Saturday, December 29, 2012

Litanies for Childermas

Deuteronomy 30:19; Proverbs 24:10-11; John 10:10; John 3:16
Pastor: Heaven and earth bear witness: the Lord has set before us life and death.
All: He has set before us blessing and cursing.
Pastor: Therefore, let us choose life that we and our covenant children after us may live.
Reader 1: If we faint in the day of adversity, our strength is small.  Deliver those who are drawn toward death, hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. 
Reader 2: If we say, "Surely we did not know this," does not He who weighs the heart and keeps our souls know it?
Pastor: Therefore, let us choose life.
Reader 3: The thief does not come except to kill, and to steal, and to destroy, but, Jesus has come that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly.
All: For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Pastor: Therefore, let us choose life.

Psalm 139: 7-8, 13-18
Pastor: Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
All: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Pastor: Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
All: My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Pastor: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.
All: How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.

Romans 3:13-18; Jeremiah 8:3; Proverbs 8:36; Psalm 145: 8
Pastor: Lord, we come confessing.  We confess that our throats are open graves.  Whether we realize it or not, we have chosen the way of death.
All: There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together we have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.
Pastor: All those who hate God, love death.
All: Our feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in our paths, and the path of peace have they not known.  There is no fear of God before our eyes.
Pastor: But, the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Deo Gracias!

Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thows and wynter
thowt he not to long.

And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
in here book.

Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene quen.

Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!
Therefore we mown syngyn
Deo gracias!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Saviour of the Nations, Come

Ambrose (340-397) was the great bishop of Milan who was instrumental in the conversion of St. Augustine. In fact, there is evidence in one of Augustine's writings that substantiates Ambrose's authorship of a wonderful Advent hymn, Veni, Redemptor Gentium--indeed, he is credited with writing a goodly number of hymns and is sometimes referred to as the Father of Hymnody. This particular hymn has been traditionally sung during the vespers service of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. The great German Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was instrumental in popularizing the hymn in Wittenburg through his 1524 translation from the Latin. The following version is an 1860 translation from Luther's German text by William Reynolds. Several other versions of this hymn exist, including a fine translation by John Mason Neale, Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth.

Saviour of the nations, come,
Virgin's Son, make here thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not of flesh and blood the Son,
Offspring of the Holy One;
Born of Mary ever blest
God in flesh is manifest.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth he came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell,
High the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father's only Son,
Hast o'er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Church Circus

"A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats." Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Thursday, December 13, 2012

History Repeats: The Tron Church Debacle

"The Free Kirk, the Wee Kirk,
The Kirk without the Steeple."
"The Auld Kirk, the Cauld Kirk,
The Kirk without the People."
(A popular Scots rhyme at the time of 1843 Disruption)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snopsing Chalmers on the "Gap Theory"

It is often asserted that the Scottish reformer, educator, and pastor, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), was one of the originators of the so-called "Genesis Gap Theory" as a part of his effort to harmonize the ideas of evolution and creation. Scan the internet and you'll see this claim repeated again and again. Even many of the most reputable Intelligent Design or Creation Science sites perpetuate this peculiar notion.

It has no real substance however. Indeed, it is an "urban myth."

The actual origin of the "ruin-reconstruction" view of Creation comes from the writings of late 19th century writers like Hugh Miller, G.H. Pember, and I.T. Taylor. It was then popularized by early 20th century dispensationalists such as A.C. Dixon, A.J. Gordon, and H.A. Ironside. And it was particularly propounded in the best-selling study Bibles of Finis Dake and C.I. Scolfield. The theory asserts that some indeterminate amount of time elapsed between the first two verses of the Genesis narrative--this "gap" could then account for millions of years of geologic time or the fall of Satan or any number of other perceived textual difficulties.

There is no record of Chalmers endorsing this view--or anything like it. The notion that somehow he did comes from a single statement in a single lecture out of the more than fifty volumes of his writings.

This is what Chalmers actually said: “The detailed history of creation in the first chapter of Genesis begins at the middle of the second verse.”

Clearly, Chalmers posited no gap, no ruin and reconstruction, and no attempt to reconcile evolution and creation here. At most, he made a simple exegetical observation that Genesis 1:1 declares God's ex nihilo creation; Genesis 1:2a introduces the Spirit's moving amidst the material void; And Genesis 1:2b begins to unfold the details of that glorious moving and its resultant redolence.

Regardless, debates about the age of the earth and possible conflict with the historicity of the Bible would actually not come into common discourse until well after the death of Chalmers. Indeed, he made his isolated comment in 1816--long before Darwin ignited the controversy with the publication of "Origin of Species" in 1859.

Thomas Chalmers most assuredly wrestled with ways to find a common ground for scientists and theologians--his Astronomical Discourses (1817) were particularly effective examples of his apologetic methodology. But never would he compromise the integrity of Biblical truth for the sake of supposed scientific accommodation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Chalmers

 I am often asked by friends and students how to begin a serious study of the life and work of Thomas Chalmers.  This is at least partly because I can hardly ever give a lecture, preach a sermon, write an essay, or post a blog without mentioning him.  But even more, it is because reading Chalmers can proved to be an arduous and elusive pursuit.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Chalmers was heralded as the greatest preacher in the English-speaking world: he is very difficult to read.  His vocabulary is vast and unfamiliar, his Scots syntax is peculiar to those of us accustomed to the less circuitous English spoken south of the Tweed, and his pre-Victorian, Regency era rhetorical formalism is quite alien to modern readers and speakers of the King’s Tongue.  Plowing through his dense style is more than a little difficult—but it is also very much worth the effort.

