The similar phrase 'Worldly Christianity' is one used by Bonhoeffer. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

52 JC No 37

This is the last part of the preface to the Geneva Psalter (see here for the whole thing)

What is there now to do? It is to have songs not only honest, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor and glorify him. Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory. Wherefore Chrysostom exhorts, as well as the men, the women and the little children to accustom themselves to singing them, in order that this may be a sort of meditation to associate themselves with the company of the angels.
As for the rest, it is necessary to remember that which St. Paul hath said, the spiritual songs cannot be well sung save from the heart. But the heart requires the intelligence. And in that (says St. Augustine) lies the difference between the singing of men and that of the birds. For a linnet, a nightingale, a parrot may sing well; but it will be without understanding. But the unique gift of man is to sing knowing that which he sings. After the intelligence must follow the heart and the affection, a thing which is unable to be except if we have the hymn imprinted on our memory, in order never to cease from singing. For these reasons this present book, even for this cause, besides the rest which has been said, ought to be singular recommendation to each one who desires to enjoy himself honestly and according to God, for his own welfare and the profit of his neighbours: and so there is need of all of it being much recommended by me: seeing that it carries its value and its praise. But that the world may be so well advised, that in place of songs in part vain and frivolous, in part stupid and dull, in part foul and vile, and in consequence evil and harmful which it has used up to now, it may accustom itself hereafter to the singing of these divine and celestial hymns with the good king David.
Touching the melody, it has seemed best that it be moderated in the manner we have adopted to carry the weight and majesty appropriate to the subject, and even to be proper for singing in the Church, according to that which has been said.

52 JC No 36

Fourth part of Geneva Psalter preface (on music)

Now among the other things which are proper for recreating man and giving him pleasure, music is either the first, or one of the principal; and it is necessary for us to think that it is a gift of God deputed for that use. Moreover, because of this, we ought to be the more careful not to abuse it, for fear of soiling and contaminating it, converting it our condemnation, where it was dedicated to our profit and use. If there were no other consideration than this alone, it ought indeed to move us to moderate the use of music, to make it serve all honest things; and that it should no give occasion for our giving free rein to dissolution, or making ourselves effeminate in disordered delights, and that it should not become the instrument of lasciviousness nor of any shamelessness.
But still there is more: there is scarcely in the world anything which is more able to turn or bend this way and that the morals of men, as Plato prudently considered it. And in fact, we find by experience that it has a sacred and almost incredible power to move hearts in one way or another. Therefore we ought to be even more diligent in regulating it in such a way that it shall be useful to us and in no way pernicious. For this reason the ancient doctors of the Church complain frequently of this, that the people of their times were addicted to dishonest and shameless songs, which not without cause they referred to and called mortal and Satanic poison for corrupting the world. Moreover, in speaking now of music, I understand two parts: namely the letter, or subject and matter; secondly, the song, or the melody. It is true that every bad word (as St. Paul has said) perverts good manner, but when the melody is with it, it pierces the heart much more strongly, and enters into it; in a like manner as through a funnel, the wine is poured into the vessel; so also the venom and the corruption is distilled to the depths of the heart by the melody.

52 JC No 35

Third bit of the Psalter preface (on singing)

As for public prayers, there are two kinds. The ones with the word alone: the others with singing. And this is not something invented a little time ago. For from the first origin of the Church, this has been so, as appears from the histories. And even St. Paul speaks not only of praying by mouth: but also of singing. And in truth we know by experience that singing has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. Care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty (as St. Augustine says), and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels. But when anyone wishes to judge correctly of the form which is here presented, we hope that it will be found holy and pure, seeing that it is simply directed to the edification of which we have spoken.
And yet the practice of singing may extend more widely; it is even in the homes and in the fields an incentive for us, as it were, an organ of praise to God, and to lift up our hearts to him, to console us by meditating upon his virtue, goodness, wisdom and justice: that which is more necessary than one can say. In the first place, it is not without cause that the Holy Spirit exhorts us so carefully throughout the Holy Scriptures to rejoice in God and that all our joy is there reduced to its true end, because he knows how much we are inclined to rejoice in vanity. As thus then our nature draws us and induces us to seek all means of foolish and vicious rejoicing; so, to the contrary, our Lord, to distract us and withdraw us from the temptations of the flesh and of the world, presents us all possible means in order to occupy us in that spiritual joy which he recommends to us so much.

52 JC No 34

More from the Psalter preface

As for the Sacraments, if we look thoroughly at their nature, we will recognise that it is a perverse custom to celebrate them in such a manner that the people may not merely look upon them, but may understand the mysteries which are there contained. Because if they are visible words (as St. Augustine calls them) it is necessary, not only that there be merely an exterior spectacle, but also that the doctrine be conjoined with it, to give it intelligence. And also our Lord in instituting them has well demonstrated this: because he says that these are testimonies of the alliance which he has made with us, and which he confirmed by his death. It is necessary, therefore, to give them their meaning that we might know and understand that which he has said: otherwise it would be in vain that our Lord opened his mouth to speak, if he had around him no ears to listen. And so there is no need for a long dispute about that. And when the matter is examined with common sense, there is no one who will not confess that it is a pure frumpery to amuse the people with symbols which have no meaning for them. Therefore it is easy to see that one profanes the Sacraments of Jesus Christ by administering them so that the people do not at all understand the words which are being said about them. And in fact, one may see the superstitions which arise from such practice. Because it is commonly considered that the consecration, for instance of the water for Baptism, or of the bread and wine of Our Lord's Supper, is like a sort of incantation; that is to say, when one has breathed and pronounced with the mouth the words, creatures insensible of feeling feel the power, although men understand nothing. But the true consecration is that which makes itself through the word of faith, when it is declared and received, as St. Augustine has said: that which is expressly contained in the words of Jesus Christ. Because he did not say to the bread that it is his body: rather he addressed the word to the company of the faithful, saying, take, eat, and so forth. If we wish therefore to celebrate truly this sacrament, it is necessary for us to have the doctrine, by means of which that which is there signified is declared to us. I say that that seems very strange to those who are not accustomed to it, as it happens with all new things: but it is very reasonable if we are disciples of Jesus Christ to prefer his institutions to our custom. And that which he instituted from the very
beginning ought not to seem new to us.
If that is still incapable of penetrating into the understanding of anyone, it is necessary for us to pray to God that it please him to illuminate the ignorant, to make them understand how much wiser it is that all the men of the earth should learn not to fix themselves on their own senses, nor on the single mad wisdom of their leaders who are blind. However, for the usage of our Church, it has seemed good to us to make public as a formulary these prayers and Sacraments in order that each may recognize that which he hears said and done in the Christian assembly. However, this book will profit not only the people of this
Church, but also all those who desire to know what form the faithful ought to hold to and follow when they convene in the name of Christ.

