Friday, December 8, 2023

Harry Reeder's Epigrams

It has been said of Isaac Watts, the hymn writer and successor to John Owen at London’s Mark Lane Chapel, that his native tongue was iambic pentameter. From earliest childhood to aged maturity, he naturally spoke in rhymes and verse. It may likewise be said of Harry Reeder that his native tongue was the alliterative adage. Memorable maxims, engaging epigrams, and apt aphorisms peppered his discourses effortlessly. He naturally spoke in witticisms, saws, and apothegms.


A host of his iconic sayings remain indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of the tens of thousands who benefited from his ministry over the years: 


Never take counsel from your fears.

Salvation is free but discipleship costs.

The Promise Maker gets it done through His Son, the Promise Keeper.

The world is not your measuring stick, it’s your mission field.

If I didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, or can’t control it, stop worrying about it.

Occasionally, the best action is no action.

Satan’s three schemes are Infiltration, Imitation, and Intimidation.

Leadership revolves around Character, Competency, and then Content.

Under the radar is a beautiful place to be.

We are called to be the light of the world, not the light of the church.

The Gospel is the Foundation, the Formation, and the Motivation of the Christian life.

We want a Great Commission church with a Great Commandment culture.

Motivation and mission eventually determine the message.

The Gospel must be the priority, the parameter, and the preeminent point of our ministry.

The Gospel of salvation by grace is the foundation, formation, and motivation for a first love church.


These were not merely clever oratorical quips; they were the embodiment of Dr. Reeder’s indefatigable vision for pastoral care and communication; they were anchors for his theological convictions; they were arrows to send true for his exhortations. As well as anyone since perhaps the time of Charles Simeon, Thomas Chalmers, and C.H. Spurgeon he matched rhetorical means with ministerial ends.


But of all his maxims, there was one that he repeated and reiterated time and again, one that succinctly captured his life purpose:


On Mission; On Message; In Ministry.


In a very real sense, this epigrammatic declaration defined him—and he would argue, it ought to define every believer, every family, and every church. All of the abiding principles that he taught—Biblical preaching, church vitality, shepherding the flock, replicating leaders, and personal and family spiritual formation—emanated from this.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

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 prove 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 his 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 a number of 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 should be released as an e-book later this fall; a very abbreviated, annotated collection of his sermons will be ready as a digital download shortly after that; a collection of epigrams and quotes is also nearing completion; a collection of my talks on Chalmers and his reforming vision could be ready as soon as this Spring; and both my big biography and my analysis of the parish system Chalmers 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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The God Who Answereth by Orphanages

In 1821, Dr. John Rippon, pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, London, began a ministry to the homeless poor. A complex of almshouses was erected on a property adjacent to the church and the monumental task of rehabilitation was begun. Rippon wrote, “Christian compassion is driven by a holy and zealous compulsion when sight be caught of deprived distress. Talk not of mild and gentle acts, of soft provisions and hesitant walk. Christian compassion knows only boldness and sacrifice. Lest we strike the Judas bargain and go the way of the goats, let us invite the strangers in. Let us shelter the aliens beneath a covering of charity and Christlikeness.”

When Charles Haddon Spurgeon succeeded Rippon to the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel in 1854, the work with the poor continued unabated. When the church moved to larger facilities in 1861, it was apparent to Spurgeon that the almshouses, too, would need to be moved into larger and more up-to-date facilities. Therefore, he launched the construction of a new building for them. According to press reports at the time, “no greater effort has ever been expended on behalf of the city's destitute.”

The new structure consisted of seventeen small homes which, in the manner of the times, were joined together in an unbroken row. There, in home-style fashion, the poor were not only sheltered, but also provided with food, clothing, and other necessities. In succeeding years, a school, an orphanage, and a hospital were added, each an expression of that holy and zealous compulsion: Christian compassion.

Both Rippon and Spurgeon looked upon their work of sheltering the homeless as part and parcel with the rest of their ministry. It was inseparable from their other labors: preaching, writing, praying, and evangelizing. It was inseparable, in fact, from their faith in Christ.

