29 December 2005

Enjoying a break from blogging

Thanks for your patience. I'll be back with some Spurgeon on Monday, and back to our regularly scheduled programing around Tuesday or Wednesday.

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26 December 2005

Glory, Peace, Goodwill

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "The First Christmas Carol," originally preached Sunday Morning, December 20, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

A Thought to Last the Whole Week

Merry Christmas from SpurgeonThe angels sang something which men could understand—something which men ought to understand—something which will make men much better if they will understand it. The angels were singing about Jesus who was born in the manger. We must look upon their song as being built upon this foundation. They sang of Christ, and the salvation which he came into this world to work out. And what they said of this salvation was this: they said, first, that it gave glory to God; secondly, that it gave peace to man; and, thirdly, that it was a token of God's good will towards the human race.

1. First, they said that this salvation gave glory to God. They had been present on many august occasions, and they had joined in many a solemn chorus to the praise of their Almighty Creator. They were present at the creation: "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." They had seen many a planet fashioned between the palms of Jehovah, and wheeled by his eternal hands through the infinitude of space. They had sung solemn songs over many a world which the Great One had created. We doubt not, they had often chanted "Blessing and honour, and glory, and majesty, and power, and dominion, and might, be unto him that sitteth on the throne," manifesting himself in the work of creation.

I doubt not, too, that their songs had gathered force through ages. As when first created, their first breath was song, so when they saw God create new worlds then their song received another note; they rose a little higher in the gamut of adoration. But this time, when they saw God stoop from his throne, and become a babe, hanging upon a woman's breast, they lifted their notes higher still; and reaching to the uttermost stretch of angelic music, they gained the highest notes of the divine scale of praise, and they sung, "Glory to God in the highest," for higher in goodness they felt God could not go.

Thus their highest praise they gave to him in the highest act of his godhead. If it be true that there is a hierarchy of angels, rising tier upon tier in magnificence and dignity—if the apostle teaches us that there be "angels, and principalities, and powers, and thrones, and dominions," amongst these blest inhabitants of the upper world—I can suppose that when the intelligence was first communicated to those angels that are to be found upon the outskirts of the heavenly world, when they looked down from heaven and saw the newborn babe, they sent the news backward to the place whence the miracle first proceeded, singing

"Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your downward flight to earth,
Ye who sing creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth;
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King."

And as the message ran from rank to rank, at last the presence angels, those four cherubim that perpetually watch around the throne of God—those wheels with eyes—took up the strain, and, gathering up the song of all the inferior grades of angels, surmounted the divine pinnacle of harmony with their own solemn chant of adoration, upon which the entire host shouted, "The highest angels praise thee."—"Glory to God in the highest." Ay, there is no mortal that can ever dream how magnificent was that song. Then, note, if angels shouted before and when the world was made, their hallelujahs were more full, more strong, more magnificent, if not more hearty, when they saw Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary to be man's redeemer—"Glory to God in the highest."

What is the instructive lesson to be learned from this first syllable of the angels' song? Why this, that salvation is God's highest glory. He is glorified in every dew drop that twinkles to the morning sun. He is magnified in every wood flower that blossoms in the copse, although it live to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness in the forest air. God is glorified in every bird that warbles on the spray; in every lamb that skips the mead. Do not the fishes in the sea praise him? From the tiny minnow to the huge Leviathan, do not all creatures that swim the water bless and praise his name? Do not all created things extol him? Is there aught beneath the sky, save man, that doth not glorify God? Do not the stars exalt him, when they write his name upon the azure of heaven in their golden letters? Do not the lightnings adore him when they flash his brightness in arrows of light piercing the midnight darkness? Do not thunders extol him when they roll like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not all things exalt him, from the least even to the greatest?

But sing, sing, oh universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, thou canst not afford a song so sweet as the song of Incarnation. Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle—Incarnation! There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High.

Pause, Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified. Lo! what wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly. Lo! what power, for where is power so great as when it concealeth power? What power, that Godhead should unrobe itself and become man! Behold, what love is thus revealed to us when Jesus becomes a man. Behold ye, what faithfulness! How many promises are this day kept? How many solemn obligations are this hour discharged? Tell me one attribute of God that is not manifest in Jesus; and your ignorance shall be the reason why you have not seen it so. The whole of God is glorified in Christ; and though some part of the name of God is written in the universe, it is here best read—in Him who was the Son of Man, and, yet, the Son of God.

But, let me say one word here before I go away from this point. We must learn from this, that if salvation glorifies God, glorifies him in the highest degree, and makes the highest creatures praise him, this one reflection may be added—then, that doctrine which glorifies man in salvation cannot be the gospel. For salvation glorifies God. The angels were no Arminians, they sang, "Glory to God in the highest." They believe in no doctrine which uncrowns Christ, and puts the crown upon the head of mortals. They believe in no system of faith which makes salvation dependent upon the creature, and, which really gives the creature the praise, for what is it less than for a man to save himself, if the whole dependence of salvation rests upon his own free will? No, my brethren; they may be some preachers, that delight to preach a doctrine that magnifies man; but in their gospel angels have no delight. The only glad tidings that made the angels sing, are those that put God first, God last, God midst, and God without end, in the salvation of his creatures, and put the crown wholly and alone upon the head of him that saves without a helper. "Glory to God in the highest," is the angels' song.

2. When they had sung this, they sang what they had never sung before. "Glory to God in the highest," was an old, old song; they had sung that from before the foundations of the world. But, now, they sang as it were a new song before the throne of God: for they added this stanza—"on earth, peace."

They did not sing that in the garden. There was peace there, but it seemed a thing of course, and scarce worth singing of. There was more than peace there; for there was glory to God there. But, now, man had fallen, and since the day when cherubim with fiery swords drove out the man, there had been no peace on earth, save in the breast of some believers, who had obtained peace from the living fountain of this incarnation of Christ. Wars had raged from the ends of the world; men had slaughtered one another, heaps on heaps. There had been wars within as well as wars without. Conscience had fought with man; Satan had tormented man with thoughts of sin. There had been no peace on earth since Adam fell.

But, now, when the newborn King made his appearance, the swaddling band with which he was wrapped up was the white flag of peace. That manger was the place where the treaty was signed, whereby warfare should be stopped between man's conscience and himself, man's conscience and his God. It was then, that day, the trumpet blew—"Sheathe the sword, oh man, sheathe the sword, oh conscience, for God is now at peace with man, and man at peace with God." Do you not feel my brethren, that the gospel of God is peace to man? Where else can peace be found, but in the message of Jesus?

