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Entries in Quotables (66)


Canadian Patriotism

From Barometer Rising, by Hugh MacLennan

The railway line, that tenuous thread which bound Canada to both the great oceans and made her a nation, lay with one end in the darkness of Nova Scotia and the other in the flush of a British Colombia noon.

Under the excitement of this idea his throat became constricted and he had a furious desire for expression: this anomalous land, this sprawling waste of timber and rock and water where the only living sounds were the footfalls of animals or the fantastic laughter of a loon, this empty tract of primordial silences and winds and erosions and shifting colours, this bead-like string of crude towns and cities tied by nothing but railway tracks, this nation undiscovered by the rest of the world and unknown to itself, these people neither American nor English, nor even sure what they wanted to be, this unborn mightiness, this question mark, this future for himself, and for God knew how many millions of mankind!

Barometer Rising is set in 1917, a time when Canada's national identity was in its infancy. Canada's participation in World War I would be a watershed its history.


A Must for Christmas Reading!

I'm not usually one for using that phrase "a must read." But sometimes, hyperbole is valuable.

If you are looking for a good read at Christmas time, don't neglect Athanasius's On the Incarnation. It is a short, but profound look at the implications of the virgin birth of Christ. Yes, it's hundreds of years old, and maybe we would prefer a newer book, but as C.S. Lewis points out in the introduction, by comparison, new books still have something to prove:

A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.

Lewis recommends that for every one new book, we follow that with an older one. I like that advice.

Athanasius covers the Incarnation not only from the birth of the Christ child, but he delves deeply into the impact of the virgin birth, his humanity, the death of Christ, and his resurrection. This is a book to point one to a solid Christology. There are so many little quotables I could share. One of my favourites was a reflection on why Christ had to be more than man. Early in Church history, there were heated debates about how Christ could be both man and God. Many leaned toward him being only the appearance of man (a belief called Docetism), and others leaned toward him being merely a man (the Arians). Athanasius explains why even though Jesus was a man, a mere man was not sufficient to save:

When the madness of idolatry and irreligion filled the world and the knowlege of God was hidden, whose part was it to teach the world about the Father? Man's, would you say? But men cannot run everywhere over the world, nor would their words carry sufficient weight if they did nor would they be, unaided, a match for the evil spirits. Moreover, since even the best of men were confused and blinded by evil, how could they convert the souls and minds of others? You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.

I love that last line. It is so true.

Athanasius emphasizes often that Christ came to die. There was purpose in the Incarnation. It was not random. It was deliberate. And part of the means of Incarnation was to testify to who God is. Athanasius points out more than once that the things Christ did in his humanity was to point to God.

The book is available as a pdf here if you want it for free.

Lewis's introduction is worth the read. I loved his comment about the value of working our way through difficult theology:

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books more often elpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tought bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

I would substitute the pipe for a cup of tea.

Reading Athanasius is going to be a regular tradition for me at Christmas. I can't believe I waited so long to read it.


The love of praise

In Book X of Confessions, Augustine spends time reflecting on the love of the praise of men:

I am poor and needy and I am better only when in sorrow of heart I desert myself and seek your mercy, until what is faulty in me is repaired and made whole and finally I come to that state of peace which the eye of the proud cannot see. Yet in what others say about us and in what they know of our deeds there is grave danger of temptation. For our love of praise leads us to court the good opinion of others and hoard it for our personal gratification. And even when I reproach myself for it, the love of praise tempts me. There is temptation in the very process of self-reproach, for often, by priding himself on his contempt for vainglory, a man is guilty of even emptier pride; for this reason his contempt of vainglory is an empty boast, because he cannot really hold it in contempt as long as he prides himself on doing so.


There are quite a few things in that passage that rather hits one between the eyes. 


Are you trying to be loveable?

