Archive for December, 2006

Students of the French Reformation

December 16th, 2006 Posted in Reformation

One of the deep joys of my life has been involvement with other scholars seeking to grow in their understanding of God’s ways in the history of his Church. This past week I spent three and a half days with Stéphane Gagné, the assistant pastor of a French Baptist Church in St-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec. He is working on a M.A. in Church History from SEMBEQ in Montreal (for Stéphane’s blog, see Yanick Éthier, Stéphane Gagné, & François Turcotte).

We normally meet twice a year like this and spend time working through an historical period. This time we spent our days at St. Paul’s marvelous library in Ottawa, working through the French Reformation, the relationship of Calvin and Pierre Viret, the origins and course of the French Reformed cause in France, Huguenot history between the death of Théodore de Bézè and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and some of the key figures of this era—Pierre du Moulin, Jean Claude, Moïse Amyraut, and Claude Brousson. Last night and this morning we studied the English Reformation—its causes and course—and the emergence of Puritanism.

Looking at the French Reformation and the English Reformation in such close proximity reminded me afresh of the links between the two. For instance, I cannot help but think that it is possible that Jean-Baptiste Morelli’s working out a Congregationalist perspective in Paris in the 1560s before the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day had an influence on the position of Browne, Barrow and Greenwood in the 1580s and 1590s.

Or again, to be Reformed between 1660 and the 1680s was a harrowing experience. In both France and England the Reformed cause was a house under siege and it was on the defensive. From a pessimistic perspective, much seemed lost. But our ways are not God’s ways, nor are our time his times. His timing is always perfect.

Eminent Christians: 14. Christina Rossetti

December 16th, 2006 Posted in Eminent Christians

Among the leading painters of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite school of artists was Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). And among his finest paintings is that entitled Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850; Tate Gallery, London) in which Rossetti depicts the Virgin Mary being addressed by the Angel Gabriel. If one looks closely at the woman depicting Mary, and one is familiar with what Rossetti’s sister looked like in her younger years, one would clearly see that the model for Mary is none other than Christina Rossetti, the finest poetess of the Victorian era. There appears to be a sadness to Christina’s face which says more about her life than it does necessarily about Mary’s.

Her life—a sketch

Christina was born into a remarkably gifted family in London, December 5, 1830. Her parents, Gabriele and Frances Rossetti, were emigrés from Italy. Though the family was gifted artistically, they had little money and seem to have struggled financially, despite the fact that her father was a Professor of Italian at King’s College, London. It was from her mother that she imbibed her Evangelical faith.

As a teenager Christina was quite beautiful. In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, one of the minor Pre-Raphaelite painters, but Christina ended the engagement in 1850 when he re-joined the Roman Catholic Church. Collinson went on to enter a Jesuit college, though he would leave without being ordained. It was that same year that Christina sat for her brother’s painting Ecce Ancilla Domini.

When her father’s failing health and eyesight forced him to retire from teaching in 1853, Christina and her mother attempted to support the family by starting a day school, but had to give it up after a year or so. In the early 1860s she was passionately in love with a man by the name of Charles Cayley. Cayley had a remarkable facility for languages, being a master of Hebrew, Homeric and classical Greek, and Italian. He even oversaw a translation of the New Testament into Iroquois. In 1864 he proposed to Christina, but according to her brother William Michael, she refused to marry him because “she enquired as to his creed, and she found that he was not a Christian; either absolutely not a Christian, or else so far removed from fully defined religious orthodoxy that she could not regard him as sharing the essence of her own beliefs.” Thereafter she led a very retiring life, interrupted by recurring illnesses. Her final three years—she died on December 29, 1894—were spent suffering from breast cancer, which involved surgery at home in 1892 and much pain and suffering.

Expressing her faith in poetry

Her faith was deeply tested by these illnesses, and though there is sometimes a morbid, introspective streak in statements she made at this time and in her poetry, her Christian faith—to some degree influenced by Anglo-Catholicism, but having a decidedly Evangelical cast—shines through in her poetry. Ponder, for instance, this poem, written in 1893, near the end of her life. It is a poem that echoes the watch-cry of the Reformation—Christ alone.

None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other Hope in heaven or earth or sea,
None other Hiding-place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee.

My faith burns low, my hope burns low,
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.

Lord, Thou art Life tho I be dead,
Love’s Fire Thou art however cold I be:
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee.

