Very difficult to think of a title for this post. But I’m continuing to listen to this abridgement of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation.’ Narrated by, I believe, his son which lends to it a certain poignancy.
Listening to this is relevant to the book I’m reading by Rod Dreher, ‘Live not by lies.’ The title of Dreher’s book is from the writing of Solzhenitsyn. Reading about Communism in Dreher’s book isn’t quite the same as listening to the writing of someone that lived through its horror. The quote below from Solzhenitsyn puts some realism into our current situation and is really helpful as I read Rod’s book. The section is where Solzhenitsyn is describing what happened to Russians that were taken prisoner. I already knew this but to hear it narrated is quite different. Simply by coming into contact with The West was enough to get you imprisoned on your return home (In chapter 6 of The Gulag ‘That Spring’). Or even shot. It didn’t matter if you had defended Russia or were decorated. It was all stripped away in the name of the ideology. You were an enemy of the State. All that was necessary was that you confess your crimes.
Dreher describes the Totalitarianism we are experiencing as ‘Soft Totalitarianism’ but make no mistake it’s the same ideology. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Captain in the Russian army. During his imprisonment he encountered other soldiers, like himself, decorated soldiers, but it didn’t make any difference. They were now an enemy of the State all the same.
So here’s the quote:
‘The West simply had to understand that Bolshevism is an enemy for all mankind. But The West did not understand at all! (from Ch 6)’
That quote, especially if you listen to it in context, is incredibly powerful. The young, it seems, and other Social Justice Warriors (SJW) want to play or experiment with Communism. They think it’s a good idea. But to repeat the quote from Solzhenitsyn ‘the West did not understand at all.’ Call it Wokeness or SJWism if you like. Whatever we call it let’s listen to Solzhenitsyn and realise ‘that Bolshevism (or soft totalitarianism) is an enemy for all mankind.’ It’s an enemy to us all. Including those trapped by it. The West still doesn’t understand.
What’s interesting for us is that we can see this at work today. For example, a person aligns themselves with the leftist Woke ideology. They like to display their credentials. Or businesses do the same. But they happen to comment, for instance, that because someone ‘identifies’ as a man or woman it doesn’t make it so because the biology says otherwise. They are still a man or a woman however they might ‘identify.’ We know these cases. That is enough. You are condemned. It’s like a Russian soldier coming into contact with The West. The retribution is merciless and swift. You are cancelled. Yes, the Soft Totalitarianism doesn’t put a bullet in your brain, or throw you in the Gulag, but its aim is to destroy you. It’s truly Satanic. It’s from the same source. (You can read about many of these cases in Douglas Murray book ‘The Madness of Crowds.’ Or consider J. K. Rowling (See here for the latest attacks) or Martina Navratilova.)
I’ll continue to listen to ‘The Gulag’ and to read ‘Live not by lies.’ Maybe a ‘review’ or some comments later. We really need to be equipped not only to spot it but to defend against it and where possible rescue those from its grip. Not everybody on ‘The Left’ is our enemy. When it comes to Free Speech we (Christians) can find ourselves standing with surprising allies. They are our friends. But ultimately without Christ they are still lost. They might not be in the grip of Wokeness, but they are still lost. They need the Saviour too.
Last night I sat and watched this fascinating interview on Al Mohler’s ‘Thinking in Public’ channel with a former CIA operative whose wife was also a spy. It was promised to be fascinating. And it was. Here’s the full title of the interview:
Spycraft and Soulcraft on the Front Lines of History: A Conversation with Former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence James Olson
If you’ve ever contemplated the idea of the Nazis knocking on your door and asking if ‘there are any Jews in there?’ then you’ll be interested in this. Or if you’ve ever wondered what it takes to go about your life in relative peace and safety you might like it. Would you lie? I’d like to think I would. No question. Not even a debate for me. I’d rather not lie of course, but for me, it would be the moral thing to do in that situation. The spies of Jericho were quoted to make the case for lying in certain situations (Josh 2:1).