From Tim Lane's book Living Without Worry:

If you are a Christian, do you still worry about past sins? Maybe you acknowledge God's cleansing grace for you in Christ, but you still see the consequences of past sins in the present. If so, the consequences are a reality and should serve as a reminder of the ripple effect of disobedience. But rather than that leading you to anxiety, it should lead to greater resolve to make every effort to flee sin and embrace obedience. But don't forget that you have been forgiven of your past sins. God will not stand in judgment over you due to the fact that Jesus has born his judgment for you, in your place as your substitute.

If you are worried about your past sins, then this is "over-concern." Why? Because Jesus has taken those sins from you. It may be a sign that, deep down, you think you need to make yourself more loveable to God before he will love you; you think you need to earn his acceptance. You are over-loving your own obedience. And this will cause you to run from God completely or live in great anxiety about his opinion of you. Every day becomes another day to run further away or try harder to keep God's judgment far away. No one can bear to live life with that kind of load upon them. You are living only half the story. You are knowing the "woe"; but now you need to see that Jesus took that woe away from you, dealt with it, and now you are free to live as a beloved child of God. Our angst over sin should always drive us to the cross, rather than to worry.


Memory, meditating, and music

I just finished a little book by Edmund Clowney, called Christian Meditation. My first reaction to having finished this was "Why have I not read anything by Clowney until now?" He was a very eloquent writer. I have already added a couple of books to my wishlist for the future.

The book, as the title suggests, is about Christian mediatation. The foundation of Christian meditation is threefold: " ... it is centered on the truth of God, moved by the love of God, and directed to the praise of God."

Those three points are the basis of the book as he unfolds them. He focuses on meditating upon God's character, his wisdom, and his acts, all which are found in God's word. Christian meditation depends on the truth, which is found in God's word. There are a lot of references to the Psalms, which I liked.

When we think of meditation, perhaps the picture we have in our heads is of someone sitting cross legged on the floor, chanting a meaningless mantra in order to empty our minds. That is not Christian meditation. Early in the book, Clowney points to the meaning of "meditate," as given in Psalm 1:

When the psalmist speaks of meditating on the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2) he uses a word that means "to mutter." The word occurs again in the second psalm to describe the rebellious mutterings of the kings who would cast off God's yoke (Ps. 2:1). It is also used to describe the growl of a lion and the cooing or "chattering" of doves (Isa. 31:4; 59:11). It seems evident that the psalmist's meditation is closely related to the repetition of the words of Scripture.

At the end of the book, practical suggestions are given, and one of them is memorization, and considering this notion of "muttering," the relationship between meditation and memorization is obvious. Memorization helps us with meditation, because it involves repetition. As we read and think of Scripture over and over again, it becomes part of us.

Clowney extends this to meditation through singing. What better way is there to memorize Scripture than to memorize it with the aid of music? How often have you heard a chorus of a song you have known from childhood, and find yourself remembering every single word? Music and memory go hand in hand. This means that what we sing is important, because singing contributes (or it should) to meditation on godly truths.

Clowney says this:

The hymns of the church are the richest source of written meditations on Scripture. Changes in musical taste have eliminated beautiful hymns from use because their tunes are no longer in vogue. But the whole treasury of hymns from across the centuries lies before the Christian in meditation.

The words of songs, therefore, are important. Really important. Content matters. Just because the tune is great and it's easy to learn doesn't mean the content is worth meditating on. It seems these days, we are more worried about how many instrumentalists we can fit on the platform, not how enriching the words are. But I'm being a curmudgeon, and showing my age. I know some talented musicians; I'd love to see them use those talents and bring the words of the Psalms to bear on their compositions, like Sons of Korah have done. I think our problem is that we believe our worship music has to sound similar to popular music, and I don't think I agree with that. Music rant over. 

It is my goal this year to memorize some Psalms. I'm not sure how many but I know Psalm 46 and Psalm 145 will be on my list. And I don't want to memorize them just so I can say them without error; I want to think about them to ponder them, so that they will sink into my bones.