Saturday, December 27

The Coventry Carol: A Pro-Life Hymn

The Coventry Carol is a 14th-16th century English Christmas Carol. It is the second of three songs in a traditional Nativity Pageant, a lament sung by the women of Bethlehem, immediately after Joseph is warned by an angel to take his family to Egypt—now, they face the specter of a horrific slaughter:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
Bye bye, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

Very appropriately, the carol is now often sung at Childermas (also known as Kindermord or the Feast of the Innocents) when Christians traditionally solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod (Matthew 2:1-18). It provides focus for the Christian Community’s calling and commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of all human life--and thus in some ways the Coventry Carol is one of the church's earliest pro-life hymns.

Friday, December 26

The Spirit of the Age

"This day,
In sadness borne,
We must confess:
The Spirit of the Age
Has crushed
The infant in the cradle.

And yet:
O glorious yet,
One day, in gladness shown,
We must profess:
The infant from the manger
Has crushed
The Spirit of the Age." 
Tristan Gylberd

Friday, December 19

Meaning It, Believing It, and Living It


It is one of the great ironies of our day that Christians can pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” and not actually mean anything by it. Indeed, it is a stunning paradox that we can live as if such a prayer could not be answered. Even worse, we can live as if such a prayer probably should not be answered.

Thomas Chalmers, the great nineteenth century pastor, reformer, and educator asserted that, “Pessimism about the real, palpable, and demonstrable transforming power of the Gospel in history ultimately engenders doubt in the whole of the culture. It is a doubt that has its naissance in over-spiritualizing the church but that has its renaissance in under-spiritualizing the society.”

If Christians have come to believe—contrary to all our creeds, confessions, and prayers—that the will of God is irrelevant to our culture, is it any wonder then that our culture has accepted that proposition with all the zeal of a new convert? Is it possible that our recalcitrance has led to their irreverence; that our passivity has led to their lasciviousness; that our subjective approach to obedience has led to their objective approach to disobedience; that our pessimism has led to their atheism?

This bizarre twist of fate is the result of an even more bizarre twist of faith. The disconnect between Christianity and civilization is the fruit of a woefully deficient theology of the covenant—which has in turn produced a woefully deficient practice of the covenant. Without covenantal orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it is inevitable that the church—and in turn, the wider culture—will plunge into a pool of concupiscence.

At the root of this covenantal unfaithfulness is our misconception of God’s redemptive purposes in history. Our dreadful pessimism is clear evidence of the fact that we have simply misconstrued the Gospel itself.
Jesus explained to His disciples just how the principles of the curse, with its inherent destructiveness, and grace, with its inherent constructiveness, are manifested throughout history. He said:

“The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.’ Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).

Explaining this parable later, He said:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:37-43).

Essentially what Jesus was saying was that as history moves along, the basic principles of wickedness and righteousness are worked out more and more consistently. Evil matures and becomes ever more evil, ever more distinctive. Likewise godliness matures and becomes ever more godly, ever more distinctive. Tare-maturation will evidence itself in horrid debauchery and unimaginable abomination. As time moves along and men become more and more self-consciously tare-like, more and more self-consciously anti-Christ, the curse becomes more and more evident. They persist in their rebellion to the end, gnawing their tongues, and calling for the rocks to fall on them (Revelation 6:16).

If we knew nothing more than this, perhaps there might be warrant for our persistent pessimism. But we do know more than this. The Biblical perspective of increasing and encroaching wickedness in history comes with a very clear and forthright caveat:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self- control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on my various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be” (2 Timothy 3:1-9).

As history draws toward consummation, evil will become ever more consistently evil. The tares will mature. But notice the adamant caveat: “They will not make further progress” (2 Timothy 3:9).

Why will they not make further progress? Because just as the tares continue to mature, so does the wheat. The church becomes more and more consistent as history proceeds. She becomes more and more self-consciously Christ-like as covenantal faithfulness is worked out more and more consistently. The truth of the Gospel actually becomes clearer and clearer as time goes on. The steadfast reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes more and more of a contrast with the vain fantasy of the philosophies of the world as history unfolds. Christianity in culture ultimately makes a real and tangible difference—both for the good and for good.

