Posted by: reiterations | August 1, 2014

A Puritan on Skill in Music

Suppose a Viol, Cittern, Lute, or Harp/Committed unto him that wanteth Skill;/Can he by strokes, suppose them flat or sharp,/The ear of him that hears with Musick fill?

No, no, he can do little else than scrape/Or put all out of tune, or break a string:/Or make thereon a muttering like an Ape,/Or like one which can neither say nor sing.

The unlearned Novices in Things Divine/With this unskilled Musician I compare,/For such, instead of making Truth to shine,/Abuse the Bible and unsavoury are.

He that can play well on an Instrument/Will take the ear and captivate the Mind,/With Mirth or Sadness: For that it is bent/Thereto as Musick, in it, place doth find.

But if one hears therein that hath no skill,/(As often Musick lights of such a chance)/Of its brave Notes, they soon be weary will;/And there are some can neither sing nor dance.

Unto him that thus skilfully doth play,/God doth compare a Gospel-Minister,/That rightly preacheth (and doth Godly pray)/Applying truth what doth thence infer.

This man whether of Wrath or Grace he preach/So skilfully doth handle every word;/And by his saying, doth the Heart so reach,/That it doth joy or sigh before the Lord.

But some there be, which, as the Bruit, doth lie,/Under the Word, without the least advance,/God-ward: Such do despise the Ministry,/They weep not at it, neither to it dance.John Bunyan (1628-1688)

From: The Puritans and Music in England and New England: A Contribution to the Cultural History of Two Nations by Percy A. Scholes (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1934), p. 155.

Posted by: reiterations | July 31, 2014

The Uniqueness of Christianity

In contrast with every other religion, Christianity stands for the fact that, in Jesus Christ, God has communicated to us His Word and has imparted to us His Spirit so that we may really know Him as He is in Himself, although not apart from His saving activity in history, for what He is toward us and for us in history He is in Himself, and what He is in Himself He is toward us and for us in history.  The Word of God and the Spirit of God are not just ephemeral modes of God’s presence to us in history nor are they transient media external to Himself through which God has revealed to us something about Himself.  They belong to what God ever is in His communion with us.  They are the objective ontological personal forms of His self-giving and self-imparting in the dynamic outgoing of the holy love which God Himself is.  It, thus, belongs to the essential faith of the church that, through His Word and His Spirit who are of one and the same being with Himself, God has really communicated Himself to us in His own eternal and indivisible reality as God the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.  That is why we believe that what God is toward us in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, He is in Himself, antecedently and eternally in Himself, and that what He imparts to us through the Spirit who sheds the love of God into our hearts, He is in Himself, antecedently and eternally in Himself.  It is, thus, that, through Jesus Christ, God has given Himself to us and, through the Holy Spirit, takes us up into communion with Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one God of all grace whom we know as the God of our salvation.

From: The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons by Thomas F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), pp. 3-4.

Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007) was Professor of Church History (1950-1952) and Professor of Christian Dogmatics (1952-1979) at New College, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Posted by: reiterations | July 30, 2014

Christian Doctrine vs. Paganism – 3 of 3

Thirdly, it also introduced a conception of time and history and movement.  Where the Greek world had been a timeless necessary procession of existence without any visible culmination, Christianity saw a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Its beginning was creation.  Its middle was, for man, the journey through this world as a voyager (“viator”) when, with death and the Last Judgment, he would reach his end in eternal salvation or in eternal reprobation.  This teleology was of a very different order from Aristotle’s.  It was providential and personal at the same time.  It made for a dynamic outlook and, amongst most thinkers, for an optimism in their belief in a final consummation.  It also made the whole of human history revolve around Adam’s fall and Christ’s incarnation and, ultimately, all power in this world and reward in the next rested upon them.

Finally, with the infinite gulf between God’s necessary being and the contingency of all creation, one of the greatest problems for medieval Christian thinking was the means by which the created world could reach the divine.  It recognized two levels, where the Greeks had tended to see only a progressive separation of the image from its source.  For Christians, there could be no single union by means of contemplation, for this itself demanded a supernaturalizing of natural powers if the latter were to transcend their own limits.  Such a change was achieved by grace, a divine gift awarded to a rational creature for its salvation.  Its infusion had a variety of forms but, in essence, its function was to heal man’s infirmity which had resulted from the fall and to elevate him to God, enabling him to know Him and to do His will.  The need for grace, therefore, was the measure of the disparity between the created and the divine.  In the last analysis, truth was a supernatural awareness belonging only to the believer in grace.

For these reasons, philosophy had a very different part to play in Christian thought, as compared with ancient Greece.  Reason, of itself, could never directly reach the truth.  It acted in the light of faith and was, essentially, an accompaniment to man in his transitory state as voyager in this world, to be sloughed off when he reached the next.  This allowed of no easy relationship between faith and reason.  It is not surprising that it knew a state of equilibrium only for a fleeting passage of time with St. Thomas Aquinas’s system, and St. Thomas himself was the calm before the storm which engulfed the later thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries.

