Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Watson on Affliction, Intro and Part I

Fall has begun to settle upon us here in North Carolina. Due to a variety of experiences in my life, I find that it is this time of the year that my mind is turned to thinking about the 17th century reformers of Britain and Scotland, in particular, the English Puritans, the Scottish Covenanters, and the English Separatists. One of the things I thought I would do because of this is to post some of the writings of English Puritan Thomas Watson.

I know little of Thomas Watson, but what I do know is significant for the text I will be posting. He lived during the English civil war and stood in opposition to the intrusion of the state into the matters of the church. But being a Presbyterian, he worked during the Interregnum with fellow Puritan Christopher Love in effort to establish Charles II on the throne in his father’s place. For this he was temporarily imprisoned. Charles was later restored to his throne, but this no doubt brought results other than what Watson expected. He was ejected from the church with approximately 2000 other ministers during Charles’s reign for refusing to conform to the standards of the national church. Like many other Nonconformists, he continued to minister in private until the Declaration of Indulgence allowed him to return to the ministry.

Under his fellow Puritans, he was imprisoned. Under a crypto-Catholic king, he was ejected from his pulpit. It's easy to understand how Thomas Watson could tell us something about the good providence of God in affliction.

For this reason, the text I have chosen to post comes from Watson’s work A Divine Cordial. It is now published by Banner of Truth Trust as All Things For Good. Those interested in reading the entire work may do so here. I will be posting, a little bit at a time, a series of pieces from chapter two of the work, which is entitled “The Worst Things Work For Good To The Godly”.

Before getting to Watson himself, though, let me point out a couple of wonderful things the reader will find in the better Puritans’ writings. For one, I am struck by the affection the Puritans had for those who they hoped would read their writings, as well as for God. These were not mere theological exercises. These men were pastors, and had a sincere desire not only for the glory of God, but also for the spiritual comfort and benefit of believers. Secondly, I am amazed by the Puritans’ use of metaphor and analogy. Their writings were rich in pictures, both from Scripture and from nature, and served to beautify their writing and to clearly illustrate their teachings.

We will be jumping a couple of pages into the chapter, in the section “The evil of affliction works for good to the godly”, as Watson begins to list the ways this is true.

As the hard frosts in winter bring on the flowers in the spring, as the night ushers in the morning star: so the evils of affliction produce much good to those that love God. But we are ready to question the truth of this, and say, as Mary did to the angel, " How can this be? " Therefore I shall show you several ways how affliction works for good.

(1). As it is our preacher and tutor - "Hear ye the rod" (Mic. vi. 9). Luther said that he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in the glass looks clear, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In prosperity, a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear; but set this man a little on the fire of affliction, and the scum boils up - much impatience and unbelief appear. "Oh," says a Christian, "I never thought I had such a bad heart, as now I see I have: I never thought my corruptions had been so strong, and my graces so weak."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

That Hitchcock was such a kidder

Turner Movie Classics has been showing reruns of The Dick Cavett Show. I happened upon an episode last night in which Cavett was interviewing Alfred Hitchcock. After showing a scene from Hitchcock’s movie Frenzy (which was new at the time), Hitchcock went on to describe the scene in the most bland fashion possible. The scene featured a corpse falling out of a potato sack in the back of a truck. He concluded the description by saying that the point of the scene was that the corpse improved the taste of the potatoes.

And I am feeling that much better about my own sense of humor.

