Thursday, January 31

Heroes and Children

"Exertion, self-denial, endurance, these make the hero, but to the spoiled child they connote the evil of nature and the malice of man."
Richard Weaver (1910-1963)

Wednesday, January 30


"A Christian should follow his occupation with contentment. Is your business here clogged with any difficulties and inconveniences? Contentment under those difficulties is no little part of your homage to that King who hath placed you where you are by His call."
Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Thursday, January 24

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Elizabethan age produced a number of the greatest stylists of the English language including of William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and of course, John Donne.

When the venerable poet was born in London on this day in 1573, Queen Elizabeth was in the middle of her long and glorious reign and Donne was able to partake of all the benefits the age afforded. Indeed, as a young man John Donne was quite attracted to the extravagance of English Renaissance life. During England's war with Spain in the 1590's, Donne sailed as a gentleman adventurer. He took a government position as secretary to the Keeper of the Great Seal—a position he ultimately lost when he secretly married his employer's daughter. In 1609 he applied for the secretaryship of the new colony of Virginia, but he failed to get the job.

It was Donne's marriage that brought about in him a dramatic transformation. The deepening love of his faithful wife provoked him to grow in the love of God. Eventually, his piety entirely replaced his earlier flamboyance—and it was evident to everyone who knew him. King James encouraged Donne to enter the ministry, and though he felt very unworthy, Donne consented. With a great sense of his own sinfulness and God's forgiveness, Donne was eager to preach God's forgiveness to others. In 1621 he was appointed dean of St. Paul's in London and became one of the most prominent and eloquent preachers of his day.

Donne was a man of immense scholarship and learning, yet he preached that "all knowledge that begins not with His glory is but a giddy, but a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite ignorance."

The death of his wife in 1617 brought about another profound change in Donne. She was just thirty-three and died of exhaustion one week after giving birth to her twelfth child. Her death brought home to Donne the fleeting nature of earthly happiness, and he saw his whole life as God's wooing of him. He gained strong convictions about the providence and goodness of God and the coming resurrection in the face of certain death.

In his many poems and sermons Donne often challenged his people to ready themselves for death, "All our life is but a going out to the place of execution, to death. Now was there ever any man sent to sleep in the cart?" His famous lines "No man is an Island, entire in itself" and "for whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee," have become almost commonplaces in the English language.

When the death-bell tolled for Donne in 1631, his trust in God enabled him to tell a friend, "I am full of inexpressible joy and shall die in peace."

Tuesday, January 22

Day of Mourning

In perhaps its most divisive and controversial decision since Dred Scott, the United States Supreme Court overturned the infanticide and prenatal homicide laws in all fifty states by legalizing abortion procedures during every stage of pregnancy from conception until just before the moment of birth. Delivered on January 22, 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision sent shock waves throughout the nation--the effects of which are still felt after thirty-five years and over forty-eight million lost lives.

In a remarkably argued majority opinion, Associate Justice Blackmun introduced several creative constitutional innovations--including a heretofore unrecognized “right to privacy.” Like the Dred Scott decision before it, this case actually only exacerbated the debate the court set out to resolve.

Saturday, January 19

Coverdale's Achievement

Miles Coverdale, who published the first complete English language Bible, died on this day in 1568 at the age of 81. His Bible, printed in 1535, was a remarkable achievement and formed the basis for every other English translation over the course of the next three hundred years.

Once an assistant to William Tyndale, Coverdale was not actually a particularly capable Greek or Hebrew scholar, but he had a fine literary style, an unshakable tenacity, and a singular vision to complete the work his brilliant mentor had begun. Working from Tyndale’s notes, he was able to hammer out a masterpiece--more than seventy percent of which ultimately found its way into the King James Version of 1611.

American Scion

Robert Edward Lee, scion of one of America’s most revered patriot families--and the only man who was offered the command of both the Union and Confederate armies prior to the uncivil War Between the States--was born in Stratford, Virginia on this day in 1807.

