Monday, January 28, 2013

The merciful God

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 116:

Verse 5. Our God is merciful. Mercy is God's darling attribute; and by his infinite wisdom he has enabled mercy to triumph over justice without in any degree violating his honour or his truth. The character of merciful is that by which our God seems to delight in being known. When he proclaimed himself amid terrific grandeur to the children of Israel, it was as "the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin." And such was the impression of this his character on the mind of Jonah that he says to him, "I knew that thou wert a merciful God." These, however, are not mere assertions—claims made to the character by God on the one hand, and extorted without evidence from man on the other; for in whatever way we look upon God, and examine into his conduct towards his creatures, we perceive it to bear the impression of mercy. Nor can we more exalt the Lord our God than by speaking of his mercy and confiding in it; for our "Lord's delight is in them that fear him, and put their trust in his mercy." 

John Gwyther, 1833. [Gwyther was a minister known to George Eliot in her childhood; a character in one of her early stories was strongly considered to be based on him.]

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gracious, righteous, merciful

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 116, verse 5. 

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful
He is gracious in hearing, he is "righteous" in judging, he is "merciful" in pardoning, and how, then, can I doubt of his will to help me? He is righteous to reward according to deserts; he is gracious to reward above deserts; yea, he is merciful to reward without deserts; and how, then, can I doubt of his will to help me? He is gracious, and this shows his bounty; he is righteous, and this shows his justice; yea, he is merciful, and this shows his love; and how, then, can I doubt of his will to help me? If he were not gracious I could not hope he would hear me; if he were not righteous, I could not depend upon his promise; if he were not merciful, I could not expect his pardon; but now that he is gracious and righteous and merciful too, how can I doubt of his will to help me? 

In 1639 [Baker] began a series of pious meditations on the Psalms. The first book of the series bore the title of 'Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Seven Psalmes of David, commonly called the Penitentiall Psalmes, 1639.' It was dedicated to Mary, countess of Dorset, and to it were appended meditations 'upon the three last psalmes of David,' with a separate dedication to the Earl of Manchester. In 1640 there appeared a similar treatise 'upon seven consolatorie psalmes of David, namely, the 23, the 27, the 30, the 34, the 84, the 103, the 116,' with a dedication to Lord Craven, who is there thanked by the author for 'the remission of a great debt.' The last work in the series, 'Upon the First Psalme of David,' was also issued in 1640, with a dedication to Lord Coventry. (These meditations on the Psalms were collected and edited with an introduction by Dr. A. B. Grosart in 1882.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

All men are equal

A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago said that all men are equal. It said right would triumph. Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books, he owned no property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and the despised. Naive and unsophisticated though we may be, the poor and despised of the twentieth century will revolutionize this era. In our "arrogance, lawlessness and ingratitude," we will fight for human justice, brotherhood, secure peace and abundance for all. When we have won these -- in a spirit of unshakable nonviolence -- then, in luminous splendour, the Christian era will truly begin.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Not unto us

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 115. 

Verse 1. There are many sweet and precious texts of Scripture which are so endeared, and have become so habituated to us, and we to them, that one cannot but think we must carry them with us to heaven, and that they will form not only the theme of our song, but a portion of our blessedness and joy even in that happy home... But if there be one text which more especially belongs to all, and which must, I think, break forth from every redeemed one as he enters heaven, and form the unwearying theme of eternity, it is the first verse of this Psalm. 

I am sure that not one of the Lord's chosen ones on earth, as he reviews the way by which he has been led, as he sees enemy after enemy prostrate before his utter feebleness, and has such thorough evidence and conviction that his weakness is made perfect in the Lord's strength, but must, from the very ground of his heart, say, Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise and the glory ascribed. And could we see heaven opened—could we hear its glad and glorious hallelujahs—could we see its innumerable company of angels, and its band of glorified saints, as they cast their crowns before the throne, we should hear as the universal chorus from every lip, "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. I know not why this should not be as gladly and as gratefully the angels' song as the song of the redeemed: they stand not in their own might nor power,—they kept not their first estate through any inherent strength of their own, but, like their feebler brethren of the human race, are equally "kept by the power of God"; and from their ranks, I doubt not, is re-echoed the same glorious strain, "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory." 

Even our blessed Lord, as on that night of sorrow he sung this hymn of praise, could truly say, in that nature which had sinned, and which was to suffer, "Not unto us," — not unto man, be ascribed the glory of this great salvation, which I am now with my own blood to purchase, but unto thy name and thy love be the praise given. 