Go legalist, work for peace with toil and pain, and thou shalt never find it. Go, thou, that trustest in the law: go thou, to Sinai; look to the flames that Moses saw, and shrink, and tremble, and despair; for peace is nowhere to be found, but in him, of whom it is said, "This man shall be peace." And what a peace it is, beloved! It is peace like a river, and righteousness like the waves of the sea. It is the peace of God that passeth all understanding, which keeps our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. This sacred peace between the pardoned soul and God the pardoner; this marvelous at-one-ment between the sinner and his judge, this was it that the angels sung when they said, "peace on earth."

3. And, then, they wisely ended their song with a third note. They said, "Good will to man."

Philosophers have said that God has a good will toward man; but I never knew any man who derived much comfort from their philosophical assertion. Wise men have thought from what we have seen in creation that God had much good will toward man, or else his works would never have been so constructed for their comfort; but I never heard of any man who could risk his soul's peace upon such a faint hope as that.

But I have not only heard of thousands, but I know them, who are quite sure that God has a good will towards men; and if you ask their reason, they will give a full and perfect answer. They say, he has good will toward man for he gave his Son. No greater proof of kindness between the Creator and his subjects can possibly be afforded than when the Creator gives his only begotten and well beloved Son to die.

Though the first note is God-like, and though the second note is peaceful, this third note melts my heart the most.

Some think of God as if he were a morose being who hated all mankind. Some picture him as if he were some abstract subsistence taking no interest in our affairs. Hark ye, God has "good will toward men." You know what good will means. Well, Swearer, you have cursed God; he has not fulfilled his curse on you; he has good will towards you, though you have no good will towards him. Infidel, you have sinned high and hard against the Most High; he has said no hard things against you, for he has good will towards men. Poor sinner, thou hast broken his laws; thou art half afraid to come to the throne of his mercy lest he should spurn thee; hear thou this, and be comforted—God has good will towards men, so good a will that he has said, and said it with an oath too, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live;" so good a will moreover that he has even condescended to say, "Come, now, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson, they shall be whiter than snow."

And if you say, "Lord, how shall I know that thou hast this good will towards me?" he points to yonder manger, and says, "Sinner, if I had not a good will towards thee, would I have parted with my Son? if I had not good will towards the human race, would I have given up my Son to become one of that race that he might by so doing redeem them from death?" Ye that doubt the Master's love, look ye to that circle of angels; see their blaze of glory; hear their son, and let your doubts die away in that sweet music and be buried in a shroud of harmony.

He has good will to men; he is willing to pardon; he passes by iniquity, transgression, and sin. And mark thee, if Satan shall then add, "But though God hath good will, yet he cannot violate his justice, therefore his mercy may be ineffective, and you may die;" then listen to that first note of the song, "Glory to God in the highest," and reply to Satan and all his temptations, that when God shows good will to a penitent sinner, there is not only peace in the sinner's heart, but it brings glory to every attribute of God, and so he can be just, and yet justify the sinner, and glorify himself.

I do not pretend to say that I have opened all the instructions contained in these three sentences, but I may perhaps direct you into a train of thought that may serve you for the week. I hope that all through the week you will have a truly merry Christmas by feeling the power of these words, and knowing the unction of them. "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men."
C. H. Spurgeon

Note: This will be a slow week on PyroManiac. I plan to enjoy the holidays with my family. So don't anticipate anything deep or profound. And don't be surprised if I post nothing at all until after the first of the year. Have a blessed year's end.

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23 December 2005

A slight detour on the question of whether God is ex lex

PyroManiacI'm going to let the comment thread on yesterday's post develop a bit before pursuing the subject of the moral law's continuity. (I'll probably pick up the topic soon after Christmas.)

Instead, today, I want to go back to another related, but totally different, issue that I raised in Tuesday's post. It's the question of whether God Himself operates outside His own law—ex lex.

Gordon Clark wrote a short but very thought-provoking work titled "God and Evil: The problem Solved" (originally a chapter in his book Religion, Reason and Revelation, now also published as a standalone work). The work itself is not on the Web, but a sympathetic review and summary by Gary Crampton may be found here. In some respects, Clark's work is helpful, explaining clearly (for example) the principle of secondary causation and how it relates to the issue of culpability. (This is an important point which, as noted below, Clark then unfortunately proceeds to make moot.)

Clark also gives several clear reasons why it's neither biblical nor rational to argue that God merely "permitted" evil without sovereignly decreeing it.

(Without getting sidetracked on a secondary issue, let me go on record as saying I believe there is a permissive element in God's decree with respect to evil. That is, His decree doesn't make him the author or efficient cause of evil. But, as Calvin said, God's role in the origin of evil is not bare permission. In other words, it's not permission against His will, but a positive decree. In that respect, I think Clark is absolutely right, and his arguments on this point are cogent and persuasive.)

But in the process, Clark makes much of the ex lex argument to absolve God from the charge that He is therefore culpable for the entry of evil into His creation. This, I believe, is not particularly helpful, and a lot of people who have been influenced by Clark and who think he has neatly and easily solved the problem of evil tend to fall into terribly sloppy thinking about divine holiness, God's instrumentality with respect to evil, and the relationship between causality and culpability.

Anyway, I think John Frame's assessment of Clark's famous theodicy is helpful. Here it is. Frame's own footnotes are included in braces {and faint type}:

[Clark's] argument is that God is ex lex, which means "outside of the law." The idea is that God is outside of or above the laws he prescribes for man. He tells us not to kill, yet he retains for himself the right to take human life. Thus, he is not himself bound to obey the Ten Commandments or any other law given to man in Scripture. Morally, he is on an entirely different level from us. Therefore, he has the right to do many things that seem evil to us, even things which contradict Scriptural norms. For a man to cause evil indirectly might very well be wrong, but it would not be wrong for God. {But on this basis, it would also not be wrong for God to cause evil directly. That is why I said this argument makes the indirect-cause argument beside the point.} Thus Clark neatly finesses any argument against God's justice or goodness.

There is some truth in this approach. As we shall see, Scripture does forbid human criticism of God's actions, and the reason is, as Clark implies, divine transcendence. It is also true that God has some prerogatives that he forbids to us, such as the freedom to take human life.

Clark forgets, however, or perhaps denies, the Reformed and biblical maxim that the law reflects God's own character. To obey the law is to imitate God, to be like him, to image him (Ex. 20:11; Lev. 11:44-45; Matt. 5:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). There is in biblical ethics also an imitation of Christ, centered on the atonement (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:3ff.; 1 John 3:16; 4:8-10). Obviously, there is much about God that we cannot imitate, including those prerogatives mentioned earlier. Satan tempted Eve into seeking to become "like God" in the sense of coveting His prerogatives (Gen. 3:5). {John Murray said that the difference between the two ways of seeking God's likeness appears to be a razor's edge, while there is actually a deep chasm between them.} But the overall holiness, justice, and goodness of God is something we can and must imitate on the human level.

