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Wednesday
Mar172010

Deja Vu

Well, it's St. Patrick's Day.  I didn't really work on a post specific to that for today.  It's March Break here, and my boys are home.  I am going to make a meal called Ulster Fry, which was suggested to me by my friend, Elaine, who lives in Northern Ireland.

I am going to repost what I wrote last year because I'm just too lazy to come up with something else!  This was originally on my old blog.

How the Irish Saved Civilization

That is the title of a book that I just re-read this past week.

The book, by Thoms Cahill, is one that I read years ago, but picked up as I thought ahead to today, because it is St. Patrick's Day. I love Irish history, and this book has an interesting dimension to St. Patrick. While he is the one who brought Christianity to the country, he is also someone who helped saved civilization.

In the year 410, Visigoths sacked Rome and ushering in what would ultimately be the fall of the Roman Empire. As barbarians flooded the Empire, the foundations of this great empire, already weakened, crumbled. Cahill's thesis is that the fall of Rome sounded the death knell for learning and intellectual life. But all was not lost, because Ireland would provide a beacon of light in the Middle Ages.

The reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire are many and varied, and Cahill does an excellent job of discussing those. I won't go into that here; you must read the book. Whatever the cause, the fall of Rome created a vacuum that centred around literature. Vandals and Visigoths didn't have much use for literature and books. Cahill says: "What is to be lost in the century of barbarian invasions is literature -- the content of classical literature." The last quintessential "Classical Man" is Augustine, and he died in 430 as barbarians were at the gates of his city. Pursuits in the tradition of Augustine were lost during the the many years that followed, to be resurrected during the Renaissance.

Onto this scene, Patrick arrived. The boy, Patricius, was a Roman Briton who was kidnapped as a youth and taken into slavery in Ireland. He managed to escape and return to Britain, taking with him a burden for the Irish people. His return to his homeland did not last long. While still in Britain, he took holy orders with the intention to return to Ireland and share his faith with the people there. Patrick's presence as the first missionary to Ireland would change the course of the country's history, and in turn preserve a rich heritage of classical literature.

At this time in history, spreading the Christian faith meant the establishment of monasteries; monasteries meant learning, studying, working, and especially, copying. While there was uproar in the Empire, in Ireland, religious orders were abounding and literacy was thriving.

Ireland, at peace and furiously copying, thus stood in the position of becoming Europe's publisher. But the pagan Saxon settlements of southern England had cut Ireland off from easy commerce with the continent. While Rome and its ancient empire faded from memory and a new, illiterate Europe rose on its ruins, a vibrant, literary culture was blooming in secret along its Celtic fringe.


Ireland's influence spread as missionaries took their knowledge to Britain and the continent. Some left of their own free will, and others were exiled for various reasons. However it came to be, the learning spread. Also, individuals from other religious communities outside Ireland came to study with the intent of taking their knowledge back to their homes.

The monks naturally copied Scripture, but more than that, they copied other works of literature. Cahill makes the point well that the Irish love a good story, and they did not mind preserving the great Greek and Roman stories. Cahill makes this conclusion:

There is much we do not know about these Irish exiles. Their clay and wattle buildings have long since disappeared, and even most of their precious books have perished. But what they knew -- the Bible and the literatures of Greece, Rome, and Ireland -- we know, because they passed these things on to us. The Hebrew Bible would have been saved without them, transmitted to our time by scattered communities of Jews. The Greek Bible, the Greek commentaries, and much of the literature of ancient Greece were well enough preserved at Byzantium, and might be still available to us somewhere -- if we had the interest to seek them out. But Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought. And when Islam began its medieval expansion, it would have encountered scant resistance to its plans -- just scattered tribes of animists, ready for a new identity.

Of course, Ireland did not remain free from barbarian attacks for long. Eventually the Vikings made their way to Ireland, plundering the rich stores in the monasteries. An even more formidable -- even if it appeared to be more civilizied -- foe would appear in the form of the English. The Penal Laws would deal a blow to the intellectual pursuit of a good majority of the population and years of famine would cut a devastating blow to the country. However, men like James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Padriac Colum and Seamus Heaney would continue the literary tradition.  

Tuesday
Mar162010

John Owen on Communication from God

For my birthday, my best friend gave me the book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen.  I was both thrilled and terrified at the same time.  From all I had heard, Owen is one of the most difficult of the Puritans to read.  People I know that are far and above me in intellect find him difficult reading; at the same time, though, I had heard that this was a profound book.  I plan on reading it soon when I get my courage up for the task.  I had a little introduction to Owen in the chapter "John Owen on Communication from God" in Packer's A Quest for Godliness.

The section "The Puritans and the Bible" is broken down into three chapters, and this is the first.  Even as I read Packer telling me about Owen, I knew that the people who commented on the difficulty of Owen were correct.  Even hearing someone explain Owen was not simple or easy.  But yes, it was rich.  Packer considers Owen the greatest among the Puritan theologians, and the most like Calvin.  In this chapter, he reveals Owen's teaching with regard to how God communicates to his children, specifically His cognitive communication to men.  Owen would have been against "encounters" with God; he was soundly anchored in Scripture, and saw Scripture as the foundation of this communication.  His concept of divine communication revolved around five aspects:

  1. giving of revelation
  2. inspiring of Scripture
  3. authentication of Scripture
  4. establishing of faith in Scripture
  5. interpreting of Scripture

All five of these involve the use of God's Holy Word, which is to be expected of a Puritan.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Owen continually emphasizes the Holy Spirit in all of these aspects.  The Holy Spirit, he said, causes His work to be received with divine faith by its external witness and its internal witness.  The Holy Spirit gives evidence in and by the Scripture and the internal work acts upon the minds of men.  The Holy Spirit does this by imparting light and power and by acting personally on the individual.

