The separate abduction in Cleveland of three young women, aged 14, 16, and 20, who were held captive for almost ten years, has shocked us to the core. How were they abducted? How were they kept in this one house without being detected by other homeowners along the street? Where were they imprisoned….basement or attic? Were they tied up or chained? Were they raped? Unless we have been incarcerated, it is hard to visualize what this brutal ordeal must have been like. After we ponder the perverted morality of the perpetrator, we feel like singing and dancing with the women who were liberated after so long.
I was strangely reminded of lyrics in a hymn that I used to sing as a boy in a tiny Methodist church in a little country town in Australia:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee”.
It struck me like the sun bursting out from behind a thundercloud that the three women must have felt like the words of the hymn. Since those words are a metaphor for spiritual bondage, I was curious about who the author was and what he knew about spiritual bondage. From what experience did the author conceive the words “My chains fell off”? Had he been homeless? A murderer? A thief? A rapist?
Wrong! He was a Methodist minister who was born about 300 years ago, named Charles Wesley, and who for most of his life stayed close to God and toed the church line. I figured he would be the last person to have felt the weight of chains in his spiritual life. I came up with two possible scenarios:
One. The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were acutely aware of the ravages of sin in the lives of coalminers they preached to. God moved in the hearts of these hardened men who sometimes fell to the ground and cried out to be saved from their sinful ways. The coalminers showed up in force when Wesley preached, sometimes to crowds of five or ten thousand, but some of the miners berated him and tried to harm him physically. It has been said that John Wesley may have saved the country from an English revolution, at a time when French rioters were guillotining kings and princes and politicians.
Two: The Wesleys through their vast contacts with different strata of society realized that sin exists at several levels.
Sin at the sadistic level. At its “worst” we have devastating events such as Sandy Hook and the Cleveland kidnappings.
Sin at the serious level. Here we have financial cheating at large banks or investment houses; infidelities in apparently stable marriages; family abuse amongst 10% of professional people; sexual assaults in the military; substance abuse; drunken killers driving cars; et cetera. For example, in the realm of the rich and famous, the tortured personal life of the famous painter, Jackson Pollock, ended in despair, drunkenness, and death.
Sin at the subtle level. Includes “attitude” sins such as I don’t acknowledge God (which is like saying I didn’t have a father who impregnated my mother); I don’t need God (I am a capable master and commander of my own ship); I don’t really think the Bible is truth (no, I did not know that the ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been verified by archeology); I don’t think the claims of Christ are all that relevant (I can fall back on my own resources when things go terribly wrong, and heaven is too far away to worry about); I can turn a blind eye to the world’s poor including the shrieks of 5,000 children dying each day from water-borne disease (I have enough troubles of my own thank you).
But fortunately sin is not the end of the story. The last two lines of the above verse are “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee”. This is the gospel of grace and freedom, so beautifully explained by the Catholic priest Brennan Manning. Finally, the last verse of the hymn portrays the life on earth that ensues with no more guilt and shame, plus the hope of heaven:
“No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own”.
I think those unsophisticated Methodist farmers and townsfolk joining with gusto in that small community church understood what they were singing!
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
“The very night before Herod was about to bring him forth, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, standing beside him, and a light shone in the place where he was. And the angel gently smote Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, Get up quickly! And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him…..follow me. And Peter went along, but he was not conscious that the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed through the first guard and the second, they came to the iron gate which leads into the city. Of its own accord the gate swung open, and they went out and passed on through one street; and at once the angel left him”. (Acts chapter 12, Amplified Bible).
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