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Saturday, 11 February 2017

What a Contrast!

A homeless man stands in the street of Cambridge, one of the two world-famous University Cities, the other city being Oxford. It was a cold and dark February night. Presently, a passing student, having one drink over the top yet still dressed in a smart suit and bow-tie, approaches the homeless beggar and offered him some change. As the would-be recipient held out his hand in grateful anticipation, the student pulls out a £20 note and sets it on fire in front of him, either with matches or a cigarette lighter, with the words to the effect:
There you are, a change from £20 to a flame!

The student was Ronald Coyne, who was a member of the Cambridge Union Conservative Association, who also held Right Wing political views, and a supporter for Scottish independence. An ex-Public Schoolboy, he was also noted for his remarkable intellect. Upon publicity of such unbecoming, arrogant, and childish behaviour, his mother, who is living in Edinburgh, vigorously defended his son's personality, saying how lucky she has always been to have such a calm, charitable offspring for a son, and that particular incident was "so totally out of his character."

Cambridge student Ronald Coyne.

Echoes of the Bullington Club in Oxford?

The ultra-posh, aristocratic social club at the University, where membership is restricted to the very cream of English society, and initiation into membership involving the burning of a £50 note in the street in front of a cold, hungry homeless beggar. One former member of the Bullington, George Osborne, was until recently Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most important politician in Government after the Prime Minister, and who was also responsible for ushering austerity, including cutting back on life-sustaining benefits for the struggling poor, even among those who manage to hold down a low-paid job, and forcing the crippled and infirm to seek work. Why not admit it? There is something unique about British culture!  

Perhaps I can go on. Just supposing that in the extreme unlikely odds that these two were close friends, and our charitable student invites the homeless beggar to accompany him to a church where neither has ever visited. Let's say it was a Baptist church set in a smaller town some distance out of Cambridge. Or it might be a Anglican church, or a Methodist church. Really, it does not matter which label the church names itself, nor its variations of theological teachings. The contrasting reactions by members of the congregation and its leaders between the two newcomers will be all but universal. And so would their reaction of the Gospel if presented to them.

Everyone in the church would be fully attentive to the student, not only as a potential member to add a degree of prestige, but a hopeful candidate for future leadership. If the student asked if he could give a talk, the minister would not hesitate to find a timeslot for him. The beggar, on the other hand, would be ignored, and woe to him if his days spent on the street resulted in body odour percolating through his untidy clothing. A large unoccupied area would grow around him. As for response to the Gospel, of course Ronald calls himself a Christian, and he plainly says so. And so a timeslot is assigned to him for the following weekend, and with his high intellect, he preaches rather eloquently, impressing everyone. He is held dear to all - until a couple of weeks later when he is pictured in the national newspaper about an incident where he was seen cruelly mocking another homeless tramp and setting fire to a £20 note right in front of his eyes. All in the church who read the report would be shocked and disappointed. And the student would never return, let alone preach. Because no matter how eloquent and deeply academic his preach might have been, he knows that he will never regain the respect of the congregation ever again. His faith has died, and it will remain dead in their sight forever, with no potential hope of resurrection.

As for the beggar, who was formerly an interested enquirer of the faith, he returns to his favourite spot in the Cambridge street feeling very disillusioned. What a hollow, hypocritical sham this "Christian" stuff is all about! His heart hardens, and takes the road to atheism. Was the student's dead faith able to save the beggar? (James 2:14). His anger towards his former friend's childish and arrogant behaviour will not only set his heart rock-hard against organised religion or even anything spiritual, but it's the start of his health gradually deteriorating. The time will come when he will by lying on the bed of a hospital ward, even if still a good few years away.

Miracles do happen. Big miracles. Because despite the beggar's hardened attitude against posh churchgoers, some time later, another passer-by arrives and stops to where the beggar is sitting. He too takes out some pound coins and hands them over to him. No fire this time. The benefactor, unlike the student, is dressed casually with denim torn at the knees as if deliberately, and with a plain tee-shirt. When the beggar thanks him for the gift, the giver, instead of merely walking away, decides to sit next to him for a chat and to find out how the beggar had gotten into this state after all.

The two had chatted for maybe up to an hour before they agree to visit a coffee shop nearby, where the beggar is treated further. Then the moment arrives when the beggar asked what the motive was behind the donor's generosity. He explains that God loves him so much that he has put into his heart to show generosity and compassion, especially to those worse off than himself, after realising that God sent his Son Jesus of Nazareth to die a cruel death to atone for all his shortcomings, was buried, and three days later rose physically from the dead, leaving behind his clothing lying undisturbed in an empty tomb, proving that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God.