In the bleak mid-winter

Evangelicals are probably most acquainted with Rossetti through her Christmas carol, In the bleak mid-winter. It first appeared in Scribner’s Monthly, a New York magazine, in January 1872. It was written in the midst of Christina’s suffering from a condition known as Grave’s disease.

Christina sets the birth of Christ against the backdrop of the bleakness of a chilly English winter, and gives a series of vivid contrasts between his heavenly state and that to which he stooped when he became a human being.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Throng’d the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

An exposition

What is the key-word in the first stanza? “Bleak.” Christina is not merely describing the weather, but speaking of an inner winter. And the word “bleak” prepares the reader for the intense images that follow: the wind that “made moan,” the earth as stiff and solid as iron, and the water so frozen it was like a stone. And the way she drops these intense images one on top of another is like what is described in the second half of this verse: layer upon layer of snow. The repetition of the first line reinforces the picture that Christina wishes to depict: the utter bleakness of the winter.

The second stanza comes “seemingly out of nowhere.” From a picture of bleak winter we are taken to the theme of the governance and upheaval of the universe. The first two lines come from 1 Kings 8:27, and Christina is seeking remind us of the greatness of God—the awesomeness of his person. Lines 3 and 4 are from Revelation 20:11: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.” Here, from another angle, the awesomeness of our God is being stressed. Before him the universe will melt.

Commonly linked to Christmas in the Christmas tradition is the Second Coming. The link obviously is the fact that both involve the coming of Christ to this world. But how different they are: at his Second Advent, Christ will come as an awesome warrior-king who will re-create the entire universe. But at his first coming: a stable was sufficient to house him—this One whom the universe cannot contain (note the reference to Jesus as “Lord God Almighty,” drawn from texts like Revelation 1:8, 11, 17; 21:22). Finite earth and heaven are far too small a container for the Infinite God. Yet, when he comes as the Incarnate One, he enters this world in the cramped quarters of a stable.

In stanzas 3 and 4 there is again a vivid contrast. In heaven the angelic worship of Christ’s glorious being is never-ending and unceasing. But when he comes to dwell on this earth, Christina depicts him as content with the worship of animals—though we might well ask, did the animals worship?—and of his virgin mother. Were there angels to worship at the birthplace of Christ? We are not told so in the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. But, in this regard, see Hebrews 1:6. Also note that Christina makes it clear that his mother worshipped him, a clearly Protestant note.

But central to Christina’s meditation on the meaning of Christmas is not simply its mysterious paradoxes, but this question: how should we properly respond to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Lord God Almighty, into our world? The shepherds and the Magi have gifts that match the parts they play in the Christmas story—but what of us, what can we give? Christina sees herself as having nothing to give, for she is “poor.” Her poverty is her whole self.

But she, and we, can give to him something unique and therefore doubly precious: our hearts, the centre and core of our beings. As she wrote in A Carol for Children:

I must be like those good Wise Men
With heavenward heart and look:
But shall I give no gifts to God?
What precious gifts they took!

Lord, I will give my love to Thee,
Than gold much costlier,
Sweeter to Thee than frankincense,
More prized than choicest myrrh…

The Young Pierre Trudeau & T.T. Shields

December 16th, 2006 Posted in Church History

On a trip from the Maritimes, after attending the International Conference on Baptist Studies IV in the summer, I happened to pick up a Saturday Globe and Mail, and not surprisingly found myself gravitating to the editorial page and book reviews. A fascinating book review that appeared on one of the editorial pages was on the then-new book on Pierre Trudeau: Young Trudeau, Son of Quebec, Father of Canada by Max and Monique Nemni. Apparently it is a quite a revealing work, depicting a far different young Trudeau than the one many of us remember, namely the committed federalist and foe of narrow Quebec nationalism. Here is an ardent right-winger, deeply antagonistic to the Canadian war effort and a believer in “every French-Canadian nationalist myth about the evils of les anglais.” Jeffrey Simpson, who wrote the review, notes that Trudeau’s views “were utterly consistent with those of the Catholic Church in Quebec until the war’s later years.” [“Pierre Trudeau was no Talbot Papineau”, The Globe and Mail (July 15, 2006), A13].

Earlier that week, at the conference I had been at, I had listened to a paper that had mentioned the fiery anti-Catholicism of the Toronto Baptist pastor T.T. Shields. But, after reading the review of this book, it struck me that Shields’ anti-Catholicism was quite understandable in the time period given the large numbers who would have shared the views of the young Trudeau.

It was an excellent reminder that one of the ways to avoid anachronism in the study of an area of history is to read widely in the time period under study.