May it be that in days to come we will never be able to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” without actually meaning it, believing it, and living it.

Tuesday, December 2

Kippered


The great Swiss church historian, Merle d'Aubigné, visited Thomas Chalmers and his family in Edinburgh during the winter of 1840. Mrs. Chalmers served kippered herring for breakfast. Dr. d'Aubigné, unfamiliar with the dish asked, "What does kippered mean?" She replied, "It means kept or preserved." Later, as he was taking his leave, d'Aubigné prayed a blessing on the household and concluded with a petition that the Lord would "kipper" Chalmers.

Thankfully, d'Aubigné had a better grasp of history than he did of English grammar or Scottish cuisine.

Sunday, November 30

The Battle of Franklin

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Union and Confederate forces clashed for five bloody hours on the fields in and around Franklin, Tennessee. It would be, though they didn't know it at the time, the last significant pitched battle of the terribly uncivil Civil War.

Confederate troops, under the command of General John Bell Hood, had skirmished with Union troops, under the command of Major General John Schofield, for several days from the Tennessee River at the Alabama border, through the towns of Columbia and Spring Hill. And then, with Scofield's men dug into breastworks along the southwest edge of Franklin, Hood ordered an ill-advised charge down Winstead Hill.

More ferocious, more protracted, and more deadly than even Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, the assault continued long after dark amidst freezing rain and withering fire.  The slaughter was horrific. There were more than 7,000 casualties.  The Confederates lost 55 regimental commanders and 6 generals.

Though they technically won the battle, the losses were so great that their capacity to continue the war was effectively ended.

Tuesday, November 25

Five Kernels of Corn

The first few winters in the New World were treacherous for the new American colonists. In the Plymouth colony, the settlers died in droves from both sickness and starvation. Nevertheless, from the beginning the settlers expressed their thanksgiving for the evidence of God’s good providence in their lives—despite all the hardships they faced, they recognized the peculiar opportunity they had been afforded. Thus, they outwardly affirmed their fealty to God and His ways. Many years later, the patriotic poet and balladeer, Hezekiah Butterworth attempted to capture that remarkable paradox of faith in his lyrical verse, Five Kernels of Corn. The necessity of rationing the meager food resources is set alongside the abundant moral reserves of the people.

Twas the year of the famine in Plymouth of old,
The ice and the snow from the thatched roofs had rolled;
Through the warm purple skies steered the geese o'er the seas,
And the woodpeckers tapped in the clocks of the trees;
And the boughs on the slopes to the south winds lay bare,
And dreaming of summer, the buds swelled in the air.
The pale Pilgrims welcomed each reddening morn;
There were left but for rations Five Kernels of Corn.

Five Kernels of Corn! 
Five Kernels of Corn!
But to Bradford a feast were Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn! 
 Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye people, be glad for Five Kernels of Corn!

So Bradford cried out on bleak Burial Hill,
And the thin women stood in their doors, white and still.
Lo, the harbor of Plymouth rolls bright in the Spring,
The maples grow red, and the wood robins sing,
The west wind is blowing, and fading the snow
And the pleasant pines sing, and arbutuses blow.
Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn!

O Bradford of Austerfield haste on thy way.
The west winds are blowing o'er Provincetown Bay,
The white avens bloom, but the pine domes are chill,
And new graves have furrowed Precisioners' Hill!
Give thanks, all ye people, the warm skies have come,
The hilltops are sunny, and green grows the holm,
And the trumpets of winds, and the white March is gone,
And ye still have left you Five Kernels of Corn.
Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye have for Thanksgiving Five Kernels of Corn!

The raven's gift eat and be humble and pray,
A new light is breaking, and Truth leads your way;
One taper a thousand shall kindle: rejoice
That to you has been given the wilderness voice!
O Bradford of Austerfield, daring the wave,
And safe though the sounding blasts leading the brave,
Of deeds such as thine was the free nation born,
And the festal world sings the Five Kernels of Corn.

Five Kernels of Corn! 
Five Kernels of Corn!
The nation gives thanks for Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn! 
Five Kernels of Corn!
To the Thanksgiving Feast bring Five Kernels of Corn!