‘Spying has always been based on deception. I look for guidance from the greatest of all sources, the Bible. And we all know the story from the book of Joshua, about how when Joshua was conducting his campaign for the conquest of Canaan, he’s standing before Jericho, and he sends two spies into Jericho to gather intelligence on the defenses. And the spies are sheltered, protected, hidden by the prostitute Rahab. And thanks to Rahab they survive when the king’s men came looking for them, she lied about their whereabouts. They were able to return safely to the Israelite camp. And I think it was because of their intelligence to a large extent that the campaign was successful.’ (Quote is from the transcript)
Just this Sunday we had a sermon about Ehud. Ehud straps on a sword with the intent of killing Eglon. It was just assumed that he did the right thing but he entered with a concealed weapon and used subterfuge and lying to get an audience with the king in order to get him on his own and plunge the sword into his belly; literally spilling his guts before making his escape. He went there with one aim: kill the king. It wasn’t murder, he delivered justice. (Judges 3:19-23) So it isn’t just the spies of Jericho.
‘I often ask my students, “What are your moral absolutes?” And students say, “Well, I would never kill anyone.” I say, “Well, you’re a soldier, our country’s being attacked. You are a parent, your children are being threatened. Could you kill to protect your children or your right?” Yeah, there are exceptions. Would you ever steal? I know I can never steal anything, but how about to feed your family? How about to steal the secrets from an enemy? Would you ever lie? No, but we all tell white lies. And there are occasions, as you mentioned, where lies I believe are the only course of action to protect human life.’ (Quote is from the transcript)
The espionage world in which this man lived and operated, with his wife, and now training other operatives, is a world of lying, deceit, manipulation, subterfuge, torture, and execution (killing). What might surprise some is that he operated with a Christian moral worldview. The prospective spies he trains are expected to have a moral compass. He didn’t say this, but without some sort of objective morality they might just as well employ as many psychopaths as they can. I’m sure Russia aren’t the only ones to have psychopaths on the payroll.
You might find the whole interview intensely annoying and not agree with a single thing he says. And that’s fine. But remember this: while you sleep peacefully in your bed or go about your life each day there are men and women out ‘there’ literally putting their lives on the line for our safety and doing things so we can keep our moral superiority. I recall some years ago a story in the papers of a British Army colonel, I think, who had infiltrated the IRA. I remember thinking about what would happen to that man had he been caught.
‘And it’s really unfair after the fact, I think, for people sitting back in Washington to say, “You went too far, you should not have kidnapped that person. You should not have waterboarded that person.” Because it’s easy to say, and our people were doing this with the best of intentions. Waterboarding is nasty. I hate the fact that we had to do that. But it’s easy to take the moral high ground and say, “We’re not going to do that.” And of course the Obama administration decreed that we would not do it anymore. That’s fine, tell us, we won’t cross the line. But we have to realize that when we refrain from activities like that, and I would contend as my good friend and colleague Jose Rodriguez wrote in his book, Hard Measures, that waterboarding these three people did save lives.’
(Quote is from the transcript)
It’s a messy fallen world, and yes I know, governments aren’t always working for the interest of their own people. I’m putting a best case on this knowing, that other governments are probably operating with more dubious moral standards.
One other thing he said was that if they’d (The US) have had the intelligence at the time they could’ve prevented Pearl Harbour as the German ‘chatter’ about it was being listened to. One of the ‘What If’s of history.
A brilliant TV series, (I think), is ‘The Americans.’ It’s about Russian operatives in America living as Americans, complete with a family, but living double lives. And you get to see the CIA as well. Quite gruesome in places so if you’re squeamish or object strongly to bad language then best not to watch it. But it is quite brilliant. 6 seasons I think.
I’m fascinated by it all so I’d like to hear more on this. He’s written a couple of books so they might be worth checking out.
Note: Because the CIA was like it was in James Olson’s day, it doesn’t mean it’s the same today. Check out for example Andrew Klavan’s show.
Some might (will be) be outraged by this, but then we don’t have to make these decisions – someone else does. There was so much more and it all raises so many many questions, but here’s the video link.
Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)
1 Most Serene Emperor, Illustrious Princes, Gracious Lords:
2 I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right. I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.
3 Two questions were yesterday put to me by his imperial majesty; the first, whether I was the author of the books whose titles were read; the second, whether I wished to revoke or defend the doctrine I have taught. I answered the first directly, and I adhere to that answer: that these books are mine and published by me, except so far as they may have been altered or interpolated by the craft or officiousness of opponents. As for the second question, I am now about to reply to it; and I must first entreat your Majesty and your Highnesses to deign to consider that I have composed writings on very different subjects. In some I have discussed Faith and Good Works, in a spirit at once so pure, clear, and Christian, that even my adversaries themselves, far from finding anything to censure, confess that these writings are profitable, and deserve to be perused by devout persons. The pope’s bull, violent as it is, acknowledges this. What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings? Wretched man! I alone, of all men living, should be abandoning truths approved by the unanimous voice of friends and enemies, and should be opposing doctrines that the whole world glories in confessing!
