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469px-Jacopo_Bassano_-_The_Good_Samaritan_-_Google_Art_ProjectHere is a sermon Thomas Chalmers preached to a benevolent society that sets forth his principles for Christian benevolence.  He advocates at once a very practical, thorough-going humanitarianism, steering a course between the pitfalls of merely throwing cash at poverty on the one hand and a this-worldly focus on outward needs (anticipating the Social Gospel?).  He was a stalwart evangelical, both ‘practical and pious.’

Again, remember that Chalmers’ sermons are nowhere near as generally accessible as other 19th century preachers such as Spurgeon and Ryle.  If you haven’t read or listened to a Chalmers sermon, you may want to read my short intro under the ‘Audio’ tab.  But while going through Chalmers can be hard work, it is work well spent!

Psa. 41:1 – “On the Blessedness of Considering the Case of the Poor”

Here is a tremendous sermon Thomas Chalmers preached on the scourge of cholera in Britain in the year 1832.  In it, we see God as the First Cause hearing and answering prayer either lower or higher up on the chain of secondary causes.  Masterful – and instructive as the world watches the vicious spread of Ebola.

If you’ve never listened to Chalmers before, you might appreciate reading the short summary on the ‘Audio’ page.

Or, download.

index“It is our fault, that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place, half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building. When a painter draweth the half of a man; the one side of his head, one eye, the left arm, shoulder, and leg, and hath not drawn the other side, nor filled up with colours all the members, parts, limbs, in its full proportion, it is not like a man. So do we look on God’s works by halves or parts . . .  yet do we not see, that in this dispensation, the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece.”

-Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645)

Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

The following is a section drawn from the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645).  May we be moved to respond!  “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD” (Joel 1:14).

* * *

39077_lgWHEN some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, publick solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.

A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex; which .i.we; recommend to all ministers, in their places, diligently and zealously to reprove, as at other times, so especially at a fast, without respect of persons, as there shall be occasion.

Before the publick meeting, each family and person apart are privately to use all religious care to prepare their hearts to such a solemn work, and to be early at the congregation.

So large a portion of the day as conveniently may be, is to be spent in publick reading and preaching of the word, with singing of psalms, fit to quicken affections suitable to such a duty: but especially in prayer, to this or the like effect:

“Giving glory to the great Majesty of God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of all the world, the better to affect us thereby with an holy reverence and awe of him; acknowledging his manifold, great, and tender mercies, especially to the church and nation, the more effectually to soften and abase our hearts before him; humbly confessing of sins of all sorts, with their several aggravations; justifying God’s righteous judgments, as being far less than our sins do deserve; yet humbly and earnestly imploring his mercy and grace for ourselves, the church and nation, for our king, and all in authority, and for all others for whom we are bound to pray, (according as the present exigent requireth,) with more special importunity and enlargement than at other times; applying by faith the promises and goodness of God for pardon, help, and deliverance from the evils felt, feared, or deserved; and for obtaining the blessings which we need and expect; together with a giving up of ourselves wholly and for ever unto the Lord.”

In all these, the ministers, who are the mouths of the people unto God, ought so to speak from their hearts, upon serious and thorough premeditation of them, that both themselves and their people may be much affected, and even melted thereby, especially with sorrow for their sins; that it may be indeed a day of deep humiliation and afflicting of the soul.

Special choice is to be made of such scriptures to be read, and of such tests for preaching, as may best work the hearts of the hearers to the special business of the day, and most dispose them to humiliation and repentance: insisting most on those particulars which each minister’s observation and experience tells him are most conducing to the edification and reformation of that congregation to which he preacheth.

Before the close of the publick duties, the minister is, in his own and the people’s name, to engage his and their hearts to be the Lord’s, with professed purpose and resolution to reform whatever is amiss among them, and more particularly such sins as they have been more remarkably guilty of; and to draw near unto God, and to walk more closely and faithfully with him in new obedience, than ever before.

He is also to admonish the people, with all importunity, that the work of that day doth not end with the publick duties of it, but that they are so to improve the remainder of the day, and of their whole life, in reinforcing upon themselves and their families in private all those godly affections and resolutions which they professed in publick, as that they may be settled in their hearts for ever, and themselves may more sensibly find that God hath smelt a sweet savour in Christ from their performances, and is pacified towards them, by answers of grace, in pardoning of sin, in removing of judgments, in averting or preventing of plagues, and in conferring of blessings, suitable to the conditions and prayers of his people, by Jesus Christ.

Besides solemn and general fasts enjoined by authority, we judge that, at other times, congregations may keep days of fasting, as divine providence shall administer unto them special occasion; and also that families may do the same, so it be not on days wherein the congregation to which they do belong is to meet for fasting, or other publick duties of worship.

