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Reviews | Delight in God's Law

Delight in God’s Law

John Carter

Hardback or e-book (ePub)

304 pages

Delight in God's Law

The Christadelphian review (from November 1964)

Delight in God’s Law

TO lose by death the services of any active member of an ecclesia is felt in varying degrees by all. A speaker whose wisdom and knowledge have served the community for many years leaves a gap hard to fill, the more so if, as often happens, there is little or no written record of his work. Many speakers—perhaps giants of their day—have passed from the scene leaving little to perpetuate their labours. The spoken word can be powerful and effective, as was Peter’s at Pentecost, but it rarely touches those who did not hear it, and the hearers retain—how much and for how long? The question invites a depressing answer. The oral medium is short term. The flashing eye, the impassioned appeal, the thunderous declamation, where are they now? Gone with the snows of yesteryear. But the speaker who is also a writer uses a medium that is more enduring and, of course, more exacting, for what is written is subject to the cool eye of scrutiny and criticism. The rhetoric of the platform rarely survives the change to the written word.

The late John Carter was both speaker and writer, and happily much of his best work is available to us both in published volumes of his scriptural expositions, and in articles contributed to The Christadelphian over many years.

The new volume, Delight in God’s Law, is a collection of short articles—some 40 in all occupying about 300 pages—chosen as a fitting memorial of his work and “as the testament of a man of faith”. The subject matter is varied, much of it expository and hortatory, all of it reflecting the writer’s love of the Scriptures. There is the strength, too, of a mind nourished by God’s word, disciplined by its principles and deeply informed by its message and purpose.

Outstanding is bro. John Carter’s power of analytical exposition. To many of us the great themes of justification, law and grace, sacrifice and redemption, are so involved and interwoven that the doctrinal shape of each theme becomes almost hopelessly blurred and vague, and the rich language of these mighty subjects a wilderness of words in which we are lost. Not so with bro. Carter. To use Arnold’s phrase, he saw a thing steadily and saw it whole. For him there was no wilderness; truth illumined for him a clear path, and step by step he cleared the way before him until he reached his goal. It was a progress made plain to all, and as we read these articles, we marvel again at their clarity and apparent simplicity.

This is a volume to be read. It not only informs, but stimulates further thought and study, and many of the themes and subjects chosen could be used as introductory to Bible Class studies.

Readers will not find here any wild flights of fancy, nor extravagance of thought or imagination, but the expression in disciplined prose of a sane and informed mind, nurtured in the Word. Herein lies the great value of bro. Carter’s work. As he truly wrote: “Wide reading can be interesting yet only produce a discursive knowledge—a little about many things. But intensive knowledge of God’s word can transcend in value such diffuse reading. Minds that from some standards are limited in range, can thus really be wonderfully furnished; and men thus equipped can be spiritual giants and of great strength of faith” (page 249).

Here is a guide to further Bible study, informing and stimulating, from the pen of one whose way of life, whose work and thought, whose speech and words, made plain to all his “delight in God’s Law”.

RALPH SMALLEY

The Christadelphian review (from December 2013)

Delight in God’s Law

IT IS MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS since Brother John Carter fell asleep in Christ but his influence lives on. Some of an older generation will still remember him as Editor of The Christadelphian (1937-1962); others will have memories of him as a compelling speaker, leaning over the lectern to deliver in quiet but intense Yorkshire tones a powerful exhortation or Bible Class address; while others – and not just older brethren and sisters – continue to be grateful for his output of printed works, the fruits of a lifetime’s devotion to the word of God. His skill in scripture exposition was exercised first in and around his native Halifax, and on moving to Birmingham he was a man already equipped with a deep understanding of God’s word.

Delight in God’s Law is a collection of forty articles, editorials and exhortations put together shortly after Brother Carter’s death as a fitting memorial of his work – “the testament of a man of faith”, as the Preface says. The book contains countless gems of scriptural exposition that, read with care and concentration, will inspire earnest students today as they did readers half a century ago. To mention the need for care and concentration is to acknowledge that the style of writing is not necessarily that of modern writers, and even the style of printing is a world away from the bullet points, charts and glossy illustrations with which current writers hold the attention of their readers. Brother Carter slows us down to a more measured pace of study – and often we are the better for it.