4 I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God? Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.
5 If I were to revoke what I have written on that subject, what should I do but strengthen this tyranny, and open a wider door to so many and flagrant impieties? Bearing down all resistance with fresh fury, we should behold these proud men swell, foam, and rage more than ever! And not merely would the yoke which now weighs down Christians be made more grinding by my retractation it would thereby become, so to speak, lawful, for, by my retractation, it would receive confirmation from your most serene majesty, and all the States of the Empire. Great God! I should thus be like to an infamous cloak, used to hide and cover over every kind of malice and tyranny.
6 In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith. I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books. Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.
7 Yet, as I am a mere man, and not God, I will defend myself after the example of Jesus Christ, who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness against me; but if well, why doest thou strike me?” (John xviii:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that every one should bring forward what he can against my doctrine. Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames.8 What I have just said will, I think, clearly show that I have well considered and weighed, not only the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but also the parties and dissensions excited in the world by means of my doctrine, of which I was yesterday so gravely admonished. But far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement; for such is the character and destiny of God’s word. “I came not to send peace unto the earth, but a sword,” said Jesus Christ. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foees shall be those of his own household.” (Matthew x:34-36)
9 God is wonderful and terrible in His counsels. Let us have a care, lest in our endeavors to arrest discords, we be bound to fight against the holy word of God and bring down upon our heads a frightful deluge of inextricable dangers, present disaster, and everlasting desolations. Let us have a care that the reign of the young and noble prince, the Emperor Charles, on whom, next to God, we build so many hopes, should not only commence, but continue and terminate its course, under the most favorable auspices.
10 I might cite examples drawn from the oracles of God. I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings of Babylon, or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearances most prudent, they thought to establish their authority! God removeth the mountains and they know not (Job ix:5). In speaking thus, I do not suppose that such noble princes have need of my poor judgment; but I wish to acquit myself of a duty whose fulfillment my native Germany has a right to expect from her children. And so commending myself to your august majesty, and your most serene highnesses, I beseech you in all humility, not to permit the hatred of my enemies to rain upon me an indignation I have not deserved. I have done.
[Having delivered this speech in German, Luther was now asked to repeat it in Latin. After some hesitation, he did so. He was then reminded that he should answer a simple question: whether he would retract or not. Thus he continued:]
11 Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.
‘Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.’ Acts 13:1
Being a somewhat ordinary person and living in an ordinary station in life, those in high places, to me, inhabit another world. I see the Royal family, the world of the stars (so called), the high-end business world and so many other areas of life that are simply alien to me. I sometimes wonder how these people are reached with the Gospel. Despite all the trappings of privilege and success they are still people that are in need of salvation. It’s highly unlikely in the scheme of things that I would ever have the opportunity to speak with such. Nevertheless, Christians do move in those circles. And I’m thankful they are able to reach the parts people like myself cannot. But it isn’t just those in high places, it’s sometimes the type of people that are in those high places. So, for our encouragement let us consider a man (in the verse above) by the name of Manaen.
We aren’t quite sure of his relationship to King Herod but at the very least he moved in the same circles. The main sense is that of a friend, or even a foster brother. One commentator (Matthew Henry – full quote below) suggests they ‘nursed of the same milk’ or went to the same school. The ESV text (above) says he was a lifelong friend. Let’s suppose that is the case. Who is Herod the tetrarch? This is the Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded. I don’t think we are far off the mark if we call Herod a psychopath. Manaen is a lifelong friend of this Herod.
We aren’t explicitly told how Manaen heard the Gospel, or when he came to trust in Christ for salvation, but we do know that John the Baptist preached to Herod. Is it too much of a stretch to say Manaen heard the message from John? And yet two very different responses. Manaen became a prophet and leader in the church and Herod continues, as far as we know, in unbelief – perhaps signifying his eternal destiny.
Why did Herod invite John to his court? John was a novelty to him and a curiosity, but whatever the reason, John didn’t tone down the message to gain favour or be overawed in the presence of the great and the good. That doesn’t mean we have to ‘go at it’ and be aggressive – but it does mean we have to be faithful and take the opportunities to speak as the Lord presents them to us. Easier said than done of course.
