Tuesday, March 29, 2011

the dawn of heaven breaks

As well remembered here, today marks the 350th anniversary of Samuel Rutherford's death 29 March 1661.

Rutherford wrote in his book Christ Dying:

When the sun riseth first, the beams over-gild the tops of green mountains that look toward the east, and the world cannot hinder the sun to rise: some are so near heaven, that the everlasting Sun hath begun to make an everlasting day of glory on them; the rays that come from his face that sits on the throne, so over-goldeth the soul, that there is no possibility of clouding peace, or of hindering daylight in the souls of such.

We believe that he had such himself upon the date mentioned above. Howie gives an account of it as follows.

Mr Blair, whose praise is in the Churches, being present, when he took a little wine in a spoon to refresh himself, being then very weak, said to him, "Ye feed on dainties in heaven, and think nothing of our cordials on earth." He answered, "They are all but dung; but they are Christ's creatures, and, out of obedience to His command, I take them. Mine eyes shall see my Redeemer; I know He shall stand the last day upon the earth, and I shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air, and I shall ever be with Him; and what would you have more? there is an end." And stretching out his hands, he said again, "there is an end." And a little after, he said, "I have been a single man, but I stand at the best pass that ever a man did; Christ is mine, and I am His;" and spoke much of the white stone and new name. Mr Blair, who loved with all his heart to hear Christ commended, said to him again—" What think ye now of Christ?" To which he answered, "I shall live and adore Him. Glory! glory to my Creator and my Redeemer for ever! Glory shines in Immanuel's land." In the afternoon of that day, he said, "Oh! that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day. I shall sleep in Christ, and when I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness. This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the vail; and I shall go away in a sleep by five of the clock in the morning;" which exactly fell out. Though he was very weak, he had often this expression, "Oh! for arms to embrace Him! Oh! for a well-tuned harp!"

When some spoke to him of his former painfulness and faithfulness in the ministry, he said, "I disclaim all that; the port that I would be at is redemption and forgiveness through His blood; 'Thou shalt show me the path of life, in Thy sight is fulness of joy:' there is nothing now betwixt me and the resurrection, but "to-day thou shalt be with Me in paradise."' Mr Blair saying, "Shall I praise the Lord for all the mercies He has done and is to do for you?" He answered, "Oh ! for a well-tuned harp." To his child he said, "I have again left you upon the Lord; it may be you will tell this to others, that 'the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; I have got a goodly heritage.' I bless the Lord that He gave me counsel."

Thus, by five o'clock in the morning, as he himself foretold, it was said unto him, "Come up hither;" and he gave up the ghost, and the renowned eagle took its flight unto the mountains of spices.

Thus died the famous Samuel Rutherford, who may justly be accounted among the sufferers of that time; for surely he was a martyr, both in his own design and resolution, and by the design and determination of men. Few men ever ran so long a race without cessation; so constantly, so unweariedly, and so unblameably. Two things rarely to be found in one man, were eminent in him, viz., a quick invention and sound judgment; and these accompanied with a homely but clear expression, and graceful elocution; so that such as knew him best, were in a strait whether to admire him most for his penetrating wit, and sublime genius in the schools, and peculiar exactness in disputes and matters of controversy, or for his familiar condescension in the pulpit, where he was one of the most moving and affectionate preachers in his time, or perhaps in any age of the Church. To sum up all in a word, he seems to have been one of the most resplendent lights that ever arose in this horizon.

Rutherford's epitaph, composed by William Wilson, (see Thomson, Martyr Graves p.208) may not be the highest poetry but expresses things very well.

Most constantly he did contend,
Until his time was at an end.
At last he won to full fruition
Of that which he had seen in vision.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What must be the subject matter of the Church's praise?

Of course "glory to God in the highest" must ever form its all-pervading and most distinguishing element. Praise is the celebration of God's majesty and supremacy—of the glory of his works, and the sublimity of his purposes—the absolute perfection of his dominion over the universe, and the concentrated splendour of his moral attributes, softened into grace, as it shines upon our sinful world in the Person and work of his eternal son. Any serious error or defect here must be fatal to the Psalmody of the Church.

The grace and truth which emanate from God, and are wrought up into the subjective and devotional life of the Church, form an essential part of the matter of her praise. In all their original parity and completeness, these should be reflected in our songs of worship. Besides, the matter of the Church's praise must include and duly celebrate the great deliverances, spiritual and providential, which are all summarily represented in those wonders of old which God wrought for his chosen people, as recorded in his Word, but which he is perpetually renewing to the end of time. The answer of every believing prayer, the issue of every spiritual conflict, the agonising consciousness of impending danger, the piercing cry for immediate help, the joyous confidence of approaching victory, and the irrepressible shout of a realised deliverance—all must find full, poetic expression in the songs of the Church.

