Posted by: reiterations | November 23, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (356)

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will tell you everything.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.  Peace be to the brothers and love, with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.  (Ephesians 6.21-24)

Posted by: reiterations | November 22, 2014

Thinking About Re-Thinking Luther

There are reasons why a good deal of received academic opinion should be unfriendly towards Martin Luther.  There is the modest reaction against the judgments of the Victorian age, not least among those who have shed the Protestantism of their fathers.  The virile theological tradition deriving from the Oxford Movement has made great and positive theological contributions to English religion but, from the time of Hurrell Froude onwards, it’s blind spot has been a rigid, narrow, and wooden hostility towards the Reformers and their works.  Then, there is the tradition of the liberal historians, with their wishful preference for a Reformation “along Erasmian lines” which, they consider, might have been but for the violent intervention of Luther and his friends.  To the liberal historians and theologians, aloof from theology and dogma, Martin Luther could hardly be a congenial figure.  The events of our generation have hardly disposed us to a sympathetic judgment of the course of German history, and made only too plausible the arguments of those who derive all our ills from the Reformation, and not a few from the influence of Martin Luther.

The case for the reconsideration of Luther is that all these judgments, good or ill, rest upon an insufficient consideration of facts.  Of the many thousands of Luther’s writings, hardly more than a score have been available in English throughout the greater part of four centuries.  There has been little awareness of the problems and discoveries of modern Luther study which, both in detail and in principle, have been of a quality and intricacy high among historical disciplines, second only, it may be, to that of biblical criticism.

From: The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies: the Birkbeck Lectures in Ecclesiastical History for 1947 by Gordon Rupp (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953), p. 4.

Posted by: reiterations | November 21, 2014

Regarding Sacred Music

The music world of our century does not feel quite at home with religious subjects, any more than the directors of our religious establishments feel confident about contemporary composition.  The making of a joyful noise unto the Lord and the praising of Him upon a loud instrument are practiced, in our time, with more timidity than gusto.  A lugubrious respectability overlays nearly all our religious music-making.  And our best composers tend, more and more, to reserve their joyful noises, as well as their really terrifying ones, for secular circumstances.

The basis of this timidity is not so much, I fancy, a lack of religious faith on the part of musicians or any suspicion of music’s efficacy on the part of religious administrators as it is an erroneous conception, by both, of what constitutes a proper sacred style.  It is thought that profane associations invalidate stylistic elements for religious usage.  And yet, the history of religion, if it proves anything at all about music, proves the contrary.  The exchange of material and device between sacred and secular usage is the one constant pattern discernible in the musical history of the last twelve hundred years.  And, at no point in that time, is it possible to distinguish, save by sheer functional criteria, such as instruments or verbal texts employed, the music of worship from that of sheer entertainment.

Professionals of religion have constantly tried to censor the music used in their establishments.  But, whenever the censorship of tune or of technical device becomes strict, inspiration moves over to the market place.  The “purification” of church music that followed the pronouncements of the Council of Trent provoked, in less than fifty years, the invention of the opera.  And the real originality of the seventeenth-century operatic style caused its adoption, within twenty-five years, by the religious establishments.  The modernized plain-chant of the Benedictine monks made possible, too, the writing of Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” and Satie’s “Socrate,” although it has not yet produced one first-class piece of church composition.

Church music in our century, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, has been conservative and, compared to the music of theater and concert, inexpressive.  It lacks self-confidence, liberty, assertion.

From: “Styles in Sacred Music,” by Virgil Thomson, in Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles, 1940-1954, edited by Tim Page; The Library of America, Volume 258 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2014), pp. 227-228.  “Styles of Sacred Music” originally appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on July 23, 1944.

Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) was an American composer, music critic, and author.  He was Chief Music Critic and Head of the Music Department at the New York Herald Tribune from 1940 to 1954.

Posted by: reiterations | November 20, 2014

Involvement in the Sins of Other People

Ministers make themselves partakers in the sins of their people when those sins are occasioned by their own negligence, by their example, or by unfaithfulness in the discharge of their official duties.  But, why do I mention this to you?  Not because you are in danger of partaking, in this way, of other men’s sins, but because my subject naturally leads to this remark, because I am willing to preach to myself as well as to you, and because this remark suggests a sufficient excuse, if excuse be necessary, for the pointed observations which I may be called upon to make in the progress of my discourse for, from this remark, it follows that, if you are in danger of sharing in the guilt of other men’s sins, it is my duty, as a minister of Christ, to warn you plainly of that danger and to point out the way in which you may avoid it and, should I neglect thus to warn you, I should myself share in the guilt of all your sins and of all the sins of which you make yourselves partakers.  Now this I can, by no means, consent to do.  I am willing to participate in all your sorrows and afflictions, but I am not willing to share in your sins.  I have enough – and more than enough – of my own to answer for, without participating in yours.  Let this be my apology if, in this, as well as in my other discourses, I use great plainness of speech.

From: “Participation in Other Men’s Sins,” a sermon on 1 Timothy 5.22, preached by Edward Payson.

Edward Payson (1783-1827) was Pastor of Second Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, from 1811 until his death.  This sermon appears among the three volumes of Payson’s sermons that appeared not long after his death.

