment that challenges the limp, easygoing Christianity so prevalent today.
Pilate’s question echoes down the centuries — ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38). The irony of the situation was lost on him that day, for he never realised that the one standing before him was the very Truth of all existence — who stands at the heart of all science, history, society, law and nationhood.
The one who put the stars in place, who made the world of living creatures, who sustains all things by the word of his power, gives meaning to everything. With awe and wonder Paul declares: ‘For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things’ (Romans 11:36).
You may recall the masterful article by Faith Cook (ET, June 1997) about the death of a young girl in 1797. Shortly before she died at the age of 12, she came to Christ under the faithful shepherding of Leigh Richmond, at Brading, Isle of Wight.
Asked where lay her hope, she replied: ‘Christ there, Christ here’. This surely is the very heartbeat of true conversion — an ongoing walk with God. Paul said much the same in Philippians 1:21: ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’.
So my question remains: Do we have convictions; and do they flow from a deep burning desire for the honour of Christ? Or are our so-called ‘convictions’ no more than mental assent?
How can we possibly reach our modern, godless generation with anything other than a burning zeal for truth, in heart, soul and mind?
Why is this so relevant? Because we live in a post-modern society — that is, one which denies the very existence of absolute truth. ‘You have your beliefs, I have mine, but don’t tell me what to believe!’ That is the prevalent attitude in Western society today.
The danger for the church is that in attempting to build bridges into the communities around us, we sell our gospel and convictions cheaply, and do not stand on clear statements of truth.
The Christ then preached ceases to be the Christ of Scripture, and all gospel clarity is lost.
Where people are
How, then, can we make inroads into our godless society — the vast number of people who never attend church? We have to go where people are and preach the truth!
Some of us gather every week on a Tuesday lunchtime in Leeds to preach Christ in the open air, and I would encourage others to do the same.
Many know of the great work done by the Open Air Mission. Others help to run summer camps for children who have never met true Christians before. Many are involved with beach missions.
Whether by these means, by visitation, through literature, or in other ways, we are commanded to speak to our generation for Christ (Matthew 28:19).
But the prevalent view of people today is that they came here by accident. Evangelistic preaching, therefore, has to deal head-on with origins. One cannot escape it.
Whether in student evangelism, open-air work, door to door visitation, summer camps or beach missions, we need to be absolutely clear on the main issue that will be raised against us.
And to do so, we must have a firm grasp of the fact that the Christ of the Bible owns truth in every area.
This is the burden of Francis Schaeffer’s books, such as Death in the City, Whatever happened to the Human Race and Escape from Reason. He saw the day coming when the West would lose its moorings to such an extent that it could no longer reason clearly.
And that is what we are seeing all around us — the crumbling of a society which has lost its foundation. We thus have to declare God’s ownership of all things. We have to deal head-on with the issue of creation, just as Paul did with the Athenians at Mars Hill (Acts 17).