Snakes In My Basement

This past Sunday morning at church, my minister announced that on an upcoming Saturday he would be holding a service for the blessing of the animals. “Bring all your pets,” he instructed us, “except snakes.” Having forgotten temporarily that God had cursed the snake (Gen. 3:14-15), I was surprised to hear that current Anglican outreach practices aren’t ecumenical enough to extend to our serpentine friends. If snakes were blessed at the service, I thought, it wouldn’t be the first time they were welcomed by the Anglican communion. At any rate, since I don’t own a pet, this didn’t apply to me. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until later that evening that, in the spirit of the least creatively titled movie of all time, I found a snake in my basement. I was on the way to the washing machine when what appeared to be a baby copperhead slithered across my path. If he had been stretched out, I imagine he would have been about nine inches in length. I didn’t let him live long enough to find out. I thought later that it might have been more appropriate to kill him by stepping on his head, if for symbolic reasons alone. Instead I opted to hack him to pieces with a flat-nosed shovel, after which I cast the remnants of his body into the outer darkness of the night. This method proved to be wise enough.

The night found me sleepless and concerned that my deceased adversary might have near relatives somewhere hid in the recesses of the basement. An acquaintance has since assured me that this was probably just a fruit snake, which looks like a small copperhead, and that they like to come in the house when it’s raining, which it had been. (Let them build their own houses, I say.) Eventhough I’m feeling confident that this fellow knew what he was talking about, only time and a lot of searching the basement will tell for sure.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Zeitgeist

He who would marry the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower.

- Anglican theologian W. R. Inge

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Leithartian Poetry

You know, I really, really enjoyed this. Somebody apparently was knee-deep in the Iliad at the time. I especially liked the invocation of the goddess at the beginning and the graphic, Homer-like description of the game of dodge ball. Fun stuff.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fernando Ortega on Worship

One of the few Contemporary Christian artists I listen to is Fernando Ortega. It was hearing his rendition of the hymn “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” that sold me on his music. I immediately ran out and bought the cd that that song was on, This Bright Hour.

I ran across this interview with him from a few years ago this evening. Something about his music sets him apart from other Christian musicians, and this interview helps to show what is behind that difference. Aside from performing beautiful and faithful yet contemporary renditions of hymns, the music he writes conveys a sense of wonder at the transcendence of God and a joy in the world He has created. It’s no surprise that he was raised a Presbyterian and, at the time of this interview, was attending a Christian Reformed church. In the interview, he gives some great insights into the nature of worship, attacking sentimentalism, utilitarianism, seeker-sensitive worship, and, in his words, “the dreaded ‘drama team’”. Well worth the read.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Music Recommendations

When I find music that I think is really good, I like to be able to recommend it to others. Because of this, I have decided that I will attempt to, once a week, place one or two album recommendations on this blog. I will be putting links to Amazon simply for the convenience of those interested in tracking these cd’s down. I’m not receiving any reimbursement from Amazon for this, but their website is a good place to start in learning about what’s out there and what others have said about the music. You might want to try to get these else where, and if you do, then I say do it.

Here are a couple to start out with. I thought I would begin with a couple from a more classical direction.

First is this rendition of J. S. Bach’s French Suites for keyboard. I am aware that these have been performed and recorded numerous times on piano, but I’m a bit partial to the harpsichord. So that’s the instrument used on this recording. These are solo keyboard pieces. It is a two disc set, and it is incredibly inexpensive at that. I wish I was well enough educated in music theory and history to comment further on this, but I’m not. I just like them.

Second is a cd that appears to be out of print, but I will recommend it anyway. It is this recording from the early music ensemble Hesperion XX. This is a compilation cd from many of their works. It is the only cd I have by them, but I love it. I have a great interest in early music instruments, the most of which I have no idea what their names are. But once again, my ignorance in the technicalities of the music doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it. If you can track it down somewhere, pick it up.

The Hesperion XX cd might be showing as out of print on Amazon's website because it is imported from France. If you go looking for it, then, you might consider checking on a website that specializes in International music.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ain't America Great?

Today my Scotch-Irish mother was given Amish Friendship Bread by a Costa Rican. Sometimes multiculturalism is just a hoot.

