Posted by: stpowen | February 11, 2014

The Life Unlived and the Races Unrun

Jeremiah 1:5. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart.’

There seems to be a movement in Britain to make abortion possible without the signatures of two doctors, which was a requirement of the Abortion Act of 1967. Doing this will be a further movement towards abortion on demand, and it put me in mind of my own change of heart on this matter many years ago, which I would like to share with you.

I was a young, unconverted teenager in 1967. Those were the days of ‘Free Love’ and Woodstock, and it seemed to many lads of my age that the whole purpose of our young lives was to have as much sex with as many girls as possible as often as possible. The Abortion Act seemed to be specially devised to facilitate such a life-style by taking away any little accidents that might occur, and therefore my friends and I were , without thinking, much in favour of it. As I look back on those times, I am thankful to God that I was a fat ugly youth (not much has changed) and awkward with girls, and therefore had very limited success with them. I am also thankful that He eventually found me a short-sighted girl to marry.

A few years later I went off to University to study Classics. Neither my views nor my chatting-up technique had altered much. One evening I was trying to get to grips with some ancient Greek drama, the Agamemnon of the poet Aeschylus, written around 460 BC. The play is set during the Trojan Wars, and Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and his brother Menelaus have been away for ten years besieging Troy. At the start of the play, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra declares that she feels the war will soon be over, but she is disquieted by a dream she has had the night before. In her dream, she saw two eagles tearing at a pregnant doe. “Yea, the life unlived and the races unrun they slew!” That one line from the play has remained with me for more than forty years, while the rest was mostly forgotten as soon as I passed my degree. Clytemnestra goes on to hope that the Greeks will not incur the anger of the gods by committing sacrilege either by destroying their temples or by violating the pregnant women. No sooner has she spoken than a messenger rushes in and bids her rejoice. The Greeks have won; Troy has been utterly destroyed. The Temples of the gods have been burned, the men killed and the pregnant women ripped open. The audience knows at once that retribution will be forthcoming, as indeed it is.

That one sentence, “The life unlived and the races unrun they slew,” sat in my conscience and forced a change of view upon me. Sometimes in drunken conversations with my University friends the subject of abortion would come up, and I would find myself usually in a minority of one in arguing against it. How could it be right to destroy a life before it has started? How could we know what Shakespeares, Einsteins or Florence Nightingales we were butchering without even knowing it? Even if the child was mentally or physically impaired in some way, was it not the mark of a civilized society to care for its weakest members, and who more weak and helpless than the unborn? Such arguments gained little favour with those who were my friends at that time.

Fifteen years later and still unsaved, I was married with two little daughters. Mrs. M and I had decided that our family was complete. We could afford a nice house and regular holidays, and Mrs. M would soon be able to return to work. Then suddenly, we discovered that another little Marprelate was on the way, and were thrown into confusion. We would need a bigger house, or at least, an extension on the one we had. My snazzy coupe would have to go and be replaced by a sensible estate car; our standard of living generally would dip; Mrs. M would not be able to go back to work, and she was certainly not looking forward to going through the ordeals of pregnancy and child-birth again. It seemed like a disaster.

So why not just get rid of the thing? It could all be done confidentially; no one would ever know. Surely it was just common sense. As I look back, I don’t know if I could have overcome Mrs. M’s scruples, but in the event I didn’t try. The words of Aeschylus came back into my mind: “Yea, the life unlived and the races unrun they slew.” I couldn’t do it, couldn’t even suggest it. So with no great enthusiasm, we prepared to face the future and the unwanted addition to our family.

Twenty-odd years later, little Monty Marprelate is all grown up, with a Double First in Modern languages and a Masters Degree in politics. More importantly, he is caring, loving, much involved in helping the disadvantaged and, as I now know, made in God’s image. If I had never read those words in Ancient Greek, what would have happened? My blood runs cold when I think that I might have slain the life unlived, and blotted out the races yet to be run. Yes, there was a financial challenge; yes, we could have had more foreign holidays, more expensive clothes and smarter cars if Monty had never been born, but how can you measure a precious life in terms of money or life-style? My prayer is that someone who is contemplating an abortion will read this little article and think again. Let the life be lived; let the races be run!



  1. Thank you Martin: A very moving and helpful account!


  2. “but how can you measure a precious life in terms of money or life-style.”

    Amen Steve … how can anyone. The blessings you have in your children could never compare with material riches.

    Hard to believe that you were once a fat child Steve and I’ve never know anyone to be “thankful to God that I was a fat ugly youth (not much has changed) and awkward with girls”. 😀 But clearly the Lord had better plans for you, though maybe at the time it wasn’t looking quite hopeful.

    The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways —how he calls each one of us. And I’m so glad that He called you Steve.

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