These songs, moreover by their prophetic expansiveness, must embrace the gradual enlargement and final triumphs of God's cause on earth—until "men shall be blessed in him, and all nations shall call him blessed." Praise exults in anticipation of the future, as well as in remembrance of the past. Thus exuberant gratitude and rejoicing hope mingle together their joyous strains as the Church advances in her career of conquest, or as individuals gradually advance towards, and are at length permitted to take part in, the ecstatic praises of eternity.

Assuredly not by the Church. She is incompetent to the task. And even if competent, she is not warranted to undertake it. When did God devolve on any man, or body of men, the right to determine what should be offered to him in praise? We naturally look to One higher than a worshipper for songs of worship. We instinctively ask for One far removed above the level of sinful, erring, wayward humanity, to teach us to praise, and supply us with its matter. Our songs must be known to have come from the very midst of the throne and of the excellent glory, that we may be confident of their acceptance there, when they return glowing with the enkindled emotions, and fragrant with the bursting gratitude, of the church. Divine matter alone can be employed, or accepted, in the exercise of praise. And even were that matter furnished to their
hand, men would prove utterly incompetent to prepare it aright for the ordinance of worship.
The matter of praise must be distributed in brief, poetic, and exulting odes of universal adaptation. The highest and most elevating style of thought and of utterance alone is befitting such a service. Each song must be framed so as to express the emotions, not of one, or of a few, but of all. The completed collection must embrace in its various songs—each differing from the rest in length, or style, or substance—the entire matter of the Church's praise for all time. Yet this collection, as a whole, must be so brief, simple, and easy of entire appropriation, that when associated with suitable music, it may be readily grafted upon the memory of childhood, and so familiarised as to become the living embodiment and efflorescence of the devotion and piety of the people from generation to generation. An immature, ever-changing, multitudinous, uncertain psalmody mocks, but cannot satisfy, the deep and abiding necessities of the Church of God. This is no proper field for the display of conceited gifts, or the trial of empirical effusions. When the rage of hymn-making seizes upon men, countless rhapsodies will be amassed together and offered as suitable vehicles of the Church's praise. Must they all be accepted and sung, that a full tribute of worship may be presented to Jehovah? If not, who is authorised to make the final selection? And when it is made, who can give confidence to the anxious worshipper, that all the matter of praise is embraced in it, clothed in language
fitted to the ear of God, untainted with error, and purged from such spurious and self-pleasing emotions as are so apt to beguile us even in the divine presence? The Church never has undertaken a work so superhuman and responsible as this. Nor has God given the slightest hint that such a work was ever expected at her hands. We are shut up to the conclusion, that God himself must be the author and finisher of the praises of the Church.

In singing the book of Psalms, we may pass at once, and with boldness, into the holiest of all, confident that we are offering praise, that we are giving to the great God the glory due unto his name, that we are stirring up within ourselves and presenting unto him only such emotions as are well-pleasing in his sight, and such as will be beneficial to ourselves and others—in short, that we are doing true homage before the Jealous One, by worshipping him only in the way which he has appointed, and which he has pledged himself to accept at our hands.

On the other hand, if we take up one of the almost countless collections of hymns recently offered to the Church, what a Herculean and superhuman task is required of us before we dare venture to use any part of it in the solemn exercise of worship! Does it contain the true matter of the Church's praise without the fatal admixture of error or defect? Is each separate ode expressive of the sentiments of scriptural worship in language of celestial purity and poetic fire? Does the entire collection contain no misrepresentation of the divine character and purposes—no biased statement of Christian truth or experience—nothing that fosters sinful prejudice, ministers to self-deception, or panders to a domineering sensationalism—thus tending to make self, and not God, the centre and the end of all our worship? These questions require to be settled by each worshipper before he opens his lips in the use of such hymns. He cannot depute the task to another.

Nor is any council or synod competent to decide for him what he should offer in praise to God. He must decide for himself. To his own Master he standeth or falleth. And, when he has done so, may he not still be arrested and silenced by the challenge, "Who hath required this at your hands?" Is it not a daring impertinence, a solemn affront offered in the very exercise of worship, to come before God with the singing of human hymns, when he himself has furnished us with psalms which he has commanded us to sing?