In 1870, a renowned doubter accosted Spurgeon on a London thoroughfare and challenged the authenticity of his faith. Spurgeon answered the man by pointing out the failure of the secularists in mounting practical and consistent programs to help the needy thousands of the city. In contrast, he pointed to the multitudinous works of compassion that had sprung from faith in Christ: Whitefield's mission, Mueller's orphanage, Jamison’s hospice, Chalmers’ poor school, Bernardo's shelter, Welch’s job corps, and Martin’s hospital. He then closed the conversation by paraphrasing the victorious cry of Elijah, boisterously asserting, “The God who answereth by orphanages, let Him be God!”

Friday, February 20, 2015

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, December 26, 2014

Childermas, Kindermord, or the Feast of the Innocents

Often called Childermas, Kindermord, or the Feast of the Innocents, the 28th of December (or more often, the Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany), traditionally solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod. It provides focus for the Christian Community’s calling and commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of all human life.

Immediately after the birth of Jesus, after the shepherds heard the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” after the Wise Men presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, horror descended on the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem.

On Childermas we remember—as the faithful Church has remembered in the years since—that we might humbly offer a prophetic warning against our culture’s callous disregard for the innocents, for the children, for the least and last, for the despised and rejected.
But, on Childermas we also resolve—as the faithful Church has always resolved—that we might graciously offer our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to stand with, to speak for, to protect, and to rescue the perishing wherever they might be found.

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:10-12)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Story of Pastor Tom Clark

My dear friend, Tom Clark, was not only the pastor of a small church in New Hampshire, he was the pastor of an entire town. To his dying day he was the embodiment of the Gospel and of the Incarnate Shepherd's heart. This film interview, taken just weeks before he went home to be with Christ, captures powerfully his life, his ministry, his message, and his legacy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Not the Apocrypha?

It is often asked (usually by Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox friends) why we Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture.  The answer is fairly simple and straightforward:

Indeed, there are several reasons why Protestants, like Jews, do not accept the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture. 1st is simply a matter of historicity: the Apocrypha was not even officially accepted by the Roman Catholic Church until 1546 at the Council of Trent (after the Reformation)—and even then, only a small portion of the extant apocrypha literature was authorized: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch. The Trent commissioners undertook several measures to "counter" the Reformation (which is why Trent began what we now call the Counter-Reformation). The grafting in of apocryphal literature was just one among those several reactive decisions in the West.  The literature took a different path to canonical status in the Eastern and Byzantine churches.  But there too, acceptance came late and in reaction to several of the many fractious and schismatic movements that broke away from the Orthodox communions.

2nd, The apocryphal books are largely written in Greek--not Hebrew (except for portions of Ecclesiasticus, 1 Maccabees, Judith, and Tobit). So, they were never actually a part of the Old Testament. That is why the books are not accepted in any of the Jewish traditions.

3rd, the books are never quoted in the New Testament. There are over 260 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament and not one of them is from these books. Of course, a Roman Catholic might respond by saying that there are actually several other Old Testament books that are not quoted in the New Testament, such as Joshua, Judges, and Esther. But of course, all these books had already been accepted into the canon by the Jews--where the Apocrypha had not. The Jews recognized the Old Testament canon, and they did not include the Apocrypha in it. This is significant because of what Paul says: "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. For, they were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1-2). In addition, it can be argued that Jesus referenced the Jewish Old Testament canon from the beginning to the end and did not include the Apocrypha. "From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation" (Luke 11:51).

4th, Roman Catholics often appeal to church history, but we don't find anywhere in the past anything like a consensus on the Apocrypha. The authoritative 5th century Bible translator, Jerome, (who gave us the Latin Vulgate which is used by the Roman church), completely rejected the Apocrypha. Also, the Jewish historian Josephus never mentions the Apocrypha as a part of the canon either. In addition, early church fathers like Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius roundly condemned the use of the Apocrypha.

As a result of all of this, the question never really arose for the Reformers.  And so for us, like them, we can look at the apocryphal books as good supplemental material--historical, cultural, and perhaps even inspirational--but, we cannot, indeed must not, place them side-by-side with Scripture.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Very Great and Precious Promises

You say: "All this seems impossible."
God’s Word says: “All things are possible.” (Luke 18:27)

You say: "I am just too tired."
God’s Word says: “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "I cannot go on."
God’s Word says: “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:9; Psalm 91:15)

You say: "I do not know where to turn."
God’s Word says: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5- 6)

You say: "I cannot do it."
God’s Word says: “You can do all things in Christ.” (Philippians 4:13)

You say: "I know I am not able."
God’s Word says: “But I am able.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