It is worth the effort, that is, if you can find his works to plow through.  And that is no easy matter either.  Virtually all of his books have long been out of print.  Reprints are not only few and far between, they tend to be scanned from antiquarian library copies rather than newly, clearly typeset.  You can find quite an array of titles in the Google Books and Guttenberg Project digital collections—but, they lack the context that good introductory essays, explanatory footnotes and historical references, and deep indexing might provide. 

I have long thought that something like what James Bratt has undertaken to rehabilitate the life and work of Abraham Kuyper (especially his Centennial Reader and forthcoming magisterial biography), needs to be done for the life and work of Chalmers.  But until someone is able to take up that substantial mantle, we will have to content ourselves with a handful of scattered resources.

The first book that I always send readers to is the short profile by John Roxborough and Stuart Piggen entitled, The St. Andrew Seven  (Banner of Truth).  Though not entirely about Chalmers (most of the text is devoted to six of his students and the way he influenced the trajectory of their lives and ministries) it is nevertheless the best single, accessible work available in a modern edition.

The doctoral thesis of John Roxborogh is likewise very helpful.  Thomas Chalmers: Enthusiast For Mission (Rutherford House and Paternoster Press) is a concise examination of the parish vision and missional structure Chalmers helped to institutionalize in the Free Kirk.

In terms of biography, the most helpful work currently in print is a single chapter in Iain Murray’s A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth).  As he always seems to be able to do, Murray captures the heart and soul of both the Gospel message and the human, historical means by which that message is proclaimed in this poor fallen world.

Another helpful doctoral dissertation recently published, but alas now out of print, is Stephen Brown’s Thomas Chalmers and the Godly Commonwealth (Oxford).  Serving as a critical biography, the work affords useful balance to the historical and theological reader.

Of the nearly one hundred works actually written by Chalmers, only the two volumes of his Sabbath Scripture Readings (Solid Ground) and his Letters (Banner of Truth) remain in print.  The Readings are delightful Lectio Divina meditations on individual chapters of Scripture written for his personal devotions during the last few years of his life.  They provide us with a remarkable glimpse into both his heart and his ministry, his piety and his hermeneutic.  The Letters portray the great man at work, at home, on the stump, in the midst of controversy, in the classroom, and amongst his brethren in a way that only a collection of personal correspondence possibly could.

Of his sermons, only The Expulsive Power of a New Affection is widely available.  It is genius and certainly warrants the attentions of serious students of the Gospel.  But a host of his other works are as valuable.  A new, annotated edition of his most accessible works should be a high priority for an enterprising publisher—as would a new comprehensive biography and in-depth studies of his parish vision, missional strategies, and church planting endeavors. 

Chalmers once asserted, “No matter how large, your vision is too small.”  My own vision for recovering the work of Chalmers from undue obscurity is large, but I am quite certain that in this too, he is right: it remains too small. 

Postscript: I have been “working” on several volumes for the past several years.  At least a couple of them will see the light of day very soon: a new annotated edition of the Keystone Memory System devised by Chalmers will be released as an e-book within the month; a very abbreviated, annotated collection of his sermons will be ready as a digital download shortly after the first of the year; a collection of my talks on Chalmers and his reforming vision should be ready by Spring; and both my big biography and my analysis of the parish system he recovered are on the drawing boards.  I even have titles for both: A Wider Diameter of Light for the former; Parish Life for the latter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Leslie Printice: Pro-Life Pioneer

Leslie Printice was a young widow in New York City when she first became active in the pro-life movement.  A member of Gardiner Spring's congregation at the prominent Brick Presbyterian Church, she was encouraged by his sermons on child-killing to take a bold and active stand.  

She organized several meetings in her midtown Manhattan brownstone of doctors, lawyers, politicians, judges, and community leaders to hear the facts about the abortion trade.  Under the auspices of the church she set up the New York Parent and Child Committee.  The committee established prayer networks, sidewalk counseling shifts, and even alternative care programs with Christian doctors.  It also organized regular protests in front of Anna Lohman's five area abortion franchises--known professionally as Madame Restell, Lohman was the boldest, richest, and most visible child-killer.  

Tenacious and unrelenting, Leslie led a rally outside Lohman's lavish home on this day that was by turns emotional, physical, and fierce.  When Lohman went to trial for the first time the next year, Leslie was there--despite innumerable threats on her life from a number of the gangsters on Lohman's payroll--to testify with several children "saved from the butcher's knife."  

Nearly half a century later, her efforts were recognized in Albany by Governor Theodore Roosevelt as the primary catalyst for the state's tougher legislation and stiffer enforcement of protections for the essential right to life of all New Yorkers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


"Advent is a season of preparation.  For centuries Christians have used the month prior to the celebration of Christ’s incarnation to ready their hearts and their homes for the great festival.  While we moderns tend to do a good bit of bustling about in the crowded hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas that hardly constitutes the kind of preparation Advent calls for.  Indeed, traditionally Advent has been a time of quiet introspection, personal examination, and repentance.  It is a time to slow down, to take stock of the things that matter the most, and to do a thorough inner housecleaning.  Advent is, as the ancient teaching of the church asserts, a time of fasting, prayer, confession, and reconciliation.  All the great Advent stories, hymns, customs, and rituals—from the medieval liturgical antiphons and Scrooge’s Christmas Carol to the lighting of Advent candles are attuned to this notion: that the best way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to make straight His pathway in our hearts."   —From Christmas Spirit: The Joyous Carols, Stories, Feasts and Traditions of the Season by Greg Wilbur and George Grant