A friend on mine, by the name of Dr John Dempster, lives in Inverness, Scotland. He writes a weekly piece called Christian Viewpoint for a group of local secular newspapers. He also very kindly sends me a copy.
I asked his permission to share some of these and he replied saying that as long as it states First Published in the Highland News Group of Newspapers then I have permission.
Remember these are written for a group of secular newspapers. Pray that they will bless the readers who may have no other Christian input in their lives.
This week his piece is called
Runway To Eternity
Every evening for 43 years regardless of the weather Robert Flockhart stood in the street in the heart of Edinburgh and despite considerable opposition in the early days, uncompromisingly preached the Christian message. This month sees the 150th anniversary of his death in September 1857.
On the day he died, Flockhart had a visit from Dr Thomas Guthrie, a well-known Edinburgh minister. The dying man’s face was ‘radiant’, Guthrie tells us. ‘I’m sorry to see you laid low,’ he said to the invalid.
Born near Glasgow in 1778, Robert Flockhart had joined the army as a young man, and served overseas. He led a dissolute life until his conversion to the Christian faith while he was in India in around 1810.
He was an undoubted eccentric, and may have had mental health issues, and he acknowledged that sometimes he spoke unwisely. But the genuineness of his faith was beyond question, and living in Edinburgh following his discharge from the army he set up a school, visited hospitals and prisons and preached in the open air outside St Giles Cathedral with passionate sincerity.
Guthrie confesses that in saying he was sorry to see Flockhart laid low he was speaking out of his sense of regret that he was shortly to lose a friend. It would have been more appropriate, he admits, to congratulate Flockhart that with God’s help he had served Jesus Christ well, that ‘his fight was so nearly done, and the crown so nearly won.’
He goes on ‘It would be difficult to convey any idea of the delight expressed in the look and the tone with which he quickly replied “I’m going home, I’m going home.” The scene was worth a thousand sermons and would have given birth in the coldest heart to the wish “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”
Is this a faithful record of what really happened, or simply an over-dramatised Victorian death-bed scene? Well, at the weekend I was talking to a friend whose father had just died in Edinburgh at the end of a long and fruitful Christian life with a confidence identical to Flockhart’s. As well as the inevitable feelings of loss, my friend spoke of his sense of triumph that his dad could say with the Apostle Paul in the Bible ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ ‘Life isn’t a dead-end,’ my friend went on. ‘It’s a runway!’
The Christian faith which gave joy, purpose and hope to my friend’s dad is the same good news which inspired Robert Flockhart. It begins with a warning – that we are by nature far from God, alienated from him, lost. But God forgives us and draws us to himself when we quit trying to sort out our own lives, and instead allow him to set us free. Flockhart describes abandoning all his attempts to make himself good enough for God in the picturesque phrase ‘I let all my doings fall to the ground.’
He used the picture of sewing with needle and thread to describe the message he preached. You can’t sew with thread alone – the needle must go first and prepare the way. Similarly, he said, it is the piercing, unwelcome message of human sinfulness which prepares hearts to receive God’s forgiving love.
Another picture describes what we receive when we are open to God. ‘In tropical countries’, Flockhart said ‘I’ve seen trees whose fruit seemed as if it wanted to drop into your mouth, it was so rich and ripe.’ For him, reading the Bible was like sitting in the shade of a fruit-laden tree while God said ‘Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.’
God’s forgiveness is one fruit. Another is God’s loving acceptance of us. Yet another God’s presence in us, helping us live for him. There are many such fruits: the one we eat last of all is a forever spent with God.
My friend tells me that that last day he shared with his father – walking in the late summer sunshine, eating together, visiting in hospital, watching television – couldn’t have been more perfect. Then in the evening, as they chatted at home about something inconsequential, my friend’s father collapsed. He died in hospital shortly afterwards.
Death does not come to all of us so easily, and yet Christian faith enables us to approach it with confidence and hope. Last week an old man found his fingers placed around the final fruit. ‘I saw him come to the end of the runway. I saw him take off,’ my friend told me, his eyes filling with tears. ‘And I miss him, of course I miss him, but John it was thrilling.’
John A. H. Dempster
First Published in the Highland News Group of Newspapers
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