Monday, November 10

Our Proper Business

“O, let the sacred obligations of this generation sink deep into our hearts. A great trust has descended to new hands. Let us apply ourselves to the great task now present: the task of preserving what our forbearers gained at such great cost. We can win no laurels in a war for independence. Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. Nor are there places for us by the side of Solon, Alfred, and other founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there remains to us the great duty of defense and preservation. Our proper business is the advancement of liberty. And so, by the blessing of God, may our country become a vast and splendid monument, not of Oppression and Power and Efficiency, but of Wisdom, of Peace, and of Liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever.” Daniel Webster’s Bunker Hill Oration

Saturday, October 25

TR: The Original Family Values Social Conservative

“Never will I sit motionless while directly or indirectly apology is made for the murder of the helpless." Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt was convinced that the family was the fundamental cornerstone of society. Anything that eroded the family’s strength or vitality, anything that sought to undermine its authority or integrity, and anything that subverted its holy purpose or virtue was a dastardly threat to everything that he held to be good and right and true.

In his State of the Union message in 1905, he highlighted his grave concern for America’s deteriorating moral climate in general and the family’s diminished cultural relevance saying: “The transformation of the family is one of the greatest sociological phenomena of our time; it is a social question of the first importance, of far greater importance than any merely political or economic question can be.”

He went on to describe a rather simple agenda for protecting the family against the encroachment of those men and women he called “the foes of our own household.” He said: “There are those who believe that a new modernity demands a new morality. What they fail to consider is the harsh reality that there is no such thing as a new morality. There is only one morality. All else is immorality. There is only true Christian ethics over against which stands the whole of paganism. If we are to fulfill our great destiny as a people, then we must return to the old morality, the sole morality.”

His analysis was utterly scathing: “All these blatant sham reformers, in the name of a new morality, preach the old, old vice and self-indulgence which rotted out first the moral fiber and then even the external greatness of Greece and Rome.”

In a very real sense, Roosevelt was the original family values social conservative.

It is not surprising then, that when a new wave of Eugenic Racists and Child-Killing Abortionists made their way onto the American scene and into the public arena, Roosevelt was one of their chief opponents—in fact, apart from the hierarchy of the Catholic church, he was one of their only opponents.

He railed against their “frightful and fundamental immorality,” calling their cause a submission “to coldness, to selfishness, to love of ease, to shrinking from risk, and to an utter and pitiful failure in sense of perspective.” As he argued: “Artificially keeping families small inevitably involves prenatal infanticide and abortion--with all its pandering to self-indulgence, its shirking of duties, and its enervation of character.”

But he did not simply hurl invectives their way--he acted. He was instrumental in mobilizing Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives against the awful specter of Eugenic Child-Killing—building a solid coalition that was to resist the siren’s call of abortion for another three-quarters of a century. As he said: “The foes of our own household are our worst enemies; and we can oppose them, not only by exposing them and denouncing them, but by constructive work in planning and building reforms which shall take into account both the economic and the moral factors in human advance. We in America can attain our great destiny only by service; not by rhetoric, and above all not by insincere rhetoric, and that dreadful mental double-dealing and verbal juggling which makes promises and repudiates them, and says one thing at one time, and the directly opposite thing at another time. Our service must be the service of deeds.”

He went on to assert: “The most dangerous form of sentimental debauch is to give expression to good wishes on behalf of virtue while you do nothing about it. Justice is not merely words. It is to be translated into living acts.”

The infamous Eugenic Racist, Margaret Sanger, who founded the vast Planned Parenthood abortion network, rightly saw Roosevelt as “a holdover from the old Christian religion,” and thus a serious obstacle to her revolutionary program which called for “no Gods and no masters.” She railed against him as “a disgraceful blight upon any modern scientific nation’s intent to advance.”

For a leader who had staked his reputation and risked his career for the sake of traditional family values, that was high praise indeed. For, no commendation can be greater than the condemnation of one’s fiercest sworn enemies.

Wednesday, September 10

Love: A Manifesto of Optimism

As affecting as is the image of terrorists crashing into buildings in an effort to take as many lives as possible, the image of firemen rushing into those same buildings in an effort to save as many lives as possible is more affecting still. The worst that evil can do is no match for the best that love can do.