Thursday, January 17

KJV and Cultural Hegemony

The Hampton Court Conference of King James I appointed fifty-four scholars to produce a new translation of the Bible beginning on this day in 1604. The scholars included Anglicans, Puritans, linguists, theologians, clergy and laymen. They were divided into six groups. Each translator was assigned a portion of Scripture, but he had to present his work to the others in his group for approval. Each book was then sent to the other five groups for review and criticism. With this procedure, each book went through the entire group for review.

By 1611 the translation was complete. Though never officially authorized by the king or his successors, the translation was dubbed the "Authorized Version." It is best known, however, as the King James Version (or, KJV). Ultimately, it became a major influence in forming the Christianity and molding the language and literature of the English-speaking peoples for the next three centuries. Amazingly, those centuries ultimately saw English become the Lingua Franca of the world (much to the chagrin of the French)! Without the KJV, it is difficult to see how this cultural hegemony might have ever been possible.

Monday, January 14

Puritan Repentance

The Puritan pastors and churches of New England were unanimously opposed the Salem witch trials. Indeed, the awful spectacle of the trials was only halted because of their persistent pressure. The trials were seen by them all as a terrible example of misdirected zeal. Nevertheless, they did not seek to escape the blame for such public sin so at their urging, in December, 1696, the General Court passed a resolution calling for a general fast day. The fast was to be held on this day in 1697, "So that all of God's people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God's holy jealousy against this land; that He would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more." Judge Samuel Sewell and the jury of the trials all confessed, repenting of their error and imploring God's forgiveness and further direction.

Saturday, January 12

Hindsight's 20/20

"If a soft answer turneth away wrath, maybe no answer stirreth wrath up." Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow

Friday, January 11

If, Yet Again

In 1909, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem If, inspired by the story of Leander Starr Jameson. It was Dr. Jameson who led about five-hundred English and South African militiamen in a courageous but disastrous raid against Boer insurgents, along the Transvaal frontier. Inevitably however, Kipling found that the verse came to represent events in his own life as much as Jameson’s.

Every year, I read the poem to my students--knowing that they are certain to face difficulties and disappointments along the way. As with Kipling though, inevitably, I find it as applicable to my own life during the course of the year, as to theirs. May we both have the courage to demonstrate such character and restraint.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you,
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Tuesday, January 8

The Garden of the Sluggard

Once again, Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional reading for today speaks powerfully to me and the peculiar calling the Lord has before me presently:

"The iniquity of the holy things." Exodus 28:38

What a veil is lifted up by these words, and what a disclosure is made! It will be humbling and profitable for us to pause awhile and see this sad sight. The iniquities of our public worship, its hypocrisy, formality, lukewarmness, irreverence, wandering of heart and forgetfulness of God, what a full measure have we there! Our work for the Lord, its emulation, selfishness, carelessness, slackness, unbelief, what a mass of defilement is there! Our private devotions, their laxity, coldness, neglect, sleepiness, and vanity, what a mountain of dead earth is there!

If we looked more carefully we should find this iniquity to be far greater than appears at first sight. Dr. Edward Payson, writing to his brother, says, "My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, I find that very many of my desires for the melioration of both, proceed either from pride or vanity or indolence. I look at the weeds which overspread my garden, and breathe out an earnest wish that they were eradicated. But why? What prompts the wish? It may be that I may walk out and say to myself, 'In what fine order is my garden kept!' This is pride. Or, it may be that my neighbours may look over the wall and say, 'How finely your garden flourishes!' This is vanity. Or I may wish for the destruction of the weeds, because I am weary of pulling them up. This is indolence."

So that even our desires after holiness may be polluted by ill motives. Under the greenest sods worms hide themselves; we need not look long to discover them. How cheering is the thought, that when the High Priest bore the iniquity of the holy things he wore upon his brow the words, "HOLINESS TO THE LORD:" and even so while Jesus bears our sin, He presents before His Father's face not our unholiness, but his own holiness.