You say: "I cannot see the purpose in all this.”
God’s Word says: “All things work together for good.” (Roman 8:28)

You say: "I simply cannot manage"
God’s Word says: “I will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19)

You say: "I am fretful, fearful, and unsettled."
God’s Word says: “I have not given you a spirit of fear.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

You say: "I am worried and frustrated."
God’s Word says: “Cast all your cares on me.” (1 Peter 5:7)

You say: "I cannot figure all this out."
God’s Word says: “I will give you wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You say: "I feel that I am all alone."
God’s Word says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Now When (Not If) You Pray

Does the irony strike you as powerfully as it does me? In teaching His disciples, the Lord Jesus says, “Now, when you pray…” (Matthew 6:5). Note, the premise of His instruction is that we “will,” not that we “ought;” it is “when,” not “if.”

Jesus is reminding us that prayer is the most common Christian expression of authentic faith; but it may be among the least practiced Christian disciplines. It is said that prayer is the universal language of the soul; but it is actually the solitary province of the supplicating saint. Prayer, as the unconscious heart-cry in times of distress, is the currency of all humanity; but prayer, as the deep and committed soul-bond in communion with Almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

Certainly, regular seasons of prayer are essential to spiritual maturity--which is why spiritual maturity seems to be so terribly scarce. We take our time with God in snatches. We throw out petitions rapid-fire on the run. At best, we rush through our laundry lists of wants and needs. Even in the corporate life of the church prayer gets short shrift—only briefly imposed like talismans at predictable intervals in worship services, business meetings, and meals.

Thus, the great romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge sadly observed, “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable; praying that is, with the total concentration of the faculties on God. The great mass of worldly men, learned men, and yea, even religious men are absolutely incapable of prayer.”

In contrast, the heroes of the faith through the ages have always been diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves before God with prayers, petitions, and supplications always acknowledging their utter dependency upon His mercy and grace. Historical anecdotes abound. Athanasius, for instance, prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside eighteen months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four till eight in the morning to God. John Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer--beginning well before dawn. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?”

Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Francis Asbury rose each morning at four in order to spend two hours in prayer. Samuel Rutherford began praying at three. If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?”

John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer. John Welch thought the day ill-spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer. The extraordinary thing is that such fervent praying was not considered to be particularly extraordinary. Indeed, as Homer W. Hodge argued, “Prayer should always be the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing.”

For them, prayer was a matter of “when,” and not “if.” And, so it should be with us. May God allow us to hear the Master’s voice say, without even a touch of irony, “Now, when you pray…”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parish Life: A Thomas Chalmers Reader

“There is not, of course, any difficulty in explaining the indifference of the modern secular mind to Chalmers, neither is it surprising that churchmen of liberal persuasion should lack enthusiasm for his memory. What is more problematical is the question why evangelical Christianity itself should have made so little of him these many years.” Iaian Murray

“To know Chalmers is to love him, and to wish to be like him. Those to whom the cause of Christ is dear can but seek that a double portion of his spirit should be upon them.” Adam Philip

“What I thirst to read is Chalmers’ life….I cannot conceive of a wiser, greater or better man. Every part of his character was colossal; he had the heart of twenty men; the head of twenty men; the energy of a hundred. He has not left his equal in the world.” John Mackintosh

“He had the greatest of the nation in his as well as well as that of the Church, and it is an immense gain to a Churchman when he has such an interest in the State as keeps his ethics from becoming ecclesiastically narrow in range.” Principal R.G. Denney

“He answered all one’s young notions, and more, of what ‘greatness’ might be….Scotland was but a platform to and fro on which there walked a Chalmers.” Professor L.T. Masson

“You ask me to tell you about Dr. Chalmers. I must tell you first, then, that of all men he is the mot modest and speaks with undissembled gentleness and liberality of those who differ from him in opinion. Every word he says has the stamp of genius; yet the calmness, ease and simplicity of his conversation is such that to ordinary minds he might appear and ordinary man.” Mrs. A.G Grant

“Truly I consider him as raised up by God for a great and peculiar work. His depth of thought, origionality in illustrating and strength in stating are unrivalled in the present day. In other respects he is too sanguine. He does not sufficiently see that a Chalmers is necessary to carry into effect the plans of a Chalmers." Charles Simeon

“It was his contagious ‘enthusiasm for humanity’ that invested him in the eyes of students, as well as congregations, broad Scotland over, classes and masses alike, with an admiring reverence assigned to one of the old Prophets of Israel.” J.R. Macduff

“During his life of sixty-seven years, Chalmers gave forty-four years of public service. Twenty of these he spent as a minister in three parishes—twenty-four he spent as a professor in three different chairs.” Adam Philip

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Vital, Essential Truth

This morning, in preparation for a day of writing, I reread the journal I kept during a trip to Iraq in 2003.  It was quite the adventure--in every conceivable sense of that word.