Posted by: reiterations | November 19, 2014

A Glimpse Into Medieval Christianity

You must understand that, as St. Gregory says, there are, in the church, two ways of life which lead to salvation.  One is called the active life, the other the contemplative.  Every man who is saved is so by one or other of these.  The active life consists in love and charity manifested exteriorly by good works.  It means the keeping of God’s commandments and the performance of the seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy for one’s fellow Christians.  This is the life proper to men of the world who are rich and have plenty of worldly goods, and it belongs, also, to those who hold office and authority over other men and have the administration of property or wealth, whether they are learned or ignorant, laymen or ecclesiastics.  Such are bound to fulfill these duties to the best of their abilities, as reason and discretion shall dictate.  If they are possessed of great fortune, it will be their duty to do much good.  If their fortune is small, less is expected of them.  If they possess nothing, they must, at least, have good will.  These are the works of an active life, whether it is exercised in temporal or spiritual authority.  Exercises of bodily mortification, such as fasting, vigils, and other severe forms of penance, also pertain to the active life.  The flesh must be chastised, with discretion, to atone for past sins and to restrain sinful inclinations and to make the body obedient and compliant to the soul.  These works, active though they are, dispose a man, in the early stages, to come to the contemplative life, provided that they are used discreetly.

From: The Scale of Perfection by Walter Hilton; translated from Medieval English by Gerard Sitwell (London: Burns Oates, 1953), p. 4.  The Scale of Perfection, written in the 14th century, was first published in 1494.

Walter Hilton was probably an Augustinian canon of Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire, England.  He died in about 1400.

Posted by: reiterations | November 18, 2014

On Christ’s Death

If it were not for the purchase of a Mediator’s death, if it were not that Jesus Christ had bought us with a price, even with the price of His own death, you and I should never have had, you and I could never have had, the grace of God manifested, at all, to our souls.George Whitefield (1714-1770)

Posted by: reiterations | November 17, 2014

How Times Have Changed!

I know of no place upon the face of the earth where the Sabbath is kept as it is in Boston.  If a single person were to walk on Boston’s streets at the time of worship, he would be taken up.  It is not entrusted to poor insignificant men, but justices go out, at the time of worship, and walk with a white wand: if they catch any person walking on the streets, they put him under a black rod.George Whitefield (1714-1770)

Posted by: reiterations | November 16, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (355)

We give thanks to You, O God.  We give thanks, for Your name is near.  We recount Your wondrous deeds.  (Psalm 75.1)

Posted by: reiterations | November 15, 2014

On William Cowper

He was born in 1731 at Great Berkhamstead, where his father was rector.  The family had already attained great legal distinction, and the poet’s mother was a Miss Donne, of the house of the great Dean of St. Paul’s.  Cowper was educated at Westminster where, notwithstanding the black account of public schools given later in “Tirocinium,” he made many friends, as he also did in his subsequent study of both branches of the law.  He wrote for the fashionable periodical, the “Connoisseur,” and seemed likely to be happy and (for his family interest was great) prosperous.

But the seeds of madness in him were developed by the crossing of his love for his cousin, Theodora, by the nervous excitement of his appointment to certain clerkships in the House of Lords, and by religious stimulus.  The form which his mania took (1763) was suicidal and though, after proper treatment, he recovered, his prospects were irrecoverably blighted.  Removing into the country with a small allowance, he lived first at Huntingdon, and then at Olney, in friendship with the famous evangelical clergyman, John Newton, and with the family of the Unwins.  After about fifteen years (during which he had at least one return of mania or, at best, melancholia), he began to write – first, hymns with Newton, and then miscellaneous poetry.

For rather more than ten years, he was happy, sane, and (for a part of them) a good deal in love with a widow named Lady Austin.  His first poems, “Truth,” “Error,” etc., appeared in 1782, “The Task,” in 1785, his “Homer,” a little later.  He should have died, now, but, unluckily for him, he survived for yet another decade of misery, through mental and bodily illness, dying at East Dereham in 1800, in the frame of mind expressed by his last and, perhaps, greatest poem, the wonderful “Castaway,” where the poetry of utter despair is expressed, albeit with the utmost simplicity, yet in a fashion which makes mere Byronism of Leopardi and the second James Thomson.

From: A Short History of English Literature by George Saintsbury (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1898), p. 588.

William Cowper’s last name, by the way, is pronounced “cooper.”

Posted by: reiterations | November 14, 2014

On the Holy Spirit

Many people will be surprised to discover that the work of the Holy Spirit was not developed as a doctrine until after the Protestant Reformation.  Of course, Jesus taught His disciples about it, the letters of the apostles were filled with it and, if Pentecost means anything, the church could not have existed without it.  People experienced the Spirit in their hearts but, when they talked about theology, it was usually about something else – could the God of the Old Testament be equated with the Father of Jesus Christ?  Was the Creator God also the Redeemer?  How can Jesus Christ be divine when there is only one God who is transcendent and completely different from anything He has made?  These were the questions that were debated, and it was only late in the day that attention turned to the work of the Third Person of the Trinity as distinct from that of the other two.

From: God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology by Gerald Bray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), p. 723.

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