So God does honor, in general, the same law that he gives to us. He rules out murder because he hates to see one human being murder another, and he intends to reserve for himself the right to control human death. He prohibits adultery because he hates adultery (which is a mirror of idolatry—see Hosea). We can be assured that God will behave according to the same standards of holiness that he prescribes for us, except insofar as Scripture declares a difference between his responsibilities and ours.

{Oddly, Clark, who is usually accused of being a Platonic realist, at this point veers into the opposite of realism, namely, nominalism. The extreme nominalists held that the biblical laws were not reflections of God's nature, but merely arbitrary requirements. God could have as easily commanded adultery as forbidden it. I mentioned this once in a letter to Clark, and he appreciated the irony, but did not provide an answer. Why, I wonder, didn't he deal with moral law the same way he dealt with reason and logic in, e.g., The Johannine Logos (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972)? There he argued that God's reason/logic was neither above God (Plato) nor below God (nominalism), but God's own rational nature. Why did he not take the same view of God's moral standards?}

[From: Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 166-68.]

Frame concludes that Clark's ex lex defense "simply is not biblical." I think he's right.

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22 December 2005

Is Moses' law a simple, seamless garment?

Is there any sound biblical basis for differentiating between the moral aspect of Moses' law and its ceremonial features?

I believe there is. In fact, I would argue that some sort of distinction like that is necessary before you can make good, thoughtful sense of some pretty basic biblical texts, including Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:14-15; 1 John 3:4; 1 Timothy 1:8; Leviticus 18:24; and scores of other key passages.

I'm not going to try to prove the whole argument in one post, because too many of my posts are overlong already. But I'm going to start with a very narrow focus and try to build my case one small point or two at a time.

I would simply ask commenters who are itching to argue against my position to stay with the point under discussion and not try to anticipate arguments I haven't even made yet. No fair jumping the gun and trying to turn the discussion to some larger question that's not even on the table yet. And it's especially not fair to for anyone to pretend I'm claiming that a couple of very simple posts dealing with a narrow issue are all that's needed to make the whole case for my position. That is not what I think; I make no such claim; and those whose reflexive counter-argument always begins with the accusation that I haven't been thorough enough are welcome to give that old workhorse a rest this time—at least until we get ten or fifteen posts into the topic.

(By the way, the itch to jump the gun seems to be a peculiar tendency of some commenters at my blog. It's is how the modern-prophecy discussion got derailed before it really even got started. I haven't forgotten my promise to come back to that topic. I'm just going to wait for my charismatic friends who are spoiling for a fight about the larger and more academic issue of cessationism to calm down first, so that we can get back to the fairly simple, more practical question that I initially raised—regarding whether anyone is actually receiving reliable messages directly from God on an ongoing basis today. But that's not the subject of today's post; the law is.)

Anyway, I fully realize there are some terms vital to this discussion that are just crying for technical definitions, and I haven't even tried to define them yet (including the crucial but often ambiguous expression "moral law"). Please stay with me and try to be patient. We can get through this.

But let me start with a very simple question for those who insist that the Mosaic law must be seen as one seamless garment with no legitimate categorical distinctions between its various precepts. (I've noticed that people these days especially seem to be passionate in their opposition to the famous threefold taxonomy of the law's moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, XIX:3-5. Perhaps we can take up the issue of the threefold division before we are done, but here my focus is even narrower than that. I just want to challenge those who insist that the law is all one indivisible unit whose precepts are therefore all basically of equal import.)

Here's the question:

Are there not clear biblical distinctions made repeatedly between the "weightier matters" and the external features of the law (Matthew 23:23); between "mercy" and "sacrifice" (Matthew 12:7); between "the knowledge of God" and "burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6); between "obedience" and "the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22); between "justice" and legal ritual (Proverbs 21:3); between the putting away of evil and "vain oblations . . . incense . . . sabbaths . . . feasts" (Isaiah 1:11-17); between true righteousness and the "noise of . . . songs" (Amos 5:23-24)?

As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13). Doesn't that suggest that one aspect of the law takes moral precedence over another?

To put the same question another way: Why would Jesus criticize the Pharisees and other teachers of the law for straining out the gnats of ceremonial defilement while swallowing the camels of injustice and cruelty (Matthew 23:23-24) if there really is no legitimate distinction between any different aspects of the law?

Those very contrasts are some of the key distinctions I see between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the law. So before anyone tries to sweep this whole issue aside by putting his fingers in his ears and reciting the mantra about there being "no exegetical proof for any divisions in the law," please note that the distinctions I'm speaking of here are spelled out in Scripture, not in the Confession of Faith.

Furthermore, all the texts I have cited assume that we ought to be able to see and understand certain distinctions between various aspects of the law, even though (as far as I can see) there is no single proof-text that spells out a list of those distinctions for us, whether in fine detail or in convenient shorthand.

The weight of so many admonitions and condemnations aimed at people who seemed oblivious to the differences between gnats and camels only increases my certainty that God holds us accountable not merely for the explicit statements of Scripture, but more importantly for the true sense of those statements—as well as for any sound inferences that can be deduced from them by good and necessary consequence.

And incidentally, that's why I'm not easily persuaded by the bare assertion of one commenter who declared ("for the record"!) that "there is NO exegetical basis for dividing the Mosaic code into these nifty little component parts. NONE!"

For future reference, that sort of histrionic dismissal of centuries of mainstream Protestant opinion isn't the kind of "argument" I find particularly persuasive. I realize it's becoming more and more the norm, but it still doesn't get much traction around here.

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20 December 2005

Ex lex?

No law can be set above God, but God Himself should never be thought of as utterly lawless. There are things He cannot do: "He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). He "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2).

The reason He cannot do these things is not because some higher law binds Him, but because such actions are inconsistent with His own holy character.

Calvin wrote: "We fancy no lawless God who is a law unto himself. . . . The will of God is not only free of all fault but is [itself] the highest rule of perfection, and even the law of all laws" (Institutes 3.23.2).

To the careless thinker, it may seem as if Calvin was either contradicting himself or making an extremely fine distinction (God is not a law unto Himself; but His will is the law of all laws). Actually Calvin was making a crucial point. A proper understanding of biblical law ultimately hinges on this point: While acknowledging that God gives account to no one, we must likewise recognize that He is not lawless. The moral principles by which God rules, far from being aimless or arbitrary, are grounded in His own perfect holiness and are therefore as eternal and unchangeable as God Himself.

It is vital to see this aspect of the law. Unless you want to say that God is capricious, changeable, or even lawless, you cannot deny that certain eternally inviolable moral standards flow from His very character and not only determine the nature of the law by which He governs His creatures, but these principles also circumscribe God's own actions.

If you affirm that much, you have already in effect acknowledged the validity of a fundamental distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic code.