52 JC No 33

This is from the beginning of the preface to the Geneva Psalter
As it is a thing much required in Christianity, and one of the most necessary, that every one of the faithful observe and uphold the communion of the Church in his neighbourhood, frequenting the assemblies which are held both on Sunday and other days to honour and serve God: so also it is expedient and reasonable that all should know and hear that which is said and done in the temple, thus receiving fruit and edification.
For our Lord did not institute the order which we must observe when we convene in his Name, solely to amuse the world by seeing and looking at it; rather, however, he wished that profit would come from it to all his people: as Saint Paul witnesseth, commanding that all which is done in the Church be directed towards the common edification of all: this the servant would not have commanded had it not been the intention of the Master. But this cannot be done unless we are instructed to have intelligence of all that has been ordained for our profit. Because to say that we are able to have devotion, either at prayers or ceremonies, without understanding anything of them, is a great mockery, however much it is commonly said. This is a thing neither dead nor brutish, this good affection toward God: rather it is a lively movement, proceeding from the Holy Spirit, when the heart is properly touched, and the understanding enlightened. And, in fact, if one is able to be edified by the things which one sees, without knowing that which they signify, Saint Paul would not forbid so rigorously speaking in an unknown tongue: and he would not use this reasoning, that there is no edification, unless there is a doctrine. However, if we really wish to honor the holy ordinances of our Lord, which we use in the Church, the primary thing is to know what they contain, what they mean to say, and to what end they tend, in order that their usage may be useful and salutary, and consequently right ruled.
Now there are briefly three things which our Lord commanded us to observe in our spiritual assemblies: namely, the preaching of His Word, prayers public and solemn, and the administration of the sacraments. I abstain from speaking about sermons at this time, because there is no question about them. Touching the other parts which remain, we have the express commandment of the Holy Spirit that prayers should be made in a language commonly known to the people; and the Apostle has said that people ought not to answer Amen to that prayer which has been said in a foreign tongue. However, this is because that prayers are made in the name and person of all, that each should be a participant. Thus it is a very great impudence on the part of those who introduced the Latin language into the Church where it is not generally understood. And there is neither subtlety nor casuistry which can excuse them, because this practice is perverse and displeasing to God. Moreover, there is no reason to assume that God finds agreeable to him that which runs directly counter to his wishes, and, so to speak, in spite of him. And so nothing affects him more than to go thus against his forbidding, and to boast of this rebellion as if it were a holy and very laudable thing.

Bobi Jones

I long ago learned that coincidences are common so I'm not surprised but I thought you might like to chase up this link to my son Rhodri's blog where he describes a coincidence featuring Bobi Jones, a name you may know best (if at all) as a translator of Welsh hymns.

Bible Ignorance

Watched University Challenge last night - first time in ages. Yet again one was stunned by the Bible ignorance shown. York were asked what book of the Bible was written by St John on the Island of Patmos and they answered Deuteronomy! It wasn't the only wrong answer about the Bible and this is sadly typical.
My main concern here is, of course, that this betrays how the Bible is simply being ignored by intelligent people. If they won't even read it there seems little hope of them getting to believe what it says.
The other concern is that such people cannot really be deemed educated if they do not have at least some grasp of the Bible story and its contents. How can one properly study western history, literature or art, for example, and ignore the Bible? One fears that some incredibly wrong theories are going to be adopted and propounded in that atmosphere. What a mess we are in.

Last legacies of Oliver Heywood

I came across a book recently by the Puritan Oliver Heywood. In the preface written in his closing years he sets out some 10 hints for sinners to follow.

1. Thoroughly study your lost and lapsed state by your birth-sin; you are estranged from God, and so continuing must be for ever banished from him at death. You must be changed or damned.

2. Search the Scriptures, there you find the way to heaven opened, the character of the saved, the black traits of the lost, with their promises, precepts and threatenings; lean not on your own fancies, but divine oracles.

3. Examine your consciences; enter into the secrets of your hearts, commune with them, bring your hearts to the rule and touchstone, spend some time alone upon it, be faithful and impartial, tremble at hazarding a mistake.

4. Accuse and condemn yourselves, you will find great reason; your sins are obvious to God and conscience, if you hide them, they will undermine you; there are hopes that God will clear you, if you censure yourselves.

5. Renounce every sin; it is sin that separates betwixt God and you, that is dragging you to hell, that is provoking the Most High against you; crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.

6. Enter into a covenant with God; solemnly renew your baptismal covenant; take God as your God, and give up yourselves to him, defer not one day, tell the Lord you are his by many obligations.

7. Put no confidence in yourselves, or in any thing of your own; judge yourselves most unworthy of the high favour of covenant relationship; you may and must account yourselves even as dead dogs before God.

8. Join with God's people; stand not at a distance from those that God owns; renounce vain persons whom God rejects, sit not with them but love and choose the society of saints for whom Christ pleads.
9. Be much in prayer; plead with God for a spirit of grace: Christ is God's gift, be thankful for him, beg of God that through him you may have pardon, peace and heaven, without money and without price; will you not ask?

10. Rest not satisfied without saving faith which gives interest in Christ; remember all men have not faith; some have a faith but not sincere; yet it is absolutely necessary, there is no living, no dying without faith.

Review of Creation

I haven't seen my copy of October's Evangelical Times yet but I believe a review by me similar to this one appears there

Creation is the title of a new feature film currently showing in British cinemas, a film that undoubtedly will catch the attention of many thoughtful people. The “creation” of the title is not God's creation as such but the creation of a book written 150 years ago this year that continues to have a tremendous effect around the world to this day. The book, The origin of species was written by Charles Darwin and the film, based on the book Annie's Box by Randal Keynes, traces the story of its writing.
While using flashbacks to build up the biographical picture, the film focuses chiefly on the final year or so of writing the book and sending the manuscript off. Darwin is pictured as an attractive even heroic, though flawed, individual. Various factors combine to first delay then spur him on to publication. Though encouraged to publish by friends like Hooker and Huxley, the blessing of a wife, finally reconciled to the idea is much more hard won. A letter from Alfred Wallace outlining the same theory, what seems to be a psychosomatic illness and the fear that he is unleashing something that would destroy society and even God himself are also strong factors in Darwin's decision. Interwoven with this is his relationship with a favourite daughter whose death profoundly affects him.
A film about a man writing a book is a potentially dull subject but those involved in this production are seasoned professionals, such as Jon Amiel. The combination of skilful writing full of drama, fine acting, especially from lead actors, husband and wife team Paul Bettanny and Jennifer Connelly, beautiful sets, excellent filming, good music and very high production standards make this a powerful film indeed.
One may want to quibble with certain anachronisms, doubtful dramatic devices and even straight errors in the film but a production of this sort is intended to create an impression rather than to get every detail just right. No, the film needs to be criticised chiefly for its thesis regarding the theory of evolution. It appears to be saying that, yes, there are extremists in the scientific world and among evolutionists. Thomas Huxley, for example, is presented in a very unattractive way. But then there are extremists among those who follow religion, too. Rev Innes, the vicar of Downe, is caricatured as a man who eventually will not even speak to Darwin and who at one point makes Annie kneel in rock salt, scarring her knees, as a penance for believing that dinosaurs existed!
But most of us, so the thesis goes, are somewhere in the middle. On one hand, there are people like Darwin himself and his close friend Joseph D Hooker, who are eminently reasonable. They have no desire to cause trouble. They simply want to know the truth. Sometimes they are fearful of public reaction and can suffer greatly for their commitment to truth but they often show a quiet courage that does not lead to murder in the streets but to a great deal of enlightenment.
Then on the other hand, there are people like most readers of this newspaper, no doubt, - religious people, gentle and pious people, who respect the minister and read Pilgrims Progress to our children, as Darwin's wife does in the film. Yes, we may feel quite estranged from the scientists and their strange ideas at times but if we will only consider then we will see that they are right. Like Mrs Darwin, who reads the manuscript of Origin of Species right through when it is finished then gives her husband her blessing, we too ought to see the truth of evolution and stop carping about it being evil and untrue.
Well, that is how, it seems to me, the film wants us to see it. It is important to remember, however, that life as portrayed on the screen, is often inaccurate and untrue. The fact is that though Charles Darwin, by God's common grace, no doubt had many attractive features, his theory of evolution was wrong. Not only is it wrong but it has an evil anti-God core and many of the terrible things that Darwin no doubt dreaded have come to pass, partly fuelled by acceptance of evolutionary theories.
What the late Henry Morris referred to, in a book about the history of evolutionary theories, as The long war against God is continuing and this film is simply the latest widespread piece of propaganda in that war. We need to point out to the uninitiated what is going on and resist the false caricatures that people this piece.