I was struck by my last entry in the journal, written as our team was safely headed home:

"According to Hebrews, faith is assurance and conviction. But faithfulness is endurance and enlightenment with an empathy for all those who are exposed.  Thus, the Christian life affords tremendous personal and individual benefits, but cannot be lived out on a merely personal or individual level.  I pray I never forget this vital, essential truth."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Authentic Record

"There is no subject on which people are readier to form rash opinions than religion.  The Bible is the best corrective to these.  A man should sit down to it with the determination of taking his lesson just as he finds it--of founding his creed upon the sole principle of 'Thus Saieth the Lord,' and deriving his every idea and his every impression of truth from the authentic record of God's will." Thomas Chalmers

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Divorcing God: Secularism and the Republic

In 1965, Billy Graham was working on his book "World Aflame." He had just finished a chapter vividly describing the sinful conditions in America, and gave it to his wife to read. Ruth was sobered by the writing and returned the document to the study where he was writing and laid it on his desk, saying, "Billy, if God doesn't come soon and bring judgment upon the United States, He's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!" 

The story of that encounter was later recalled as an illustration in a sermon by Dr. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The message entitled "Prayer and the World Crisis," was delivered in 1976 at the National Prayer Congress in Dallas, Texas.

Lots of water has passed under the bridge since then--and yet the statement is truer than ever as this video clip so powerfully reminds us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Parish Lententide Series

During the Christmas holidays in 1841, Thomas Chalmers, then perhaps the most prominent man in all of Scotland, paid a visit to the tiny Borders town of Skirling in Peebleshire. During his stay, he consented to stop by the local village school and give a lecture on Mathematics.

The great man was always inclined to leave a moral philosophy lesson for his students, even when he was teaching natural philosophy. And so it was that at the conclusion of his talk, he drew a large circle on the slate board and declaimed:

"The wider a man's knowledge becomes, the deeper should be his humility; for the more he knows the more he sees of what remains unknown. The wider the diameter of light, the larger the circumference of darkness. And so, with every footstep of growing knowledge there ought to be a growing humility--that is the best guarantee both for a sound philosophy and a sound faith."

The importance of this vital lesson was not soon lost on his awestruck students. Nor has it been lost on me. The phrase, "A Wider Diameter of Light," and all it seems to say about Chalmers, about his vision of the Christian life, and about his ongoing legacy has become emblematic to me of the vibrant Christian life. Not surprisingly then, it is the working title of the big biography of Chalmers that I am working on (well, working off and on). And, it is the title I have given to a series of stories I will be telling all through this upcoming Lententide season on Wednesday evenings at Parish Pres.

Won't you join us as we explore "A Wider Diameter of Light"? Dinner starts at 6 PM. A vespers of story and song begins at 6:30. Then, choir and prayer begin at 7 PM. RSVP with the church office.

Oh, and just a side note about the image: It was painted by John Henry Lorimer (1856-1936) was a renowned Scots portrait painter. Born in Edinburgh and trained at the Royal Scottish Academy. He was a student of George Paul Chalmers, grand-nephew of the great Thomas Chalmers. Perhaps his best known work (and my own personal favorite) is “The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk,” which hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland.  I think it really captures the very heart of "parish life" and the Chalmers ideal.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Drake's Prayer

Sir Francis Drake was a daring Elizabethan sailor, explorer, and warrior. On his greatest adventure, he departed Portsmouth in 1577 aboard his ship, the Golden Hind.  His aim was to raid the stockpiles of Hapsburg Spanish gold on the west coast of South America. At the conclusion of his raids, he ventured far to the north, claiming Coastal California and Oregon for England--what he had dubbed, "New Albion." He eventually returned home after circumnavigating the globe with booty worth more than a half million pounds sterling (a vast fortune in that day).