Masculine Nurture

I have been attending a parish of the Anglican Province of America for almost a year now, and began Confirmation classes this evening. And so, since the APA is now in full communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, I have been reading Allen C. Guelzo’s book For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians on and off for a few months. I’m over half way through at this point. So far it has been a rather sad account of the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church and the REC’s formation. Some of the reviewers of the book over at Amazon accuse Guelzo of strong bias in his writing and clearly inaccurate information in the book. I can’t verify that there is inaccurate information, since I know little of the history of the church outside of what I’ve read in Guelzo’s book. I can verify that he often inserts much personal conjecture in the book, which I think adds to the rather depressing nature of the work and makes it hard to read without constantly questioning the information presented. Considering also that Mr. Guelzo defected from the REC some years back and went to the ECUSA, one wonders all the more how much of what is written in the book can be trusted. Nonetheless, I labor on, assuming there is enough truth for it to merit the effort.

On a some what different note, I have on occasion run across things in the book that I’ve found curious enough that they have stuck with me. The following quote, which speaks of George Cummins, the first bishop of the REC, is an example of this:

And more than describing it, Cummins worked to internalize that ideal of Evangelical self-sacrifice. In the summer of 1849, when cholera ravaged Norfolk, Cummins stayed “at his post of duty through all those terrible months, visiting night and day, and ministering not only to his own people but to many poor colored persons, who suffered most from the dread pestilence.” It was this in Cummins that made Charles Edward Cheney remember Cummins’s “sweet and beautiful spirit of sunshine” and that made Benjamin Leacock describe him as “one of the loveliest Christian men I ever knew,” with “the nature of a gentle, refined woman.” (p. 93)

I’ve gone back and read that quote several times, and every time I do, the only words that come to mind are, “Ummm…huh?” I recognize that this is part of what Ann Douglas called the feminization of American culture that began in the 19th century, so I suppose it makes sense. But it baffles me that anyone could ever think to speak of a man that way and think it’s a compliment. One of the key issues here, I think, is the notion that to be religious is to be feminine, and vice-versa. We’re still reaping the harvest of this false idea in a number of different ways, women’s ordination not being the least of these. I immediately think of how common it was for me growing up to see women bringing their children to church without their husbands, even though the husband was living with the family and faithfully working to provide for them. Now in my church most families came as a whole, husband included. But whenever you had a case of only one parent coming, it was inevitably the case that the mother and not the father brought the children. I know of only one case where the mother was not a Christian, and so the father, who was a faithful believer, brought the children. This reality is a symptom to begin with, though it eventually becomes a cause of other problems, such as women’s ordination.

Ann Douglas, who actually wrote a book about this entitled The Feminization of American Culture, talked about these things a few years back in an interview with Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn. In the interview they drew the connection of the rise of Sentimentalism and Feminism with the rise of the rejection of the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the substitutionary atonement, and eternal punishment. These things continue today in certain Evangelical circles. The connection here can also be made to the Revival hymnody and the sappy Contemporary worship music that most of us are forced to endure at some point in our lives today.

I think there is something more subtle in the above quote that should be commented on. It is implied in the analysis of Bp. Cummins’s behaviour that to be a faithful pastor is to be a nurturer, and to be a nurturer is to be feminine, and therefore to be a faithful pastor is to be feminine. I haven’t given any thought of this until just now, so I can’t really comment on it conclusively. I will speculate out loud though, and I might have to change this later, but here we go. I think the error here is coming from two different directions (at least). One is the idea that nurturing is exclusively a feminine domain, and there is no such thing as a masculine-type of nurture. So when a man tries to fill in the role of nurturer that he is required to (for whatever reason and in whatever situation he is required to), the only model he has to operate with is a feminine one, since he has been taught no other model, either in formal teaching or by example. (I can’t say myself that I fully know what a masculine type of nurture looks like, but I’m sure some of my married friends could answer that question.) Also, there is the notion that to be a nurturer is to be constantly physically present. One of the aspects pointed out in the quote is Bp. Cummins’s daily participation in the lives of his parishioners. But we have a tendency to think of men as physically absent. Men are, by the nature of the task they are assigned by God, often absent from the lives of those they are to nurture. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t fulfilling their role as a nurturer. It just means that their role has certain parameters, and that doesn’t include being physically present 24 hours a day. Now I think a father needs to spend time with his children as much as he can, but there are times when he just can’t. And there are also occasions when it might be wise or necessary for him to be physically absent – for instance, the father who is an elder can’t take his children along with him when he goes to a session meeting. And one of the aspects of maturity, whether it be physical or spiritual, is learning to depend on the work of God in one’s own life, putting into practice the things we know and have been taught without someone there to hold our hand (other than the Holy Spirit, of course). One should also consider the extraordinary circumstances under which Bp. Cummins was working, that being the outbreak of cholera. Such situations are unusual, and often require that extra attention be given than is normal. This can be true in the case of fathers as well as pastors.