Quiet Blog

It's been a bit quiet here of late but that's because I'm having a very busy week with lots of preparation to do for various things. Sunday went off okay, preaching from Mark 11 and Romans 1 still.
On Monday morning I was involved in a last minute interview at LTS. They started again this week. In the afternoon I chaired the Evangelical Library committee, following our final signing for the new building in Bounds Green. Still lots to do yet. We hope to have our new website up and running shortly. Watch this space.
Tuesday I was in the study working hard until the evening when we were joined by Rhodri, Sibyl and her family for a meal, marking the marriage. I don't think there's a proper name for your son's in-laws. There should be. We had a lovely time together.
Wednesday was all meetings, with visits to two old people's homes where I spoke from Genesis 2 and then the evening meeting in the church, looking at Deuteronomy 31. That was a good time with a decent number present. University is about to start though so we'll be less next week I guess. I also fitted in a lift from the hospital for one of our elderly members and took chance to be with Luke Jenner and his friend, Miriam, who were visiting the newly weds with us. Gwion went to see Chelsea v QPR in the Carling Cup that evening, with a new school friend. 1-0 it was and good fun.
During the day on Thursday, after dropping Owain off I spoke at a ministers fraternal just north of here in Welwyn, where Mostyn Roberts is the pastor. About a dozen ministers (most known to me) and wives gathered for two talks with discussion. I spoke on Christ at God's right hand and the intercession of Christ, which I have been trying to study. It brought home to me how little I understand so far. Picked up a copy of Who made God? by Edgar Andrews. After that we loaded up the car and, after tearful farewells at both homes, I drove Rhodri and Sibyl up to Aber. It was a long but pleasant journey towards a glorious sunset. We stopped at MacDonald's in Shrewsbury en route where Sibyl (vegetarian until 13 ) had here first ever Big Mac! The couple who will study in the University, are staying in the manse until the flat round the corner is available.

LIP Meetings

It's such a busy week! Saturday seems a life time ago now but I was at the meeting of the trustees of the London Inreach Project on that day, however, and then at the information meeting and the preaching meetings that followed.
I chaired the preaching meeting. My good friend Paul Pease of Hook Evangelical Church preached a fine pithy sermon from 2 Corinthians 4:5 on not preaching ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as his servants for the sake of God's people.
It was good to see so many supporters and to hear from Andrew Murray and Derek Sewell and Roger Carter. The work continues to be very slow and difficult but there are encouragements and opportunities galore.

Agatha Christie

I heard an Agatha Christie short story on the radio today - At the bells and motley from The Mysterious Mr Quin. I was not aware of these stories before. See here and here.

Visiting Dad 13

So here I am in South Wales yet again taking advantage of my sister-in-law's hospitality. I've been to see my dad again. He was rather sleepy and difficult to communicate with, though there were lucid moments. We read and prayed again. I asked him what he meant when he asked me to do it serious when praying last time. He said he meant really deep. I am supposing he means really getting through. That is the way to pray.
Before driving down I was in our solicitors' plush offices in Clerkenwell on Evangelical Library business. We're inching forward. Before that, I was back at LTS for a meeting about the mentoring scheme. First thing I had gone with Eleri to Brent Cross for a cuppa as part of the celebrations for her birthday.
Dear Eleri,
She's just extraordinary,
My love for her will never vary.
Wednesday had been a day of preparation with the prayer meeting in the evening. Monday and Tuesday, of course, were conference days. Somewhere amidst all this I am preparing two sermons for Sunday and trying to read Calvin's sermons on Acts for a discussion group coming up.
Back here Glyn and Fflur's other house guest is a former lodger from Australia who is studying an aspect of the Battle of the Somme. My dad always told me that my grand-dad was at the Somme but I wonder if it was really the battle itself, going on what else I now know. Must look into it all one day. I've also been reading a book on myths of WW1 including the crucified Canadian.

For this reason

I've just added the sermon I preached at the wedding last Saturday to my sermon blog.

52 JC No 32

This was quoted at the conference by Sinclair Ferguson I believe. Preaching on Ephesians, Calvin once said

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the Word of God, of which they are constituted administrators. Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this Word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the Word of God.


So it proved to be an excellent conference. I can't remember when I came back from one so fired up. We had a good and fairly diverse number present (including some women and others not in the ministry, a smattering of internationals and even a dog collar). The messages varied, of course, but were all worthwhile. Even the discussion was pretty good. The decision to bring Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson across the Atlantic was a wise one, I guess. There was a good spirit in the conference too. The bonus is that this will be a good advert for the John Owen Centre. An excellent time.
PS Quirkiest quote of the two days. Sinclair Ferguson "claritas et brevitas is not one of my fortes".

JOC Calvin 07

At the beginning of the final paper Joel Beeke revealed that this was his tenth Calvin conference of the year! He had 10 points in what he introduced as a pep talk, an encouragement to believe in preaching. It was a paper full of warmth and wonderful exhortation. He spent most time on the first point.
Ten reasons why faithful preaching is powerful ...
1. Because it allows the Word of God to set the agenda
This included reference to serving the Word hand to hand. He was keen that the Word should be preached faithfully and frequently. Despite some differences to the way one might preach today his preaching is full of instruction - his eagerness to apply the Word, his commitment to the Word. He spoke of the preacher as a father giving appropriate pieces of bread to the people. His style was plain and clear. He was a careful exegete of the Word. Despite great opposition, he persevered and was successful in the end. Perseverance is very important.
2. Because it is preached authoritatively
He compared preaching with the OT prophets who spoke the Word of God. When ministers speak it is as though they are speaking God's Word. By means of human ministry we are humbled and united together. The preached word is God's Word as its content is Scripture and the preacher is sent by God to be Christ's herald. We must not undermine our authority by the way we live. The Word must be dealt with reverently. Reverence and soul preparation are vital.
3. Because it co-labours with the Holy Spirit
4. Because it leads to fruitfulness
It is the heart of worship and worship will be fruitful
It converts sinners
It edifies the saints
5. Because ultimately it impacts the nations
Preaching has international results. It effects the history of the world. Its vitality does not depend on how people react. It can make the ungodly worse as well as making the godly better.
6. Because it truly moves people to hear God's Word
The preacher is only half the story. Calvin taught the people how to hear and what to do next. He told the people they should participate as much as the minister.
7. Because it is experiential
We ought to preach not only how they should go but how they do go. God's Word is a key that can open and that can shut. Such preaching discovers hypocrites and it applies the Word to all who hear.
8. Because it promotes piety
9. Because it promotes the glory of God
10. Because it is accompanied by heartfelt prayer
Calvin's preaching was not perfect but he spoke weightily. He did not have what Farel or Viret had but what he had he used for God. Are we really living to preach? What we need above all else today is faithful preaching. It is the world's greatest need.
Questions again followed before we left.