Some addenda after reading the first few comments:

  1. I'm surprised the connection between the final sentence and the rest of the post seems like a non sequitur to so many. I'll definitely be expanding on this claim in future posts. But in short, the point seems pretty obvious to me:
    • The term "moral law" normally refers to those principles of holiness taught by the law that are expressions of God's own eternal, righteous, and immutable character. By definition, these are principles that cannot be altered or abrogated.
    • It's evident that some other aspects of the law have been fulfilled and thus either altered or abrogated (Hebrews 7:11-12). Hebrews 8-10 and Colossians 2 outline some of these shadowy, symbolic, and temporary aspects of the law. They are (by and large) symbols, not moral standards, and they clearly serve a different purpose from the eternal, moral elements of the law.
    • It is therefore folly to reject the distinction between moral and ceremonial law on the grounds that there's no "text" (a single proof-text?) outlining such a distinction in those precise terms. It is likewise folly to refuse to see that some aspects of the law are "weighter matters" (Matthew 23:23) just because we aren't given a convenient, explicit list of "objective criteria" to make hard-line distinctions. I'll acknowledge up front that the distinctions between the moral and ceremonial precepts of the law aren't always immediately clear, and sometimes they overlap (the Sabbath being the classic example). But (and here's one of my central points) this is a good example of where our thinking needs to be guided by "good and necessary consequence" and not merely by proof-texting.

  2. If "at first read" anyone thought I was saying "God is 'governed' by" law, you need to read the first phrase of my post again. Then read the second paragraph. I actually began by expressly denying such a notion.
  3. I'm also arguing, however, that this does not necessarily entail the notion that God is so utterly ex lex (without law) that He Himself might act in a way that is inconsistent with the righteous principles of His law, or that He would ever be arbitrary in what He wills.
  4. I'm not intending to suggest that God's character has ultimacy over His will. But the opposite notion strikes me as fraught with all sorts of mischief. When we contemplate the divine will and the divine character, it seems to me that the question of ontological antecedence is moot and wholly inappropriate. This is admittedly one of the difficulties we have trying to fathom God's eternality, but I am convinced that trying to understand God's will in isolation from His character is a serious error, and it's the very error I think Calvin was addressing in the quote I cited above.

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19 December 2005

A plea to would-be poets

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

Among all the things I love about Charles Spurgeon, the impishness that occasionally surfaced in his sense of humor has to rank somewhere near the top of the list.

Spurgeon personally made many of the editorial decisions and wrote most of the lead articles for his famous magazine, The Sword and the Trowel.

Trust me, that's a job you don't want.

I'm mainly a book editor, and that's bad enough. But I've also been involved with the editorial process on a few magazines over the years, and it's not a fun job. The unremitting deadlines and perennial creative pressure will literally take years off your life.

One of the inevitable, never-ending annoyances for any magazine editor is the difficulty of dealing with someone who fancies himself a great writer or gifted poet and wants you to publish his work. "And if you won't publish it, will you please help me get it published. I'm eager to hear your thoughts about my work and am open to any suggestions you might have."

I've received countless letters just like that from all kinds of ballad-mongers. But I have yet to meet the aspiring poet who is really eager to hear an editor's thoughts or truly open to any editorial suggestions.

I sometimes think the church is full of amateur poets who write the cheesiest doggerel and are honestly convinced it's high art. My advice to young editors: Don't try telling them their poetry is bad—especially if you're not a great poet yourself. To them, the reason you don't recognize the genius of their versification is all too obvious: you're just a Philistine when it comes to such matters.

Spurgeon had people like that sending him twaddle, too—including one guy who offered to supply entire devotional articles for The Sword and the Trowel written completely in "blank verse" (which is supposed to be rhythmic but unrhyming lines, usually written in iambic pentameter). This particular bard felt blank verse was the perfect vehicle for Spurgeon's readers, and he was just the poet/theologian to write it for Spurgeon's magazine.

Spurgeon was unimpressed. He published the following brief item in the July 1884 issue of The Sword and the Trowel:

Where Not to Send Poems or Blank Verse

"BLANK VERSE was first written in the modern languages in 1508, by Trissine." We do not know the gentleman, and do not wish to make his acquaintance. He lived a very long time ago, and it might have been as well had he never lived at all.

We have seen a vast deal of very blank verse in our time, and feel no kind of gratitude to its inventor for having brought upon us this infliction. Oh, poetic brother, do try your hand at prose! You will be prosy enough then; but now you string together your long lines of nonsense, with such an absence of all thought, that you are altogether unbearable.

We once saw an advertisement of a sermon in blank verse: we did not go to hear it, and the good man is since dead. We believe his discourse was dead long before. He has not sold the good-will of the poetical discourse business, and so there is no successor in the blank-verse-sermon line. Quite as well! Pulpits are dull enough without this last ounce of aggravation.

Milton and Thomson, Young and Cowper, we can all rejoice in; but your ordinary imitator of these sweet singers is blank as blankness itself. When the dear man feels that he must cover reams of paper with his effervescences, we have not the remotest objection to his doing so: it may be good for the paper-trade and good for himself; BUT, with the utmost vehemence of our outraged nature, we entreat him not to send his manuscripts to us, that we may pass our opinion upon them, and introduce them to a publisher.

This is one of our afflictions, and by no means a light one. The quantity of time it takes to answer poets we dare not attempt to calculate. Moreover, there is the solemn responsibility of having such jewels to take care of. We do not feet worthy to have the charge of such priceless treasures. Burglars might run off with them, rats might eat them, our Mary might either sell them to the waste-paper man, or they might even drop into


C. H. Spurgeon

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15 December 2005

End of my vacation, and why I'll skip the New Year's parties

Times Square, preparing for New Year's

Darlene and I are in the departure lounge at JFK, on our way home. I'd forgotten something I learned on a couple of my previous trips through here: The folks who designed JFK went out of their way to avoid putting electrical outlets anywhere near the departure lounges.

I don't know how they buff the floors.

Oh, I see. They don't.

I've been examining how various kiosks and displays get juice to their cash registers, etc., and it seems they all have to run extension cords to some hidden panel behind a triple-locked door.

Even the TSA's scanners are plugged in via long orange power cables like you buy at Wal-Mart. They are all plugged in behind doors, panels, or curtains in some unseen electrical room the public is not privy to. Apparently, power is so expensive in New York that they don't even want travelers borrowing an outlet to recharge a cell phone.

Which makes me wonder what the nightly tab is for all those lights in Times Square. Last night, with temperatures below 20, you could actually feel the heat coming off the light panels in Times Square.

Trust me, that was the only thing enjoyable about Times Square last night. It was unbelievably crowded with pedestrians and choked with taxi traffic. (But don't try to get an available cab there. There aren't any.)

