We like to honour Martin Luther, (1483 – 1546) who restored Justification by Faith to the world. But he was a fallen man like the rest of us, and some of his deeds and his words by no means did him credit. The following statement is reproduced verbatim from his writings.
“People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves and not the heavens of the firmament, the Sun and the Moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; the sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still, not the Earth.”
Luther was referring to Nicolaus Copernicus, (1473 – 1543.) The “Copernican system”, as it is now called, is undisputed by modern astronomers. Everybody now accepts that the earth (and all the planets) rotate round the Sun. Luther’s prejudice was based on long-held tradition. But many of his day would have given credence to his words, simply because he had been God’s instrument to restore a wonderful Biblical truth. Such is the unnerving power of tradition, which has strong tentacles of mental bondage.
Lord Brougham (1778 – 1868) wrote anonymously to the Edinburgh Gazette about an upstart physicist who had the audacity to contradict Sir Isaac Newton over the nature of light. Newton had written that light consisted of particles of different sizes, larger for red and smaller for blue. But this “upstart” had suggested that light was a wave motion. I do not have the original text of Brougham’s article, but have merely read the gist of it, which was couched in most uncomplimentary language. In time he was unmasked and asked to apologise.
The physicist in question was Thomas Young, (1773 – 1829), and today his “upstart” theory is accepted without challenge. But I venture to say that were Newton still alive in Young’s day, he would have shown excitement and admiration for Young’s wave theory. Newton was a man of great faith, and at the end of his life he referred to himself as “like a small child on the beach, finding here and there a more beautiful shell, whereas the whole ocean of truth lay hidden before me.”
Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) wrote a beautiful poem entitled “The Explorer”, in which he addressed the problems facing the Pioneers of this world. See how he started the poem –
“There’s no sense in going further – it’s the edge of cultivation,”
So they said, and I believed it – broke my land and sowed my crop –
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated – so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
“Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”
So I went, worn out of patience; never told my nearest neighbours –
Stole away with pack and ponies – left ‘em drinking in the town;
And the faith that moveth mountains didn’t seem to help my labours
As I faced the sheer main-ranges, whipping up and leading down.
The rest of the poem is worth its weight in gold. Look it up. You’ll see what I mean. But after thirteen more stanzas, he concludes his poem this way –
God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
Then He chose me for His whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!
Yes, your “Never-never country” – yes, your “edge of cultivation”
And “no sense in going further” – till I crossed the range to see.
God forgive me! No I didn’t. It’s God’s present to our nation.
Anybody might have found it, but – His whisper came to Me!
We are all, more or less, bound by tradition. Often it springs from an over-indulgence in worshipping famous men, as did Lord Brougham, or a misunderstanding of Scripture, like Martin Luther. But Jesus said, “You make the word of God of no effect by your vain traditions.” And it does not come as a surprise to know that the Greek word for tradition (Paradosis) has a numerical value of 666.
Fear of the unknown is behind the power of tradition. King George VI, in his Christmas radio address to the nation in 1939, quoted the oft-repeated words of Minnie Louise Haskins (1875 – 1957) –
“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'”
Are you afraid of the near future? The end of this millennium? Are you scared by new and apparently untried gems of truth from the Bible? What is it that can hold us in the palm of God’s hand, to make us true pioneers, afraid of nothing, and able to walk a step at a time into the unknown with Him?
To conclude, I will quote the words of a little-known Arabic Christian lady by the name of Rabiah al-Adawiyah, who lived from 717 to 801. I believe she held the answer to this question. She was once asked if she hated Satan. She said, “My love for God leaves no room for hating Satan. Another of her sayings was, “I have not served God for fear of God, or love of Paradise, but only for the love of Him and the desire for Him.”