This is the prayer he wrote as he set out from Portsmouth:

"Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ. Amen."

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prayer for the New Year: "Valley of Vision"

O Lord, length of days does not profit me
Except the days are passed in Thy presence,
In thy service, to Thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour
that I may not be a moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love
Advance Thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father, as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, as my helm,
Thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy call,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.

May Thy fear be my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy. Amen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Way of Grace

"We have to make the Bible our Vade Mecum, our book of reference, our book of trust.  Let us be convinced more and more of the prodigious fertility of the Bible.  How much lies hidden and unobserved, even after many perusals; and surely if it be true that a man may read it an hundred times and find something on his next reading which he missed on all his former ones, oftener recourse to this means of grace bids fair for multiplying our blessings.  Therefore, let us be quick to be in the way of grace." Thomas Chalmers

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Creed or Chaos

During the Second World War, the English woman of letters, Dorothy Sayers, gave a stunning address on the importance of doctrine.  Published after the war as Creed or Chaos, the central argument of the book remains remarkably prescient:

"Something is happening to us today, which has not happened for a very long time. We are waging a war of religion. Not a civil war between adherents of the same religion, but a life-and-death struggle between Christian and pagan. The Christians are, it must be confessed, not very good Christians, and the pagans do not officially proclaim themselves worshippers of Mahound or even of Odin, but the stark fact remains that Christendom and heathendom now stand face to face as they have not done in Europe since the days of Charlemagne. 

The people who say that this is a war of economics or of power-politics, are only dabbling about on the surface of things. Even those who say it is a war to preserve freedom and justice and faith have gone only half-way to the truth. The real question is what economics and politics are to be used for; whether freedom and justice and faith have any right to be considered at all; at bottom it is a violent and irreconcilable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma. 

The word dogma is unpopular, and that is why I have used it. It is our own distrust of dogma that is handicapping us in the struggle. The immense spiritual strength of our opponents lies precisely in the fact that they have fervently embraced, and hold with fanatical fervor, dogma which is none the less dogma for being called "ideology." We on our side have been trying for several centuries to uphold a particular standard of ethical values which derives from Christian dogma, while gradually dispensing with the very dogma which is the sole rational foundation for those values. 

The thing I want to say is this: it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. 

It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. 

This is the Church's opportunity, if she chooses to take it. So far as the people's readiness to listen goes, she has not been in so strong a position for at least two centuries. The rival philosophies of humanism, enlightened self-interest, and mechanical progress have broken down badly; the antagonism of science has proved to be far more apparent than real, and the happy-go-lucky doctrine of "laissez-faire" is completely discredited. But no good whatever will be done by a retreat into personal piety or by mere exhortation to a "recall to prayer." The thing that is in danger is the whole structure of society, and it is necessary to persuade thinking men and women of the vital and intimate connection between the structure of society and the theological doctrines of Christianity. 

The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. "No creed but Christ" has been a popular slogan for so long that we are apt to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology. 

If we really want a Christian society we must teach Christianity, and it is absolutely impossible to teach Christianity without teaching Christian dogma."


Even as Christ has wrought
Wine from water,
So has the Spirit wrought
Sweetness from gall,
Life from death,
Even in the first breath
Of repentance.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013)

Robert Farrar Capon, a writer, thinker, pastor, and cook of extraordinary depth and insight, has gone home to be with the Lord.

He said and did and wrote much, for which we can all be thankful. Perhaps the following (one of my favorite passages from his revelatory book, The Supper of the Lamb) will suffice to explain why:

To raise a glass, however, is to raise a question. One honest look at any real thing—one minute’s contemplation of any process on earth—leads straight into the conundrum of the relationship of God to the world. The solution is hardly ob­vious. For something that could not be at all without God, creation seems to do rather well without Him. Only miracles are simple; nature is a mystery. Autumn by autumn, He makes wine upon a thousand hills, but He does it without tipping His hand. Glucose, fructose, and Saccharomyces el­lipsoideus apparently manage very nicely on their own. So much so, that the resolving of the conflict between the sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology. Permit me, therefore, glass in hand and cooking Sherry within easy reach, the world’s most interrupted discourse on the subject. In vino veritas.