I will say, though, that I think at this point there is a bit of cleavage in the analogy. While I think the above statements are true, pastors are nurturers that God has given to be there for us until the day we die. This is generally different from the role of fathers in our lives. As soon as a pastor leaves, whether through his own death or for some other reason, God raises up another one for us. There is certainly a sense of separation in which the older a person gets the more the faith becomes their faith, and he must work to sustain it without the constant presence of a guide. But we are never to be without a shepherd. And while a mature man shouldn’t feel the need to have his pastor around at all times, I do think there needs to be some improvement done in this area in the church by which the pastors are more present in their parishioners’ lives. I think the example of the high church traditions should be taken into account here. For one thing, I would like to see a return to daily corporate prayer in the local parish. This is something I plan to blog about in the future, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, the pastors themselves, and not just the other elders and the deacons, need to be visiting the sick and the shut-ins. One of the main reasons for this is so that the people who can’t attend worship on Sundays can partake of communion. I know that for Presbyterians this idea creates a problem in conforming to WCF 29.4, but I think there are ways of approaching this without violation of the Confession at this point and still allowing for a person to commune when they can’t show up on Sundays. I also think pastors should return to an understanding of their duty as a counselor to those in need of one. Generally speaking (notice that I said generally), believers shouldn’t need to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Pastors, here aided by their elders and deacons, should be able to provide for these needs. There are more aspects related to this than I can get into right now. But these things at least would begin to put the pastor back into the role of being not only the resident scholar, but also the shepherd of his flock. This would also serve as a model of masculine nurture, which is especially needed in our day of absent fathers.

Considering these things, I think Bp. Cummins’s practice shown above seemed to be the right one. Not having been around to know the man, I can’t really comment on the comparison of him to “a gentle, refined woman”, other than to say I hope it wasn’t really true. I hope the one making the comment simply didn’t understand the nature of true pastoral work.

My Cubicle

Continuing in the vein of making fun of James Blunt, I thought this was hilarious.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's a Big Lie

The idea that socks could ever be “One Size Fits All” is a lie perpetuated by people with big feet.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Death of the West

This article linked by Jeff Meyers is incredibly sad. I consider this to be an example of post-Christian Europe at its worst.

Mark Horne brought up an interesting comparison to Polly and Digory walking in Charn. But it made me think of P. D. James’ The Children of Men.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

CT on Calvinism

The latest issue of Christianity Today has as its cover story an article entitled “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church.” I’m always glad when Reformed theology gets press, so I picked up the issue. I was tempted to put it back when I saw that the cover features a guy wearing a t-shirt that says “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy”, but I bought it anyway.

The article looks at the influence that Reformed theology has in portions of the church today, and especially its draw on the younger crowd. The author even states that the Calvinist movement may be “larger and more pervasive” than the oft talked about Emergent movement, citing conference and church membership statistics in support of the claim.