Long a part of the traditional New England holiday tradition—before the turkey is carved, each member of the family is served a mere five kernels of corn after which this inspiring poem is recited—the remembrance of Plymouth has become a symbol of the incredible blessing of this land.

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!

Friday, May 2

They're Coming


A Modern Reflection on ObamaCare
And the Defense of Freedom

If tonight were
Paul Revere's ride
Instead of that fated night
In seventy-five;

The alarm to arise
o'er the horse hooves drumming
Most assuredly would be:
"The lab coats,"
Hear ye,
"The lab coats are coming."

Friday, April 18

Christianity: A Dangerous Idea


This past November, as part of Australian TV’s “Festival of Dangerous Ideas,” an episode was broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. Peter Hitchens, the lone conservative and Christian amongst a panel and audience of “progressives,” was laughed at, mocked, and pilloried for an hour.

At the end of the broadcast, the panelists were asked: “Which of the so-called dangerous ideas do you think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it were actually implemented?”

The esteemed experts all responded with various takes on economic and human potential propositions, all trés chic in their über-correctness.

Last of all, Peter Hitchens responded, “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.”

The rest of the panel and audience laughed and cheered—until they realized that something must be wrong if they were agreeing with Hitchens! At that point, confusion seemed to settle on the venue like a fog—at which point, he was asked to explain.

“The truth of the crucifixion and resurrection is the most dangerous idea because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. Christianity alters us all. Even if we reject it, it alters us. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it."

Indeed, even the Modernist take on Secularist Atheism is philosophically impossible apart from Christianity. 

The Seven Last Words


1. Forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:26-35 


2. Redemption: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:35-43 


3. Covenant: “Behold, your son; behold, your mother.” John 19:23-27 


4. Substitution: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Matthew 27:45-54

5. Suffering: “I thirst.” John 19:28

6. Triumph: “It is finished.”  John 19:30


7. Resolution: “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:44-49 

Wednesday, April 9

Tolkien's "Beowulf"


J.R.R. Tolkien’s never-before-published 1926 translation of the 11th century epic poem Beowulf will at long last be released this next month by HarperCollins.  The work was edited by his son Christopher, who has also added textual commentary and historical background.  According to Christopher, the elder Tolkien “seems never to have considered its publication.” He left it among his papers and notebooks along with numerous other unpublished manuscripts at the time of his death in 1973. 


This new volume will also include a story called Sellic Spell and excerpts from a series of lectures on Beowulf Tolkien delivered at Oxford during the two decades between the First and Second World Wars. Of course, avid readers will remember that Tolkien did publish one of those lectures, “The Monsters and the Critics,” in 1936. Indeed, that short monograph was described as “epoch-making” by no less an authority than Seamus Heaney in the introduction to his own hugely popular 1999 verse translation of Beowulf.

Tolkien treats the Beowulf poet as “an imaginative writer,” not a historical reconstruction. According to Heaney this “brilliant literary treatment changed the way the poem has been valued and therefore initiated a new era—and new terms—of appreciation.” 

Beowulf has been perhaps the most revered poem in the English language, at least since the 18th century, when the sole manuscript was rescued from fire and and translated and disseminated widely. This is more than a little ironic given the fact that Beowulf was not actually written in English—or at least, not in an English we would recognize—but rather in Old Anglo-Saxon. More akin to German than to English, the language was rendered entirely in runes.  Moreover, the story is not even set in England, but instead in the Norse homelands of Scandinavia

Tolkien’s almost universally beloved body of mythopoeic fiction was deeply influenced by Beowulf. So this translation will be a cherished gem for all serious readers of his work.

Just to whet your appetite, here is a brief comparison between Heaney's translation and that of Tolkien:

Heaney’s versification:

Time went by, the boat was
on water,
in close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the
gangplank,
sand churned in surf, warriors
loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining
war-gear
in the vessel’s hold, then
heaved out,
away with a will in their
wood-wreathed ship.