Take the largest part of that truth first. God makes wine. For all its difficulties, there is no way around the doctrine of creation. But notice the tense: He makes; not made. He did not create once upon a time, only to find himself saddled now with the unavoidable and embarrassing result of that first rash decision. That is only to welsh on the idea of an unnecessary world, to make creation a self-perpetuating pool game which is contingent only at the start—which needs only the first push on the cue ball to keep it going forever. It will not do: The world is more unnecessary than that. It is unnecessary now; it cries in this moment for a cause to hold it in being. It was St. Thomas, I think, who pointed out long ago that if God wanted to get rid of the universe, He would not have to do anything; He would have to stop doing something. Wine is—the fruit of the vine stands in act, outside of nothing—because it is His very present pleasure to have it so. The creative act is contemporary, intimate, and immediate to each part, parcel and period of the world.

Do you see what that means? In a general way we con­cede that God made the world out of joy: He didn’t need it; He just thought it was a good thing. But if you confine His activity in creation to the beginning only, you lose most of the joy in the subsequent shuffle of history. Sure, it was good back then, you say, but since then, we’ve been eating leftovers. How much better a world it becomes when you see Him creating at all times and at every time; when you see that the preserving of the old in being is just as much creation as the bringing of the new out of nothing. Each thing, at every moment, becomes the delight of His hand, the apple of His eye. The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6=2C2H5OH+2CO2 is a de­pendable process because, every September, He says, That was nice; do it again.

Let us pause and drink to that.

Glorious Grace

"Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears." Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013)

Monday, August 12, 2013

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 Wesleyan Methodists in favor of the doctrines of Sovereign Grace of the Puritan 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—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 confound.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Different Tigger Altogether

“Well, I’ve got an idea,” said Rabbit.  “And, here it is.”
“We take Tigger for a long explore.  Somewhere where he has never been.  And then, we lose him there.  And, the next morning we find him again.  And mark my words, he’ll be a different Tigger altogether.”
“Why?” asked Pooh.
“Because, he’ll be a humble Tigger.  Because, he’ll be a sad Tigger.  A melancholy Tigger.  A small and sorry Tigger.  An oh-Rabbit-I’m-so-glad to-see-you Tigger.  That’s why.” A.A. Milne 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Soli Vade Mecum Vitae

"I conceive every duty of a Christian to be comprehended in a single word: translation--a translation of the Scriptures into his tongue, and a translation of its truths into his own heart and conduct. The Bible must be our soli vade mecum vitae, our sole book of reference for life, our only book of trust." Thomas Chalmers 

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Lesson in Skirling

During the Christmas holidays in 1841, Thomas Chalmers, then perhaps the most prominent man in all of Scotland, paid a visit to the tiny Borders town of Skirling in Peebleshire.  During his stay, he consented to stop by the local village school and give a lecture on Mathematics.  

The great man was always inclined to leave a moral philosophy lesson for his students, even when he was teaching natural philosophy.  And so it was that at the conclusion of his talk, he drew a large circle on the slate board and declaimed:

"The wider a man's knowledge becomes, the deeper should be his humility; for the more he knows the more he sees of what remains unknown. The wider the diameter of light, the larger the circumference of darkness. And so, with every footstep of growing knowledge there ought to be a growing humility--that is the best guarantee both for a sound philosophy and a sound faith."

The importance of this vital lesson was not soon lost on his awestruck students.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Theological Lint-Pickers

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

In 1813, Thomas Chalmers wrote in “The Christian Instructor” bemoaning the compulsion to internecine warfare amongst the Reformed, Paleo-Conservative, Theological Lint-Pickers, and Nomenclature-Saber-Rattlers in the Scottish Church.

He described the tendency as “that mingled sentiment of fear and aversion with which they listen, even to opinions that are evangelical and substantially their own, when they came to them couched in a phraseology different from what their ears have been accustomed to.”

Their selective but ardent litmus tests for acceptance, he argued, goes well beyond creedal faithfulness. “They must have something even more than the bare and essential attributes of orthodoxy.”  Indeed, “Even orthodoxy is not welcome unless she presents herself in that dress in which she is familiar to them; and if the slightest innovation in the form of that vehicle which brings her to their doors, she is refused admittance, or at best treated as a very suspicious visitor.”

Chalmers concluded that this parsimonious fractiousness is largely due to “a want of those two very things which they often insist upon, and with justice, as the leading attributes of a true and decided Christian: there is a want of faith and a want of spirituality.”

Alas, two hundred years later, it seems little has changed.