Times Square is a horrible place to be on a normal weeknight. I can't imagine why hordes of people all want to be there on New Year's Eve, when you have to stand in one place, hour after hour, shoulder-to-shoulder with people who are mostly drunk—just to watch a ball drop?

As a Cubs fan, I've seen enough dropped balls to last a lifetime. Thanks.

But, then, New Year's revelry in general doesn't really appeal to me anyway. The night the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000, I went to bed about 11:00 and was sound asleep when the New Year came. I wonder how many people can say that?

Phil's signature

14 December 2005


Manhattan from the top of Rockefeller Center
Manhattan from the top of Rockefeller Center

The famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza
The famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza
The castle in Central Park
The castle in Central Park

The Empire State Building's shadow from the top
The Empire State Building's shadow from the top
A corner of Times Square from the Empire State Building
A corner of Times Square from the Empire State Building

The souvenir rack on the 86th floor
The souvenir rack on the 86th floor

The interior of St. Paul's chapel
The interior of St. Paul's chapel. This is the Anglican church adjacent to the World Trade Center where rescue workers sought rest and refuge in the days after September 11. It's the oldest continually-occupied building in Manhattan, having been built in 1766. It's also part of the parish that sponsors the infamous "clown eucharists."

The cross formed by girders that was left standing after the World Trade Center collapse
The cross formed by girders that was left standing after the World Trade Center collapse.

Phil's signature

13 December 2005

A perfect day in New York

At the Metropolitan Museum

From the top of Rockefeller CenterFrank Turk is right. Christmas season is the ideal time to visit New York. Today couldn't have been better. It was crisp but still and sunny. There's a fresh layer of snow, and much of it (especially in Central Park) is still bright white. Everywhere you go, it seems, traditional Christmas carols are playing. Surprisingly, we didn't hear a lot of cheesy contemporary "holiday" music today. In that regard, at least, New York City seems to be in rebellion against the zeitgeist.

I'd chronicle what we did on Monday, because it was all great—but I hate reading people's travelogues, so I'm not going to write one. The hands-down highlight of our day, however, was the concert we came to see: a Christmas program with Christopher Parkening and Jubilant Sykes, in the Medieval Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The hall is about the size of a small-college basketball arena, but the acoustics are much better. The ambience was perfect, in fact, for highlighting the full range of rich overtones in Jubilant's voice, as well as for hearing the lingering tones of Christopher's quietest guitar notes. The concert was totally unplugged; no amplification at all, except for a microphone that Chris was supposed to use for comments between pieces. He stopped using it about halfway through, and (even though he has a slight case of laryngitis) you could actually understand him better without the sound system.

The room was arranged with a half-circle of 400 or more chairs, every one full. The worst seats in the house were still close enough to make clear eye contact with the performers. The centerpiece of the room is a massive baroque Christmas-tree creche scene with elaborate Neapolitan ceramic figurines, impressive by any measure, even though that sort of thing is not really my cup of tea.

The music was wonderful from start to finish. I'd write a thorough account of every piece, but Sharon (who comments here and wrote three terrific pages of program notes that were handed out at the concert) is probably the only reader who is really interested in that much detail. It truly was all totally superb, both technically and aesthetically.

Jubilant sings with such expression that there's an element of evangelistic preaching in his songs. I'm not a particularly sentimental person, but Jubilant's singing never fails to move me deeply. He conveys power and emotion whether he is singing at full volume or in a barely-audible whisper. And when he sings softly, he does it with more clarity and precise intonation than anyone I have ever heard. (In an acoustic like the Medieval Hall, it's almost other-worldly.) He did a rendition of "I Wonder as I Wander" that made the gospel as clear and poignant as you'll ever hear it sung.

The highlights of the concert for me included a song by Jubilant called "Boi Bumbá," an Afro-Brazilian song, which Jubilant said depicted an argument between the Magi "about who had the best samba." I don't know what that means, and the song didn't make it any clearer for me, because it was in an unfamiliar language (Portuguese, I suppose). But it was both beautiful and fun. The syllables were so fast and complex, I don't know how a non-Charismatic like Jubilant pulled it off. The whole audience's appreciation was obvious.

Another highlight was a piece Christopher played called "Koyunbaba" ("The Shepherd") by a modern composer named Carlo Domeniconi. He's an Italian who lived for a while in Istanbul, so the piece had a Turkish-Italian flavor, if you can picture that. It's written for a guitar tuned in the tones of a c-sharp minor chord (except for the first string, which is tuned as normal). I can't imagine what difficulties that introduces for the performer, but on top of that, the notes and fingerings are lightning-fast. Chris played it with apparent effortlessness. It was a delightful sound, not like you normally hear from a guitar and obviously not completely Western. I loved it.

The concert included several traditional Christmas carols, including "Silent Night," which was an unprogrammed addition to the concert. The traditional carols and a handful of spirituals in particular seemed to have been chosen with the express purpose of honoring Christ, and that was the clear theme that ran like a thread through the whole concert. Jubilant sang the closing number, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" (a Calvinistic spiritual, if you really think about it) with such passionate conviction that at least one Baptist in the audience felt like shouting amen at the end instead of merely applauding.

A little foretaste of heaven in New York City.

Phil's signature

12 December 2005

Where divine sovereignty meets human responsibility

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The extended quotation (below) is from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and is excerpted from his sermon "Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility," originally delivered Sunday morning, August 1, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, London.

I like how Spurgeon defends the coherence and consistency of truth. He clearly would have abhorred the kind of thinking existentialist philosophers and neo-orthodox theologians have managed to foist on the public consciousness for almost a century now—namely, the absurd notion that all truth is inherently "paradoxical." Make no mistake: many who talk nonstop about the principle of paradox really do seem to imagine that God's revealed truth is full of contradictions, which is tantamount to calling it nonsense.

Spurgeon, by contrast, says we should never imagine that God's truth is at odds with itself. Rather than portraying the twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as an "antinomy" (a self-contradictory principle) or even a "paradox" (an "apparent" contradiction), he wisely describes these truths as apparently parallel.

Spurgeon is certain the truth of God's absolute sovereignty and the reality of human responsibility are not so truly and eternally distinct from one another that they will never come together. While acknowledging that it's not easy to see how they come together, he avoids any suggestion that they are in any way in conflict with one another. "Nearly parallel," he calls them:

The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once.

I am taught in one book to believe that what I sow I shall reap: I am taught in another place, that "it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."

I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism.

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

C. H. Spurgeon

Personal update

By the way, Darlene and I are in New York City for the next few days. We flew here Sunday evening after church, and we'll return home late Thursday, if the Lord permits.

Darlene was born in upstate New York, and I've been there, seen Niagara Falls, and sensed the spiritual deadness of Finney's infamous "Burnt District." But I've never really visited New York City except for a few hours at a time—always on travel layovers and whatnot.