The horrors of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington transfixed the nation—and ultimately changed the nation. But the stories of rescue workers, co-workers, family members, friends, and strangers were even more arresting—and in the end, changed us more. Who could ever forget the poignant sacrifices of the men and women who gave their lives while helping to save others? Or those who ignored their own exhaustion, hunger, and safety to continue their desperate search for survivors? Or those who searched the hospitals, the shelters, and the police stations for some word of their brothers, mothers, neighbors, or friends? Or any of the other evidences of love that suddenly transformed New York City and Washington D.C. emblems of enduring faith and courage? Or any of the demonstrations of compassion, generosity, sympathy, and charity from across the entire nation in the weeks and months afterward?

Evil intended to deal a death blow to our national spirit. But love was a healing balm because it always “bears all things and endures all things.” Evil intended to destroy life and smother hope. But love was enlivening and invigorating because it always “abides in hope.” Evil intended to crush freedom under the rubble of tragedy and despair. But love was able to triumph even in this because it always “covers a multitude of sins.”

We must never lose sight of the fact that evil is a very present reality in this poor fallen world. But we must never lose heart. Love remains. And love prevails. Love is the greatest force in the world.

There is no power, no authority, no influence, and no achievement greater than the affection of love. There is no emotion, no desire, no vision, and no aspiration more potent than the sentiment of love. There is no priority, no precedence, no incentive, and no enthusiasm more significant than the motivation of love. There is no fervor, no zeal, no passion, and no inspiration more dominating than the enthusiasm of love. There is no thought, no idea, no concept, and no dream more transforming than the revelation of love.

Love sets the poet to rhyming, the musician to singing, and the artist to painting. The vocabulary of love seems to be overwrought with sentimentalism and cliché—but only because its height and breadth and depth so transcend even our best attempts to describe it that we inevitably resort to the obvious and the familiar. Even so, no other subject has served to stir the imaginations of creative men and women quite like love.

It was divine love that inspired Augustine to write Confessions. It was beatific love that inspired Dante to write The Divine Comedy. It was patriotic love that inspired Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. It was romantic love that inspired Shakespeare to write his Sonnets. It was love of justice that inspired Dickens to write Hard Times. It was love of the sprawling American frontier that inspired Mark Twain to write Tom Sawyer. It was love of Christendom that inspired Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings.

Love has not only always been the most important element in great literature, but in great architecture, great music, great philosophy, and great art. Love is an essential aspect of the human psyche and a central feature in human sociology.

According to the great German philosopher and poet Schiller, “Love can sun the realms of night.” Indeed, he argued that love was the single greatest gift to fallen men and nations because “by God’s grace, it alone can overcome every obstacle and solve every dilemma.” It will, he said, “always find a way.”

Love always finds a way to complete that which is lacking in us. Without love we all remain rather unbalanced. Love enables us to tie off the loose ends of our experience, to straighten the rumpled corners of our personality, to darn the frayed gaps in our expression, and to hem the edges of our interest. Love makes us better because love makes us whole. No man is an island—or to the extent that he is, he suffers. Wise men and women have always known this only too well.

Love always finds a way to see us through the darkest days and the most difficult dilemmas. There is no greater solace in times of trouble than the comforts of a love. Somehow those who know us best and love us most can console us without the easy resort to maxims, bromides, or hackneyed stereotypes. Often they can comfort even without words. That is because they really do know us. They understand us. They care for us. All too often the great men and women through the ages were able to achieve what they did only because they had the recourse of love in times of adversity—as their enduring legacy gives vivid testimony.

Love always finds a way to lend us solace and security. A beloved friend or family member is someone you can call in the middle of the night when panic over your new job suddenly sets in, or when the dullness of your old job finally becomes unbearable, or when your diet has just brushed aside by a late night binge, or your bald spot has at last brushed aside your few remaining filaments of dignity—or even when you just need to prove to yourself there is someone you can call in the middle of the night.

Love always finds a way to inculcate diligence. Love doesn’t just happen. It must be nurtured over time. It requires a substantial investment of time, energy, and affection. As a result, it ultimately alters who we are and what we do. Relationships require effort. Close families, healthy marriages, solid friendships, and vital communities take work. We must be vigilant. We must be watchful. We must take care not to let the bonds of care to suffer from either the suffocation of too much attention or the degeneration of too little attention. Men and women of accomplishment have thus always taken great pains in initiating and sustaining their relationships. In inculcating and maintaining love they fully comprehended the vital import of diligence.