JOC Calvin 06

Our penultimate paper was again from Sinclair Ferguson - on Calvin and the Holy Spirit. Dr Ferguson spoke about the fact that there is teaching about the Spirit everywhere in Calvin leading to B B Warfield's famous remark that he was the theologian of the Holy Spirit. That is not to say that it is was a central dogma. Calvin, of course, is very much a Trinitarian theologian and so we would expect plenty on the Spirit. First, there were two background matters
Polemical background
1. There was a need to deal with the way the church had robbed the Spirit of its place and replaced it with its sacraments. Solus Spiritus is a Reformation watchword we ought not to forget.
2. Also there were those who divided the Spirit and the Word, the fanatics that Calvin, like others down the ages, had to deal with.
Theological background
Calvin was very clear about the deity of the Spirit as he was about that of the Son, a non-derived deity. With that he is very keen to remember the three when talking about any one of the persons and to remember their Trinitarian roles. He traces this out in creation, under the old covenant and the new then on beyond that to the Spirit's work in us today. The Spirit breathes out the Scriptures and illuminates us.
The rest of the paper dealt with four emphases in Calvin. 1. The ministry of illumination Calvin spoke of the inner work of the Spirit. We do not sit in judgement on Scripture. We must let Scripture speak for itself. Illumination is something more than a noetic experience. The Word is made to humble us. Luke 24 is the great paradigm for Calvin. 2. The ministry of regeneration
The Spirit not only enlightens the mind and reveals Christ, causing the heart to burn but transforms the person. Calvin actually talks about the Christian life before coming to regeneration as we understand it. He uses the phrase "regeneration by faith" something we would not want to say today. He has a much more unified view of things than later regeneration. He tends to speak of regeneration not only as what happens at the beginning but an ongoing thing. What the Spirit does first is to unite us to Christ. He will sometimes prefer in Christ over through Christ. This union is effected by the Spirit. He brings it about and maintains it. He joins us not to a mystical Christ but to a real Christ. Taking Psalm 133 he sees the oil as falling first on to Christ's head and then on to his body. This union involves mortification and vivification - external and internal. We are united to the whole Christ as whole people - body and spirit.
3. The ministry of adoption
Fascinatingly he has a section in Book 3 on the titles of the Spirit. First, he puts Spirit of adoption or sonship. This is how important he saw the sonship of the Christian. This was one of his great discoveries. Although he spoke of assurance of this sonship as part of faith by that he meant as a definition. Even in the context he makes clear that in experience does not always fir with that definition. The now and the not yet and the spiritual war we are in are important factors to keep in mind. We are sons and yet we are waiting for final adoption as in Romans 8.
4. The ministry of communion
The reason why Calvin is so emphatic in his understanding of the Lord's Supper is that he sees that God's power can come to us only through Christ incarnate. What Calvin believes the Lord's Supper does is to bring us to the real Lord Jesus. At the table we have communion with Christ not with the Spirit. Of course, he is in heaven and just as the role of the Spirit is to close the space time gap that all are faced with since the disciples so he also closes the space time gap at the table so that we trust in him not just in the story about him. This explains too his keenness on the sursum corda at the table - lift your hearts to heaven.
He closed with what I think is the quotation here.

JOC Calvin 05

On the second day the first paper was given by Ian Hamilton from Cambridge. His subject was Calvin the Reformer. The focus was to be on reform apart from the work in Geneva. Ian began by warning us against idealising or even idolising the man. There were plenty of faults. Nevertheless he was the Reformer of his age. In looking at his work it is important to remember certain factors always in the background - the precarious political situation of war and rumour of war; internecine strife in the Reformed world and his own constant ill health. Often the cause of Christ, humanly speaking, hung by a thread. He was a colossus but this was not always obvious at the time. He was constantly under great pressure.
Calvin it seems had no great strategy but in the providence of God he took up as many opportunities as he could. He pursued Protestant unity until it exhausted him. He had a concern not just for Geneva and France but for all of Europe and the whole world.
“In short, while my one great object was to live in seclusion without being known, God so led me about through different turnings and changes that he never permitted me to rest in any place, until in spite of my natural disposition, he brought me forth to public notice.” What drove Calvin as a reformer was these five things
1. The spiritual dynamic that captivated him - he was not his own.
It comes out in his willingness to return to Geneva and in so many other ways. This created an atmosphere of gospel credibility about him and so he was able to achieve great things.
2. The way he was animated by the desire to recover the truth of justification and other Christian truths.
His desire for reformation was very great. He had an unremitting zeal for the pure worship of God.
3. The passion for unity that pervades all that he does.
To Cranmer he wrote "This other thing also is to be ranked among the chief evils of our time, viz., that the Churches are so divided, that human fellowship is scarcely now in any repute amongst us, far less that Christian intercourse which all make a profession of, but few sincerely practice ... Thus it is that the members of the Church being severed, the body lies bleeding. So much does this concern me, that, could I be of any service, I would not grudge to cross even ten seas, if need were, on account of it .... Now, seeing that a serious and properly adjusted agreement between men of learning upon the rule of Scripture is still a desideratum, by means of which Churches, though divided on other questions, might be made to unite, I think it right for me, at whatever cost of toil and trouble, to seek to obtain this object." It is this desire that lays behind his attempts to find unity on the communion question. Perhaps he was naive to think that others longed for unity as much as he did. He showed great wisdom and moderation as a reformer recognising how slow people can be to change. Nevertheless, he was quite clearly opposed to the Nicodemites, which shows that he was more concerned with what honoured God rather than simply what might promote reformation. "If we let love be our guide, all will be safe" he says in Book 4 of The Institutes regarding the matter of kneeling. This is typical of his attitude. There is such a thing as godly ecumenism.
4. He felt compelled to seek reformation beyond Geneva.
Geneva became a school of missions and many went out to take the gospel, especially in France. These men often went to their death but they had a tremendous impact despite severe opposition. Millions were converted.
5. His drive for a well educated ministry meant a doctrinally well taught church
Calvin produced around a hundred thousand pages of print every year. There was a vast amount of other literature that went out too.
There was no time to consider the Geneva Psalter or Calvin's letters as desired.
Discussion followed mainly on the matter of unity - the surprising burden of the message.