I first came through here several years ago. That was literally underground, by train, arriving in Penn Station (right under Madison Square Garden) just after midnight for a 1-hour layover. Twice I've sailed into the harbor and seen the Statue of Liberty from the deck of a ship at 5:00 AM. And I've flown through JFK dozens of times, twice stopping to spend the night on my way to and from London. One of those two times, Darlene and I splurged and stayed in a hotel right in Times Square.

But I have never seen New York.

I want to visit Ground Zero, take Darlene to the top of the Empire State Building, and walk in Central Park. There's never been time to do any of those things when we've breezed through here in the past.

So when I learned my friend Christopher Parkening (arguably the finest classical guitar player in the world) and my favorite singer, Jubilant Sykes, are giving a Christmas concert together in Manhattan this week, Darlene and I decided that's how we would spend my remaining vacation-days this year. That's what has brought us here. It's pure vacation, and a rare treat for me.

Before leaving, I finished all the work on my desk (except a thousand unanswered e-mails [sorry]), so it's my first fairly pressure-free, genuine vacation in a long time.

Why am I blogging? I wanted to. If time permits, I'll probably try to write something for the blog each evening this week. But unless the weather is really bad and we end up confined to a hotel room, don't look for anything profound or totally serious until I get back home.

Phil's signature

09 December 2005

Note to homeschool moms (and others)

Marla Swoffer is absolutely right: Mormonism is not authentic Christianity. Mormonism has never been deemed anything other than a cult by mainstream biblical and historic Christianity. For their part (until very recently) Mormons have always denied being mainstream Christians anyway. They claim true Christianity was totally lost and the church was dead until Christ began "the Restoration" under Joseph Smith.

The fact that lots of Mormon moms are likable, politically conservative women who homeschool their kids does not alter the seriousness of Mormonism's error. Mormon doctrine corrupts the very essence of biblical truth and the gospel itself, trading the simplicity of the apostolic gospel for a different message. See Galatians 1:8-9.

Christian homeschoolers need to guard diligently against allowing their movement to become just one more vehicle for the kind of ecumenism that surrenders vital distinctives of classic Christianity while making unholy alliances in the name of impacting the culture, upholding high moral standards, opposing secularism, or whatever.

As a matter of fact, Mormonism is a false religion that is every bit as spiritually deadly as the humanistic secularism most Christian homeschooling parents are trying to avoid.

Phil's signature

Katrina reminder

Katrina satellite imageAfter Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana, I was flooded with e-mails from people looking for suggestions about how to help.

The sense of urgency in the media and elsewhere seems to have dinminished somewhat, but this is the point where Christians need to show that they are serious about seeing the disaster relief through to the end.

My friend and fellow FIRE member, Eddie Exposito, whose congregtion was dealt a staggering blow by Katrina, sends me this update. Just in case some of my readers are looking for special needs to meet during the Christmas season, Eddie reminds me that our brothers and sisters in the damaged regions still have some urgent needs for vehicles, heavy equipment, and compassionate people:

Friday, December 9th, 2005

Dear Phil,

Here is a quick note to you of some specific needs we have identified in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts here in Slidell, Louisiana:

Family van or similar vehicle
Family with four children (and temporary care of an in-law's child) has no vehicle large enough to carry the entire family after the floodwaters and a tree wiped out their family van. The floodwaters also ruined a Honda Civic that the husband used to commute to work and an old Oldsmobile they had planned to let their teen-age son drive to school and work. They were underinsured for these losses.

Small used car
We have "adopted" a 57-year-old man who has a heart and lung condition who has no means of income except welfare and no vehicle. His home was flooded and he will soon get a FEMA trailer to live in until he is able to repair his home. A small vehicle would help him get to church, the pharmacy, grocery, doctor's visits, etc.

Used 12-passenger van
We at Sovereign Grace Fellowship are in the market for a 12-passenger van to to ferry relief crews and supplies and pull a small trailer with equipment, among other things. We have received some donations to help us make this purchase, but will need either more funds or a special deal. If you have a van or know someone who has one we could buy, please let us know.

Heavy equipment
All heavy equipment - a stump grinder, a backhoe, trackhoe, or Bobcat-type machine. If you have contacts who could possibly arrange to loan one to our relief effort for a few months or could bring one down for use, there are LOTS of stumps and trees and debris still left to move.

Depression, suicide, angry rages ... the newspapers continue to report on symptoms of the spiritual problems evident in a population that is heavily Catholic and where biblical counseling is a rarity. More than 100 days have passed since Katrina and many people have not been able, for various reasons, to begin rebuilding. Counselors can help us mount an outreach effort to evangelize and/or minister to the overwhelmed. We will follow through with those who need to be discipled.

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

By His grace,

Eddie Exposito and Charles Busby
Elders, Sovereign Grace Fellowship

Phil's signature

08 December 2005

Lunch with the dawgs

Lunch with the dawgs

The closer to Christmas we get, the busier I am and the harder it is to post anything of substance. Today, rather than post nothing at all (as I did Tuesday), I'm going to write one of those insipid "Where I Am Now" posts.

Forget about getting normal office work done this week. Today is the one opportunity I will have all week to answer mail and deal with whatever is urgent in my e-mail or on my "to do" list.

Yesterday we had a luncheon for about 150 volunteers who serve weekly at Grace to You. The annual Grace to You Staff Christmas activity (at Disneyland) is tomorrow, and the GraceLife Christmas get-together is Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon Darlene and I will leave for a week of vacation. (I must use one more week of accrued vacation by the end of the calendar year or lose it.) So I'll be blogging next week from the east coast—and probably somewhat sporadically.

I still intend to get back to the thread I started about private revelation, but I can't do it right now.

Lunch with the dawgsTuesday was an interesting day. Among other things, I finally got to meet two of the Fide-o guys, Scott and Jason.

It may surprise a lot of readers to hear that I did not know the Fide-o Dawgs before Tuesday. A few people have practically blamed me for them, as if I stirred them up and unleashed them on the blogosphere. Not so. I wish I could take credit for that, but it wasn't my doing.

They are a couple of Southern Baptist pastors who are involved in a church-planting ministry about an hour and a half from where I live. Although we have nearly always agreed on controversial issues, we never actually met before Tuesday. (No, wait. Jason said I met him at a Shepherds' conference once. But I don't remember it.) They have a mostly-silent blogging partner, Bret Capranica, who married my secretary a few years ago when he was fresh out of seminary. He's probably the least mischievous of the three. But I don't even know Bret very well, and he didn't come with Jason and Scott on this trip.

Anyway, Jason and Scott had e-mailed me last week to say they would be in my area and wanted me to go lunch with them. Having never met them, I wasn't quite sure how to picture them. It was hard to resist the mental picture of a couple of tattooed miscreants in motorcycle leather.