A typical example of the author’s writing is this succinct paragraph from an exhortation given in March 1946: “‘Truth’, says Paul, ‘is in Jesus’ – an absolute claim. He does not say, as the words are usually quoted, ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’. There is not one phase of truth in Jesus and other phases elsewhere. Truth in regard to God and God’s way of life to be followed by men is in Jesus: not out of him nor apart from him” (page 27). We may need to read those words more than once to absorb their full meaning, but the meaning is there, clear and emphatic.

And how is this for an example of logic? – the beautiful and incisive logic of Bible teaching:

“The conquering power of the light is seen in the labours of the followers of Jesus. As he is the light of the world, so are they. But the light is not their own; and the light would never have shone on them and through them if Jesus had not been raised. Because he lives they live in him, and are light in him. The testimony of Jesus proclaimed in the world is a witness that he is alive for evermore. Christianity began because a tomb was empty.” (page 31)

We note that these words are from an Editorial written in September 1942, during the Second World War, at a time when Brother Carter was constantly being called upon to represent young brethren at their tribunals, and when the Office was having to prepare and issue regular bulletins concerning call-up and Government measures to do with the war effort. In spite of the many distractions, the Editor was able to maintain a flow of articles and Editorials for the spiritual reassurance of an anxious household of faith.

Brother Carter loved the study of types and echoes in the word of God, and this comes over particularly in a series of articles from the magazine in 1957 under the title, “Many parts and many ways”. These articles (penned, incidentally, during a year when Brother Carter was still very preoccupied in reunion matters) are reproduced as nine chapters of the book which powerfully demonstrate how characters such as Melchizedek, how details of the sacrifices and feasts, how divine themes such as the “seed”, etc., all foreshadow the culmination of God’s redeeming work in Christ:

“The tabernacle was made at the Exodus. It belongs to the history as fact. But the circumstances and structure represented another building of God which too will become a fact. Israel were serpent-bitten, and life could only be theirs by the act of faith in the brazen serpent lifted up. So men are dying and there is life in Christ lifted up on the cross … Moses, Aaron and Hur on the mount present us with a prophet, priest and king, and the victory came to Israel through the hands of Moses lifted up. It is in harmony with other New Testament interpretations to see here the representation of one who combines the three offices in himself, and whose unfailing intercession prevails for the victory of his people in their fight against sin.” (page 236)

Towards the end of the book is a moving chapter headed, “Written in the heart”. Brother Carter impresses us with the fact that, in ages when the written word was not generally available, large sections of the Bible were learned by heart. Examples are quoted of believers like the Waldensians, in the Alps, who showed that they could manage, if necessary, without personal copies of the Bible:

“In about 1260 an inquisitor of Passau wrote a tract on heresy, attacking the Waldensians … that they have translated the New and Old Testaments into the vulgar tongue and this they teach and learn. For I have heard and seen a certain unlettered countryman who used to recite Job word for word, and many others who knew the whole New Testament perfectly.” (page 252)

Reading between the lines, one discerns that John Carter was himself able to recite substantial parts of scripture from memory. He concludes this chapter:

“One may be left wondering whether our modern facilities for Bible study may not have some compensating losses. We may read widely but lack intensive study.”

Brother John Carter read widely and delighted himself in intensive study. How much of either do we do, in an age when it is too easy to rely on instant knowledge from a Wikipedia page flashed on a computer screen? Are we in danger of forgetting how to let the scriptures – and sound words from elder brethren – speak to us today?

The book includes a number of photographs of Brother Carter, at home and abroad, seated in an armchair and standing at a lectern. And though we cannot hear his voice, one photograph does capture those eloquent hands used with such great effect to give emphasis to his message.

John Morris

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