Tolkien’s versification:

On went the hours:
on ocean afloat
under cliff was their craft.
Now climb blithely
brave man aboard;
breakers pounding
ground the shingle.
Gleaming harness
they hove to the bosom of the
bark, armour
with cunning forged then cast
her forth
to voyage triumphant,
valiant-timbered
fleet foam twisted.

Chalmers and the Primacy of Prayer


Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), the great Scottish pastor, professor, author, and statesman, was undeniably a man of action.  He was the quintessential reformer: he founded more than two dozen mission organizations, Bible societies, neighborhood schools, and community outreaches.  He planted two churches, one college, and even a denomination.  He established publishing houses including the world’s largest Bible publisher (today’s HarperCollins). He was a friend of Wilberforce and Pitt.  He was the pastor of Scott, McAdam, and Stevenson.

But, at the heart of all that he undertook for the Kingdom was prayer.  His byword for all his activity was, "I would pray unto watching--and watch unto praying."

His busy schedule and demanding commitments never deterred him from what he believed was his “most important exercise” and his “most vital engagement,” his daily time of prayer. Indeed, he considered any prayerless day, a wasted day: “To squander the hours with mere activity, however important, is to altogether miss the enlivening work of the Spirit amidst our sweet hours of prayer.”  Indeed, he said, 
"I have long resolved never to start anything that I cannot then saturate in prayer. If my busyness results in prayerlessness then all my activity is for naught."

Chalmers began each day praying through the Scriptures.  He followed the old Scots Presbyterian discipline of "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae," something akin to "Lectio Divina." After his devotional reading, he would walk, praying through the passage as he went. Then, he would record his digested "passage prayer" in his journal, or "Florilegium." In the process, he would identify the “Keystone Verse” from the passage which would then shape his thinking, praying, and doing for the rest of the day.

When Chalmers would disciple men, such as those students, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John Urquhart, Andrew Bonar, Robert Nesbit, William Mackay, and Robert Chalmers Burns, he taught them this method of prayer.  Each of these men, who would in turn gain great renown as men of unction and holiness, testified that it was this posture of deep prayerfulness that quickened their own ministries—all of which so profoundly shaped the great spiritual renewal of the Victorian Age.

Monday, March 17

Thomas Chalmers and the Recovery of the Parish


The great Scottish pastor, social reformer, educator, author, and scientist Thomas Chalmers was born on March 17, 1780 at Anstruther on the Fife coast. His father was a prosperous businessman in the town and Thomas grew up as the sixth in a large family of fourteen children—he had eight brothers and five sisters.

Showing early signs of prodigy, at the age of three, he went to the local parish school to learn the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. His parents were people of strong Calvinist conviction and keen that their family should grow up to bear witness to a lively and relevant Christianity. Piety and intellectual rigor marked their daily lives.

Before he was twelve, he had sufficiently mastered language, literary, and philosophical skills that he was recommended to advance his studies at the University of St Andrews. His brother, William, who was just thirteen, accompanied him. At the time, Thomas was the second-youngest student at St Andrews and widely recognized as a student with extraordinary promise. Although a great part of his time in the first two sessions at the university were apparently occupied in boyish amusements, such as golf, soccer, and hand-ball—in which he was remarkably expert, owing to his being left-handed—he had already begun to demonstrate the great intellectual power which was to be one of his chief characteristics throughout adult life. For mathematics he developed special enthusiasm and to its study he gave himself with great energy and dedication. Ethics and politics were also themes of special interest to him as he sought to integrate his life and faith with the evident woes of the world around him.

In 1795, now fifteen years-old, he sensed a call into the ministry—though as yet still quite immature in his faith—and so he was enrolled as a student of Divinity. That session, he actually studied very little theology because having recently taught himself sufficient French to use the language for study, he pursued his researches into theoretical mathematics with renewed vigor. Nevertheless, towards the end of the session he was deeply stirred by the power of the writings of Jonathan Edwards and came to an intellectual grasp of the magnificence of the Godhead and of the providential subordination of all things to His one sovereign purpose.