From: Medieval Thought: St. Augustine to Ockham by Gordon Leff (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), pp. 18-19.

Posted by: reiterations | July 29, 2014

Christian Doctrine vs. Paganism – 2 of 3

Secondly, it made Christian philosophy a philosophy of creation.  Not only was it the result of a free act of God, contingent and from nothing as opposed to an eternal and necessary process, it also made the nature of creation different.  For the first time, there was an active providence regulating all creation, matter as well as form, the brutes as well as the angels.  It made the whole of existence God’s province and so, where all previous philosophers had confined themselves to the intelligible or at least had ruled out, as of no account, the material and the corruptible, sin and the body, Christianity had equally to consider the latter.  Christianity, therefore, differed in dealing with the totality of being and relating it to God as its principle.  It sought to explain that before which the pagans had stopped.  All existence was germane to enquiry because it was germane to God.  It was also, in its nature, good because it came from God.  The difference between this outlook and the Greek philosophies hardly needs stressing.  Not only did it demand new standards of judgment, it judged everything.  With the minutiae of existence thrown open to its scrutiny and explanation, new preoccupations arose which the pagans had been largely able to dismiss: the cause of sin in a world which was, of itself, good; the place of the human body not as the soul’s prison but as the way in which man had been created; the relation of God’s providence to free will.  Christian thinking, therefore, introduced a new framework.

From: Medieval Thought: St. Augustine to Ockham by Gorden Leff (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), p. 18.

Posted by: reiterations | July 28, 2014

Christian Doctrine vs. Paganism – 1 of 3

The greatest problem Christian thinkers had to face was the antinomy between their own body of doctrine and the philosophical concepts drawn from pagan outlooks.  The application of Plato, Aristotle, Proclus, Plotinus, Avicenna to Christian revelation was fraught with difficulties, and yet their notions, in fact, largely made a Christian philosophy possible.  The differences between Christianity, on the one hand, and the different non-Christian philosophies, on the other, were great.  Starting from a conception of a personal God, the creator of the universe, Christian thinkers had to take into account a number of fundamental considerations that were not to be found in the pagan systems.

The first was the view that God was Being above all: before He was good or wise or just, He existed.  Nearly all medieval thinkers took, as their text, God’s reply to Moses to describe Himself: “I am that I am” (Exodus 3.14).  It colored their entire vision of the world.  It made God a being in His own right rather than a nebulous assembly of qualities (Plato and Neoplatonism) or a mere self-contemplating cause (Aristotle).  It demarcated His existence from that of His creatures while, at the same time, making their being the result of a participation in His own.  It provided a means of explaining God’s triune nature as three Persons subsisting in a common essence, where Neoplatonism saw three separate Intelligences and the Jews and Moslems saw but one Person.  It made God’s will the direct cause of creation, since His own being, infinite and yet completely realized, had no inherent need to multiply beyond itself, unlike Neoplatonism.  Above all, as Being, God provided an ultimate reference, in His own essence, to all creation, and man was created in His image.

From: Medieval Thought: St. Augustine to Ockham by Gordon Leff (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), p. 17.

Gordon Leff (born in 1926) is Professor Emeritus of History at York University in England.

Posted by: reiterations | July 27, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (339)

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, [Selah]/ that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations./Let the peoples praise You, O God.  Let all the peoples praise You!/Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. [Selah]/Let the peoples praise You, O God.  Let all the peoples praise You!/The earth has yielded its increase.  God, our God, shall bless us./God shall bless us.  Let all the ends of the earth fear Him!  (Psalm 67.1-7)

Posted by: reiterations | July 26, 2014

Matthew’s Genealogy

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is further brought out by its symmetrical arrangement into three groups of fourteen generations each – an arrangement not arrived at without some free manipulating of the links.  The sacred number is doubled in each case, which implies eminent completeness.

Each of the three groups makes a whole in which a tendency runs out to its goal and becomes, as it were, the starting point for a new epoch.  So, the first group is pre-monarchical and culminates in David, the king.  Israel’s history is regarded as all tending towards that consummation.  He is thought of as the first king, for Saul was a Benjaminite and had been deposed by divine authority.

The second group is monarchical, and it, too, has a drift, as it were, which is tragically marked by the way in which its last stage is described: “Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren about the time that they were carried away to Babylon.”  Josiah had four successors, all of them phantom kings – (1) Jehoahaz, who reigned for three months and was taken captive to Egypt; (2) his brother, Jehoiakim, a puppet set up by Egypt and knocked down by Babylon; (3) his son, Jehoiachin, who reigned eleven years and was carried captive to Babylon; and last (4) Zedekiah, Josiah’s son, under whom the ruin of the kingdom was completed.  The genealogy does not mention the names of these ill-starred brethren partly because it traces the line of descent through Jeconias or Jehoiachin, and partly because it despises them too much.  A line that begins with David and ends with such a quartet!  This was what the monarchy had run out to: David at the one end and Zedekiah at the other, a bright fountain pouring out a stream that darkened as it flowed through the ages and crept, at last, into a stagnant pond, foul and evil-smelling.