Origins of TULIP

The historic Five Points of Calvinism are a summary of the Canons of Dort which were the judgment of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), where the Reformed churches rejected the teaching of Arminianism. There is no certainty regarding the origin of the acronym 'TULIP' as specifically used to delineate the five points of Calvinism.
In an aside yesterday Dr Lane referred to their origin as now being placed in the early part of the 18th Century. This link gives the background.

JOC Calvin Extra

One of the nice things about conferences is the opportunity for informal fellowship. It was nice to speak to various people there, including some who visit the blog here from time to time. I guess I know around 60% of the people so a few strangers. It was nice to see the Evesons again and others. I had a nice chat with two fellows from Malta I'd not met before. From this church I believe. It was also nice to see Gavin Peacock too, mentioned here a little while back - see here. He is to study in LTS I understand. I saw he was sat next to Jeremy Walker (brother to Dan) in the evening. I wonder if they chatted.

JOC Calvin 04

For the final paper of the day we were joined by others for the public Lloyd-Jones Memorial Lecture. Sinclair Ferguson spoke very warmly and well on Calvin the man. Great to be there.
There were some reminiscences about Dr Lloyd-Jones and discovering Calvin as a boy and then these points
1. Early life
His birth and situation in Picardy. His "pious" mother who died when he was 6. Schooling. The sinecure that enabled a university education. Paris University aged 14. The great Latin teacher Cordelier. Calvin's brilliant Latin, so clear and brief. A college like a monastery and rather severe that led him to be extraordinarily self-disciplined. Hid father's excommunication and the shift from theology to law in Orleans and then Bourges. Still at this time stubbornly addicted to the Papacy.
2. Conversion
Heard the gospel in undergraduate days. By the time he was back in Paris he was being influenced by
1. The new humanism. (First work commentary on Seneca on clemency). Begins to see hiatus between NT and church.
2. He wanted certainty and he began to see that RC could never give that. Impossible for the ordinary believer. Assurance a great heresy for Rome.
Had converted friends - Cop, Robert, etc.
Conversion unexpected. What passage? Romans 1:18-32 (Battles), Philippians (losing, gaining idea)?
Night of the placards. any arrested and some even executed. By 26 a hunted man, on the run for his life. Yet all he wanted was to be a scholar. Eventually he came to see that he must use his gifts for the Lord. He began with a little paperback 1536 to help Christians and defend the faith.
3. Ministry
Trying to get to Strasbourg he ended up going through Geneva. There Farel detained him and he persuaded him to become a minister there. Geneva had left Rome but Rome had not left them. Tremendous struggle. Constant friction. Led to a crisis when Calvin and others refused communion to all. This led to exile. In Strasbourg Bucer did a Farel and convinced Calvin to stay as pastor to the French - perhaps the happiest period in his life. They tried to find him a wife - unsuccessfully at first but then to the widow Idelette de Bure. They were married 9 years and gave birth to children who died. She too died 1549. Many deaths in Strasbourg.
Besides growing as a pastor at this time he began writing commentaries (Romans first). Wrote other things eg Letter to Sadoleto. This led to an invitation to return to Geneva, which he eventually took up. He remained there the rest of his life. He lived under non-stop opposition as far at least as 1555. Many trials including case of Servetus, of the anti-predestinarian Bolsec (1551) etc. Prayer and the Word changed everything. Extremely busy. Eventually exhausted and given help. All sorts of medical problems.
Downside an irritable man. Also thought he was lazy!
4. Friendships
He was kept going by divine power. However, humanly speaking he was greatly helped by his friends - Cop, Daniel, Farel, Bucer, Viret, Melancthon, his brother Antoine, etc.
5. Lessons
1. The brotherhood principle
2. The apostolic principle
3. The godliness principle
4. The fruitfulness principle
5. The sovereignty principle

Library opening

The official opening of the LTS Library took place tonight. It is to be known a the Alfred Kensit Memorial Library and Mr Kensit's widow officially unveiled the plaque.

JOC Calvin 03

The third session on union with Christ was in the hands of the self-effacing Liverpudlian Paul Wells from Aix. It was not entirely easy to follow but here is the conclusion verbatim
In Calvin’s thought union with Christ is the gospel. The incarnation of Christ is the accomplishing focus of the work of the Trinitarian God in his acts of salvation and union with Christ is its operational focus. The Father is the author of life, of election, the one who justifies and adopts on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
In Christ we find the fountain of life, the mediator with whom we are united in his death and resurrection, issuing in newness of life. The Spirit seals the word of truth in our hearts, bears witness to Christ and is the abiding principle of communion with Christ. From day to day, the Spirit accompanies and mediates the grace of God in Christ to us.
Union with Christ is also central, as we have seen, because it is articulated in harmony with the double grace flowing from the work of Christ, justification and sanctification. The two graces make the potential benefits of Christ actual in the lives of believers. We possess nothing until we are “engrafted into” Christ, until we “put on Christ” and are made “one body” with him, becoming sons of the Father through the secret work of the Spirit. So “we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.”1 None of the benefits of the ordo salutis is possible outside of union with Christ.

Union with Christ is spiritual and mystical, because of Calvin’s articulation of it in terms of participation, engrafting and adoption. However, it remains foreign to the mysticism or deification found in other traditions, because Christ alone is mediator between God and man and it is only in terms of his mediation that the union is construed. “Such a union is possible because Christ took on our human nature, filling it with his virtue. Union with Christ in his humanity is historical, ethical and personal, but not essential. We are not absorbed into Christ, not united to him in such a way that our human personalities are annulled even in the slightest degree.”
Finally, we are united to Christ not just as spirit to Spirit but also, mysteriously, in a bodily sense. As the fountain of life, the risen Christ is the source of present bodily life in the flesh. For Calvin, just as our bodies are animated by our souls, so the living Christ becomes the principle of our life, our bodies are “members of Christ”

“The spiritual union we have with Christ belongs not only to the soul, but also to the body, so much so that we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Ep 5.30). Otherwise the hope of the resurrection would be faint indeed were not our union what it is: namely complete and entire.”

Union with Christ is then a Spirit-forged reality by which we on earth are united to the living, risen, eternal Christ in heaven. This will be the governing perspective of Calvin’s sacramental theology, developed in the Institutes IV, which does not lie beyond the scope of this study, but which time has not allowed us to develop:
“This is the wonderful exchange, which, out of his measureless benevolence he has made with us:
becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; by his descent to earth he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; receiving our poverty for himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself, he has clothed us with righteousness.”