Love always finds a way to create integrity and transparency. Family members and friends are honest with each another. They hold each another accountable. They stand together through thick and thin. They care for each another despite all the years and all the miles—years and miles that might cause mere acquaintances to drift apart and lose touch. Those who love us are not wowed by the razzle-dazzle or deterred by the dreary-dismal. They take their relationship with us seriously. In short, love is a responsibility. It is a duty. It is something that we do not merely something that we have. It commitment, sacrifice, and diligence—a fact that wise men and women through the ages have always known.

Love always finds a way to sort through what is significant and what is insignificant. There are no perfect families or friendships or communities because, alas, there are no perfect people. All of us have irritating habits, idiosyncrasies, wonts, dispositions, proclivities, manners, demeanors, and quirks. Those who love us must of necessity bear with us in charity and patience. They must have generous forbearance. Likewise, we must reciprocate. Through the ages, the most beautiful expressions of love have not been when men and women have been especially well suited, one toward another, but where they have been especially well accredited, one toward another. They are those instances when love was able to distinguish between what matters and what doesn’t.

Love always finds a way to bring joy into our lives. To have someone we can laugh with is a great gift. A dear brother, a kindred sister, a beloved husband, a precious wife, or a true friend is thus a welcome companion in this poor fallen world—a companion we can have fun with. Fellowship is an essential element of a healthy, well-balanced, and productive life. Happy then are the men and women who have known deep and abiding love.

Love always finds a way to engender the best in us. Love is built upon the foundation of sacrificial kindness. Common interests, shared backgrounds, coincident aspirations, and like minds go only so far in weaving the bonds of intimacy. More important than all these assumed attributes is an evident and demonstrable tenderheartedness. We will sacrifice our all in all for those we love. We will risk our lives with nary a thought. We will give up fame and fortune; we will alter our habits and expectations; we will change our appetites and desires; we will pursue virtue and fidelity.

Love always finds a way to sober, deepen and mature us. It leaves a lingering, lasting effect on our character. Its sundry benefits and kindnesses remain with us always. It inspires us. It continues to impact our thinking. It intrudes upon our daily concourse with a gentle but certain regularity. It causes us to ponder and reflect. It provokes us to remembrance. It is a kind of eternal trophy of a gracious endowment.

Love always finds a way to point us to the ultimate source of love. We can only love because we were first loved. Our love, as powerful as it is, remains but a dim reflection of the divine love which reached out to us while we were yet unloving, tended us while we were yet unlovely, and saved us while we were yet unlovable. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Indeed, love always finds a way. Edmund Spencer, the great English poet wrote that “such is the power” of love, “that it all sordid bases doth dispel, and the refined mind doth newly fashion unto a rarer form, which now doth dwell in his high thought, that would itself excel, which he, beholding still with constant sight, admires the mirror of so heavenly light.”

The Apostle Paul memorably wrote to the Christians in the first century Corinthian church saying, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but wheter there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether tere be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The Scottish statesman and reformer Thomas Chalmers said that this passage revealed “a manifesto of optimism for every movement and a constitution of sanguinity for every nation that wished to work toward a free, happy, and certain future.” As it was for so many of the brightest innovators and most insightful leaders of Western Civilization, he considered love to be an absolute that stood above all other absolutes. Indeed, as Lord Byron asserted, “All of human experience testifies to the fact that love is an absolute which trumps all others. Thus, to build a life, a family, a community, a nation apart from this central defining reality is to invite evil to prevail and disaster to dominate.”

There is little doubt that we will face great challenges in the days ahead. These perilous times are fraught with evil. Difficulty lies in wait at every turn. Indeed, Indeed, in the 13 years since 9/11, there have been 23,780 separate deadly terror attacks carried out by Islamic Ji'hadists.

Even so, love is sufficient for the task. Love never fails.

Tuesday, September 2

Awaiting the Master's Call

“Man of God, if you want to serve God and cannot find the propitious occasion, wait awhile in prayer and your opportunity will beak on your path like a sunbeam.  There was never a true and valiant heart that failed to find a fitting sphere somewhere or other in His service. Every diligent laborer is needed in some part of His vineyard. You may have to linger, you may seem as if you stood in the market idle, because the Master would not engage you, but wait there in prayer, and with your heart boiling over with a warm purpose, and your chance will come. The hour will need its man, and if you are ready, you as a man, shall not be without your hour.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Friday, July 25

The Ji'hadi Holocaust and Gospel Scandalon

Nuun (نis the first letter of Arabic the word Nasara (نصارى or Nazarene). Since the beginning of the Islamic invasion of the Christian world in the 7th century this letter has been used by Muslims as a pejorative, a mark of shame, a scandalon  Today in Syria and Iraq, a new generation of invaders use it to stigmatize and persecute the few remaining Christians in the region. In the same way the Nazi's used the Star of David to identify Jews for persecution and eventually extermination, these Muslim terrorists use nun for their new Ji'hadi Holocaust.

