Saturday, October 04, 2008

excerot from Gurnall's The Christian in Full Armor

... This gives us reason why there are so many professors and so few Christians indeed; so many that run and so few obtain; so many go into the field against Satan, and so few come out conquerors; because all have a desire to be happy, but few have courage and resolution to grapple with the difficulties that meet them in the way to their happiness. All Israel came joyfully out of Egypt under Moses' conduct, yea, and a mixed multitude with them, but when their bellies were pinched with a little hunger, and the greedy desires of a present Canaan deferred, yea, instead of peace and plenty, war and penury, they, like white-livered soldiers, are ready to fly from their colours, and make a dishonourable retreat into Egypt. Thus the greatest part of those who profess the gospel, when they come to push of pike, to be tried what they will do, deny to endure for Christ, grow sick of their enterprise. Alas! their hearts fail them, they are like the waters of Bethelehem. But if they must dispute their passage with so many enemies, they will even content themselves with their own cistern, and leave heaven to others who will venture more for it. O how many part with Christ at this cross way! Like Orpah, they go a furlong or two with Christ, while he goes to take them off from their worldly hopes, and bids them prepare for hardship, and then they fairly kiss and leave him, loath indeed to lose heaven, but more loath to buy it at so dear a rate. ...

A useful summary of the problems of happiness and the Christian. As a certain pastor and theologian might put it, we are too easily satisfied with a lesser happiness. I would venture that our trouble is that we are too easily persuading ourselves that the lesser happiness is what God really wants for us and that this allows us to justify telling ourselves that we are seeking Christ and that Christ seeks our happiness. Christ offers us joy, but a joy that can only be obtained by embracing the cross that He embraced.

This passage also reveals that it is silly to consider earlier generations to be more spiritual or more attuned to hardship. Life was certainly not "easy" in the 1600s when Gurnall was writing. It is an interesting trope in Christian writing that each generation seems to pine for an age when people were more serious about engaging the real meat of the faith. Gurnall seems to have a more accurate appraisal that in every generation there are plenty who profess the faith but simply do not perservere and in this respect it is true of every generation. There is no need for a pious nostalgia that supposes that earlier generations somehow understood better what remains the mystery of the faith, let alone that earlier generations were less tempted by materialism or happiness than we. There is a great deal that we are tempted to that earlier generations would not have been tempted by, yet the Preacher rebukes us again and again in every generation by saying, "Do not ask yourself, 'Where are the older days that were better than these?' because it is from foolishness you ask that question."

Would-be Christians have been abandoning the Way for the sake of happiness for millenia. But this is encouraging, it is a reminder that no temptation has taken upon us that is not common to everyone. The temptation to settle for a lesser happiness, if you will, then Christ, besets every generation. God wants us to be happy in Him, not happy through other things. The other things may well be added in time, but the kingdom of God must be sought first. And that is a challenge. It can be tough to know what seeking the kingdom of God and following Christ looks like. Plenty of people will volunteer what they assume to be the truth but it is often their own happiness rather than Christ they promote. We can't rely on the good graces of groups as a substitute for our own path of following Christ, whether it be family or church or friends. Christ bids us to come and die alone for His sake. That's tough. And yet no one gives up family who does not receive yet more family in the kingdom. Whoever would save his life must lose it for the sake of the kingdom, and those who would save it find it is lost. Very, very tough stuff.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

in its indirect way the rhetorical question of the week

It's the rhetorical question of the week at two levels, what constitutes a conservative reading of the canonical text at the first level, and at the second level, what preacher seems to have inspired the post? The first level of the rhetorical question is answered within the post. The second level is left open-ended and when I saw hints of this post coming down the pike earlier today 'twas not too hard to discern the, how do I put it, indirect object.

Gurnall, by the way, is a bit more readable than I suspected, but there is an aspect about his prose that requires it be read, at some level, out loud. There's an alement to the rhythm of his constructions that makes more sense read aloud than just in print. It takes time to get used to these older writers. Obviously I don't think Gurnall actually said aloud all of this stuff in one go. Not even Mariah Carey has pipes like that!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

from the masthead of the Boar's Head Tavern, an amusing turn on a familiar phrase

God loves you and has a difficult plan for your life.

It's not the all-time funniest variation on that shopworn phrase but out of consideration for friends I won't repeat the funniest version! Some jokes are for general observation and some jokes are for friends. :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

more books than I can manage to read

A year or so ago I was comparing notes with a fellow (literally and figuratively) at the Boar's Head Tavern about books pertaining to the devils, demonology, and spiritual warfare. I ran several books by him that he wouldn't have had time to read in a month, let alone a week. He, in turn, suggested a nice summary of the teaching of the Puritan author William Gurnall. The summary was sufficiently valuable that I have decided (at length, and those of you who know the literature even by reputation see the pun coming up a mile away) to pick up the original book.


760 pages of single-spaced writing in a not-very-big font. Puritans were the bloggers of their time. Seriously, apparently all they did was write all day and accounted for the deforestation of sections of Europe and America! But books on spiritual warfare that are both scholarly without being rationalistic and serious without being paranoid are relatively rare. And if a book has stayed in print four centuries after being published and despite its puritan sense of epic grandeur it might be well-worth checking out.

And I've got a few books by Wright and Noll tucked away and eventually I plan to revisit my favorite novel, The Brothers Karamazov. It has been my belief over the years that if you're going to read a novel that's more than 500 pages it might as well be by a Russian. Of late my persuasion is that if you're going to read a non-fiction book that is longer than five-hundred pages the English do well for themselves. Or at least Bishop Wright certainly does.

So a hat tip to someone over at the BHT (whose name, regrettably, I can't recall right now). Thanks for the book suggestion and it's got some follow-up in my taking an interest in looking at the original book.