I am a teacher of Christian theology, and as the principle source book of Christian Theology is a Greek book, and a large part of its literature is written in Latin, I am predisposed to desire that Greek and Latin should have a large place in academic training. I fully recognize, however, that the training given in our academic institutions should not be determined by the needs of any one profession. Its primary object, in my view, in fact is not so much to impart knowledge as to form mind; and it is because I have a clear and, as I believe, well founded conviction that a sound classical training provides the best means at our disposal for a sound mental discipline that I am an earnest advocate of it. Were we for any reason debarred from the use of the classics, I have little question that much the same training which we now obtain from them could be obtained without them. But neither do I have that much doubt that the same training could not be obtained without them without a larger expenditure of both labor and effort. So long as we have the choice in a free field the classical course, in my judgment, should be chosen as supplying the best means as yet known of general mental discipline. What I chiefly value in it is the quality of mind which it produces.
- Benjamin B. Warfield
“Oh, brother or sister, God calls us to worship, but in many instances we are in entertainment, just running a poor second to the theaters. That is where we are, even in the evangelical churches, and I don’t mind telling you that most of the people we say we are trying to reach will never come to a church to see a lot of amateur actors putting on a home talent show.”
- A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship
(HT: Chris Mathews)
“The Robin and the Sparrow”
Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
(HT: Justin Wainscott)
A week ago we passed the 478th anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale (Oct 6, 1536), strangled and burned for his work of translating the Bible into English and for teaching justification by faith. As we pass this significant anniversary, I commend to you a wonderful, moving lecture by Timothy George on the life and work of Tyndale delivered three years ago at a conference at Union University.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7)
Rudyard Kiping’s poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” is a powerful and poignant challenge for our cultural situation today. Kipling wrote the poem in 1919 in response to the cultural despair after World War I when so many began rejecting the moral and religious truths which had undergirded European civilization. We need to hear this poem again in our setting.
Since the poem is almost a hundred years old, we may need some background to properly understand it. Copybooks were books used in schools for handwriting. At the top of the page was a common proverb which the student would copy numerous times. Thus, the “copybook headings” were well known sayings which embodied traditional moral truths. Kipling is saying that people in his day were abandoning these truths in pursuit of materialism and notions of “progress.” However, ignoring truth does not make it go away, and the violation of the laws of nature and basic realities
will lead to destruction.
This is not an explicitly Christian poem, and, of course, morals alone are not sufficient. However, we must assess the poem for what it aims to do. It is useful and important to be reminded that the cultural rejection of morality (sexual purity, honesty, hard work, etc.) will lead to cultural destruction. The fact that the gospel produces such character is one of the many ways it contributes to human flourishing.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
- Rudyard Kipling
[Here is a helpful discussion of this poem with more explanation of some of its references]
A main theme of this blog is the necessity of pastors knowing their people in order to be able really to pastor them. A colleague of mine, Justin Barnard, recently pointed me to Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus as a source making a similar point. The following excerpt is a powerful summary of ministry drawing from Jesus comments in John 10:14-15.
“He [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.
Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead. … But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship? Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”(61-62)
[For further discussion of the implications of this scriptural text for pastoral ministry with quotes from key church leaders of the past, see this previous post]
I encountered Horatius Bonar years ago while reading about Robert Murray McCheyne and, then, by reading his book, Words to Winners of Souls. His work has ministered to me in many ways. In his hymns he has a wonderful way of proclaiming the gospel in poetic form. My poem of the week this week is a beautiful example.
“I Hear the Words of Love” powerfully reminds us that our hope, our security, our peace rests in the steadfastness of God and not in our own vacillating feelings or thoughts. What an important and glorious truth! And, what a beautiful way to refer to the gospel- “words of love.” After singing this a week ago at church, it has been in my mind ever since.
I Hear the Words of Love
I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.
’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.
The clouds may go and come,
And storms may sweep my sky;
This blood-sealed friendship changes not,
The cross is ever nigh.
I change—He changes not;
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting-place;
His truth, not mine, the tie.
My love is oftimes low,
My joy still ebbs and flows;
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change Jehovah knows.
- Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith & Hope, second series, 1861.
William Cowper knew what it was to be discouraged, and, thus, he wrote compellingly to this struggle. My poem of the week this week is one of Cowper’s which calls the discouraged saint to look to biblical examples of the Lord’s care and intervention in order to hold fast. The last two lines are my favorite.
THE SAINTS SHOULD NEVER BE DISMAYED
The saints should never be dismayed,
Nor sink in hopeless fear;
For when they least expect His aid,
The Savior will appear.
This Abr’am found: he raised the knife;
God saw, and said, “Forbear!
Yon ram shall yield his meaner life;
Behold the victim there.”
Once David seemed Saul’s certain prey;
But hark! the foe’s at hand;
Saul turns his arms another way,
To save th’invaded land.