Barton Bouchier - most likely quoted from Manna in the Heart, a book of comments on the Psalms.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The condescension of God

Now our whole souls are filled with one thought - the condescension of God. Now we shall not be stumbled at passages which speak of the exceeding humiliation to which he stooped. As we assign no limit to the height of his glory, we shall assign none to the depths of his grace. Yea, so far from taking offence at the inferiority of the position which he assumed, the very lowliness of his incarnation and very degradation of the death he died, will kindle in us a brighter and more burning gratitude, when we remember that though rich it was for your sakes he became poor; and that for us, his wayward and wandering sheep, the chief Shepherd offered up himself as the Lamb of God, laying down his life of his own accord, and taking it up again to die no more.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." There is a majestic condescension in these few words that nothing can equal. He was made man. "By himself, by his friends and disciples, by his enemies and persecutors, Jesus Christ was spoken of, as a proper human being. His childhood was adorned with filial affection, and the discharge of filial duty. His intellectual powers, like those of other children, were progressive. In his earliest years, he embraced with eagerness the means of improvement. He had large experience of human suffering. His lot was one of severe labour, poverty, weariness, hunger, and thirst. He affected no austerity of manners, nor did he enjoin it upon his followers. While he mingled in the common sociability and the innocent festivities of life, he sustained a weight of inward anguish which no mortal could know. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He looked forward to the accumulation of suffering which he knew would attend his last hours, with feelings on the rack of agony, with a heart exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, but with a meek and resigned resolution, a tender and trembling constancy, unspeakably superior in moral grandeur to the stern bravery of the proudest hero. In his last hours, with a bitterness of soul more excruciating than any bodily sufferings, he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" while yet, he promised heaven to a penitent fellow-sufferer, and died in an act of devotional confidence, triumphing that his work was finished.

From The Trinity, Edward Henry Bickersteth, quoted by Glenn Miller in a discussion of the Trinity

Friday, January 11, 2013

Life after God

I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God -- that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Douglas Coupland
Life After God

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Life is....

Life is something unfathomable, ever-changing, mysterious, and every attempt to confine it within an artificial, abstract structure inevitably ends up homogenizing, regimenting, standardizing and destroying life, as well as curtailing everything that projects beyond, overflows or falls outside the abstract project. What is a concentration camp, after all, but an attempt by Utopians to dispose of those elements which do not fit in?

Friday, January 04, 2013

The humble God

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 113:

Verse 6. Who humbleth himself. Whatever may be affirmed of God, may be affirmed of him infinitely, and whatever he is, he is infinitely. So the psalmist, in this place, does not speak of God as humble, but as infinitely and superlatively so, humble beyond all conception and comparison; he challenges the whole universe of created nature, from the highest immortal spirit in heaven to the lowest mortal on earth, to show a being endued with so much humility, as the adorable majesty of the great God of Heaven and earth...If some instances of the Divine humility surprise, the following may amaze us: To see the great King of heaven stooping from his height, and condescending himself to offer terms of reconciliation to his rebellious creatures! To see offended majesty courting the offenders to accept of pardon! To see God persuading, entreating and beseeching men to return to him with such earnestness and importunity, as if his very life were bound up in them, and his own happiness depended upon theirs! To see the adorable Spirit of God, with infinite long suffering and gentleness, submitting to the contempt and insults of such miserable, despicable wretches as sinful mortals are! Is not this amazing?—Valentine Nalson, 1641-1724.

[Nalson, known mostly for his Sermons on Twenty Topics was the son of the slightly more famous Valentine Nalson.]

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Praise the Lord

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David: Psalm 113:

 Verse 1. Praise ye the Lord. This praising God rests not in the mere speculation or idle contemplation of the Divine excellence, floating only in the brain, or gliding upon the tongue, but in such quick and lively apprehensions of them as to sink down into the heart, and there beget affections suitable to them; for it will make us love him for his goodness, respect him for his greatness, fear him for his justice, dread him for his power, adore him for his wisdom, and for all his attributes make us live in constant awe and obedience to him. This is to praise God, without which all other courting and complimenting of him is but mere flattery and hypocrisy...God Almighty endowed us with higher and nobler faculties than other creatures, for this end, that we should set forth his praise; for though other things were made to administer the matter and occasion, yet man alone was designed and qualified to exercise the act of glorifying God...In short, God Almighty hath so closely twisted his own glory and our happiness together, that at the same time we advance the one we promote the other.—Matthew Hole, 1730. [Most likely from Mr Hole's Discourses on the Common Prayer]

Prophetic crisis

We are, for the most part, double-minded. There is hidden deep within most of us, I suspect, a profound tension between these narratives, knowing better than to trust the dominant narrative but having a huge stake in its being true, wanting the gospel narrative to be true but reluctant to speak another language about the world other than the one in which we are palpably invested.... Prophetic preaching does not put people in crisis. Rather it names and makes palpable the crisis already pulsing among us. It is for that reason that we have such energy for resistance and denial. The hard work of adjudicating between these narratives is itself energizing. The hard work, in fact, is to keep the tension hidden, work that keeps us exhausted.
Walter Brueggemann

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Each like the other

“The problem, Mitch, is that we don't believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own.
But believe me, when you are dying, you see it is true. We all have the same beginning - birth - and we all have the same end - death. So how different can we be?
Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.

A New Year

I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
Neil Gaiman
"Another Year" from Neil Gaiman's Journal (2008)