Sunday, August 30

An Uncommon Common Man

During his term as Vice-President, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Baltimore on official business. He asked for a room in the city’s best hotel. Not recognizing the great man--who always traveled quite modestly without a retinue of servants and dressed comfortably in soiled working clothes--the proprietor turned him away.

Soon after Jefferson’s departure, the innkeeper was informed that he had just sent away the author of the Declaration of Independence and hero of the War for Independence. Horrified, he promptly dispatched a number of his employees to find the Vice-President and offer him as many rooms as he required.

Jefferson, who had already taken a room at another hotel, was not at all flattered or amused. He sent the man who found him back with the message, “Tell the innkeeper that I value his good intentions highly, but if he has no room for a dirty farmer, he shall have none for the Vice-President.”

It was not merely the spirit of democratic solidarity or of judicial propriety that piqued Jefferson’s ire in that situation. He had always prided himself as a man of the soil first and foremost. He was America’s preeminent agrarian theorist. He was an avid gardener and a skilled botanist. His gardening journals have inspired generations of farmers and planters. And his agricultural innovations helped to make American harvests the envy of the world.

He strongly believed that an attachment to the land was the chief mark of an advanced culture. He believed that the fate of a nation was ultimately decided by the attitude of that nation to its soil. He said, “Widespread distribution and careful stewardship over property is the most tangible attribute of liberty. The faith of a people, the vision of a people, the destiny of a people may be divined by its corporate concern for the soil.”

To be sure, Jefferson was often a conflicted intellectual, an inconsistent moralist, and an impractical idealist, but his ideas of land, the dignity of labor, the essential nobleness of common men, and the vitality of the agrarian virtues made Jefferson the undisputed father of American populism.

Saturday, August 29

Above Reproach

After the scandals of the previous three administrations the Republican Party was concerned to choose an especially upright candidate in the nation’s centennial year, 1876. They found him in Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), a devout, conscientious Midwesterner whose Puritan ancestors had come from New England.

In his third term as Governor of Ohio, Hayes was known for an honest administration, a constructive reforms, and a strong stand on sound money—one of the leading issues of the day. In addition, he had an outstanding military record—performing gallantly on the battlefield and emerging a Major General. He was apparently above reproach. Yet it is one of the quirks of history that such a man should reach the White House through the very questionable settlement of a bitterly disputed election—although most historians believe that Hayes himself was not personally involved.

The settlement was in the hands of a special electoral commission that happened to have a majority of Republicans. But the Republicans had chosen well—better than some of them knew. For President Hayes proved to be too honest and forthright for many of them, who could hardly wait to get him out of office.

Despite political undercurrents, Hayes made good use of his one term to stabilize the government on several fronts. He officially ended Reconstruction on this day in 1877; he withdrew Federal troops from the occupied Southern states; he established reforms in civil service; he took courageous steps to settle the railroad strike of 1877; and he stood firm in enforcing a sound money policy—all in the face of vigorous opposition.

The man chosen to remove the taint of scandal from the government proved to be surprisingly resolute and effective; his dedication to principle and his courageous and forthright actions won him the kind of praise earned by very few one-term Presidents.

Friday, August 21

30 Days of Prayer

The 18th annual 30 Days: Muslim Prayer Focus begins tomorrow. This ministry of intercession purposely coincides each year with Ramadan--the month-long Islamic fast mandated by the Koran. Thus, it is a call for Christians to make a concerted, respectful effort during the month to learn about our Muslim neighbors, to pray for a Gospel impact among them, and to reach out to them with genuine grace--whether they live right across the street or all the way across the world.

A very helpful Prayer Guide has been prepared and is available in both print and online versions. It can also be sent directly to your in-box daily via an RSS feed.

Won't you consider joining thousands of other believers over the next 30 days in praying for the light of Christ to be shed abroad in the Islamic world?

Friday, August 14

A Heroic Love of Words

Every great library begins in the heart of someone with at least three heroic loves: a love for words, a love for truth, and a love for future generations. Libraries begin as a collection of beloved books, but those books generate a love for words, as well—without that, books are mere antiquarian or decorative curiosities.