James Orr on Doctrine

December 11th, 2006 Posted in Great Quotes

Here is a great quote by Free St. George’s on the importance of doctrine: “Monday Quote: James Orr: We all have theology.”

Vocation among the Puritans & Their Heirs

December 10th, 2006 Posted in Puritans

I was given a copy of Tabletalk yesterday. I had not read this publication for quite a while. I have really enjoyed it in the past. The particular issue that I was given, entitled Proud Mediocrity: Facing the Addiction of our Culture (September 2006), was no exception. It was very well done, especially the article by George Grant, entitled “A Passion for Truth.”

I was intrigued, however, by a statement made by Chris Donato in his good piece, “In the Service of the King.” He linked the waning of “the Christian ideal of vocation”—rigorously implemented by the English Puritans—to the “religious and political repression of the seventeenth century” and the replacement of the “fatalistic hyper-Calvinism of certain Puritans” by the “mechanistic Deism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment” (page 17). This is extremely intriguing! And of course, in the small space allotted for the article, only a potted version of this thesis could be given. But it would be fascinating to pursue it further.

Donato seems to assume or assert four things.

First, the attacks on the Puritans in the Restoration era by Charles II and James II undermined the Puritan concept of vocation. Why was this so?

Second, certain Puritans were hyper-Calvinistic. Which Puritans were hyper-Calvinists? Well, certain Baptist authors in the eighteenth century are often accused of being hyper-Calvinists—I am thinking of men like John Gill and John Brine and John Skepp (the term needs to be well defined to include Gill)—but historically these men are not Puritans. If we rule out these men, I am not sure who Donato has in mind.

Third, this hyper-Calvinism precedes the “mechanistic Deism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.” Actually, though the chronology is the other way around. Does this undermine the thesis though?

Fourth, Evangelicalism did not maintain the Puritan view of vocation. But is this so? I think one can see a Puritan view of vocation in John Wesley’s view of work and wealth, for instance (via his maternal grandfather, the Puritan Samuel Annesley). You see it when Evangelical authors address domestic issues—consider Samuel Stennett on domestic duties in his sermon series on this topic.

But these are only initial thoughts. I would love to see someone track through the idea of vocation in the 18th century, asking the question, did it change from the Puritan view? And when did it change and why?

John Gill’s Grave in Bunhill Fields

December 9th, 2006 Posted in Church History

As some of you know, who have been to Bunhill Fields, London, that great campus sanctorum, it contains the grave of many Baptist, and other Nonconformist, worthies of the past: John Owen, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Susannah Wesley (a Nonconformist till her early teens, and the daughter of the great Samuel Annesley), John Rippon, etc.… A number of the graves are suffering the ravages of time typical of stone and mortar in an urban setting like London. Among the graves in the latter category is the table tomb of John Gill (1697-1771), the most prominent English Baptist of his day.

Jeff Straub, professor of Church History at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minneapolis, e-mailed me recently about the state of Gill’s grave and that the grave can no longer be easily identified. He rightly suggested seeking to do something about it. He has just written to an official in the City of London to see if a bronze marker with details about Gill can be possibly erected to mark the grave.

He and I hope that the cost of this project could be borne by raising funds among interested British and American Baptists who hold John Gill in high esteem. It is hoped to announce specifics at the large Baptist gathering next August in Charleston, South Carolina (see “Baptist History Celebration”, http://www.baptisthistorycelebration.org), where some 450 Baptists—both historians& history buffs—will gather to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Philadelphia Confession. Those of you are interested in helping in this worthy commemoration, please make a note to check back here or at the “Baptist History Celebration” site then.

A Journalling Prayer and John Newton

December 2nd, 2006 Posted in Prayer

Journalling has been a time-honoured Christian means of grace in Evangelical circles stretching back to the Puritans. Here is an excellent prayer by John Newton (1725-1807) in this regard:

“I dedicate unto Thee this clean unsullied book and at the same renew my tender of a foul blotted corrupt heart. Be pleased O Lord! to assist me with the influence of Thy Spirit to fill the one in a manner agreeable to Thy will, and by Thy all sufficient grace to overpower and erase the ill impressions sin and the world have from time to time made in the other: so that both my public converse and retired meditation may testify that I am indeed Thy servant, redeemed, renewed and accepted in the sufferings, merit and mediation of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit, be glory honour and dominion world without end.” (Sunday 22nd December 1751).