Folks, I recently just made a new category for posts I’ve personally written over the years, interspersed among all the others that tend to be quotes from others (sometimes plus short commentary).  The tag is “Authored by Blogger.”  I sure hope those updates didn’t turn into a barrage of WP updates in your inbox.  If so, I humbly apologize!

If someone could let me know if that happens every time I update a post, I would welcome that.

I am a conservative Christian. I also homeschool. I head to the range every month or so. Not only that, but I’m a Calvinist, a psalm-singer, and to boot, someone who believes that the state has an obligation to embrace and support Christianity. So really, I’m not your mainstream, happy-clappy evangelical. For most, I would be just to the right of Attila the Hun. I’m in a subculture of a subculture of a subculture.

And yet, I am increasingly concerned about how reactionary and polarizing folks like me can be. We often tend to be overly suspicious of anyone in government, education, or any institution that we feel encroaches on our freedoms. We can indulge in conspiratorialism, thinking that every government official or educator or doctor has made a self-conscious Faustian bargain with the Devil and is actively plotting our destruction. And then we respond accordingly.

I am concerned about all of this for two reasons. First, ethically, we have a responsibility to “honor all men” and make the Gospel we represent as winsome as possible. Our “light should so shine before men” that they might see our “good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” Yes, we must at times offend, but only if it is for “righteousness’ sake.” Yes, we must stand our ground when sacred truth is at stake. But we must do it only when necessary and in a manner that involves no personal offense. Otherwise, we should, “as far as it lies within us, be at peace with all men.”

Second, I have very practical concerns as well. The more we are hyper-suspicious, unreasonable, and just downright cantankerous, the more we court the overreaction of those in positions of power. Tit for tat. “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” If we are proud and stubborn as Christians, how much more will the graceless respond in kind? If we want to preserve our freedoms, we should act worthy of them and not bait the enemy. “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?” You’re just reaping what you’ve sown, says Peter.

I think we need to re-tune our theology and ethics here, in order to re-tune our practice. The following points I think are worth bearing in mind.

First, total depravity has been checked – sometimes very significantly – by common grace. To be sure, “there is none righteous, no not one.” And “the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” But unconverted people can be restrained, sometimes greatly. There is a real sense in which we can speak about ‘good pagans.’ I know some really good pagans! They are decent people. Some of them are more decent than some Christians I know. Consequently, there are some decent liberal Democrats, some decent members of the National Education Association, some decent doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists and social workers. Many of them mean well and want to do good, at least on a human level. We ought to realize this and keep it in mind.

Second, the law of love dictates that we assume the best of people, including non-Christians. Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Our ethical responsibility is not suspended the moment we leave the church. Our unconverted neighbors – including government officials, educators, and doctors – are innocent until proven guilty. Would we want them to treat us with suspicion upon no clear, justifiable grounds? Even so, let us do unto them as we would have them do unto us. And all the while, let us not forget simple courtesy. “Be ye courteous.”

Third, two wrongs do not make a right. If someone does us wrong – if they give us a hard time for our homeschooling curriculum or our decisions on immunizations – then let us be very careful not to “repay evil with evil.” Rather, our Master tells us, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” We can all be tempted to get bitter and retaliate when we are mistreated. But it is not the will of our good and gracious Father, and it will usually only make matters worse.

Fourth, in God’s world, personal liberty must be counter-balanced with social responsibility. We owe it to our society (and yes, to our government!), to educate our children to the best of our abilities. They have a vested interest, as do we, in their academic success. If we turn out illiterates, this is not good for the economy or the tax revenues. It is just plain bad policy to say, let folks do what they will with their children. Now, mind you, I’m hardly advocating statism here. I really don’t want local school officials showing up on my doorstep to scour our textbooks and school records. Yet if they make reasonable requests – or even requirements – let us make sure that they are in fact unreasonable before we just tell them to take a hike.

And my doctor and the rest of society has a vested interest in my health. If I only eat fatty foods and exercise once every two decades, this is bad for me and for others. And if a whole demographic is just like me, then it bodes ill for all. If my mental health deteriorates and I become a risk to myself or others, yes, others have a vested interest in helping me before the unthinkable comes to pass.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not promoting a lemming-like acceptance of conventional wisdom or the judgments of the establishment.  There’s a healthy place for critique.  Nor am I suggesting we roll over and play dead when someone oversteps their bounds. I’m all for insisting on personal rights, especially when it concerns the well being of my family. We can and may involve others to help protect those rights. But we must at once learn how to be actually in the world and yet not of it, as well as to be “angry and sin not.”

Let’s be careful to avoid the bunker mentality. Let’s remember that we represent God and Christ before a perishing world of lost and blinded sinners. Let’s remember that we were just like them, whistling down the broad path on the way to destruction. And let’s make very sure that if we cross them, we do it for the Lord’s sake and not for our own agendas. And then we can live with quiet conscience in peace or persecution. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

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