JOC Calvin 02

The second lecture at the John Owen Centre, following lunch, was given by the Calvin scholar Tony Lane from The London School of Theology (LST not LTS!). This was on Calvin's Institutes - it being the anniversary of the final edition this year as well as of Calvin's birth.
He began with a brief introduction looking at
1. The history of the various editions (1536-1559) and what is available in English.
2. Purposes.
He also had a section on the purposes of the book over the years. This ended with a commendation of the value of the work for today provided that we remember its historical context. His final section by way of introduction was on the structure of the book. Calvin has his own structure, of course. Others suggest the Apostles Creed as an underlying structure but that is certainly not so at every point.
3. The nature of the book
Is it a Systematic Theology? Only to some extent. It is not like a modern one. His definition of faith is important. He stresses the personal element in it. As for the nature of the gospel there was a strong commitment to it. He seeks to move people as well as to inform them.
Dr Lane's main section was on
4. Its teaching
He highlighted by way of example
1. Predestination
Here, of course, he was not original and his teaching was not particularly distinctive.
2. The inner witness of the Spirit
This is much more distinctive. On how we know the Bible is true, Calvin was willing to accept that we take the word of the church but he saw the danger of depending on the judgement of men. Rational arguments again have their place. However, it is the inward work of the Spirit that makes the real difference and assures us Scripture is true.
3. Penal substitution
On this currently topical issue Calvin shows great balance. He is carefully nuanced. He is a great example. He makes at least three points
The whole of the incarnation is included in substitution
He clearly teaches that Christ bore our sins on the cross
He speaks of the transfer of guilt. He never says God punished Christ. Christ bore the wrath of God on our behalf. He is adamant that the Father was never angry with his Son.
4. Union with Christ
This is one of Calvin's great themes. He speaks of both heat and light coming from the sun as justification and sanctification do too.
5. Faith and assurance
Though there are Calvinists who practically do not believe in assurance, Calvin saw it as part of saving faith, though he also speaks of the doubts that true Christians almost inevitably have.
6. Christian life
There is plenty on this in The Institutes and the five main chapters were published in separate form. One issue he takes up is what we might call a simple lifestyle. We are to be detached from the things of the world as this is not our home. They are to be received as good gifts from God but despise them as far as they are not our final goal. We use things as far as we need them.
7. Justification by faith
(The hundred or so of us here were given the choice of this or the Lord's Supper and marginally we went for this).
Calvin taught double justification. He also has an oddity when he says that we are accepted by God on the basis of our works when he is wrestling with Cornelius. God accepts us by faith but also he accepts us by reason of works he says - but not when looking at James interestingly. Calvin was always keen to expound Scripture accurately.
Again we had a decent discussion to follow on the title of the work, on the atonement, etc.

JOC Calvin 01

The opening paper at the John Owen Centre Calvin conference was given by Joel Beeke and was on Calvin the Revolutionary. It was very helpful indeed.
Dr Beeke's first concern was to state that Calvin was a man with a holistic, unified way of thinking. There is no real dualism in him. Nevertheless for the purposes of the paper he looked first at Calvin's worldview perspective and then at his views on piety and the Christian life.
1. Calvin's worldview perspective
After sketching something of the history of this idea, labelling it post-enlightenment., he then brought before us four outworkings of what would be claimed as from Calvin's approach today.
1. Neo-Calvinist perspective
Here he took us back to Kuyper's Stone lectures and the idea that Christians should transform culture by being fully involved.
2. The two-kingdom perspective
Daryl Hart's view arises from what Calvin says in the 1559 Institutes 3.19.15 (Battles edition) "Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority."
The focus is on the church and assumes a trickle down effect.
3. The Neo-Puritans (Piper and Co) speaks of a political personal response of love and a rediscovery of transcendence even in the mundane ministries of mercy. They appear to advocate a counter-culture that will eventually transform culture.
4. The old Calvinist approach
These have warned against social involvement as a route to worldliness. Calvin himself speaks of the danger of being alienated from the pursuit of the heavenly life, of being a wanderer if not fixed on Christ. For the old Calvinist if we concentrate on personal godliness other things will look after themselves.
Rather than trying to argue that one or other of these views is more Calvinistic than another, Dr Beeke then drew our attention to Calvin on piety.
2. Calvin on piety and the Christian life
Here we were pointed to true knowledge, heartfelt love, the fear of God, prayerful submission, reverential love, etc. He stressed that this piety is not a private thing. We are interconnected in the church and in society. He drew attention to what Calvin has to say about piety in Book 3 of The Institutes. There he stresses prayer (the chief exercise of faith); repentance; self-denial (inward); cross bearing (outward) which rouses to hope, trains in patience, instructs in obedience, chastens in pride; the present and the future life (complexio oppositorum) where the believer walks the middle road between enjoying this life and seeing it a temporary; obedience (the essence of piety).
Cultural engagement must be understood in the context of piety. Calvin always discusses the natural and spiritual together. There is no spiritual/secular divide for him. Among his key points in this are these -
Our relationship to God the most important thing; the institutional church plays an essential role in a believer's growth; life itself as well as social engagement results in cross bearing; this world is fallen but providence prevents utter chaos and so we should strive for betterment in this world; the context of eternity and the anticipation of glory.
3. Conclusion connecting the two
Part of the problem today is a post-Cartesian way of discussing subjects. When it comes to what appear to us to be two diverse things then what binds them together in Calvin?
1. The glory of God
There is bound to be tension for us in this world but in every area we must keep in mind God's glory.
2. Eschatological hope
This too is important. We need to bear in mind hell too and give due weight to mission and evangelism.
3. We must beware of non-integrated thinking
Living every minute of every day soli deo gloria was the revolutionary teaching of Calvin and it was taken up by the Puritans to a degree of perfection.
A useful discussion followed on modern views of Calvin, political rebellion, etc.

Rhodri and Sibyl wed

It all went off very well on Saturday. It was a very enjoyable today. The church was packed and the reception that followed was brilliant - very relaxed and full of music. Sibyl's dad played a classical guitar piece, her sister sang as did her brother-in-law. Even Rhodri sang - in Welsh! Dylan and Pieter the best men gave excellent speeches.

Rhodri and Sibyl

So tomorrow's the day! People are starting to arrive and there's been a lot of activity getting the chapel decorated and sorting out refreshments, etc, etc. We're very aware of so much kindness and goodwill. It's a great thing to be so closely involved. Our chief concern now is the glory of God in it all.

Pearl and the Puppets

I'm a bit of a sucker for pop music, especially if it's fresh. Heard this last night on Radio 2. It's Pearl and Puppets and is called Because I do. More here. It's as easy to get infatuated with a piece of pop music as it is with a person, as in the song. It's a warning to take care over what's fun what's real.

Paris (Van Leer)

This video features a track called Paris by Thijs Van Leer from his solo album Renaissance illustrated by old postcards found on Flickr and footage of the Eiffel Tower from 1898 found here.