During these years another part of his great talent began to come into prominence. On entry to the University his expressive proficiency in English grammar and rhetoric was at best immature, but after two years of study, there was a perceptible change. The gifts of powerful, intense and sustained expression revealed themselves with freedom, spontaneity and beauty. Student Debating Societies, class discourses, and daily prayers in the University were all enriched by his tasteful, capable and eloquent participation.

By 1798, having just reached the age of eighteen, he had completed his course of studies at the University of St Andrews. The foundations were laid for his future development. As his biographer Hanna would later assert, “The intensity of his nature, the redundant energy that hardly knew fatigue, the largeness of his view, the warmth of his affection, the independence of his judgement, and the gushing impetuosity of his style, were already manifest from these college days.”

In July 1799, he was licensed to preach after a special dispensation exempted him from the qualifying condition of having reached the age of twenty-one. At the same time, he became a teaching assistant at the University of Edinburgh in the widely varied disciplines of Mathematics, Chemistry, Natural and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy.

During the winter of 1801, he was offered a post as Assistant in the Mathematics Department at St Andrews as well as the pastorate of the small parish church in Kilmany. And thus began his remarkable dual career as an ecclesiastic and an academic. Over the next forty-four years Thomas Chalmers gave himself to public service. Twenty of these years were spent in three parishes: first at Kilmany and then later at, the Tron Church and St John’s Church, both in Glasgow. The remaining twenty-four years were spent as a professor in three different chairs, Moral Philosophy in St Andrews, Professor of Divinity in Edinburgh, and Principal and Professor of Divinity in the Free Church Theological Institution, Edinburgh, later known as New College. Often, he served both church and university simultaneously, evoking the wonder of the entire world.

As a teacher, he aroused the enthusiasm of his students. One of them later commented, “Under his extraordinary management, the study of Mathematics was felt to be hardly less a play of the fancy than a labor of the intellect—the lessons of the day being continually interspersed with applications and illustrations of the most lively nature, so that he secured in a singular manner the confidence and attachment of his pupils.” Likewise, his parishioners found his sermons to be both erudite and winsome, aimed at both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. His reputation was soon spread throughout Scotland.

The years of work given to parish ministry were extremely significant in the life of Thomas Chalmers. The mental capacity that he had shown in academic pursuits and his youthful strength of spirit were now brought to the test of service to rural and urban communities at a time of extremely significant social change, and the ever transforming power of the Gospel was to prove itself in and through his life and service.

Family bereavements brought Chalmers to reflect more seriously about a dimension of life which, on his own confession, he had not fully considered. His brother, George, three years older, and his sister, Barbara, some five years older, both died within the space of two years. George had been the captain of a merchant ship, but succumbed to tuberculosis and returned home at the age of twenty-nine to die. He awaited the end calmly, his trust resting firmly in Christ. Each evening he had read to him one of John Newton’s sermons and obviously derived especial comfort therein. His quiet and assured faith challenged his younger brother. Barbara, likewise, suffering the same disease, showed great fortitude and confidence in the face of death. The nature of these circumstances brought him to question his previous conceptions.

After Barbara’s death, Thomas, who had been commissioned to write several articles for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on mathematical subjects, wrote to the editor and asked that the article on Christianity should also be allocated to him. Before finishing the article and just after he had made his maiden speech in the General Assembly of 1809, he himself fell gravely ill. Ill-health dogged him for months—at one point being so severe that his family despaired of his very life. The combination of his illness and the loss of his siblings signaled a profound change in his life. He wrote to a friend, “My confinement has fixed on my heart a very strong impression of the insignificance of time—an impression which I trust will not abandon me though I again reach the heyday of health and vigor. This should be the first step to another impression still more salutary—the magnitude of eternity. Strip human life of its connection with a higher scene of existence and it is the illusion of an instant, an unmeaning farce, a series of visions and projects, and convulsive efforts, which terminate in nothing. I have been reading Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion: you know his history—a man of the richest endowments, and whose youth was signalized by his profound and original speculations in mathematical science, but who could stop short in the brilliant career of discovery, who could resign all the splendors of literary reputation, who could renounce without a sigh all the distinctions which are conferred upon genius, and resolve to devote every talent and every hour to the defense and illustration of the Gospel. This, my dear sir, is superior to all Greek and Roman fame.”