Suddenly the beggar believed, also realising that it was God who brought this kind donor to take an interest, to talk and to spend time together. It was the living faith of this rather scruffy benefactor which saved him, and not the dead faith of the immaculately dressed Cambridge student.

Although I have fictionalised a true incident recorded in a newspaper article, the story isn't far from real experience. Before I go any further, I have to confess that I do have some reserve towards the "homeless" in our streets, because some of these people do have a place to stay, so I read. I have even heard that some of these beggars, especially in London, actually having day jobs. But the worst experience took place in Israel 1993. In Jerusalem I took pity on someone who looked to have a serious leg injury. So I gave him some money - and not just a few coins either. It wasn't until some time afterwards that I became aware that I have been taken for a ride. Since then, if I want to give, I always make sure my donations passes through a recognisable charity, especially a Christian one. 

Nevertheless, the above story does reflect my conversion way back in December 1972. Having been dumped by my girlfriend earlier of that year, indeed I felt like a beggar myself, in want of something - a loving wife and a family of children growing up. Like any other young man in his right mind, I suppose. Like in the story, I too was approached by not just one but two benefactors. Or at least that how I saw them. And like in the story, I too was atheist. The only difference was that it was I who had invited them to a nearby bar - to get out of the rain - and bought them drinks. But in the warmth of the saloon bar table, they did open a Bible and showed me the appropriate Gospel verses, mainly in the Gospel of John and perhaps oddly enough, in the book of Revelation too (3:20). Then I knew that it was God who brought this two young guys to me. It was from this moment of believing in divine providence that I was acquitted, justified (imputed with the righteousness of God) and became a newborn babe in Jesus Christ.

That the conversion in that bar off the Strand in Central London was genuine was confirmed, I believe, some seven years later in 1978, when I had some free time in Downtown Los Angeles, strolling through Pershing Square with its central fountain whilst preparing for the overnight Greyhound Bus trip to San Francisco. It was near here that I was approached by two pretty young females who eventually encouraged me to visit a Christian church which was holding a meeting at a certain address which was nearby. We entered the building through the door facing the street, and climbed a flight of steps which led into a fair sized upper room full of young people. Presently, a thin, spindly man sporting a moustache and goatee began to deliver his lecture. However, there was nothing edifying about his preach, something which raised my concerns. So I confronted him and looking directly at him, I asked what he thought about Jesus Christ. Did he come in the flesh? That means: Was he crucified, buried, and on the third day rose physically from the dead? The lecturer could not answer. Instead, he summoned another guy to escort me out of the room, down the stairs, and out onto the street. It was a lucky escape.

In 1978 I was on guard. A contrast to Ronald Coyne, upper.

A very lucky escape. For this particular group was not a Christian church at all. It was the cult of the Moonies, better known as the Unification Church of God, founded by the late far Eastern entrepreneur Sun Myung Moon, who arrived into the States from his birthplace in North Korea a few years earlier in 1972, and who was also a firm supporter of President Richard Nixon, especially during the Watergate scandal which caused the President to resign before his term was through. You can read my other blog on this experience which gives greater detail by clicking here - Signs of the Times. (But do finish this one before clicking on the link!)

Supposing that I was in the same spiritual situation as that beggar in Cambridge, assuming that he was an open-minded enquirer of the Christian faith? And was approached by the same two women in the same way I was approached in 1978? Instead of being on guard to test the spirits, instead I would have been sucked in to undergo a strict recruiting process at some remote location. From Los Angeles, this would have been at a mansion miles away in remote mountainous country somewhere in California, making any attempt to escape very difficult if not downright impossible.

But it was God himself who rescued me from this cult through faith in Jesus Christ. It's the power of the Holy Spirit within me to enable me to "test the spirits to see whether he is of God or not" (1 John 4:1), and when I found him wanting, it was through the grace of God that had me escorted out of the building. This is the very same kind of faith that this beggar is in dire need of, and not the arrogant, childish behaviour of a snooty, over-educated ex-Public schoolboy, who has never experienced hardship, let alone poverty, and has a very dim view of the valuable things in life - smart dress not withstanding.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for the brilliant post, so well illustrating that faith without works is dead, and that man looks at the outward appearance, but God knows the heart. Leading others to Christ is impossible if we lack compassion and love for the lost.
    God bless,

  2. How many times Satan tricks people into thinking they are doing God's work while driving others away from him. Praise God for his grace that protected you.

  3. I have to admit that not every 'posh' person is the same. I have seen many people who were quite rich giving freely to the poor when I have been in London. I remember being in Cardiff one day, and a very well dressed man came up to a beggar I was talking to and handed him a carrier bag full of food.
    There is good and bad in all, and only the Lord can change us.