Therefore, many Western Christians now display nuun as a mark of Gospel hope and a demonstration of solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in the lands where the Church of Jesus Christ was born. We gladly bear the scandal of the cross.

And so, with this sign we joyously declare that together with the faithful all around the world, we belong to the Resurrected Nazarene, the Savior of the World, God Almighty, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.  And one day, we know that "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Thursday, July 3

Every Stanza of the Star Spangled Banner

During the night of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney was sent to the British command to secure the release of a prisoner when the fleet began to bombard the placements of American fortifications in Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Though the battle raged through the night, the defenses stood firm. The sight of the flag still flying over the fort the next morning inspired the young lawyer to pen the immortal words of The Star Spangled Banner. Set to a popular English song, Anacreon in Heaven, it was officially declared to be the American national anthem more than a hundred years later, just before the First World War. 

Though the first stanza is very familiar to us today, the rest of this great hymn is sadly neglected. This July 4, let's rectify that unwarranted slight:

O! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:

O! say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mist of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam—
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream

‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is the band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country would leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave!

And the star-spangled banner in triumph cloth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the foe’s desolation;
Bless’d with victory and peace, may our heaven‑rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just—
And this be our motto—“In God is our trust!”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Tuesday, June 24

The 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn

In an effort to relieve the besieged Stirling Castle, England’s King Edward II, the effeminate son of the cruel Longshanks, sent troops northward into Scotland—a land that had been in constant rebellion against his sovereignty for more than a decade. First there was William Wallace and his ragged corps of Highland warriors. Now there was the loyal army of the presumptive king of an independent Scottish nation, Robert the Bruce.

Though the great castle overlooking the wide plain of Bannockburn had thus far been able to resist Bruce’s assault, Edward knew it would not be able to hold out much longer. The taking of this fortress was an achievement of which Edward was prouder than of anything else he had done in his invasion of Scotland—in the royal annals, he made it of far greater moment than even his victory over Wallace at Falkirk.

The time and the place of the inevitable battle were thus fixed by an obdurate necessity, on this day in 1314; The English were bound to relieve Stirling Castle; The Scots must prevent them. If the invaders were not met and fought at Bannockburn, they might outflank the Scots and reach the castle. And if the Scots did meet and fight them there, it was not likely there would be any other favorable field for a pitched battle anywhere in the whole of the land. The battle, therefore, would of necessity, be under the walls of the castle. Nevertheless, the odds were against the Scots—they were outnumbered by at least three to one. They would have to rely on strategy—and Bruce had a brilliant strategy.

At daybreak they met the fierce charge of the English armies. A detachment of English archers quickly wheeled around the Scottish flank and took up a position where they could rake the compact clumps of Scots spear men. But the lines held just long enough for a host of decoys—actually just a group of camp-followers—to appear along the horizon of a neighboring hill. The women and children were mistaken for a fresh army of the Scots—just exactly what Bruce had hoped. The confused English lines began to scatter. Scottish pikemen were then able to confine the English to a small land mass between the Bannock Burn—the Gaelic name for river—and the Firth of Forth. With little room to maneuver effectively, the massive English regiments were forced into flight by a final charge of fewer than 2,000 Scots swarming down from Gillies Hill—on crest of which the William Wallace Memorial Tower stands today.

The end was rout, confused and hopeless. The pitted field added to the disasters; for though they were able to avoid it in their careful advance, many of the English were pressed into it in the retreat, and floundered among the pitfalls. Through all the history of its great wars before and since, never did England suffer a humiliation deep enough to approach even comparison with this. Besides the vast inferiority of the victorious army, Bannockburn was exceptional among battles by the utter helplessness of the defeated. There seemed to have been no rallying-point anywhere. It was as if the Scripture had been fulfilled, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.”

And at last, Scotland was free.