Archive 10b Barren Fig Tree

Last part of the article
In order to do true justice to the passage one has to accept the following three propositions:
1. It was not possible for edible fruit to be on the tree regardless of how much foliage it had put forth
There are two crops for the fig tree, one early and one late. The first is in May or June and the second is in August or later still (consensus of the commentaries and dictionaries consulted). The incident occurs, of course, in April or even March, when, as Mark points out, ‘it was not the season for figs’. It was too soon for the early crop to be ready and too late for anything edible to he remaining from the previous year. ‘There was then no reason to expect fruit upon this tree beyond the promise of its leaves’ (H B Swete, Greek Testament with notes and indices Gospel according to Mark, 1902, 254)
2. Jesus knew that this was the case
Kenneth Wuest suggests that Jesus 'at least hoped to find figs on the tree' and stresses the 'self-imposed human limitations' of the incarnation, while warning against any denial of Christ's basic omniscience. (West, Word Studies Mark, 1950, 219). However, here common sense, a knowledge of his own land, would have been enough to convince Jesus that, regardless of appearances, there could be no fruit on the tree. Gould says ara is illiative here (ie denoting motion into) (Ezra Gould, ICC St Mark's Gospel, 1896, 211) and R Alan Cole states ‘The Greek particle ara suggests that the finding of figs was an unlikely possibility contemplated by the Lord; he was thus in no sense surprised the tree's unfruitfulness as he would have been had it been the time of the regular fruit crop.' (R Alan Cole, Tyndale NTC Mark, 1971, 177).
3. Jesus’ hunger was nevertheless real
J A Alexander fulminates, ‘That this was a simulated hunger, is not only unworthy and irreverent but a perfectly gratuitous assumption as our Lord, by his incarnation, shared in all the innocent infirmities of human nature’ (Alexander, Mark, 1858, reprint 1960, 303). This is where the Lord’s humanity appears, in his hunger not in his supposed ignorance.
An important Scripture for unravelling the remaining difficulties is one apparently ignored by everyone except Calvin. (Harmony of the synoptics Vol 3, Baker ed, 18). That is John 4:31-34. On that occasion Jesus dealt with his hunger by doing the work of God. It is the same here.
After spending the night in Bethany Jesus and his disciples set off for Jerusalem early in the morning. Had he skipped breakfast as Henry suggests? (Commentary Vol 5, MacDonald ed, 526). Being an area rich in figs, dates and olives it was reasonable for him to think of getting something on the way.
Jesus them looks up and sees a leafy fig tree in the distance, ‘a derelict perhaps of some old garden or vineyard’. Perhaps it was in some sheltered hollow and so was more leafy, more precocious (Alford's word in his Greek Testament Vol 1, 1849, 275). Jesus is aware, however, that it is not the season for figs. Immediately, his mind is turned from the natural to the spiritual. A number of Scriptures may have come to mind. Micah 7:1, 2 seems the most likely suggestion.
(Cf Lane, 401, 402. Following Bird he argues that the final clause of v 13 should translate 'and the significant thing about this is that it was not the season for figs'. Such passages come where 'Jesus alludes to the Scriptures without explicitly quoting them.')
What misery is mine!
I am like one who gathers summer fruit
at the gleaning of the vineyard;
there is no cluster of grapes to eat,
none of the early figs that I crave.
The godly have been swept from the land;
not one upright man remains.
All men lie in wait to shed blood;
each hunts his brother with a net.
Christ weeping over Jerusalem is vividly brought to mind (Mt 23:37; Lk 13:13:34). Seeing the beautiful foliage and knowing it all means nothing reminds him of the judgement about to fall on his own people. Cranfield is one of many commentators who notice the careful way Mark has woven the clearing of the Temple into the narrative, 'The best commentary on vv 12-14 and 20f is found in the narrative these verse enframe' (Cranfield, 357).
Many other Old Testament references identify God's people with the fig tree (see list, Lane, 400). Hosea 9, and especially verses 10 and 16, echoes the sentiments found here. Israel was not short of 'foliage' – the Temple and it spiritual, outward and legalistic acts of virtue, a form of godliness. But what was lacking was actual fruit, the fruit of righteousness. Like the fig tree they were 'louder than all the rest in profession, yet behind in performance' (Glover, 208). This was the very thing that John the Baptist had warned about (Mt 3:7-10) and that Jesus too had spoken of (Mk 7:6). Israel's sin was not just the sin of barrenness but of barrenness with the appearance of fruitfulness.
The warning of the enacted parable, for such it was, is still needed today. J C Ryle, in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels applies it admirably (Mark, 1856, reprint 1973, 234)
There was a voice in it for the JEWISH CHURCH. Rich in the leaves of a formal religion, but barren of all fruits of the Spirit, that Church was in fearful danger, at the very time when this withering took place. Well would it have been for the Jewish Church if it had had eyes to see its peril!
There was a voice in the fig tree for all the branches of Christ's VISIBLE CHURCH in every age, and every part of the world. There was a warning against an empty profession of Christianity unaccompanied by sound doctrine and holy living, which some of those branches would have done well to lay to heart.
But above all there was a voice in that withered fig tree for all CARNAL, HYPOCRITICAL, AND FALSE-HEARTED CHRISTIANS. Well would it be for all who are content with a name to live while in reality they are dead, if they would only see their own faces in the glass of this passage.
Let us take care that we each individually learn the lesson that this fig tree conveys. Let us always remember, that baptism, and church-membership, and reception of the Lord's Supper, and a diligent use of the outward forms of Christianity, are not sufficient to save our souls. They are leaves, nothing but leaves, and without fruit will add to our condemnation. Like the fig leaves of which Adam and Eve made themselves garments, they will not hide the nakedness of our souls from the eye of an all-seeing God, or give us boldness when we stand before Him at the last day. No! we must bear fruit, or be lost forever. There must be fruit in our hearts and fruit in our lives, the fruit of repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and true holiness in our conversation. Without such fruits as these a profession of Christianity will only sink us lower into hell.

Archive 10a Barren Fig Tree

It's an age since we've had anything from the archive. In 1991 an article of mine appeared in Foundations (Issue 26) in their exegesis series. It looks at Mark 11:12-14. It had 29 footnotes. I have incorporated these into the text.
The one thing that all the commentators do agree about regarding Mark 11:12-14 is that it is difficult. ‘This narrative bristles with difficulties’, says Cranfield. (Cambridge NT Commentary St Mark 1972, 354) ‘One of the most perplexing in the Gospels’, wrote A M Hunter. (Torch Bible Commentary St Mark, 1949, 110)
For many exegetes problems arise from their approach to Scripture. For Hunter and others like him the story is ‘frankly incredible’. (Hunter, 110) They have two main problems the incident. They find it both 'irrational and revolting' (Bundy, quoted in Nineham, Pelican Commentary St Mark, 1963, 225). Revolting, because the story ‘does not ring true’ (Barclay, Daily Study Bible mark's Gospel, 1975, 314) with their ideas on Jesus’ character. William Barclay speaks of his ‘petulance’ and J B Phillips of Jesus ‘venting his feeling of frustration and despair upon the fig tree.‘ (Peter's portrait of Jesus, 1976, 104). But there is need neither to accuse Jesus of sin nor to see the story as a legendary concretising’ of Luke 13:6-9 for aetiological purposes. (Cf A W Blunt, Clarendon Bible St Mark, 1939, 226 & Hugh Anderson, New Century Bible Commentary, 263f). As Bengel asserts ‘Whatever does not serve Jesus Christ is unworthy to serve any one of mortals.’ (Gnomon Vol 1, 553).
Then there is verse 13 which, for some, makes Jesus’ behaviour irrational. Certainly there is a problem. ‘The juxtaposition of the two seemingly contradicting assertions heightens the difficulties, for the explicit statement that it was not the season for figs appears to make Jesus’ action arbitrary and meaningless’ (William Lane, NICNT Gospel of Mark, 1974, 399). Of course, some are willing to cut the Gordian knot and remove verse 13, even though it is typical of Mark’s asides. (Cf eg 3:30; 5:42; 7:3,4, etc). Surely the better path is to take comfort in the belief the problem is one ‘which evidently the Evangelist did not feel as he deliberately makes it for us.’ (Richard Glover, A Teacher's Commentary on the Gospel of St Mark, 1957, 208). But what is the solution to this apparent difficulty?
A number of evangelical commentators want to find the solution in the possibility of very late or very early figs. (Eg Barnes, Bengel, Cole, Hendriksen, Ryle and Swift in the New Bible Commentary Revised). However, the idea that Jesus would not have looked for figs without some hope of there being any ‘assumes too much’. Vincent Taylor is scathing about such a line of argument and says it has ‘nothing to commend it’. (Gospel according to Mark, 1952, 458). Bengel’s idea that Jesus may have been looking for inedible figs to miraculously transform is fanciful and bizarre (Bengel, 553).

