Did you know that the Bible came from Bishop’s Waltham?!
Bishop’s Waltham and Upham have had a long and great history of which I am sure many of you will be aware, most notably for centuries as a residence of the Bishop’s of Winchester at Bishop’s Waltham Palace. However, one bit of history that you may not be aware, and I would like to suggest is even more important, is that the English Bible we have today originated from Bishop’s Waltham! You can read all about it in detail on pages 28-29 of Peter Watkins excellent local history book ‘Bishop’s Waltham Parish Town and Church.’
The history is that Rector of St Peter’s Dr Robert Ward 1623-1629, was tutor at Pembroke College Cambridge to Bishop Lancelot Andrews, who along with Robert Ward was one of the key translators of the King James Bible, and also Director of the First Westminster Company responsible for the translating and publishing the early books of the Old Testament. Robert Ward is buried on the south side of the chancel and so it can be said, that St Peter’s has what only 47 others in England can possess, ‘the remains of a translator of the Bible.’!
To have such a close connection to our English Bible might not seem like very big news, but we do need to remember and not forget the many key things we have benefitted from the Bible to make our society what it is. And what is it that we can say that the Bible has given us and in which people from Bishop’s Waltham played a part?
First, the bible has had the greatest of roles in creating our British culture. For nearly 500 years the Bible, in the language of ordinary people, has been part of British society and influenced who we are and what we see as good and bad. From it we have learned the value of such things as the worth of all human beings, care for our neighbour, humility, truth, honesty, faithfulness within marriage and the need that we need help form God to be the human beings we are called to be. We may not have always practised what the Bible preaches, or always been consciously aware of what it says, but it has been our benchmark in setting our values and standards. It is symptomatic of the Bible’s influence that it is given to the monarch at the coronation and that a copy is present on the table between the benches in the House of Commons. After the last election over 400 of the 650 MPs chose to swear an oath of allegiance on a Bible.
Second, the bible has been the cornerstone of our constitution. The UK is somewhat unusual among nations in having no written constitution, because we have always held that the Bible itself gives us such a good framework for how we are to live, a definition of rights, duties and limits. In the Bible we find clearly stated how individuals are to relate to each other and to the state, and how in turn, the state is to relate to them. We learn from the Bible that we are accountable to God for our actions and should live accordingly. We are warned that because our fallen sinful nature colours even our best intentions, checks and measures have to be put in place to ensure that evil does not triumph in either private or public life.
Finally, the bible has been the means by which we have got wisdom about the future. The bible is the means by which we can test how well our government is governing. Whilst there have been times that a government and individuals have at times got things badly wrong, our constitutional position is that those who govern do so not from themselves, but only by the authority, wisdom and values given to them by God. The two key tests that come from the bible are: first, the extent to which a government sees itself governing under God, or that it is making itself God; second the extent to which a government allows freedom of religion and freedom of speech. It has been written that the freedom to preach the Christian Gospel is what gives us our freedom and to be the modern liberal Western culture that we are.
In conclusion, why mention all this about the bible and what it has given us? Well not just because we should be aware of the Bible’s interesting historical connection to Bishop’s Waltham and Upham, but because I think we all need to reflect about how quickly we are abandoning the bible and its values without realising what we will potentially lose at the same time. We need the bible to continue to enjoy the life that we do here in Bishop’s Waltham where the bible came from, and which gave us our wider society. To give up on the bible will be to give up on freedom. To have no bible at the centre of our life will mean no freedom. To give up on the Bible will take us if we are not careful into the world of George Orwell’s 1984 and it is not a good idea to go there!
With my prayers for July and maybe a bit of time to pick up a bible and I’m going to re-read George Orwell’s 1984.
Revd James Hunt – Rector St Peter’s, Bishops Waltham and Blessed Mary, Upham
20th June 2019