O for grace to view our great High Priest by the eye of faith!

Saturday, January 5

Biblical Light

For several years now I have used Charles Spurgeon's daily devotional, Morning and Evening, during my "quiet times." I particularly love the compact leather-bound edition (published by Christian Focus). I keep one by my bedside at home and one at my desk in my office. This supremely Biblical work from the pen of the "Prince of Preachers" is also available in several formats online and a plethora of other print editions.

I found this morning's reading particularly apt for the providential circumstances in which I find myself here at the beginning of a new year:

“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:4

Light might well be good since it sprang from that fiat of goodness, “Let there be light.” We who enjoy it should be more grateful for it than we are, and see more of God in it and by it. Light physical is said by Solomon to be sweet, but Gospel light is infinitely more precious, for it reveals eternal things, and ministers to our immortal natures. When the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual light, and opens our eyes to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we behold sin in its true colours, and ourselves in our real position; we see the Most Holy God as he reveals himself, the plan of mercy as he propounds it, and the world to come as the Word describes it. Spiritual light has many beams and prismatic colours, but whether they be knowledge, joy, holiness, or life, all are divinely good. If the light received be thus good, what must the essential light be, and how glorious must be the place where he reveals himself. O Lord, since light is so good, give us more of it, and more of thyself, the true light.

No sooner is there a good thing in the world, than a division is necessary. Light and darkness have no communion; God has divided them, let us not confound them. Sons of light must not have fellowship with deeds, doctrines, or deceits of darkness. The children of the day must be sober, honest, and bold in their Lord’s work, leaving the works of darkness to those who shall dwell in it forever. Our Churches should by discipline divide the light from the darkness, and we should by our distinct separation from the world do the same. In judgment, in action, in hearing, in teaching, in association, we must discern between the precious and the vile, and maintain the great distinction which the Lord made upon the world’s first day.

O Lord Jesus, be thou our light throughout the whole of this day, for thy light is the light of men.

Tuesday, January 1

Read Through the Bible This Year

One of the very best disciplines any Christian can introduce into his or her daily routine is to simply begin reading through the Bible over the whole course of the year. There are innumerable good plans to help us accomplish this--over the years I've variously used the systems devised by M'Cheyne, Spurgeon, or Trottman.

But, my favorite for some time now has been the Read Through the Bible plan from Crossway Books--the publishers of the English Standard Version (ESV). The plan is available in tract form to slip right into your Bible or to serve as a place marker--but amazingly, it is also available in a wide range of high tech tools online, for your phone or PDA, via e-mail, or through RSS syndication. It is even available in an automated calendar program for your iCal or Google agendas--and of course, if you use it in iCal, the plan will synch immediately to your iPhone as well.

Other plans utilizing the ESV, including a chronological read-through, a daily lectionary, M'Cheyne's, and a daily Psalms, Proverbs, OT, NT selection, are available at the resource-rich ESV site.

No excuses! All are available for free--like the Word of God itself. All we must do is avail ourselves of this marvelous means of grace.

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…The sum of Your Word is truth, and everyone of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting" (Psalm 119: 105; 160)

"All His precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness" (Psalm 111:7-8).

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep my Word" (John 14: 23-24).

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:9-12).

"His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Peter 1:3-4).

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

The Tragedy of the Kurds

The sad saga of the Kurdish people has been one of the enduring tragedies of human history. From the brutal days of antiquity when their Median Kingdom was subjugated and absorbed the Persians resulting in a vast imperial hegemony, to the brazen days after the First World War when the annulment of the Treaty of Sevres by Britain, France, and the Ottomans resulted in the creation a series of artificial states like Iraq, Syria, and Turkey with unnatural borders in order to serve yet another political and economic hegemony.

According to Axin Arbili in this disturbing article in the Conservative Voice the latest betrayal of the Kurds, this time at the hands of the United States and it War on Terror, may well be the most ignominious of all.