Saturday, November 27, 2010

Travelling through this world...

In the 1670s, John Flavel preached a series of sermons to the sailors of his congregation, encouraging them to remember the sovereignty and salvation of God as they sailed the high seas, which at the time was one of the most dangerous and debased occupations available.
I am not a sailor. But the principles Flavel expounded still apply to something which I do regularly: travel. So here is a summary of John Flavel's advice to sailors, adapted to travellers. (Source: The Works of Flavel, Vol. 5, "The Seamen's Companion, Sermon 1: The Seaman's Farewell", Banner of Truth Trust)

Scripture: Acts 21:5,6 "And we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed; and when we had taken our leave of one another, we took ship, and they returned home again."

Doctrine: When travelling, we must pray.

(1) What special mercy should we pray for when travelling?
First: Above all, for the forgiveness of our sins, "a mercy which must make a part of every prayer." "If sin be pardoned, you are safe, you need fear no storms within, whatever you find without: But woe to him that finds at once a raging sea, and a roaring conscience; trouble without and terror within; ship and hope sinking together." The troubles of travel are nothing compared to the troubles of sin, and only when the latter is dealt with at the cross are the former put in their proper place and faced with the courage that comes from being forgiven.
Second: "That the presence of God may go with you, I mean not his general presence, which fills the world, but his gracious special presence." This is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the believers, which reminds us that 1. God is sovereign over all dangers, and shall "work all things to the good of those who love Him"; 2. God commissions his angelic servants "to sing above and watch below... as a life guard to that man with whom the Lord is"; 3. God hears our "cries in a day of distress."
Third: For the avoidance of temptation. "Every place, every employment, every company hath its snare and temptations attending it: And you know you have corrupt natures, as much disposed to close with temptations as tinder is to catch fire: So that unless the preventing, restraining, and mortifying grace of God be with you, they will but touch and take. If there were no devil to tempt you externally, yet such a corrupt heart meeting with a suitable temptation and occasion, is enough to overcome you."
Fourth: "for divine protection in all the dangers and hazards to which you shall be exposed. You know not how soon your life and estate shall be in jeopardy." The number of random factors in travelling -other drivers, ourselves as drivers, weather conditions, vehicle function, etc- makes it amazing that driving is as safe as it is. Given how often we take our eyes off the road, our hands off the wheel, or even just put ourselves completely into the care of others, it's amazing that we don't spend hours on our knees pleading for safe passage before setting out, and even go so far as to forget to pray at all.
Fifth: "for counsel and direction in all your affairs and undertakings, and lean not to your own understandings.... The Lord can blast your enterprise, though managed with never so much wisdom and contrivance. You are not only to look to God as the author of success, but as the director and guide of the action. It is by his conduct and blessing that all things come to pass."
Sixth: "for success upon your lawful employments and designs, and own it to be from the Lord." We are wonderfully blessed as Christians, in that not only God forgives our sins but allows us to ask for yet more.
(2) What influence does prayer have upon mercy in travel?
First: It is the means God has given us by which we are to obtain mercy. "This is the stated method in which our mercies are conveyed to us; and therein the wisdom and goodness of God are eminently discovered. His wisdom in making us to see the Author of every mercy in the way of receiving it, and securing his own glory in the dispensing of every mercy: His goodness to us in sweetening every mercy this way to us, and raising its value in our estimation." This is not to say that God needs our prayers, for "though payer be altogether needless to his information, yet it is very necessary to testify our submission."
Second: It is the means by which God makes mercy pleasant and sweet. "No mercies [are] so sweet as those that are received upon the knee." Without prayer, we forget that God is the source of all mercies, and they quickly become common.
Third: It makes our enjoyment of God's mercy holy. "Prayer hath a sanctifying influence upon all our enjoyments." When we remember and delight in the great truth that God is the source of all mercy, our delight becomes pleasing to God, and sets us apart from the world, which looks to itself as the source of joy and in doing so loses both joy and holiness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hodge to Pius IX

In 1869, the Roman Catholic Church held a council at the Vatican (since come to be known as "Vatican I"). This is the council where the infamous doctrine of "papal infallibility" was declared, causing a miniature rift within the Catholic Church (several old-liners left the Church, pointing out that such a claim had never been made in the past), and a further cleft between Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and the various protestant churches.
What I didn't know until Ben Wright buzzed it was that Protestants had been invited to this Council. Which is not anything particularly new, the Catholics had invited the Lutherans to the Council of Trent (though not the Reformed, for that discourse you've got to read Calvin's letters to Sadoleto). And just as the Lutherans had in the 16th century, so the Presbyterians of the 1800s declined the Pope's invitation. Speaking for the PCUSA, Charles Hodge wrote the response, the entirety of which can be found here:
But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