When Jonah sunk beneath the wave,
He thought to rise no more;
But God prepared a fish to save,
And bear him to the shore.
Blest proofs of power and grace divine,
That meet us in His Word!
May every deep felt care of mine
Be trusted with the Lord.
Wait for His seasonable aid,
And though it tarry, wait:
The promise may be long delayed,
But cannot come too late.
Words: William Cowper, Olney Hymns (London: W. Oliver, 1779).
This summer I finally read James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Pathfinder. This is a part of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, of which Last of the Mohicans is the most famous. The stories recount the adventures of scout and hunter, Natty Bumppo, nicknamed “Pathfinder”, in 18th century America. The Pathfinder takes place in the 1750’s with Natty and his companions aiding the British in their fight against the French and protecting a damsel in distress.
The book was a fun read with adventure, nobility and interesting insights into the world of Cooper’s day. What was most striking to me was how explicitly Christian the book is. I realize this was not uncommon in Cooper’s day, but it still is fascinating to me, given the world which I know, when I read classic works from earlier American writers who presuppose Christian convictions and doctrine.
The book opens with admiration of the beauty of nature in the immense forests of 18th century America. Introducing these wonders to an English sailor, Bumppo states, “our lakes are bordered by the forests, and one is every day called upon to worship God in such a temple.” The hero moves naturally and regularly from creation to Creator.
It is also clear that this is no generic god which he has in view. At one point, after hearing various of Pathfinder’s ruminations, Master Cap, the English sailor, says “You’re a philosopher, that’s clear, Pathfinder; and I don’t know but you’re a Christian.” Pathfinder responds by saying that he would be “out of humor” with anyone who doubted the fact that he was a Christian. He even mentions that he often discusses the claims of Christianity with Chingachgook, the Mohican chief who is his close friend and companion, “for he has a hankarin’ after Christianity.” So the foremost scout and backwoods warrior is also engaging in personal evangelism!
Trust in God’s providence as the basis of courage is also a common theme. In one desperate situation Pathfinder proposes a daring plan of action as their only hope. Master Cap asks, incredulously, what is to keep them being killed by their enemies since they will be quite exposed to their gunfire. Pathfinder answers:
“The Lord—He who has so often helped other, in greater difficulties. Many and many is the time that my head would have been stripped of hair, skin, and all, hadn’t the Lord fi’t on my side. I never go into a skrimmage, friend mariner, without thinking of this great Ally, who can do more in battle than all the battalions of the 60th, were they brought into a single line.”
Such trust, however, should not lead to carelessness. Later pathfinder says, “We must trust in Providence, while we neglect none of its benevolent means of protecting ourselves.”
Pathfinder has a healthy doctrine of sin (“We are all human, and all do wrong”) which makes him open to accountability and keeps him from being naïve. Yet, while he acknowledges that his good friend could fall into treachery he stands by him refusing to believe evil reports about him without evidence. At one point he states, “to sleep with distrust of one’s friend in the heart is like sleeping with lead there.”
Pathfinder clearly sees himself as a Christian trying to live out his calling in keeping with the gospel. At one point he states, “boasting in battle is no part of a Christian warrior.”
Pathfinder is also an intriguing portrait of manhood, mystified by women while honoring and protecting them, rugged, persevering, faithful and true. Near the end of the book, Pathfinder congratulates his young friend Jasper and says, “Here’s my hand, Jasper. Squeeze it, boy—squeeze it; no fear of its giving way, for it’s the hand of a man.” That reminded me of the hand-shaking advice I received regularly from my dad, my Sunday School teacher and other men in my childhood.
This is, of course, not a perfect book. For example Pathfinder seems to have low regard for the institutional church. I do, though, commend it to you as enjoyable and helpful. It would be great for reading with young men.
The Osteen’s have been in the news lately, but the problem of prosperity teaching has been an issue for a long time. I confronted it in the first church I pastored, where I began referring to these teachers as the “name-it-claim-it, call-it-haul-it, blab-it-grab-it, profess-it-possess-it” crew. I continue to be surprised by the people who get captivated by it. It is a rampant problem in many developing countries which I have seen in discussions with pastors while visiting their countries.
With this in mind, I was struck by the following comment by Augustine in his mammoth work, City of God.
“who is so absurd, and blinded by contentious opinionativeness, as to be audacious enough to affirm that in the midst of the calamities of this mortal state, God’s people, or even one single saint, does live, or has ever lived, or shall ever live, without tears or pain—the fact being that the holier a man is, and the fuller of holy desire, so much the more abundant is the tearfulness of his supplication?”
Augustine does not have in mind prosperity teachers, but rather is asserting what he assumes anyone except the absurd and blind would see. He is stating a rhetorical question to which he expects us to answer, “No one.” Sadly, today we have names with which to answer and names of people who claim to be Christian teachers. We would do better to listen to this ancient teacher of the church.