From the Psalms

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for my soul. . .Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me!  (Psalm 66.16, 20)

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Grace

If grace were, at any time, an obligation of God, it would cease to be grace. – Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843)

On the Persistence of Unbelief and the Hatred of Christianity

One might have supposed, had one lived two thousand years ago, that the existence of the Bible and the influence of the Christian church for so long would guarantee that most men would, by this time, have accepted the Christian world-and-life view.  But, it is not so.  The natural man is profoundly offended by the Christian view of reality and, do what the church will, the unconverted world, so long as it remains unconverted, will always refuse to accept the true view of life.  People in Christian countries are scarcely any more ready to look at life correctly today, after two millennia of gospel light, than their forefathers were in pre-Christian times.  The distortion of reality may be less gross, but it is still there. – Maurice Roberts (born in 1938)

From: Great God of Wonders: The Life of Grace and the Hope of Glory by Maurice Roberts (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), pp. 157-158.

English Literature and the “Mystery Plays”

The historical origins of the plays that have come to form the Mystery Cycle can, we know, be traced back to the embryo Latin plays which appeared first as intrinsic parts of the church services at Easter and at Christmas.  The first of these formal liturgical plays seems to have been the representation of the Resurrection.  But, corresponding to this little play – almost exactly parallel to it, even in the phrasing – there appeared, at almost the same time, also a Nativity Play.  Thus, the Sepulchre approached by priests impersonating the three Marys was the central object in the Easter Play: the cradle approached by priests impersonating the Three Shepherds was the central object of the Christmas Play.  Yet, the size and nature of what, by the end of the fourteenth century, had become the English Mystery Cycle cannot be entirely accounted for as a straight development or expansion from these priestly performances.  The Mystery Cycle is a truly communal or national drama.  There are things in the plays of which the church became more than doubtful and, indeed, the whole Cycle became, from the church’s point of view, something which had got entirely out of hand.  Was it merely the tendency, in unregenerate human nature, to turn sacred things to buffoonery and farce which was responsible for the transformation?  There is, surely, a profounder explanation.  It is clear that, for the people, the Mystery Cycle was profoundly important, and not merely an opportunity for releases of rowdiness.

From: “A Survey of Medieval Verse,” by John Speirs, in The Pelican Guide to English Literature: Volume 1: The Age of Chaucer, edited by Boris Ford (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1954), pp. 48-49.

“Holy Bible, Book Divine”

What a precious work of God is the Bible!  We do not appreciate it nearly enough.  It is God’s masterpiece of wisdom and skill.  It is more enduring than heaven and earth.  The Lord Jesus tells us that it is easier for heaven and earth to cease to exist than for the smallest part of one letter of the original Scriptures to be lost or fail of its purpose (Luke 16.17)!  God’s Word is better-established and more secure than the Himalayas or the Alps.  It would be easier for the sun and the planets to disintegrate and disappear than for the Bible to err or to let us down.  It is verbally and literally inspired.

And yet, the sharpest minds and brightest intellects in all the world and in all of history have not understood it unless they have humbled themselves and become like meek little children.  And, at the same time, the simplest and least-instructed have understood it enough to see that it is all about Jesus Christ and His work for sinners, and have received light and salvation through its pages.

From: I Shall Not Die, But Live: Facing Death with Gospel Hope by Douglas Taylor (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), p. 3.

Neither the Apostles nor Their Successors May Go Beyond Scripture

Accordingly, Peter, who was well-instructed by the Master as to how much he should do, reserves nothing else for himself or others except to impart the doctrine as it has been handed down by God: “. . .whoever speaks,” he says, “as one who speaks oracles of God” [1 Peter 4.11], that is, not hesitatingly and tremblingly, as evil consciences are accustomed to speak, but with the high confidence which befits a servant of God furnished with His sure commands.  What is this but to reject all inventions of the human mind (from whatever brain they have issued) in order that God’s pure Word may be taught and learned in the believers’ church?  What is it but to remove the ordinances or, rather, inventions of all men (whatever their rank) in order that the decrees of God alone may remain in force?  These are those spiritual “weapons. . .[which] have divine power to destroy strongholds” [2 Corinthians 10.4].  By them, God’s faithful soldiers “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Corinthians 10.5].  Here, then, is the sovereign power with which the pastors of the church, by whatever name they be called, ought to be endowed: that is, that they may dare boldly to do all things by God’s Word [and] may compel all worldly power, glory, wisdom, and exaltation to yield to and obey His majesty.  Supported by His power, [they] may command all, from the highest even to the last, may build up Christ’s household and cast down Satan’s, may feed the sheep and drive away the wolves, may instruct and exhort the teachable, may accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and stubborn, may bind and loose [and], finally, if need be, may launch thunderbolts and lightnings – but do all things in God’s Word.  – John Calvin (1509-1564)

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin; 4th (and final) Latin edition of 1559; translated from the Latin by Ford Lewis Battles; edited by John T. McNeill; The Library of Christian Classics series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 4.8.9 (Volume 2, pp. 1156-1157).

What Literature Does

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it.  It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides and, in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. – C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

On John Milton’s (1608-1674) Poetic Challenge

. . .the very nature of his themes and the great purposes he had in mind remove his poetry, to a much greater extent than that of any others, even the biblical poets, from the ordinary concerns and common experience of men.  For his material, he chose the fall of man, the tempting of Christ by Satan, and the Lord’s vengeance on His enemies through Samson.  The existence of angels, the fall of a whole race in Adam, the restoration of that race in Christ, the deliberate destruction of God’s enemies – these are ideas which, whether accepted or rejected, have little affinity with the mentality of the twentieth century and are remote from the common experience even of the devout believer.  Milton, then, presented himself with a particularly difficult task, a task faced neither by the Hebrew poets (who concentrate on the experience of the Israelites) nor by the Greeks (who, even in dealing with the gods, are constantly concerned with the human situation) nor by Dante (who expresses his theological material in terms of a human pilgrim progressing towards heaven through a vivid series of encounters with human beings) nor by Shakespeare (who, in presenting a profound study of human character, abstains from personal moral judgments). . .

The difficulties are further aggravated by Milton’s intense conviction that his poetry must teach.  And the influence of the Old Testament is seen in his conception of teaching.  He wishes not merely to instruct the mind but to purify and elevate the heart. . .

From: “Milton’s Religious Verse” by L. A. Cormican, in The Pelican Guide to English Literature: Volume 3: From Donne to Marvell, edited by Boris Ford (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1956), pp. 174-175.