Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Struck Dumb

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119, verse 43. 

Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth

Oh, what service can a dumb body do in Christ's house! Oh, I think the word of God is imprisoned also! Oh, I am a dry tree! Alas, I can neither plant nor water! Oh, if my Lord would make but dung of me, to fatten and make fertile his own corn ridges in Mount Zion! Oh, if I might but speak to three or four herd boys of my worthy Master, I would be satisfied to be the meanest and most obscure of all the pastors in this land, and to live in any place, in any of Christ's basest out houses! But he saith, "Sirrah, I will not send you; I have no errands for you there away." My desire to serve him is sick of jealousy, lest he be unwilling to employ me... I am very well every way, all praise to him in whose books I must stand forever as his debtor! Only my silence pains me. I had one joy out of heaven, next to Christ my Lord, and that was to preach him to this faithless generation; and they have taken that from me. It was to me as the poor man's one eye, and they have put out that eye. Samuel Rutherford.

The first part is from a letter written in 1637, the second from a letter to Alexander Colville, in the same year.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Holding the word of truth

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119 verse 43. 
Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth. 

Sometimes we are afraid to speak for the Saviour, lest we should incur the charge of hypocrisy. At other times we are ashamed to speak, from the absence of that only constraining principle— "the love of Christ." And thus "the word of truth is taken out of our mouths." Often have we wanted a word to speak for the relief of the Lord's tempted people, and have not been able to find it; so that the recollection of precious lost opportunities may well give utterance to the prayer— "Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth." Not only do not take it out of my heart; but let it be ready in my mouth for a confession of my Master. Some of us know the painful trial of the indulgence of worldly habits and conversation, when a want of liberty of spirit has hindered us from standing up boldly for our God. We may perhaps allege the plea of bashfulness or judicious caution in excuse for silence; which however, in many instances, we must regard as a self deceptive covering for the real cause of restraint— the want of apprehension of the mercy of God to the soul. Charles Bridges.

Among other works, Bridges wrote a very popular commentary on Psalm 119, which went through twenty-four editions in his lifetime alone....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Loyalty to a cause

...it is made clear that action for justice and peace can never mean total commitment to a particular project identified unambiguously as God's will. The concept of missio Dei has sometimes been interpreted so as to suggest that action for justice and peace as the possibilities are discerned within a given historical situation is the fulfillment of God's mission, and that the questions of baptism and church membership are marginal or irrelevant. That way leads very quickly to disillusion and often to cynical despair. No human project however splendid is free from the corrupting power of sin. To invest one's ultimate commitment in such proximate goals is to end in despair.
The history of the Church furnishes plenty of illustrations of the point I am making. At various times and places loyalty to the Church has been identified as invoking the defense of feudalism against capitalism, the defense of the free market against Marxism, and the support of movements of liberation based on a Marxist analysis of the human situation. Adrian Hastings in his history of English Christianity in the present century has reminded us that for the first two decades of this period the Christianity of the English Free Churches was interpreted as almost necessarily involving support for the Liberal Party. When the Liberal Party destroyed itself, the Free Churches suffered a blow, a loss of identity, from which they have hardly begun to recover.
It does not require much knowledge of history to recognize that, with all its grievous sins of compromise, cowardice, and apostasy, the Church outlasts all these movements in which so much passionate faith has been invested. In their time each of these movements seems to provide a sense of direction, a credible goal for the human project. The slogans of these movements become sacred words which glow with ultimate authority. But they do not endure. None of them in fact embodies the true end, the real goal of history. That has been embodied once for all in the events which form the substance of the gospel and which-remembered, rehearsed, and reenacted in teaching and liturgy-form the inner core of the Church's being. To commend this gospel to all people in all circumstances, to witness to it as the ultimate clue to the whole human story and therefore to every human story, can never be unnecessary and never irrelevant, however much it may be misunderstood, ignored, or condemned.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, page 138

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Justice and peace

...it is clear that action for justice and peace in the world is not something which is secondary, marginal to the central task of evangelism.  It belongs to the heart of the matter.  Jesus' action in challenging the powers that ruled the world was not marginal to his ministry; it was central to it.  Without it there would be no gospel.  But Jesus' challenge was not in the name of an alternative way of exercising power.  he did not offer an alternative government.  He did not repeat the story of which history has so many illustrations, the story of the victim of oppression who, in the name of justice, dethrones the oppressor and takes his seat on the same throne with the same instruments of oppression.  The manner of Jesus' challenge, the way that led through his own death to resurrection and the sharing of a new life with the community he formed to go the same way through history to it send, opened up a new route through history along which every human rule would stand under both the judgement and the mercy of God.