Yet another influence on his spiritual development at this time was the reading of William Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity. Again, he wrote, “The deep views he gives of the depravity of our nature, of our need of an atonement, of the great doctrine of acceptance through that atonement, of the sanctifying influence of the Spirit—these all have given a new aspect to my faith.”

Chalmers now had his priorities set in order before him. He gladly recognized God’s claim to rule the affections of his heart and command his life’s obedience. The remainder of his ministry in Kilmany was profoundly affected by the experience of a vital Christian walk. His preaching had new life and concern, proclaiming what he had formerly disclaimed. His pastoral visitation and his instruction in the homes of his parish showed greater ardor than ever before. From outside the region many came to hear the Word, and heard it gladly. There were innumerable converts to this living Christianity.

Chalmers became an earnest student of the Scriptures and also set aside one day each month when, before God, he reviewed his service to Him and sought, with confession and thanksgiving, the blessing of God on his work and on the people entrusted to his pastoral care. These years were also those of the Napoleonic Wars and Chalmers joined the volunteers, holding commissions as a chaplain and lieutenant, though he was never deployed on the continent.

He completely abandoned himself to the covenantal community there at Kilmany. He married and had his first children there. He established a classical school at the heart of the parish. He set about a reform of the ministry to the poor, the widows, and the orphans. He established a pioneer missionary society and a Bible society. In addition, Chalmers began his prodigious and prolific publishing career.

It was inevitable that a man of such gifts would not long be underutilized in the small environs of the Fife seacoast. In July 1815, when news of the victory at Waterloo was scarcely a month old, he preached the last sermon of his twelve-year ministry in Kilmany. His final exhortation was: “Choose Him, then, my brethren. Choose Him as the Captain of your salvation. Let him enter into your hearts by faith, and let Him dwell continually there. Cultivate a daily intercourse and a growing acquaintance with Him. O you are in safe company, indeed, when your fellowship is with Him.”

Thomas Chalmers went to Glasgow at the invitation of the Magistrates and Town Council of Glasgow. He served first in the Tron Church until 1819, and then, by the election of the Town Council, he was transferred to the newly-created parish of St John’s, a poorer parish with a very high proportion of factory a workers, a parish in which he had the freedom to develop the ideas which he had long been maturing.

In the later years at Kilmany, Chalmers had made conscience of his work as a parish minister and had come to know the problems of working a rural parish. Now with his newly expanded duties in Glasgow, he came to grips with the difficulties of work in a city parish and applied his intelligence and strength to new problems.

From the beginning of his ministry in the city his preaching was fully appreciated, and many attended from throughout Glasgow, but Chalmers was concerned that his ministry should first and foremost be to the parish—where some eleven or twelve-thousand people lived and worked. He commenced a program of visitation from house to house which took two years to complete. He organized the eldership to co-operate in this task and developed Sabbath evening schools. Commencing with thirteen children, the schools grew until within two years they had twelve hundred children under instruction. His awareness of the situation of the people gave him an acute understanding of the problems of illiteracy and poverty in the parish and he could not rest until he had found some means of remedying these. His interest in the working-man furthered his reflections on the economic situation; his interest in the sciences led to the Astronomical Discourses, a series of Thursday afternoon sermons delivered once every two months during 1816. Many businessmen and others left their place of work to hear these and during 1817 nine editions of some 20,000 copies were published.

In 1816, the University of Glasgow unanimously conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. The Lord High Commissioner at the General Assembly in the same year invited him to preach in Edinburgh at the time of the Assembly. Hard work and new-found fame were joined in the experience of Chalmers, but he was dissatisfied.

He was convinced that the Christian church had as yet unfulfilled responsibilities to all those who lived and worked in the local parish, not merely to those who attended the local place of worship. In the development of Sabbath School work Chalmers discovered that many children had great difficulty in reading. He resolved to remedy the defect by setting up classical schools throughout the parish—especially for the poor and neglected. Provision for the needs of the poor was also made, not from the poor-rate levy, but from funds administered by the church of the parish through its deacons who were given special training for this work. Relatives of the needy were encouraged to assume responsibility and the government’s poor relief costs for the parish were reduced by more than eighty per cent within three years. And as if all this were not enough, by correspondence he maintained a ministry with many others beyond the bounds of Glasgow, writing on average some fifty letters a week—and they were for the most part, letters of great substance.