Turns out, they are winsome and amiable—the kind of guys you'd love to spend the day fishing with. They're both from the deep south, funny, fun-loving, effervescent, and interesting. The story of the church they are planting is fascinating. I hope they blog about it one of these days.

Anyway, they both had salads, no red meat. No barbecue pork. We talked about Psalm 22 and the doctrine of penal substitution. (Jason answered well the questions I had raised about his controversial post on that subject.) We compared blogwar wounds. They told me what they really think about Frank Turk. We agreed that homeschool moms are probably the next generation's best hope. And we talked about the kind of stuff pastors always talk about over lunch. The time went too quickly. I hope we get to do it again.

But not today. Today I have two 10-inch stacks of paperwork I have to get through.

Phil's signature

07 December 2005

Another guest-post from my favorite preacher

Doctrine Is Practical
by John MacArthur

John MacArthurI have in my library a book by the spiritual father of a quasi-Christian cult. He argues that doctrinal statements, systematic theology and propositional truth claims are contrary to the spirit of Jesus' ministry.

That seemed a rather bizarre notion when I first heard it years ago. But the belief that Christ is against doctrine is a notion I seem to be encountering with increasing frequency.

No idea could be much further from the truth. The word doctrine simply means "teaching." And it's ludicrous to say that Christ is anti-teaching. The central imperative of His Great Commission is the command to teach (Matthew 28:18-20).

Yet there's no shortage of church-growth experts, professional pollsters, and even seminary professors nowadays who are cautioning young pastors that doctrine is too divisive, too threatening, too heady and theoretical—and therefore simply impractical.

Impractical? I agree that practical application is vital. I don't want to minimize its importance. But if there is a deficiency in preaching today, it is that there's too much relational, pseudo-psychological, and thinly life-related content, and not enough emphasis on sound doctrine.

Moreover, the distinction between doctrinal and practical truth is completely artificial; doctrine is practical. In fact, nothing is more practical than sound doctrine, because there's ultimately no basis for godly behavior apart from the truth of God's Word.

Practical insights, gimmicks, and illustrations mean little if they are divorced from divine principle. Before the preacher asks anyone to perform a certain duty, he must first deal with doctrine. He must develop his message around theological themes and draw out the principles of the texts. Then the truth can be applied.

Romans provides the clearest example. Paul doesn't give any exhortation until he has given eleven chapters of theology.

He scales incredible heights of truth, culminating in 11:33-36, where he says, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

Then in chapter 12, he turns immediately to the practical consequences of the doctrine of the first 11 chapters. No passage in Scripture captures the Christian's responsibility in the face of truth more clearly than Romans 12:1-2. Resting on eleven chapters of profound doctrine, Paul calls each believer to a supreme act of spiritual worship—giving oneself as a living sacrifice.

So doctrine gives rise to devotion to Christ. What could be more practical? And the remainder of the book of Romans goes on to explain still more practical outworkings of one's dedication to Christ.

Paul follows the same pattern in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. The doctrinal message comes first. Upon that foundation he builds the practical application, making the logical connection with the word therefore (Romans 12:1; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:1) or then (Colossians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).

So we have imposed an artificial meaning on the word doctrine. We've made it something abstract and threatening, unrelated to daily living. That has brought about the disastrous idea that preaching and teaching are unrelated to living.

The scriptural concept of doctrine includes the entire message of the gospel—its teaching about God, salvation, sin, and righteousness. Those concepts are so tightly bound to daily living that the first-century mind did not see them as something separate from practical truth.

The New Testament church was founded on a solid base of doctrine. First Timothy 3:16 contains what many expositors believe is an early church hymn: "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." There, in capsule form, is the basis of all Christian teaching. Without that, no practical application matters.

The next few verses of 1 Timothy describe what happens when men depart from the basis of biblical truth: "Some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth" (4:1-3).

In other words, lying, hypocrisy, a dulled conscience, and false religious practices all have root in wrong doctrine.

No ministry activity is more important than rightly understanding and clearly proclaiming sound doctrine. In 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, Paul commissions two young men to the ministry. His central theme is the importance of adhering to sound doctrine.

Paul charged Timothy: "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Tim. 4:6). "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching," Paul adds, "persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (v. 16).

Titus 2:10 says we "adorn [or honor] the doctrine of God" by how we live. When it comes to affirming sound doctrine, what we do carries far more significance than what we say. That's why it's disastrous when a pastor, seminary professor, or any kind of Christian leader fails morally. The message he proclaims is that his doctrine is unrelated to life. And for those whose lives he has touched, doctrine becomes merely an intellectual exercise.

True doctrine transforms behavior as it is woven into the fabric of everyday life. But it must be understood if it is to have its impact. The real challenge of the ministry is to dispense the truth clearly and accurately. Practical application comes easily by comparison.

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

05 December 2005

At last! Something new at The Spurgeon Archive

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

My good friend James Spurgeon (not a direct descendant of the Prince of Preachers, but quite a fine Baptist preacher himself) proofread five new sermons from the 1885 volume of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, which have now been added to The Spurgeon Archive:

James promises to proofread more sermons if I keep posting them. Let's encourage him.

Meanwhile, Here's an excerpt from "The Lowly King," a sermon about the amazing prophecy of Zecariah 9:9 ("Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation, lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."):

Now, this riding of Christ upon an ass is remarkable, if you remember that no pretender to be a prophet, or a divine messenger, has imitated it.

Ask the Jew whether he expects the Messiah to ride thus through the streets of Jerusalem. He will probably answer "No." If he does not, you may ask him the further question, whether there has appeared in his nation anyone who, professing to be the Messiah, has, at any time, come to the daughter of Jerusalem "riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."

It is rather singular that no false Messiah has copied this lowly style of the Son of David. When Sapor, the great Persian, jested with a Jew about his Messiah riding upon an ass, he said to him, "I will send him one of my horses": to which the Rabbi replied, "You cannot send him a horse that will be good enough, for that ass is to be of a hundred colors." By that idle tradition the Rabbi showed that he had not caught the idea of the prophet at all, since he could not believe in Messiah's lowliness displayed by his riding upon a common ass. The rabbinical mind must needs make simplicity mysterious, and turn lowliness into another form of pomp.

The very pith of the matter is that our Lord gave himself no grand airs, but was natural, unaffected, and free from all vain-glory. His greatest pomp went no further than riding through Jerusalem upon a colt the foal of an ass.

The Mohammedan turns round with a sneer, and says to the Christian, "Your Master was the rider on an ass; our Mohammed was the rider on a camel; and the camel is by far the superior beast." Just so; and that is where the Mohammedan fails to grasp the prophetic thought: he looks for strength and honor, but Jesus triumphs by weakness and lowliness.