It is the bicentennial of his death next year and Sola Scriptura Ministries (http://www.sola-scriptura.ca/) has a great conference lined up in London, ON, in November to celebrate that and two other key historical events—the tercentennial of the birth of Charles Wesley and the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade.

Check out the conference here: “The Dungeon Flamed With Light” – The Great Awakening in the 18th Century November 16-27, 2007 – London, Ontario

Celebrating Advent & Christmas Today

December 2nd, 2006 Posted in Theology

Not finding Advent and Christmas explicitly named in the Bible, many of our Evangelical forebears refused to celebrate it. Some of my heroes, the Calvinistic Baptists of the 18th century, are a good example in this regard. But while we must learn from the past—a deep-seated conviction I live my life by—we don’t live in those days. It is today we must seize for Christ. And it is Scriptural to set apart days—even seasons—to reflect on God’s goodness and mercy, and to seek his face. And the Advent—blessed are all those who long for Christ’s appearing—and Christmas seasons are a marvellous time for such reflection and such seeking.

PS It is very interesting that many of those remarkable brothers and sisters of the 18th century were adamant about celebrating the Fifth of November—the anniversary of England’s deliverance from the Gunpowder plot in the first decade of the seventeenth century and then of the landing of William III in England in 1688, “King Billy,” who brought religious toleration.

I think, for example of Caleb Evans’ great sermon on British Constitutional Liberty given on November 5, 1775 or Evans’ The remembrance of former days (Bristol, 1778).

Was that hypocrisy? Not at all. I simply think Advent and Christmas are more important than November 5—though I do value religious freedom (see previous post!).

The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome and God’s Common Grace

December 2nd, 2006 Posted in Church History, Theology

Roman technology in the Ancient world was second to none. Think of the aqueduct system that fed the heart of the Empire, Rome itself. There were eleven aqueducts that daily delivered 1.2 million cubic metres of water (nearly 300 million gallons)—yes daily!—to the city.

One of the superintendents of the aqueduct system for the city, Sextus Julius Frontinus, the curator aquarum, penned a fabulous treatise De aquaeductu (97ad) at the close of the first century during the reign of Nerva. Comparing the system of aqueducts to other architectural marvels of the ancient world, he asked:

“I ask you! Just compare those useless pyramids, or the good-for-nothing tourist attractions of the Greeks with the vast monuments of this vital aqueduct network.”

When the Apostle Paul arrived in Rome for the first time (Acts 28), he would have seen these architectural marvels, and when he stayed in the city for those two years under house arrest, the water he drank and bathed in would have come through this remarkable system of aqueducts. How thankful we should be for the common grace that surrounds us.

Here, in the West, I am deeply grateful for the architectural web of institutions that grace our world—the freedoms of speech and movement that we enjoy because of them—and the freedom to preach the gospel and plant churches. These should never be taken for granted. There are others in this world—the old remnants of leftist ideological persuasion, radical Muslims, for instance—who would deprive us of such.

Daniel Johnson, in a disturbing article [“Allah’s England?”, Commentary, 122, no.4 (November 2006), 41-46] quotes a self-styled spokesperson for Islam in England, a certain Abu Izzadeen, a convert to Islam, dismissing free speech and our democratic way of life and saying over the British airwaves: Britain “doesn’t belong to you [the British], or to the Queen, or to the government, but to Allah. He has put us on earth to implement shari’a law” [page 46].

I, for one, am deeply thankful for the web of the Western culture—no, it is not Christian—but oh the freedoms it gives. In this we see the goodness of God designed to lead sinners to repentance!

Like the water the ancient Apostle drank in the city of Rome.

The Tombstone of Sarah Judson

December 1st, 2006 Posted in Church History, Uncategorized

Nick Clevely (see previous post) has also informed me that the tombstone of Sarah Judson, the third wife of Adoniram Judson, who died and was buried on the island of St Helena, has been moved from the de-consecrated cemetery in Jamestown to the courtyard of the Jamestown Baptist Chapel.

While in the cemetery in Jamestown, it was damaged, probably by vandalism, and as a result, the top section of the tombstone is completely missing. At present Nick does not have a description of how it used to look, so he is looking for information in order that he can begin the process of restoring it.

This tombstone is not merely a tombstone; it is in fact a monument erected by the Baptists of Philadelphia. It is a wonderful part of Baptist Missions history and should not be neglected.

Nick is looking for information about the description of the tombstone, so if you have such information or if you would like to contribute to the restoration of it, your help would be most welcome and appreciated. His e-mail is as follows: clevely@helanta.sh.