The years of his ministry in Glasgow were very significant. There was no class of persons untouched by his labors. Before his time many had fallen away from all Christian belief and observance, but under his ministry public sentiment turned decisively to evangelical liveliness. By his labors living faith in Christ was restored and many men and women throughout the city gave themselves for Christian service.

When he was invited to return to his former University, St Andrews, as Professor of Moral Philosophy, he accepted because he saw it as a position of wider usefulness and also because he felt that the pressure of life in Glasgow which had progressively increased was making excessive demands on him. But his concerns for the urban parishes remained undiminished. His interest for instance, in dealing with the problem of poverty led to an invitation to London by the Parliamentary Committee on the Irish Poor Law. In 1840 he gave a paper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science recommending the system of voluntary assistance to the poor. He was well informed on the major public issues of his day—Roman Catholic Emancipation, the Reform Bill and the Corn Laws and his opinion was valued by great and small alike on all of these problems. In 1832 the Bishop of London recommended the President of the Royal Society to invite Dr Chalmers to prepare a treatise in proof of the wisdom and benevolence of God shown in the works of creation. It was published in the following year with funds from the legacy of the Earl of Bridgewater and was known as the Bridgewater Treatise.

Amongst the honors that had come his way in the same year was his election as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He had previously formed part of a delegation on William IV's accession in 1830 and had been named as one of His Majesty’s Chaplains in Scotland. He was later to present a loyal address on behalf of the University of Edinburgh to Queen Victoria on her accession in 1837. In January 1834, Dr Chalmers was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the following year became one of its Vice-Presidents. The Royal Institute of France honored him with the title of corresponding member and four years later, in 1838, he visited France and read a lecture on the “Distinction both in principle and effect between a legal charity for the relief of indigence and a legal charity for the relief of disease.” His many books and sermons were invariably best-sellers for years on end.

Thus, his reputation was well-established, his contribution to the life of Scotland, England and Ireland fully recognized, and his fame spread around the world when he found himself not only involved in, but leading, a movement that was to divide the Church of Scotland, and to set him in apparent disregard of the authority of the highest civil court in the land.

With the disappearance of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland as a spiritual force in the sixteenth century, the Presbyterian Church had assumed the right to be the Church of Scotland. Its struggle for spiritual independence had been a long and costly one under the leadership of John Knox, Andrew Melville and Alexander Henderson amongst others. At long last, in 1690, the Presbyterian Church was legally recognized by the crown as the established Church of Scotland, but in this recognition by the state there was no question of the church surrendering any aspect of its independence. It was free to follow the guidance of the Divine Head in every aspect in which He had expressed His will.

Patronage, or the right of landowners to bring to a parish a minister who might or might not be acceptable to the elders and members of it, had been brought in by Act of Parliament in 1712. But in 1838, in two cases in particular, those of Auchterarder and Marnoch, ministers were forced on congregations opposed to their settlement and the Court of Session and the House of Lords ratified these decisions. Many in the church were seriously perturbed.

There were other areas of concern as well. It was decided that the Church did not have the power to organize new parishes nor give the ministers there the status of clergy of the Church. She had no authority to receive again clergy who had left it. And perhaps worst of all a creeping liberal formalism was slowly smothering the evangelical zeal of the whole land. Alas, despite repeated requests, the Government refused to take action to deal with the threat of spiritual atrophy. After a ten year long struggle to regain the soul of the church, the evangelical wing, led by Chalmers and others laid a protest on the table of the Assembly some four hundred ministers and a like number of elders left the established Church of Scotland on May 18, 1843, to form the Free Church.

When the General Assembly of the Free Church was constituted that grave morning, Thomas Chalmers was called to be its Moderator. He was the man whose reputation in the Christian world was the highest; he was also the man whose influence in directing the events leading to what would eventually be called the Disruption had been greatest.

