Skip to content

James Fenimore Cooper’s Christian Warrior

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.

Augustine on Osteen

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.

Make Me Thy Fuel, Flame of God

My poem of the week this week is one of my favorites from Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India. I kept this poem on the wall of my dorm room in college in order to keep this powerful prayer before me.

 

 

 

Make Me Thy Fuel

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified,
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire,
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

-taken from Toward Jerusalem, by Amy Carmichael (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade,1988), 94

2014 Bibles & Bible Reference Survey

Each year I write a survey article for Preaching Magazine covering the study Bibles, commentaries and other biblical reference works that have come out in the last year. The 2014 installment is now available online, covering items published roughly between last summer and this summer. Most of the books covered are in the photo above.

I hope it is helpful to you as you consider books top purchase and use.

TAKE MY LIFE AND LET IT BE

This week’s poem of the week has been a favorite of mine from Fran­ces R. Ha­ver­gal. It expresses so well the proper attitude of the disciple.

 

TAKE MY LIFE AND LET IT BE

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for Thee.

 

Take my voice, and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
every power as Thou shalt choose.

 

Take my will, and make it Thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own;
it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at
Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for Thee.

Reason & Charity Must Promote the Cause of Truth & Piety

A recent mailing from James Kushiner of Touchstone Magazine included some discussion of how Samuel Stanhope Smith, president of Princeton about 200 years ago, handled a theological disagreement with a friend. Smith said that though he thought his friend’s position was in error, this error did not jeopardize his salvation:

therefore your asserting this principle will not provoke any pious rage in me. I will give your argument a fair and cool examination. If I am not convinced, I will represent my objections to you with the same candor–if I cannot answer you I will not grow angry–and that is more than you can say of every Christian Brother–but I have learned long since, not to fight for God as if the devil were in me. If reason and charity cannot promote the cause of truth and piety, I cannot see how it should ever flourish under the withering fires of wrath and strife. [emphasis added]

I think there is much to learn here.

john witherspoon

“Let no man seek to avoid that reproach which may be his lot, for preaching the truths of the everlasting Gospel, but let him always avoid the just reproach of handling them in a mean, slovenly, and indecent manner.”

- John Witherspoon

 

T. T. Eaton on Education

 

In honor of the beginning of classes for a new school year today at Union University, I am posting this brief essay by T. T. Eaton on education. This is taken from the 1905-1906 edition of Lest We Forget, the Union yearbook. At the time of this writing Eaton was serving as a trustee of Union.

 

Ben Mitchell recently shared this essay, and I thought it was a great statement on true education. I am honored to begin my fifteenth year of teaching at an institution which continues in its heritage of providing the sort of education described here.

 

Handy Volume of the Psalms

I am absolutely loving this new edition of the Psalms published by Crossway.

After Martin Luther translated the Psalms into German it is said that he carried a little volume of the just the Psalms with him everywhere. It was his constant companion, prayer guide and summary of the entire Bible. Several years ago I decided I wanted a copy of the just the Psalms which I could mark up and pray through. I printed all 150 psalms and placed them in a three ring binder.

That tool has been wonderful for me, but it is bulky and fragile. Then a month or so ago I received this new copy from Crossway. It is beautifully produced, small, hardy and has plenty of room for notations. Also the paper is thick enough for writing, not the very thin sort often found in Bibles. Last month I was in Pike National Forest and took my copy on a morning hike so I could read and pray from one of the summits. That would have been more difficult with my three ring binder.

 

I hope this hardy and handy copy of the Psalms encourages many people to re-engage the Psalms.

J I Packer on Aging Well

finishing-our-course-with-joy-packerSomewhere along the way I picked up a Kindle copy of J. I. Packer’s recent book, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. Though it may surprise some of my students, I am not yet in the senior era of life which Packer addresses, but anything written by Packer is of interest to me. So, while on vacation, I opened and read this book. And I am glad I did.

Packer makes it quite explicit that he is addressing older believers and says “aging is not for wimps”! His main point is contained in this sentence:

“my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.”

He has already made clear that he knows from growing personal experience the pains of older age- decreasing energy and the negative effects on body and mind. In light of this, I was particularly moved by this passion to finish the race “flat out,” leaving nothing on the field as we used to say.

Dr. Packer critiques the cultural idea of giving up all responsibility and coasting to the end. He critiques older people who think this way and others in the church who encourage or assume such thinking. Here are some relevant excerpts.

So eldercare in the churches, while rightly taking account of increasing bodily infirmities among the aging, should at the same time seek to cherish and continue to harness the ministering capacities that these Christians displayed at earlier stages of their lives.

to think of Christian retirees as exempt from the twin tasks of learning and leading, just because they do not inhabit the world of wage and salary earning any longer, and for aging Christians to think of themselves in this way, as if they have no more to do now than have fun, is worldliness in a strikingly intense and, be it said, strikingly foolish form.

 

Along the way, as might be expected, there are many valuable insights into life and theology in general (e.g., the goodness of pleasure, the reality of spiritual warfare, the centrality of hope).

It will be no surprise that this will be a great book for older believers. Churches might buy a bunch of them to give out. What people might not think about is that this is also an excellent book for those who minister to older saints. Here is an older saint telling us what it is like and about the challenges he faces. And here is a godly older man pointing to the gospel truths which are needed to comfort and challenge. Many young pastors feel stymied when needing to speak to older saints, knowing these saints are going through things which they have never encountered. This testimony of an older man will give you a guide to appeal to.