Men must know beforehand what they are to sing, and be well assured that it is in accordance with God's will, before they can praise with the spirit and with the understanding also. How can they know this of hymns that bear no stamp whatever of divine approval? And even if an infallible test could be devised, how is it to be applied to the hundreds of hymns in different collections, that are so hastily adopted, and then so speedily subjected to change, revision, and alteration.

Josias A. Chancellor ("One of the ablest scholars and preachers that the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland has produced")

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

the value of the English Bible

Various translations of the Psalms are before the public. Many of them have much merit and preserve much of the heavenly savor of the original. All of them may occasionally afford a good hint. Of those made into English none can compare with the authorized version...no competent scholar would agree that our authorized version has any successful rival.

The author thinks proper here to record his high estimate of the value of the English Bible now in common use. It seems to him that his brethren, who seek to bring it into disrepute, might be much better employed. He gives it as his deliberate judgment that he has never seen even one chapter done into English so well anywhere else. The learning of the men, who made it, was vast, sound, and unquestionable. In this respect their little fingers were thicker than the loins of the men, who decry their labors.

William Swan Plumer, Commentary on the Psalms. (see this related post)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Praise for The English Bible - 2011

It is a year of praise for the only translation of the Bible into English that can justly be referred to as The English Bible. "After four centuries, the symbolic power of the 1611 Bible remains mighty indeed" writes Boyd Tonkin.

"Today it is a commonplace to note that the words and rhythms of the KJB and its source translations shape the speech of countless millions who never open a bible or enter a church. Somehow, the language of the 1611 version never falls from grace (Galatians 5.4) even if its message falls on stony ground (Mark 4.5). In a secular age where ignorance of religion goes from strength to strength (Psalms 84.7) among lovers of filthy lucre (1 Timothy 3.8) who only want to eat, drink and be merry (Luke 12.19), we know for a certainty (Joshua 23.13) that these resonant words endure as a fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10.1) and a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12.7) of the powers that be (Romans 13.1). They can still set the teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31.29) of those who try to worship God and Mammon (Matthew 6.24). But does this ancient book, proof that there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1.9), now cast its pearls before swine (Matthew 7.6), and act as a voice crying in the wilderness (Luke 3.4) – a drop in a bucket (Isaiah 40.15) of unbelief, no longer a sign of the times (Matthew 16.3) but a verbal stumbling-block (Leviticus 19.14) or else all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9.22) while the blind lead the blind (Matthew 15.14)?"

A useful indication of its continuing influence upon the language (besides Crystal's "Begat" book) is available here.

James Naughtie's radio series was very worthwhile - he writes here. Another insightful article by Charles Moore is worth extensive quotation (Daily Telegraph, Saturday 27th November 2010: ‘Gove’s sense of the nobility of education offers hope to us all’.)

This week marked the 400th anniversary celebrations [of the King James Bible]. It has often been said – by Winston Churchill and T S Eliot among others – that the King James Bible is the greatest work in the English language, and it is true...Time and chance [sic] found a moment when our language was young yet mature, sprightly yet stately, earthy yet sublime.

But what was the purpose of this enterprise? It was not to produce lovely language for its own sake. It was educational. The translators dedicated their work to King James 1, explaining that it was essential that “God’s holy truth . . . be yet more and more known unto the people” (who, until then, had had no one, permitted, English version). They praised James for “cherishing the teachers” of this truth. They saw what they were doing as a work of national salvation, both in a religious and political sense. The fact that the version is known by the name of an earthly King tells you a lot about its aims.

So the point of this Bible was not only that everyone might study it in private, but also that it was “appointed to be read in churches”, often to those who could not read. It was taught in schools, it was the classic text, the words – the Word, indeed – which people needed to know.

This persisted until the 1960s, and, to a remarkable degree, it worked. Contrary to the claims of the modernists, you did not have to be clever to profit from the King James Version . . . In my own village school, where most of the pupils were the children of gypsum miners and labourers, we read and heard always the King James Version (and the collects from the Book of Common Prayer). No doubt we frequently did not understand it, but only a fool would claim to fully understand the Bible in any version. We benefitted from something that was seriously beautiful and beautifully serious.

All this changed, as it was bound to do. The 1960s saw the production of the New English Bible, which was intended to be relevant. Today, nobody reads it at all: it is – to adapt a King James phrase – perished as though it had never been. It failed, but it succeeded in dethroning the King James Version. Now there are many Bibles, but no known one - a Babel of Bibles, in fact."