Lesslie Newbigin, page 137-8 in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Word and Deed

It is clear that to set word and deed, preaching and action, against each other is absurd.  The central reality is neither word nor act, but the total life of a community enabled by the Spirit to live in Christ, sharing his passion and the power of his resurrection.  Both the words and the acts of that community may at any time provide the occasion through which the living Christ challenges the ruling powers.  Sometimes it is a word that pierces through layers of custom and opens up a new vision.  Sometimes it is a deed which shakes a whole traditional plausibility structure.  They mutually reinforce and interpret one another.  The words explain the deeds, and the deeds validate the words.  Not that every deed must have a word attached to explain it, but that the total life of the community whose members have different gifts and are involved in the secular life of the society in which they share, will provide these occasions of challenge.  But no one will know exactly when and where and how this happens.  It is always a work of the Holy Spirit.  It is always mysterious.  The ways by which the truth of the gospel comes home to the heart and conscience of this or that person are always mysterious.  They cannot be programs and they cannot be calculated.  But where a community is living in alert faithfulness, they happen.

Lesslie Newbigin, page 137 of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Forty-five years on...

One possibility is just to tag along with the fantasists in government and industry who would have us believe that we can pursue our ideals of affluence, comfort, mobility, and leisure indefinitely. This curious faith is predicated on the notion that we will soon develop unlimited new sources of energy: domestic oil fields, shale oil, gasified coal, nuclear power, solar energy, and so on. This is fantastical because the basic cause of the energy crisis is not scarcity; it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don't know how to use energy, or what to use it for. And we cannot restrain ourselves. Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy.

Wendell BerryThe Unsettling of America (1977)

Friday, April 19, 2013


The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us. The heart of the tree remains the same, however many rings are added to it; and a man cannot leave his heart behind by running hard with his legs. In the core of all culture are the things that may be said, in every sense, to be learned by the heart.

G.K. Chesterton"The Romance of Rhyme" in On Lying In Bed and Other Essays

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Running to help

You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.... This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it, but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Patton OswaltFacebook post responding to Boston bombing


From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119
Verses 35-36. Therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies. A child of God hath not the bent of his heart so perfectly fixed towards God but it is ever and anon returning to its old bent and bias again. The best may find that they cannot keep their affections as loose from the world when they have houses, and lands, and all things at their will, as they could when they are kept low and bare. The best may find that their love to heavenly things is on the wane as worldly things are on the increase. It is reported of Pius Quintus that he should say of himself that, when he first entered into orders, he had some hopes of his salvation; when he came to be a cardinal, he doubted of it; but since he came to be pope, he did even almost despair. Many may find a very great change in themselves, much decay of zeal for God's glory, and love to and relish of God's word, and mindfulness of heavenly things, as it fares better with them in the world. Now it is good to observe this before the mischief increaseth. Look, as jealousy and caution are necessary to prevent the entrance and ginning [arousing strong leanings towards] of this mischief, so observation is necessary to prevent the increase of it. When the world doth get too deep an interest in our hearts, when it begins to insinuate and entice us from God, and weaken our delight in the ways of God and zeal for his glory, then we need often to tell you how it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Thomas Manton.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.

Brennan ManningThe Ragamuffin Gospel

Friday, April 12, 2013


Most Christians in the Northern Hemisphere simply do not believe Jesus' teaching about the deadly danger of possessions. Jesus warned that possessions are highly dangerous -- so dangerous, in fact, that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to be a Christian at all.... Christians in the United States live in one of the richest societies in the history of the world, surrounded by a billion desperately needy neighbours and another two billion who are poor. We are far more interested in whether the economy grows than in whether the lot of the poor improves. We insist on more and more, and reason that if Jesus was so unAmerican that he considered riches dangerous, then we must ignore or reinterpret his message.

Ronald SiderRich Christians in an Age of Hunger

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lasting value

In my own career, I've often heard myself or others say, "It all pays the same" or "It's good enough for government work" or "Six months from now, who's going to care?"  Deep down, though, I suspect few of us really believe that.  We want our jobs to have a good and lasting impact on the world.  We want our talents and skills to promote order, peace, happiness, and healing.  We want people to value our work the way and old man in 2025 might as he huffs up his hayloft stairs and leans confidently on a smooth and sturdy handrail that was made more for love than money.