The ministers who left the Established Church with Chalmers that day sacrificed much. In the personal sphere their houses and financial security were set aside, their work had to be reorganized and new centers for preaching found. Chalmers, in this respect, also suffered loss. He was no longer Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and the influence and prestige of that position went to another. But the Church realized that, without continued pastoral training, its future was bleak. A center for theological study, the Free Church Theological Institute, was opened and Chalmers was appointed Principal and Professor of Divinity.

A few years before, when Chalmers had completed his sixtieth year, he looked forward to a “sabbatical decennium,” a seventh decade of life that would be spent as “the Sabbath of our earthly pilgrimage—as if on the shore of the eternal world.” The years before 1843 had brought him little of the rest and peace that he hoped for and, of course, after the Disruption, he had even more to do.

His lectures continued, but there was also the concern of finding a site and constructing a building to house the New College. In 1846, after much personal sacrifice and intense labor, Chalmers laid the foundation-stone of the new building. “We leave to others the passions and politics of this world, and nothing will ever be taught, I trust, in any of our halls which shall have the remotest tendency to disturb the existing order of things, or to confound the ranks and distinctions which at present obtain in society. But there is one equality between man and man which will strenuously be taught—the essential equality of human souls; and that in the high count and reckoning of eternity, the soul of the poorest of nature’s children, the raggedest boy that runs along the pavement, is of like estimation in the eyes of heaven with that of the greatest and noblest of our land.”

The means for supporting the ministers of the church following the Disruption had to be found and Chalmers dedicated much of his time and energy to the setting up of a Sustentation Fund. By the end of 1844 it was clear that the cost of maintaining spiritual independence would involve foregoing any financial assistance given by the State. It was under his leadership that this problem was confronted and resolved. In addition, new sites for some 700 churches and manses had to be found for the congregations that were formed, and there were difficulties with several landowners in getting sites. In many cases Chalmers was able to give assistance through his personal influence. His own home in Morningside was used as a place of worship for years afterward.

All this effort was not dedicated simply to perpetuating an idea, for Chalmers had a vision of Scotland in which all her people from those of highest to those of lowest rank would know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps the dearest example of the outworking of this vision is seen in the West Port experiment in Edinburgh, “a fourth part of the whole population being pauper and another fourth street beggars, thieves and prostitutes.” The population amounted to upwards of 400 families of whom 300 had no connection with the Church. Of 411 children of school age, 290 were growing up without any education. The plan of Chalmers was to divide the whole territory into twenty districts each containing about twenty families. To each district a discipler was appointed whose duty was to visit each family once a week. A school was provided. By the end of 1845, 250 scholars had attended the school. A library, a savings bank, a wash-house and an industrial school had been provided, and there was a congregation served by a missionary-minister. Chalmers often attended the services there and would take part as a worshipper alongside the people of the district.

Thomas Carlyle said of him “What a wonderful old man Chalmers is. Or rather, he has all the buoyancy of youth. When so many of us are wringing our hands in hopeless despair over the vileness and wretchedness of the large towns, there goes the old man, shovel in hand, down into the dirtiest puddles of the West Port of Edinburgh, cleans them out, and fills the sewers with living waters. It is a beautiful sight.”

At the end of the College Session in 1847 Chalmers, by now exhausted in his ceaseless labors, went to London on the business of the Church. He returned to his home in Morningside to prepare for the General Assembly on the following Monday. It was after family worship on Sunday evening May 30 that he said goodnight. He went to sleep in Morningside, but he awoke in Heaven.

The funeral was held on the following Friday, June 4. The Magistrates and Town Council, the members of Assembly, the Professors of New College, ministers, probationers, students, the Rector and Masters of the High School and many thousands more joined the funeral procession, paying their tribute, as they followed the cortege to Grange Cemetery. According to Carlyle, “There was a moral sublimity in the spectacle. It spoke more emphatically than by words of the dignity of intrinsic excellence, and of the height to which a true man may attain. It was the dust of a Presbyterian minister which the coffin contained, and yet they were burying him amid the tears of a nation, and with more than kingly honors.”