It may even be that Manaen heard the Lord Jesus speak. Either way, whether from John or Jesus, Manaen became a follower of the Lord Christ. I’m not convinced that just because Herod was a psychopath Manaen was a similar character – maybe he was. We simply aren’t told what sort of character he was before becoming a Christian, but we do know something of his life as a believer from our verse above. He became a prophet and a teacher. Unlikely people do become followers of Jesus. Some even become ministers of the Gospel. Like the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 1:13).
It’s a simple lesson. The Lord has his people sometimes in the most unlikely places. The court of Herod was a place of debauchery and butchery. A place of adultery and licentiousness. And a place of immense privilege. Yet there was Manaen. The Lord doesn’t need us to reach people. But His way is most often to use Christians to speak to people from all manner of backgrounds. Maybe He’ll use us too.
We might think it is futile to pray for some as they seem so far from the Kingdom. But this isn’t the case. Many Christians pray for Boris, for example, even though they will probably never meet him. Or praying for that celebrity, or even a terrorist. God does answer the prayers of His people. No prayer is futile. No one is beyond the reach of God. Acts 13:1 then, is a very encouraging verse – so pray on.
Manaen, a person of some quality, as it should seem, for he was brought up with Herod the tetrarch, either nursed of the same milk, or bred at the same school, or pupil to the same tutor, or rather one that was his constant colleague and companion – that in every part of his education was his comrade and intimate, which gave him a fair prospect of preferment at court, and yet for Christ’s sake he quitted all the hopes of it; like Moses, who, when he had come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Had he joined in with Herod, with whom he was brought up, he might have had Blastus’s place, and have been his chamberlain; but it is better to be fellow-sufferer with a saint than fellow-persecutor with a tetrarch.
This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here) Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..
What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’
EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.
His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’
The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.
I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).
We all went with him into battle
I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.
It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’
This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.
This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?
‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20
The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:
EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.
But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’
The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.
I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?
Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.
Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.
‘Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God!’
I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.
I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.
I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:
THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?
EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).
The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.
I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’
This has sat in my ‘Drafts’ folder for too long. This a brief review/recommendation (with quotes) of On the Incarnation by (Saint) Athanasius (Born: 296 AD, Died: May 2, 373 AD). Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever it was I was expecting, this wasn’t it. The book is a total of 110 pages (starts at page 9) with the Preface, an essay by C. S. Lewis on reading older works. This is followed by an excellent, quite lengthy, introduction and explanation by the translator which needs to be read first.
‘On The Incarnation’ itself, is a bit over half the book at ‘only’ 61 pages. But what a half! The way it’s written appeals, I think, to the way my mind likes to work. That makes it a little easier for me to read. But it really isn’t a difficult read at all. In this edition footnotes are rare. There is no index (too short a book really) but there is a list of Suggested Further Reading (ps. 45-47).
Again (like Patrick), what we find here is a fully worked out and functioning Trinitarian theology. I don’t think we should tire of pointing this out given what Muslim friends might believe. Athanasius wrote this work some two hundred years before Mohammed was even born (571). Which means Mohammed did not check his sources and was simply wrong on The Trinity and especially on the deity of The Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading these older works is not a waste of time. We think we’re so sophisticated but forget, or are ignorant of the fact, that older writers have already addressed many of our problems.
Athanasius divides this work essentially into six sections. I don’t know what other editions look like, but in this edition, the work is in numbered sub-sections which is quite helpful. It isn’t endless pages of dense text. This book is Part 2 of his previous work Against the Gentiles, so it dives right in by saying ‘In what preceded we have sufficiently treated a few points from many…(p. 49.)’ The translator deals with Against the Gentiles in the introduction.
After a brief introduction (sub-section 1), we have the First Section: The Divine Dilemma regarding Life and Death (p. 50, sub-section 2). The next section is on page 60, sub-section 11: The Divine Dilemma regarding Knowledge and Ignorance.
Athanasius begins by showing that the world came into being by nothing other than that God willed it into existence without any pre-existing matter. He also shows how ‘human beings’ were also created by God. But then having sinned and fallen into a state of condemnation he shows how (us) ‘they became insatiable in sinning (p.54).’
On page 55 he then says ‘Therefore, since the rational creatures were being corrupted and such works were perishing, what should God, being good, do?’ Should God ‘Permit the corruption prevailing against them and death to seize them?’