Tom Springer"All This and Heaven, Too" from Looking for Hickories

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On Prayer

If there be a God, and I am his creature, there may be, there should be, there must be some communication open between him and me. If any one allow a God, but one scarce good enough to care about his creatures, I will yield him that it were foolish to pray to such a God; but the notion that, with all the good impulses in us, we are the offspring of a cold-hearted devil, is so horrible in its inconsistency, that I would ask that man what hideous and cold-hearted disregard to the truth makes him capable of the supposition! To such a one God's terrors, or, if not his terrors, then God's sorrows yet will speak; the divine something in him will love, and the love be left moaning. 
If I find my position, my consciousness, that of one from home, nay, that of one in some sort of prison; if I find that I can neither rule the world in which I live nor my own thoughts or desires; that I cannot quiet my passions, order my likings, determine my ends, will my growth, forget when I would, or recall what I forget; that I cannot love where I would, or hate where I would; that I am no king over myself; that I cannot supply my own needs, do not even always know which of my seeming needs are to be supplied, and which treated as impostors; if, in a word, my own being is everyway too much for me; if I can neither understand it, be satisfied with it, nor better it--may it not well give me pause--the pause that ends in prayer? When my own scale seems too large for my management; when I reflect that I cannot account for my existence, have had no poorest hand in it, neither, should I not like it, can do anything towards causing it to cease; when I think that I can do nothing to make up to those I love, any more than to those I hate, for evils I have done them and sorrows I have caused them; that in my worst moments I disbelieve in my best, in my best loathe my worst; that there is in me no wholeness, no unity; that life is not a good to me, for I scorn myself--when I think all or any such things, can it be strange if I think also that surely there ought to be somewhere a being to account for me, one to account for himself, and make the round of my existence just; one whose very being accounts and is necessary to account for mine; whose presence in my being is imperative, not merely to supplement it, but to make to myself my existence a good? For if not rounded in itself, but dependent on that which it knows not and cannot know, it cannot be to itself a good known as a good--a thing of reason and well-being: it will be a life longing for a logos to be the interpretative soul of its cosmos--a logos it cannot have.  
To know God present, to have the consciousness of God where he is the essential life, must be absolutely necessary to that life! He that is made in the image of God must know him or be desolate: the child must have the Father! Witness the dissatisfaction, yea desolation of my soul--wretched, alone, unfinished, without him! It cannot act from itself, save in God; acting from what seems itself without God, is no action at all, it is a mere yielding to impulse. All within is disorder and spasm. There is a cry behind me, and a voice before; instincts of betterment tell me I must rise above my present self--perhaps even above all my possible self: I see not how to obey, how to carry them out! I am shut up in a world of consciousness, an unknown I in an unknown world: surely this world of my unwilled, unchosen, compelled existence, cannot be shut out from him, cannot be unknown to him, cannot be impenetrable, impermeable, unpresent to him from whom I am! nay, is it not his thinking in which I think? is it not by his consciousness that I am conscious? Whatever passes in me must be as naturally known to him as to me, and more thoroughly, even to infinite degrees. My thought must lie open to him: if he makes me think, how can I elude him in thinking? 'If I should spread my wings toward the dawn, and sojourn at the last of the sea, even there thy hand would lead me, and thy right hand would hold me!' If he has determined the being, how shall any mode of that being be hidden from him? If I speak to him, if I utter words ever so low; if I but think words to him; nay, if I only think to him, surely he, my original, in whose life and will and no otherwise I now think concerning him, hears, and knows, and acknowledges! Then shall I not think to him? Shall I not tell him my troubles--how he, even he, has troubled me by making me?--how unfit I am to be that which I am?--that my being is not to me a good thing yet?--that I need a law that shall account to me for it in righteousness--reveal to me how I am to make it a good--how I am to be a good, and not an evil? Shall I not tell him that I need him to comfort me? his breath to move upon the face of the waters of the Chaos he has made? Shall I not cry to him to be in me rest and strength? to quiet this uneasy motion called life, and make me live indeed? to deliver me from my sins, and make me clean and glad? 
Such a cry is of the child to the Father: if there be a Father, verily he will hear, and let the child know that he hears! Every need of God, lifting up the heart, is a seeking of God, is a begging for himself, is profoundest prayer, and the root and inspirer of all other prayer. If it be reasonable for me to cry thus, if I cannot but cry, it is reasonable that God should hear, he cannot but hear. A being that could not hear or would not answer prayer, could not be God.

MacDonald, George  Unspoken Sermons Series I., II., and II. 

From Series II, The Word of Jesus on Prayer