O Holy Night: Introduction

Sure, it's early. I mean, we haven't even had Thanksgiving yet, and "Reformation Day" and Guy Fawkes Night are barely over. But I'm going to plow ahead anyway with a project I've been kicking around since last year when I had the pleasure of seeing Roger Overton do it first over at Evangel: I'm going to blog my way through a Christmas Carol. In fact, he did such a good job that I'm going to copy him and blog the same carol, O Holy Night. (And because it's been a year since I read his posts, there will undoubtedly be some unconscious plagiarism going on, a thousand apologies Mr. Overton!)
The hymn was originally a French tune written in the early 19th century, and, according to Cyberhymnal may have been the first song ever broadcast by radio. The original version has three verses, only the first and last of which are regularly performed.
The broad theme of the hymn is the Incarnation, whereby God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. As Scripture says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4) The Creator and Eternal Word, the source of all life and light Who has existed for all eternity with God and Who was God became a man when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) This in and of itself is an infinite mystery, but adding wonder to the mystery is the truth that the Word became flesh to lay down His life for His enemies. The carol is a meditation on these verses, and well worth our time and attention.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sickness and Donne

Most people have heard John Donne, even if they haven't heard of him. Though they likely haven't heard of him as a chaplain, MP, ambassador, or even Dean of St. Pauls. Nor have they heard that his father-in-law hated him so much that he and his wife Anne had to elope, or that when Anne's father caught them he had Donne thrown in prison, along with the priest who had married them and the man who had acted as witness. (Donne sent a letter to his wife from prison with the signature: "John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done.")
But what most people have heard is his famous line about bells and clods of earth. When hearing of the death of another (in his time, announced by the pealing of a bell), we should remember that we too shall die. Our death is connected to their death, because we both have the same destination:
 The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all... The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Man utterly ruined, and utterly redeemed.

We all eventually must face the question of whether we as individuals and as a part of humanity in general are inherently good or inherently evil. If we are inherently good, then we have to explain why people "go bad." If we are inherently evil, then we have to explain why anyone ever does anything virtuous. A common argument that attempts to balance both sides of this question is that somewhere within us there is a "neutral" setting, which can be flipped towards good or towards evil, depending on how we are educated and what kinds of examples we have. Calvin has a unique perspective on this issue:
All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. Nay, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God's sight defiled and polluted.... But if... the righteousness of Christ, and thereby life, is our by communication, it follows that both of these were lost in Adam that they might be recovered in Christ, whereas sin and death were brought in by Adam, that they might be abolished in Christ. There is no obscurity in the words "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Accordingly, the relation subsisting between the two is this: As Adam, by his ruin, involved and ruined us, so Christ, by his grace, restored us to salvation. (Calvin, Institutes, II.i.5-6)
In other words, to believe that we are objectively free to choose good or evil is to strip the Cross of its power and to make it a mere example. But to believe that we are bound in sin by nature is to believe that we are freed from sin by Christ's work of atonement.
I'm not sure this is a convincing argument for original sin, but I think at least it's an interesting one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

To blog or not to blog...

Apparently the answer is "to blog." I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while (and even made an abortive attempt at one way back in the day) but have recently decided to go for broke. Which is a challenge, given that there is such a broad spectrum of blogs out there to inspire, cajole, and terrify. For example, there are the die-hard bloggers like Tim Challies, who blogs every day (and who for that reason I think could be insane, even if he is a brilliant writer with generally good things to say); the occasional bloggers like Kim Riddlebarger, who blogs a couple of times a week; and the rare bloggers like Mike Gilbart-Smith who blogs as his family/pastoring schedule permits. There are personal blogs that deal with strictly day-to-day issues (which I won't link, since they're personal), mixed blogs that deal with both personal and public issues, like Jen Dubois', and strictly public blogs like the First Things blogs that deal solely with public issues. Between the many possible combinations of kinds of blogs, to say nothing of the infinitely many topics which are blogged upon, the whole task is daunting.

So why am I blogging? Three reasons:
  • First of all, why not? QED.
  • Second, I am in the process of dissertation-writing, but because I've finished taking classes I've fallen out of the habit of writing on a regular basis. And while this blog will not be academic in any strict sense, I think that there mere discipline that comes from having to put pen to paper (or, you know, "fingers to keyboard") regularly will be beneficial in the long term.
  • Third, for reasons that I can only slightly comprehend, I have been asked by several independent sources to start a blog. I assume that the reason is for some form of public humiliation. Or, potentially I'm being used as part of an international conspiracy to take over, well, I'm not sure what I would be useful in taking over. The local Starbucks, maybe? Anyway, I am a slave to popular opinion, so there you have it.

A fistful of warnings which must be given:
  • First, a general warning. According to Rick Warren (via Mark Driscoll), blogging is instant, constant, global, and permanent. This presumably implies that I will need a level of thoughtfulness and clarity which I am not accustomed to using in casual conversation. Or formal conversation. Or while thinking. So hopefully at some point this blog may be useful in developing some level of thoughtfulness, until then you've been warned. 
  • Second, as I tell my students at the beginning of every class, I'm one of the least tactful people you'll ever meet, so if you're easily offended this might not be the class for you. And if you have to have this class to graduate, you might want to see this as an opportunity to grow as a human being. The same applies here (maybe that needs to go into the profile?). If you're easily offended, kindly move it along- there's nothing to see here.

And... I think that's it. Comments are always welcome, and may even occasionally be responded to. Thanks for reading, I think this will be fun.