Then comes the third group, and it, too, has a drift.  Unknown as the names in it are, it is the epoch of restoration, and its bright consummate flower is Jesus, who is called the Christ.  He will be a better David, will burnish again the tarnished luster of the monarchy, will be all that earlier kings were meant to be and failed of being, and will more than bring the day which Abraham desired to see and realize the ideal to which prophets and righteous men unconsciously were tending when, as yet, there was no king in Israel.Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Matthew 1.1-16.

The passage has been lightly edited for clarity.

Posted by: reiterations | July 25, 2014

On Forgiveness

In regard to the passage in Luke (Luke 7.36-50), no man of sober judgment who reads the parable there employed by our Lord will raise any controversy with us.  The Pharisee thought that the Lord did not know the character of the woman whom He had so easily admitted to His presence.  For he presumed that He would not have admitted her if He had known what kind of a sinner she was and, from this, he inferred that one who could be deceived in this way was not a prophet.  Our Lord, to show that she was not a sinner inasmuch as she had already been forgiven, spoke this parable…By these words, it is plain He does not make love the cause of forgiveness, but the proof of it.  The similitude is borrowed from the case of a debtor to whom a debt of five hundred [denarii] had been forgiven.  It is not said that the debt is forgiven because he loved much, but that he loved much because it was forgiven.  The similitude ought to be applied in this way: You think this woman is a sinner, but you ought to have acknowledged her as not a sinner in respect that her sins have been forgiven her.  Her love ought to have been, to you, a proof of her having obtained forgiveness, that love being an expression of gratitude for the benefit received.  It is an argument a posteriori, by which something is demonstrated by the results produced by it.  Our Lord plainly attests the ground on which she had obtained forgiveness when He says, “Your faith has saved you.”  By faith, therefore, we obtain forgiveness.  By love, we give thanks, and bear testimony to the lovingkindness of the Lord.John Calvin (1509-1564), from Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.4.37 (Henry Beveridge translation)

Posted by: reiterations | July 24, 2014

An Appeal to Believe

Let this now make a Savior precious and His salvation acceptable to you.  One would think that should be enough to raise the esteem of Christ among a company of perishing sinners, to read that title of His, “Even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1.10).  That He is the great and only deliverer, that He hath the keys of death and hell and is able to quench those everlasting burnings for us and free us from going down to the pit.  Oh, then, if you would not have your everlasting abode in that burning lake, look unto Him now, that you may be saved.  If once you come there, the gulf will then be fixed and there will be no coming thence again, and you are going apace to that congregation.  Now then, while a Savior calls, give no rest to your eyes nor give Him any rest until you are gotten under the shadow of His wings and set free from the condemnation of hell.  Oh, that you were now persuaded to fly as for your lives, that so you may never be made to know what it is to dwell with these everlasting burnings by your own doleful experience.

From: A Complete Body of Divinity in Two Hundred and Fifty Expository Lectures on the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Unfolded, their Truth Confirmed, their Excellence Displayed, their Usefulness Improved, Contrary Errors and Vices Refuted and Exposed, Objections Answered, Controversies Settled, Cases of Conscience Resolved, and a Great Light Thereby Reflected on the Present Age by Samuel Willard; 2 volumes (Boston: Printed by B. Green and S. Kneeland for B. Eliot and D. Henchman, 1726), 1:219.

The quotation is an excerpt from Sermon 67, preached on November 25, 1693.  (In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, sermons were often referred to as “lectures” or “discourses.”)

Posted by: reiterations | July 23, 2014

Moderation in All Things

This is a time when many people are prone to indulge themselves in all manner of luxuries.  Iniquity now abounds, and nothing can scarcely be seen but things of the greatest extravagance imaginable, not only for the necessities of the body, but to pamper it in lust, to feed its vices, to make us go on in sin, and to be a means for gratifying our carnal appetite.  This wickedness is a means to make us forget the Lord of glory.  It only makes us fit to do such drudgery as the devil shall set us about.  These things only prepare us to run wherever the devil sends.  This, instead of denying ourselves, is indulging ourselves.  It is not nor can be called a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ when we are making ourselves worse than the beasts that perish.  I am not speaking against eating and drinking of the good things of life, but against the eating and drinking of them to excess because they thus disqualify us for the service of God.  And, to our fellow creatures, they make us unsociable and may occasion us to be guilty of saying and acting those things which we should be ashamed to think of if we had only eaten or drunk with moderation.  Whatever we partake of must be done to the honor and glory of God.George Whitefield (1714-1770)

From: George Whitefield: Daily Readings, edited by Randall J. Pederson (Fearn: Christian Heritage, 2010), entry for July 22.

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