I found a couple of things in the article especially interesting. While the author clearly is attempting to represent “Reformed theology” and its influence in the church, the article almost exclusively deals with Calvinistic Baptists. There is a picture of PCA minister Ligon Duncan beside four Baptist ministers, though the article doesn’t mention him at all. R. C. Sproul and J. I. Packer are both mentioned in passing late in the article, as are some long deceased paedobaptists. And there is a sidebar (I don’t know if it was written by the same author)that lists some paedobaptist ministers and ministries, but they are mixed in with a group of Baptist ministers and ministries. On the flip side, the article revolves around the author’s discussions about and conversations with John Piper, Joshua Harris, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever, all of whom are Baptists. The author also spends time discussing the distress that Calvinism is causing among the Arminian contingency in the Southern Baptist Convention. Whether or not the author realizes it (and I’m not sure he does), his real concern in the article is with Baptist culture, not with the whole church. That’s fine, of course, but the article might have been more aptly titled.

Another thing I found interesting was the statement by one Southern Baptist seminarian that he “had never even read Calvin”, eventhough he claims to be a Calvinist. The article goes on to state, “(i)ndeed, the renowned reformer [that is, John Calvin] appears not to be a major figure among the latest generation to claim the theology he made famous.” The author cites George Whitfield as having said he had never read Calvin either.

Now I’ll admit that I haven’t read much Calvin myself. I’ve read some of his Institutes, as well as some from his commentaries on the Scriptures. But it baffles me for someone to claim to be a Calvinist and to not have read him at all. I imagine part of the problem here stems back to C. H. Spurgeon. When Spurgeon talked about the Doctrines of Grace, he spoke of them as being nicknamed “Calvinism”. I can’t say that that means of naming began with him, but inasmuch as he is sort of the patron saint of “Calvinistic Baptists”, I suspect him to be the popularizer of this. I like Spurgeon myself, and have benefited from him immensely, so I don’t intend to just trash him. But he was a Baptist. And besides the issue of baptism, he and Calvin would have disagreed on a number of key doctrines.

When I was first wrestling with the Doctrines of Grace, I had a friend who was raised Dutch Reformed, in a place where “Calvinism” was understood to include more than just the “Five Points”. I, being raised in a Baptistic setting where “Calvinism” only referred to “TULIP”, would use the term in that way, and he would have to adjust his thinking to understand what I was saying. Becoming aware of this, it was the first time I began to think of the term “Calvinism” in a broader way.

A couple of years later, in a conversation with an acquaintance of Michael Scott Horton, I discovered Horton’s distaste for this use of the term. Horton had told this acquaintance that he preferred to refer to so-called Calvinistic Baptists as “Classical Baptists”, referring to the original Baptists who wrote the Baptist Confessions of 1646 and 1689. These Baptists held to predestination as do those who call themselves Calvinistic or Reformed Baptists today.

I have also found it interesting at times to hear some Baptists say they hold to the Canons of Dordt. I can only assume that those who say this haven’t actually read them, or else they would have noticed this in the First Head of Doctrine, Article 17:

We must judge concerning the will of God from His Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents. Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.

I still use the term “Calvinism” to refer to the Doctrines of Grace for the most part, because that’s the way it’s generally used in my still mostly-Baptist Southern culture. And I appreciate the strong stance that these “Reformed” Baptists take on the Doctrines of Grace, and consider them close allies in the fight against the autonomy of man. But I think I would side with Michael Horton in wishing that they be referred to by a different name. And while they’re deciding what they should call themselves, maybe they can read some Calvin and begin to see the more Biblical approach found in what he actually believed and taught. For that matter, I need to read more of him myself.

Having offered these critiques, I still appreciate the article. Even if these men are all Baptists, I can only regard an increase in the acceptance of the Sovereignty of God to be a good thing.

Friday, September 01, 2006

No More Nickel Creek?

I just learned that Nickel Creek has announced that it will be taking an indefinite hiatus beginning at the end of 2007. For the official announcement, visit their website. For more information, follow this link to their interview with Billboard.