Higher Paradise


I went to see our chapel’s mother last month. I walked across the fields and tracks to Horton-in-Craven, now a well-heeled hamlet inhabited by prosperous farmers and well-pensioned retirees. Opening once a year is the old congregational chapel, from which people, including its pastor, Adam Bray, came to found Martin Top. Indeed, one of our early members from Howgill lies buried near him in the front curtilage, his own chapel not yet having a graveyard.

In older records, the chapel is often known as Paradise or Higher Paradise rather than Horton. This might have been its real name (much as we are called Salem rather than Martin Top, which is merely the place whereat we meet). Paradise is an old Persian word meaning walled garden. It is sometimes used of heaven in the Bible, and the place to which the dying Lord Jesus promised to meet again His believing neighbour. It is also reminiscent of Eden, the beautiful park from which our parents were expelled.  Alternatively, it is named after a nearby farm which also bears that name. Or, perhaps the chapel named the farm, an early donation giving it three fields close by the hamlet, of which that farm might have been part.   

Despite its gorgeous, heavenly name, Paradise Farm seemed a busy establishment, its production of physical food continuing apace. The farmer courteously let me walk past before he dumped a load of feed from the back of his tractor. Paradise Farm operates the whole year round, but Paradise Chapel opens only for special events. While meat and veg are still grown and sold, spiritual fruit and gospel growth are rather less evident. I felt rather melancholy as I reflected on the spiritual decline I saw.

On my return, I passed through the old medieval village of Stock, now just a series of bumps and lumps. Further on, I passed the site of the of the Roman watchtower on Gilbeber Hill. Entering Barnoldswick, I saw Victorian mills now closed, and a Rolls Royce plant in the process of scaling back. A lost empire, lost industry, lost jobs. And on top of this, an all but shut place of Christian worship. One day, our own chapel may close, though my dead body will be then interred in its grounds. Certainly, there’s change and decay in all around we see, empty churches, empty hearts. Sometimes churches are full, but their pulpits are emptied of truth, pious platitudes substituted for gospel candour. Perhaps in fifty years some youngish pastor will bemoan the poor spiritual state of Martin Top, or some wealthy developer will busy himself converting it to a holiday cottage. I pray our lamp never dies out, but a great many others already have. Assuringly, the Lord Jesus said “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:36).

Despite chapel closures and Christian decline, the way to paradise is still open. Though churches come and go, empires rise and fall, industries and jobs are created and destroyed, the gospel of Jesus Christ will endure to all times and generations. So too will the higher paradise its adherents are invited to enjoy.