Literary oddities

I thought this page might be of interest to someone. it is Abe books poage of literary oddities and includes titles such as

How to avoid huge ships

The Bible cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The Platypus of doom and other nihilists

(Some caution recommended with the page I now notice)

Sinful excuses

Over on my Benjamin Beddome blog here I have a digest of a sermon where Beddome deals with a series of 8 common excuses. The excuses are

1. Some men will say they have no need to come to Christ
2. Others imagine they are already come to Christ; and the act being performed, they have no need to repeat it
3. Pre-engagement is another excuse which sinners make for not coming to Christ
4. Some say they have tried but cannot come to Christ
5. Others who are deeply bowed down in spirit, do not so much plead their inability, as their unfitness and unworthiness
6. Some stumble at the austerities of religion, and the dangers to which it will expose them
7. It is the fear of some that if they do come to Christ, they shall either be rejected, or dishonour him
8. Many who do not come to Christ now, purpose to do so hereafter


Dewi was 15 the other day. He's been enjoying the week, especially having no school. Our local sorting office is not very reliable at present which has been frustrating. On Monday we all went to Regents Park and today he and I went to Brent Cross for lunch and he bought some jeans. Gail got him the boot. All gone now.


Everyone was talking about the aniversary of the Woodstock festival the other week. One of the headliners then was American blues singer Janis Joplin. Janis's face features here in an audio of the track Janis by Focus from their 1971 album Moving Waves. Jan Akkerman wrote it. Joplin had tragically died on October 4, 1970. I was not a fan of her music but this track is great.

Baner Dewi Sant

I noticed in Wales this summer that the above flag is becoming quite popular. I didn't know what it was at first but on enquiry I discover that it is the flag of St David (see here). Some are proposing that the national flag be as below.

52 JC No 31

On Ephesians 5:28-33 Calvin wrote

It is a thing against nature that any one should not love his wife, for God has ordained marriage in order that two may be made one person - a result which, certainly, no other alliance can bring about. When Moses says that a man shall leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife, he shows that a man ought to prefer marriage to every other union, as being the holiest of all. It reflects our union with Christ, who infuses his very life unto us; for we are flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone. This is a great mystery, the dignity of which cannot be expressed in words.
On May 19, 1539, he wrote to Farel from Strasbourg (when Farel and others were urging him to marry)
I am none of those insane lovers who, when once smitten with the fine figure of a woman, embrace also her faults. This only is the beauty which allures me, if she be chaste, obliging, not fastidious, economical, patient, and careful for my health. Therefore, if you think well of it, set out immediately, lest someone else gets the start of you. But if you think otherwise we will let it pass.

52 JC No 30

Following the death of his wife Idelette, Calvin also wrote to Viret (April 7 1549)

Although the death of my wife has been exceedingly painful to me, yet I subdue my grief as well as I can. Friends, also, are earnest in their duty to me. It might be wished, indeed, that they could profit me and themselves more; yet one can scarcely say how much I am supported by their attentions. But you know well enough how tender, or rather soft, my mind is. Had not a powerful self-control, therefore, been vouchsafed to me, I could not have borne up so long.
And truly mine is no common source of grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my exile and poverty, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the entire course of her illness; she was more anxious about her children than about herself. As I feared these private cares might annoy her to no purpose, I took occasion, on the third day before her death to mention that I would not fail in discharging my duty to her children. Taking up the matter immediately, she said, "I have already committed them to God." When I said that that was not to prevent me from caring for them, she replied, "I know you will not neglect what you know has been committed to God." Lately, also, when a certain woman insisted that she should talk with me regarding these matters, I, for the first time, heard her give the following brief answer: "Assuredly the principal thing is that they live a pious and holy life. My husband is not to be urged to instruct them in religious knowledge and in the fear of God. If they be pious, I am sure he will gladly be a father to them; but if not, they do not deserve that I should ask for aught in their behalf." This nobleness of mind will weigh more with me than a hundred recommendations. Many thanks for your friendly consolation.
Adieu, most excellent and honest brother.
May the Lord Jesus watch over and direct yourself and your wife. Present my best wishes to her and to the brethren.

52 JC No 29

Following the death of his wife, Idelette, Calvin wrote to Farel (April 2 1549)
Intelligence of my wife’s death has perhaps reached you before now. I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief. My friends also leave nothing undone that may administer relief to my mental suffering. When your brother left, her life was all but despaired of. When the brethren were assembled on Tuesday, they thought it best that we should join together in prayer. This was done. When Abel, in the name of the rest, exhorted her to faith and patience, she briefly (for she was now greatly worn) stated her frame of mind. I afterwards added an exhortation, which seemed to me appropriate to the occasion. And then, as she had made no allusion to her children, I, fearing that, restrained by modesty, she might be feeling an anxiety concerning them, which would cause her greater suffering than the disease itself, declared in the presence of the brethren, that I should henceforth care for them as if they were my own. She replied, "I have already committed them to the Lord."’ When I replied, that that was not to hinder me from doing my duty, she immediately answered, "If the Lord shall care for them, I know they will be commended to you."
Her magnanimity was so great that she seemed to have already left the world. About the sixth hour of the day, on which she yielded up her soul to the Lord, our brother Bourgouin addressed some pious words to her, and while he was doing so, she spoke aloud, so that all saw that her heart was raised far above the world. For these were her words: "O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham, and of all our fathers, in thee have the faithful trusted during so many past ages, and none of them have trusted in vain. I also will hope." These short sentences were rather ejaculated than distinctly spoken. This did not come from the suggestion of others but from her own reflections, so that she made it obvious in few words what were her own meditations.
I had to go out at six o’clock. Having been removed to another apartment after seven, she immediately began to decline. When she felt her voice suddenly failing her she said: "Let us pray; let us pray. All pray for me." I had now returned. She was unable to speak and her mind seemed to be troubled. I, having spoken a few words about the love of Christ, the hope of eternal life, concerning our married life and her departure, engaged in prayer. In full possession of her mind, she both heard the prayer and attended to it. Before eight she expired, so calmly, that those present could scarcely distinguish between her life and her death.
I at present control my sorrow so that my duties may not be interfered with. But in the meanwhile the Lord has sent other trials upon me.
Adieu, brother, and very excellent friend. May the Lord Jesus strengthen you by his Spirit; and may he support me also under this heavy affliction, which would certainly have overcome me, had not he, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak and refreshes the weary, stretched forth his hand from heaven to me.
Salute all the brethren and your whole family.