It would have been weakness by God, rather than goodness if having created human beings only to leave them in their corruption. But God had already said to Adam if he were to eat of the forbidden tree they would die. God would be seen to be a liar had He not acted in judgment. So Athanasius writes ‘For it was absurd that God, the Father of truth, should appear a liar for our profit and preservation. (p.56)’ Is that the sort of God we want, a liar? I don’t think so. How could we then ever trust anything He says to us.
Here’s a few more from this sub-section. ‘What then had to happen in this case or what should God do? Demand repentance from human beings for their transgression? He puts it in the form of a dilemma for God. It’s put this way for our understanding. The Scripture never presents God as being in a dilemma. It’s a way of trying to understand the lengths that God will go to rescue human beings. ‘But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast in death….’
What is to be done?
‘Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being? For his it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruptibility and to save the superlative consistency of the Father. (p.56).
The first few sections I absolutely loved reading. It made me wonder afresh at the sheer undeserved magnificent grace of God in sending a Saviour. We must also equally emphasise, with His Deity, that Jesus was truly a man, not some kind of illusion or phantom, but a real flesh and blood man. And so:
‘For He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere. Not while He moved that [body] was the universe left void of His activity and providence. But, what is most marvellous, being the Word, He was not contained by anyone, but rather Himself contained everything.’ p. 66.
Athanasius also writes:
‘When then the theologians (Athanasius specifically means the writers of Scripture) in this matter say that he ate and drank and was born, know that the body, as body, was born and was nourished on appropriate food, but that he, the God Word, present in the body yet arranging all things, made known through the works wrought in the body that he was not himself a human being but the God Word. But these things are said of him, since the body which ate and was born and suffered, was no one else’s but the Lord’s, and as he became human, it is proper for these things to be said of him as human, that he might be shown possessing a real not illusory body.’ p. 68
‘You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God. Those acts are rightly said to be His acts, because the body which did them did indeed belong to Him and none other; moreover, it was right that they should be thus attributed to Him as Man, in order to show that His body was a real one and not merely an appearance.’ p.68.
One of his arguments for the crucifixion, from a human perspective, is at the time of Christ, the worst, the most horrendous death devised by wicked men was crucifixion. I’m paraphrasing but Athanasius says it had to be that way so no one could say ‘well, that was a pretty easy death.’ It was a terrible death! From a prophetic scriptural perspective, this is what was prophesied.
This is a lengthy quote but I think important. (To save typing it up the quote is from another translation – lazy I know. It’s not that different). I hope it whets your appetite to read Athanasius yourself:
“Well then,” some people may say, “if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honour than to endure so shameful a death.” But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Saviour did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger, because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself. p. 71 & 72 in my edition.
I’ll leave it at that. It really is the most amazing book!! I cannot recommend this important work enough. I need, I must, read it again. It’s available in many versions, several, I think on Kindle for a £1. I don’t have the expertise to know which is the best translation and I’m guessing there’s not THAT much difference anyway – I could be wrong. I’ll stick with this one. It was recommended to me by Nick Needham and that’s good enough for me. Thanks Nick.
History: A Student’s Guide by Nathan A Finn, Crossway, 2016. This is part a series called ‘Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.’ I came across this book through a casual reference by Michael Haykin on Facebook. So, thank you Michael, I really enjoyed reading it.
I’m not going to be pursuing any career, let alone a career in history, so the book has no relevance to me in that regard. But if you are at the beginning of your further education or are considering a change where studying history is a requirement or especiallyif you are a Christian studying for a degree in history, then you should read it. Typically, it would probably be found in a university book store. I can’t really recommend the book for general reading because it probably isn’t meant to be used in that way. But if you are so inclined then do read it. Ministers / Pastors would probably find it helpful. Also, check out the other books in the series.
It’s not a long book (111 pages) but the text is on the small side and the footnotes (Hooray for footnotes!) are even smaller. It has ‘Questions for reflection (p.101), a Glossary (p.103-4), Resources for further study (p.105-6), a General Index (p.107-9), and a Scripture Index (p.111). He packs a lot in! I’m not sure, but I think all the ‘Resources’ are all of Christian ‘Historians.’
The book then is written for Christians and there are many aspects of the book that I found helpful and encouraging. Here are three things that I found helpful – maybe you would too.
