He ignores convention and protocol

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

One of my great heroes was Selwyn Hughes. Born near Caerphilly in 1928, he worked as a miner before entering the ministry, and it was while he was pastoring a group of Pentecostal churches in the 1960s that he began writing daily inspirational notes on postcards, at the request of his congregations.

Today, almost 10 years after his death, it is said that up to a million people a day rely on his Every Day With Jesus daily readings.

I met him on a number of occasions and had many a long conversation with him. What I admired most about the man was that while he could talk the talk, he could almost uniquely he walked the walk. His wife died of cancer in 1986, his two sons died within months of each other in 2000 and 2001, and he did not enjoy good health, yet in spite of his great suffering his faith never wavered.

‘How did you cope?’ I asked him, perhaps naively.

‘Do you know something Adam?’ he said. ‘I have been writing prayers for hundreds of thousands of people every day for almost half-a-century, but for a long time after David and John died, I couldn’t pray. I had a little sticker on the front of my TV with the name Jesus written on it. Many a time I would sit looking at that little sticker for hours, with tears streaming down my face.’

I have no doubt that it was Selwyn’s rare understanding of the immensity of God’s grace that enabled him to endure the personal tragedy of losing his entire immediate family with no bitterness.

Selwyn penned over 50 books, the last he entitled, ‘The Scandal of Grace,’ but when a second edition was published after his death, it had a new title: ‘Grace: the Marvellous Gift of God.’

I can’t help wondering why its name was changed, for Selwyn knew exactly what he was doing when he chose the title with that awful word ‘scandal’ in it.

The teachings of Jesus are saturated with grace and even his last words could be seen as a scandal to polite religious minds.

Think of the thief on the cross who said: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ And Jesus replied: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. No questions and no pre-conditions, which raises serious questions for conventional evangelicals who like to list all sort of demands: the man didn’t ask for forgiveness, he wasn’t baptised, didn’t speak in tongues or say the ‘sinner’s’ prayer

Jesus made the point that a man, dying the death of a hopeless criminal, a man who might never have prayed before, is as welcome in God’s family as the person whose life was dedicated to squeaky clean living. He’s just as at home at the King’s banquet as one who served faithfully for years as a church elder, and all he did was cry out a simple prayer:‘Jesus, remember me… !’

Now that’s grace, scandalous by anybody’s standard, but isn’t it typical of the radical Christ, ignoring convention, brushing aside the niceties of protocol?

Give me the scandal of grace any day in preference to much of the nonsense you hear from the ‘Turn or Burn!’ brigade that stuffs big black King James Bibles down the throats of their listeners.

What do you think? – adamharbinson@gmail.com