The letter that follows is a modification of one that had already been written prior to the events on Monday 20 May 2013. It seems that God had already been preparing us to face the totally unexpected home call of our friend, brother and former minister Rev. Graham Harrison.
Looking back over the last few months in our life as a church there have been pockets of particular trial for a number of our members, including three heart attacks, a stroke, cancer, bereavement, kidney problems, numerous serious falls, as well as chicken pox, viruses and other problems. These have placed families and us as a church under particular pressures and they raise the question, ‘How do people keep going facing such a catalogue of difficulties?’ This is particularly true with reference to Mr. Harrison’s sudden removal to glory. For many within our church he was the means under God of them coming to faith and he was the only pastor that they had known. He was a giant of a man and our ‘service of thanksgiving’ on Wednesday 22 May gave various examples of the help given by his ministry and as with all bereavement many will raise the question, ‘How do we go forward?’
The answer lies in the message that was the foundation verse of Mr. Harrison’s ministry as well as the Reformation: “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17). The truth of this verse had a profound effect on key men like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Graham Harrison. It can be safely argued that it is a verse that has changed or at least shaped the course of history.
This truth is most commonly quoted from Rom 1:17, where the context says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” and is effectively an explanation of the previous verse – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. Paul and Mr. Harrison showed that our faith is built entirely on the work of Jesus Christ. The only way that we can be saved is by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Christian life begins, is sustained and will reach completion by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The Holy Spirit recorded this truth in three other places in the Bible and each has its significant lessons for the believer.
The first record is Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Here a footnote suggests that ‘faith’ be translated as ‘faithfulness’ i.e. persevering in faith. Habakkuk preached at a time when the collapse of a nation and a super-power were imminent. God called His people to continue trusting Him, even though they did not know how things would work out. The theme of perseverance was important in Mr. Harrison’s ministry and he sought to serve God to the end.
Paul also quotes this truth in Galatians 3:11 ‘Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”’ Paul was really concerned about people who were adding to the unique Christian Gospel. Effectively they were saying that it was not sufficient to simply believe that Jesus had paid the price for our sin at Calvary, but that in order to be saved Christians needed to be circumcised. Those who knew Mr Harrison in the ministerial and theological world knew that he could be as impassioned as Paul in his defence of the Gospel, ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.’ (Gal 1:8-9). The gift of God in the Christian life can only be acquired by faith and by no rituals. Emmanuel, as a building is a demonstration of simplicity. People who want to add ritual as a necessity of our faith, no matter how traditional, undermine the essence of faith.
The final reference is Hebrews 10:38 “but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” This is addressed to believers who knew the reality of being persecuted for their faith and the writer is encouraging them to persevere in faith. They are not being simply asked to give mental assent to statements of faith, but are being asked to trust God even in places where they don’t understand why they are being asked to go through certain circumstances. Like Paul, it could be said of Mr. Harrison “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing”. (2 Tim 4:7-8)
The foundation of our faith is built exclusively on the gift of God in Jesus Christ, made known to us by the Holy Spirit, but that is not a one off experience like an exam or MOT, it is a daily trusting in God. We believe that God allows nothing to happen in this world beyond His control, therefore we are daily to live by faith that God is at work and that He will help us daily to cope with the real trials that we face. May God help each of us to endure in faith, knowing that He is with us.
Let us thank God for the life and ministry of Mr. Harrison and continue to uphold Mrs. Harrison, Nia and her family in prayer. May we each be as faithful in our lives as Mr. Harrison was in his, and to our God be all the glory.
Yours in grief and Faith,
Bernard Lewis June 2013