Presentism. This absolutely plagues our world today. Here’s the Glossary entry, ‘Presentism: Any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past.’ We see this in shedloads today. It is like an epidemic. It is abhorrent. Every historian will know the quote from L. P. Hartley even if they haven’t read the book. Nathan quotes it on p.29 “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” He also points out this applies to the recent past as well, and not just to ancient history. In the strongest possible way I can, dumping present morals on the past is not only dangerous, it is also stupid.
Providentialism. This was quite an interesting discussion. This is the way Christian Historians (can) see the hand of God working in or through history. God is clearly working in history and the world is on a linear path to its end, and if it were not for God there would be no history at all. But reading the hand of God into a particular event, for good or ill, is notoriously difficult. God has chosen to make his revealed will known only through the Scriptures. Perhaps as an example of Providentialism, I read a book on Machiavelli where Savonarola is given a fair bit of space. Some Christians (BoT) read back into Savonarola a ‘Revival of Religion.’ I’m afraid I don’t. It’s a lovely thought but I really don’t see a ‘Revival’ there. Not in the same sense as we see in the Evangelical Awakenings of the 18th Century anyway. You may disagree – which is fine.
The point being, care is needed with any attempt at reading God working in the past. We also need to be charitable as not all Christian Historians will read providence in the same way. Later in the book Nathan does urge Christian Historians to make judgments in the present by using the past – but carefully.
Providentialism is a slightly different point to what is dealt with in Chapter 2 on ‘Historical Interpretation.’ Nathan lists five interpretive grids. One of these is the Marxist view. He Mentions Christopher Hill in the book. Here’s an amusing anecdote. I wasn’t there unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but a friend was. Professor Hill visited a school in Rugby (my home town – born & bred) to lecture on an aspect of the English Civil War. One questioner asked something like, ‘Professor Hill, how would a Marxist interpret the Civil War?’ to which he replied ‘What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour.’ There you go. It isn’t always obvious, and we should definitely not throw everything out because they (other historians) have a different worldview. Discernment is required.
Usefulness to the Church. He means here, not just The Church, but the local church. While at secondary school we had a history exam where I scored -1 (minus 1). And that wasn’t the lowest score either! History had absolutely no relevance to me at all. Plus, the History Teacher (Mr Baldwin) was a sadist – I exagerate. But he did like to lift boys up by their sideburns and give them a twist on the way up. It didn’t endear me to the subject. What changed? God intervened and a love of history was kindled almost straight away – with the help of Peter Jeffery, my first Pastor.
My experience over the years has shown that although some Christians have an interest in history – churches as a whole don’t. It’s a great shame. Your church might be blessed to have an historian as a member, though I’m sure many do not. But if your church does, or you are an historian, Nathan gives some suggestions how historians might be useful in the local church. Here’s three:
* A Sunday School Class on the History of Christianity.
* Start a history themed reading group.
* Ask about occasional Church History lectures.
Not the normal book I review. More could be said. Hope it has been helpful.
Is Jesus History? By John Dickson. 2019. The Good Book Company. On 10 of Those for £6.79 (discounts for 5 or more copies)
It’s a standard paperback size of 150 pages. It’s not a big book then, and I enjoyed it from the very start. The text and style is easy to read and it isn’t overly technical. There are headings throughout each chapter with a summary (‘In a Nutshell’) and period readings at the end. The readings are mainly from the New Testament but not exclusively. The book has a few footnotes but these are kept to a bare minimum which in this case is a big help.
I loved the way he used his treasured coin (pp. 13ff) to teach us about how the past is (was) a real place and not a fictional world that has left a great deal of evidence that can be read, seen, and touched.
One objection I’ve heard is that if Jesus was so influential why are there not more records of him? These criticisms fail to understand how history works. So it was helpful when John tells us there is not ‘even one piece of personal correspondence from the emperor.’ P.16. There may be reasons God has not chosen to leave mountains of ‘evidence’ but whatever the reason it doesn’t violate any principles or historical method. Rather, it is totally in accord with the way the study of history, and especially ancient history works.
A great book for any Christian to read and an excellent book to give to your sceptical friends. It’s a good companion to Peter Williams book ‘Can we trust the Gospels.’ As Christians we often seem to be on the back-foot. At least it can feel like that. So this book is a great resource. I believe in evidence, but I’m not an evidentialist. But this book really will help, in a brief and easy to read way, I think, to give Christians confidence when talking to skeptics. Well worth reading and an excellent ‘Stocking filler.’ Buy a copy.