How little real glory is to be found in the grandeur and display which princes of this world affect! There is far more true glory in condescension than in display. Our Lord's riding on an ass and its foal was meant to show us how lowly our Savior is, and what tenderness there is in that lowliness. When he is proclaimed King in his great Father's capital, and rides in triumph through the streets, he sits upon no prancing charger, such as warriors choose for their triumphs, but he sits upon a borrowed ass, whose mother walks by its side. His poverty was seen, for of all the cattle on a thousand hills he owned not one; and yet we see his more than royal wealth, for he did but say, "The Lord hath need of them," and straightway their owner yielded them up.

No forced contributions supply the revenue of this prince; but his people are willing in the day of his power. He is thy King, O Zion! Shout, to think that thou hast such a Lord! Where the scepter is love, and the crown is lowliness, the homage should be peculiarly bright with rejoicing. None shall groan beneath such a sway; but the people shall willingly offer themselves; they shall find their liberty in his service, their rest in obedience to him, their honor in his glory.

C. H. Spurgeon

Phil's signature

03 December 2005

The next big thing after Biblezines®?

One of my lurking readers, Johnathan Tate, sends me a link to a BBC news article reporting that a German Protestant youth group has produced a calendar featuring nude "Bible characters." I'd post a link to the article, but it includes a PG-13 graphic that exceeds the limits of what I'm willing to link to.

Here's the actual text of the article:

Youths reveal racy Bible calendar

A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar illustrated with erotic scenes from the Bible.

The 12 re-enacted passages feature a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.

The Nuremberg-based group said they wanted to represent the Bible in a way that would entice young people.

Nuremberg pastor Bernd Grasser said: "It's just wonderful when teenagers commit themselves with their hair and their skin to the bible."

"There's a whole range of biblical scriptures simply bursting with eroticism," said Stefan Wiest, 32, who took the racy photographs.

Anne Rohmer, 21, wearing garters and stockings, posed on a doorstep as the prostitute Rahab.

"We wanted to represent the Bible in a different way and to interest young people," she told news agency Reuters.

"Anyway, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you are forbidden to show yourself nude."

Bernd Grasser, pastor of the church in Nuremberg where the calendar is being sold, said he was supportive of the project.

I keep saying: there's no way left to parody this stuff. The real thing is more exaggerated and more extreme than any caricature could ever make it seem.

Phil's signature

02 December 2005

Six-Month Reckoning

I hate blogposts about blogging. They are always comically self-referential and grotesquely dull. If you feel that way too, go ahead and skip this post. It won't hurt my feelings at all.

PyroManiac is now exactly 6 months old.

When the blog launched June 1, I expected readership to be roughly the size of my Sunday-school class. If the hit-counter is to be trusted, there have been a few more readers than that.

I'm not a stats-checker. I honestly can't tell you how many hits the blog gets on an average day. I can't tell you what the trends in my traffic have been, because I just don't pay attention to that. On the few occasions when I have visited sites where stats and rankings are found, it has always seemed to me that the data are unreliable. (I noticed, for example, that PyroManiac was briefly listed as an "insignificant microbe" on TTLB just last week, with not a single link from anywhere in the blogosphere. That cannot be accurate.) But I don't really care about that stuff.

In fact, if Darlene hadn't reminded me on Thursday, I would have forgotten it was the half-anniversary of the blog.

It's a good time to take stock and do some hard assessments. Is the blog worth the time and energy it requires? How long can I keep it up? Are there things I should change? Should I quit needling homeschool moms? Should I post less, solemnize the mood, change the graphic look to something more subtle? Could I save a lot of time and conflict simply by closing the comments?

I'm not really asking for feedback; just sharing some of the questions that have occurred to me from time to time.

Here, in random order, are some of my thoughts about PyroManiac at the six-month mile-marker:
  • I've been greatly encouraged by most of the feedback and private e-mails I have received.
  • There are, occasionally, some notable exceptions. Just yesterday received a terse, one-sentence e-mail: "Go Away, 'Phil' the internet has enough noise on it." Made me think. The argument he gives is unassailable.
  • I'm very thankful for literally dozens of friends I have made through the blog. I've had the privilege of meeting many in person. Practically every week at church, I meet someone new who knows me because of the blog. In July I finally got to meet Dr. Adrian Warnock, with whom I first exchanged e-mail in 1996. And twice now I have had lunch with Frank Turk, a kindred spirit whom I might never have met except through bloglinks. Those kinds of things are the up-side of having open comments.
  • I really do despise the conflict in the comments threads and occasional blogwars. The open format more or less invites that, though. It's not like speaking to a live audience, where people aren't likely to talk back. Here, critics seem to be standing in the wings on a daily basis, looking for a point to quarrel with. I've been caught totally off guard by this repeatedly—especially the recent backlash against my posts about patently false prophecies. I'm still shaking my head over that. (And by the way, I still intend as soon as possible to complete the series I began on "hearing the voice of God").
  • This is a weblog, not a pulpit or seminary class, so I have deliberately included some personal-journal-style entries, a high percentage of humor (or well-meant attempts at merriment), and occasional lighter-than-usual fare. But I have lately wondered whether so much farce and frivolity is wasted effort, or even counterproductive to what I really hope to accomplish with the blog. For one thing, American humor doesn't always translate well into other cultures. And I think Southern California humor sometimes isn't even funny in other North American climates. I'd have a lot less 'splainin' to do if I just throttled my humor reflex whenever possible. I like the mildly droll graphics. The trademark comic-book covers may have to go, though.
  • When I started, I said I did not intend to post daily. The Blogger website tells me this is my 181st post. That's almost exactly a post a day, even though I took a two-week hiatus at one point. Nobody has that much to say that's worth reading. (OK, there's James White, Michael Haykin, Steve Hays, Tim Challies—and maybe a handful of others. But most of us probably should not entertain the conceit of imagining that so much of what we write is really worthy of blogging about.) Reading back over my blog, I see lots of days when I probably should have gone to bed early and skipped blogging altogether.
  • On the other hand, there are a few posts that I'm happy to have written. The "London Journal" series in early July stands out in my memory. The Fad-Driven Church series later that same month also generated a lot of good feedback.
  • Amazingly, the single most commented-on post ever was my very first one. Some readers probably think that post was developed over several weeks while I was planning to launch the blog. Actually, I wrote it in an hour and a half the night before the bloglaunch. Until that evening, I had no idea what the first post was going to be. (I had been swamped with other writing deadlines right up to the day the blog launched.)

So what's the sum of my thoughts on all this? In the days to come, look for me to blog a little less obsessively, a little less light-heartedly, and (hopefully) a lot more pointedly. I think the result will be a better blog, even if a less wordy one.

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

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