Friday, June 13

In Season and Out

When I was in seminary, the “Church Growth Movement” was just getting its sea legs. So, of course, it was all the rage in the hallowed halls of academia—if not amongst the profs, most assuredly amongst their charges. Filled with uninformed enthusiasm my peers tended to gobble up every fad and fancy that came down the pike: “Preach to felt needs;” “Aim at attracting seekers;” “Recast sermons into positive messages people can actually use.”

It was almost as if we'd caught the spirit of the age like a virus. It seemed that a plague of terminal trendiness would sweep paelo-church-planting-fogeies like me into the dustbin of irrelevance.

The result is that almost a generation later the difficult vocation of what Eugene Peterson has vividly dubbed "a long obedience in the same direction" is almost entirely missing from our lives, our preaching, and our churches. Biblical illiteracy is pandemic. The ordinary means of grace have been left by the wayside in favor of the new-and-improved.

Even in Evangelical and Reformed congregations, the Gospel has been squeezed into the mold of this world with amazing alacrity. According to David Wells in his must-read manifesto, No Place for Truth, "Even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing."

Indeed, the well-polished civility of our religious talk has all but eliminated true religion from our talk--to say nothing of our lives. Thus, recovery seems to have replaced repentance; dysfunction seems to have replaced sin; drama seems to have replaced dogma; positive thinking seems to have replaced passionate preaching; subjective experience seems to have replaced propositional truth; a practical regimen seems to have replaced a providential redemption; psychotherapy seems to have replaced discipleship; encounter groups seem to have replaced evangelistic teams; the don't-worry-be-happy jingle seems to have replaced the prepare-to-meet-thy-God refrain; the Twelve Steps seem to have replaced the One Way.

Today it seems that it is far better to be witty than to be weighty. We want soft-sell. We want relevance. We want acceptance. We want an up-beat, low-key, clever, motivational, friendly, informal, hipster, and abbreviated faith. No doctrine, no dogma, no Bible-thumping; no heavy commitments; no strings attached. No muss; no fuss. We want the same salvation as in the Old Time Religion--but with half the hassle and a third less guilt.

In our haste to present the Gospel in this kind of fresh, innovative, and user-friendly fashion, we have come dangerously close to denying its essentials altogether. We have made it so accessible that it is no longer Biblical. When Karl Barth published his liberal manifesto Romerbrief in 1918, it was said that he had "exploded a bomb on the playground of theologians." But the havoc wrecked by the current spate of evangelical compromise may well prove to be far more devastating. As Ben Patterson has observed:, "Of late, evangelicals have out-liberaled the liberals, with self-help books, positive-thinking preaching, and success gospels." 

So, what are we to do in the face of all this? Well, very simply, we must “Preach the word in season and out.” We must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” And in order to do that, we will have to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong and let all that we do be done in love.” After all, as Thomas Chalmers said so long ago, “Gospel preaching always requires great courage, both to execute and to tolerate, for it must ever needs be a running toward a lion’s roar.” Thomas Chalmers

The Love of God

It is one of Augustine's most oft quoted, misquoted, and misunderstood maxims:

“Love God and do as you please.”

“Love God and do as you wish.”

“Love God and do what you will.”

“Love God and do what thou wilt.”

The full context of this seemingly paradoxical observation is found in the tract, In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos (Tractatus VII, 8):

“Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love God, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

The text in Latin reads, "dilige et quod vis fac." But it is sometimes mistakenly quoted as, "ama et fac quod vis."

Far from advocating a kind of que sera sera ethical antinomianism, Augustine was actually saying that if we love the Lord God Almighty, then what He wants will become what we want. He was saying that if our love of the one true God is real and profound, then that is all that matters simply because right actions will necessarily and irresistibly flow from that love.

Friday, May 30

James Hyslop's "A Cameronian Dream"

When the righteous had fallen, and the combat had ended,
A chariot of fire through the dark cloud descended;
Its drivers were angels, on horses of whiteness,
And its burning wheels turned upon axles of brightness;

A seraph unfolded its doors bright and shining,
All dazzling like gold of the seventh refining,
And the souls that came forth out of great tribulation,
Have mounted the chariots and steeds of salvation.

On the arch of the rainbow the chariot is gliding,
Through the paths of the thunder the horsemen are riding.
Glide swiftly, bright spirits, the prize is before ye
A crown never-fading: a kingdom of glory!