Perhaps the greatest etymologist of all time—and thus, one of the most passionate lovers of words—was James Murray (1837-1915), a self-educated Scots country boy who was the original editor of the monumental Oxford English Dictionary.

The dictionary was a mind-bogglingly huge undertaking which practically consumed his life—it documented every single word in the English language, past and present, as well as every possible usage from formal to colloquial. Thus, tens of thousands of entries had to be carefully researched. The etymology of every word was traced. Examples of the use of the word were drawn from the best prose and poetry extant. And it all was arranged and catalogued in as functional and usable fashion as possible.

Murray was precise with every detail of the Herculean task at hand. His granddaughter later described how he would illumine visitors to his cluttered study as to the vital character of his work—understanding full well the seed truth about language and the precision inherent in the transferal of truth, first foretold in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

Thus, Elisabeth Murray wrote, “As he showed the guests round, Dr. Murray would give examples of the unique feature of the dictionary, the application of the historical method. His task was to trace the life history both of every English word now in use and of all those known to have been in use at any time during the last seven hundred years. His starting point was in 1150, and the early history, variations of sense and form of every word current at that date, was to be given in the same detail as the changes which took place in succeeding centuries. In this he was applying the historical principle much more completely than had been attempted in any country. Although James knew that there would be additions and changes in English vocabulary in future ages, he would stress that, every fact faithfully recorded, and every inference correctly drawn from the facts, becomes a permanent accession to human knowledge part of eternal truth, which will never cease to be true.”

It was in 1859, when he was merely 22 years old, that Murray first conceived of the great work—but it would on this day two decades later before he could win the confidence of the Philological Society to actually begin the work. Alas, he died before the work was completed. Nevertheless, the organization he put together ensured that the work was indeed published in 1928.

Tuesday, August 11

Rock of Ages

Augustus Montague Toplady, clergyman and writer, was born in 1740, at Farnham, about 20 miles southwest of Windsor, England. He studied at the prestigious Westminster School for a short time, but was sent to Ireland in 1755, the same year as his conversion—he had been greatly influenced by the teachings of John Wesley.

Toplady received his degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from Trinity College. During his studies, he gradually came to reject the Arminianism of the Methodists in favor of the doctrines of Sovereign Grace of the Calvinists. Ordained deacon in 1762, he was licensed to the Anglican curacy of Blagdon the same year. He was ordained a priest in 1764, and from then until 1766 he served as curate at Farleigh, Hungerford. For the next two years he held the benefice of Harpford with Venn-Ottery, and for two years after that, of Broad Hembury. During 1775 he took a leave of absence to minister to the French Calvinist Reformed Church in Orange Street, London.

His first published work was a work of verse, Poems on Sacred Subjects. But he was best known for his polemical and dogmatic works of theology—including The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism which was published in 1769 and The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England which was published five years later in 1774. Those works proved vital in the ongoing theological struggles within the English church and helped to ensure orthodoxy for at least another generation.

Toplady was only thirty-eight when he died, but his short life-span was enough to produce one of the most beloved of all hymns, Rock of Ages:

Rock of Ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood
From Thy driven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

The hymn was first published on this day in the Gospel Magazine, London, 1776. Today, only a very few non-specialists read the theological works which established Toplady as one of the most significant men of his day, but nearly all Christians sing his hymn—even the Arminians it was written to woo with the beauty of the Gospel of Grace.

Wednesday, August 5

New College Franklin

Good News! New College Franklin has just passed another legal benchmark as an officially-authorized college in the state of Tennessee. This new level of authorization allows NCF new freedoms in several areas, most especially to begin operating under the name "New College Franklin" (in place of the temporary "Bannockburn Fellowship" moniker) and to offer the B.A. degree.

Please pray for the inaugural year of the College that begins in a few short weeks. Additionally, New College Franklin is now accepting applications for 2010!