Thus, through the action of the Holy Spirit, Scripture evidences and authenticates itself as the word of God.

Scripture establishes faith by inward illumination; it removes our blindness, our hard-heartedness.  The Holy Spirit is essential for this removal, because knowing is not enough.  There must be an action done on the heart of the person by the Holy Spirit.

There is so much more I could share about Owen's thoughts on just this one issue.  This brief introduction to Owen was very encouraging to me, because if I can puzzle my way through the complicated writing (Hemingway would have hated the Puritans, I think), I will see rich treasures.  Packer ends the chapter with this:

What lessons has this study for us?  It reminds us that Scripture is always the best evidece for itself, and that preaching biblical truth in the power of the Holy Ghost will do more than any amount of arguing to bring about faith in biblical inspiration, and in the divine realities which Scripture proclaims.  It also challenges us to ask ourselves whether in our own searching and teaching of the Scriptures we are honouring the Holy Ghost as we should.  What problems of interpretation arise, how much and how hard do we pray?  And are we who preach wholly men of the word?  Is it our glory, as Christian instructors, to refuse to do anything save expound and apply the word of God?  May our study of Owen's doctrine of communication from God renew our zeal to fulfil such a ministry, and our confidence in the fruitfulness that, under God, such a ministry will have.

Monday
Mar152010

He came to fulfill, not abolish

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says quite clearly that He came not to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill it.  This is the subject of the chapter "Christ and the Old Testament," in Dr. Lloyd-Jones's book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.  In this chapter, he emaphsizes especially the fact that the Old and the New Testament are God's Word, and that we cannot separate them.  I have to admit wondering, when I became a Christian at the age of 20, why did I need the Old Testament?  I remember being very loath to read it, apart from the Psalms, of course.  Of course, as I have grown in my faith, I see things more clearly.

Lloyd-Jones says:

The moment you begin to question the authority of the Old Testament, you are of necessity questioning the authority of the Son of God Himself, and you will find yourself in endless trouble and difficulty.  If you once begin to say that He was just a child of His age and was limited in certain respects because of that and liable to error, you are seriously qualifying the biblical doctrine as to His full, absolute and unique deity.

I must admit that I have never really heard someone question the need for the Old Testament; at least not someone who was a fairly established, orthodox believer.  Perhaps that was an issue in the Doctor's day.  He lived in England in the era immediately following a huge liberal movement in English churches, so perhaps there were scholars who were doing exactly what Lloyd-Jones warned against.

A number of months ago, I listened to a lecture by Carl Trueman.  I don't remember the actual title of the lecture, or even what it was ultimately about, because I didn't take notes.  I do, however remember him saying that when a church is contemplating hiring a pastor, the candidate should be asked to preach about the Old Testament.  If he could demonstrate the supremacy of Christ in the Old Testament, then that was a good sign.  I have come to appreciate the Old Testament more and more as I grow as a Christian.

This chapter in the book is the first of two which focus on Matthew 5:17-18, and I'm hoping to get through the next one soon.  It's March Break here, and having noisy boys at home may affect the peace and quiet for reading and pondering.

Sunday
Mar142010

Heart Aflame - March 14, 2010

Psalm 23:2-3

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.  David relates how abundantly God has provided for all his necessities.  The heavenly Shepherd had omitted nothing which might contribute to make him live happily under his care.  He, therefore, compares the great abundance of all things requisite for the purposes of the present life which he enjoyed, to meadows richly covered with grass, and to gently flowing streams of water; or he compares the benefit or advanraga of such things to sheep-cots; for it would not have been enough to have been fed and satisfied in rich pasture, had there not also been provided waters to drink, and the shadow of the sheep-cot to cool and refresh him.

He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousess for his name's sake.  As is the duty of a good shepherd to cherish his sheep, and when they are diseased or weak to nurse and support them, David declares that this was the manner in which he was treated by God.  The restoring of the soul, or the conversion of the soul, as it is, literally rendered is of the same import as to make anew, or to recover.

By the paths of righteousness, David means easy and plain paths.

God is in no respect wanting to his people, seeing he sustains them by his power, invigorates and quickens them, and averts from them whatever is hurtul, and they may walk at ease in plain and straight paths.  That, however, he may not ascribe any thing to his own worth or merit, David represents the goodness of God as the cause of so great liberality, declaring that God bestows all these things upon him for his own name's sake.  And certainly his choosing us t be his sheep, and his performing towards us all the offices of a shepherd, is a blessing which proceeds entirely from his free and sovereign goodness.

Friday
Mar122010

Concluding the Primer of Justification

John Gerstner concluded his six part series, Primer on Justification, with three further categories:

The Antinominan Way of Justification

Roman Catholicism

Evangelicalism

These are excerpted from the book Primitive Theology.

The real kicker, of course, is that many who would call themselves "evangelical" may, in fact, embrace a view of justification that does not fall under that category.