The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Charnock

I like dead guys

with 13 comments

Dave Bish highlights a  fairly interesting comment/complaint from Phil Whitall:

I read this morning that Josh Harris is a fan of JC Ryle, which in itself is hardly something to get upset about but it did spark this mini-rant. Good for Josh, Ryle is a worthy hero of the faith. But it seems to me that the Yanks get all excited by CS Lewis, CH Spurgeon, JC Ryle, CT Studd and other guys with initials instead of first names. Lewis and Spurgeon in particular are highly exalted, oh and Dr MLJ of course.

On the other hand, if you pay close attention to the names that are bandied around amongst us Limey’s are John Piper, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Rob Bell and whoever else is leading some very large church.

What you don’t seem to find are Brits talking about dead American Christians of any note and any Americans talking about living Brits of any note (our churches are too small).

The whole thing is fascinating and completely unsubstantiated and has the ring of truth about it (everyone should get hold of this piece of jewellery – useful in so many situations).  You should read it all, not least so that you can argue with it.

Because I beg to differ to a degree.  It depends to whom you are listening.  Yes, most of us – sometimes of necessity – interact with the Pipers, Mahaneys, Driscolls, Mohlers, etc. of the evangelical hypersphere.  Our peers and sometimes the wider church is reading them, listening to them, concerned about them, aping them.  I do think it is often the desire to find what works, to discover what will make us (read, “me”) big and successful.  But there is an undercurrent of men and women who have not entirely abandoned those who have gone before us on these shores.

You will find us quoting, at least occasionally, Charles Spurgeon, John Ryle, Matthew Henry, Robert McCheyne, John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Brooks, Hugh Latimer, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Bunyan, not to mention Flavel, Knox, Traill, Eadie . . . I could go on, and I could come forward to men like Poole-Connor and Lloyd-Jones, and back as far as some of the church fathers.  We love those men who have followed Christ, and whom we now follow in the path of Christian discipleship.  We have not forgotten their lives and their lessons, and – in fact – we sometimes get a little bit troubled at the selective embrace offered by some of our American brothers.  Who knew C. S. Lewis was Reformed until he was co-opted by the New Calvinists and given a fairly robust air-brushing in the process?

If we’re going to make C. S. Lewis our patron saint, we should at least listen when he is talking sense.  This is from the introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (”mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

If we followed Lewis here, perhaps we would have a little more discretion and discernment in how far we follow others, and which others we follow, and how slavishly?  In fact, when we listen too long and too hard to the old, sometimes the new get a bit annoyed with us, and accuse us of being crusty, hidebound, and reactionary.  Funny, that.

Samuel Davies (American, but with Welsh roots and long dead, so not a bad note to finish on), wrote a few lines that still decorate my study.  They are worth recalling:

I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me, and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

So, Phil, come hang out with us.  We hang out with the venerable dead, often British, although if they followed hard after Jesus we’re happy to see them sitting on our shelves wherever they hail from.  We listen to them, learn from them, engage with them, debate and even argue with them.  We converse across the years, and enjoy the relief they afford us from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

We like dead guys.

Seeking substance

with one comment

This week has been odd.  I am still snatching at that strange beast called paternity leave, while trying to cover a few bases.  My firstborn son has been having more issues at night than my newborn son, which leaves me with very broken sleep and a fair amount of weariness.  I am also trying to get ahead of the game with some tasks around the house (so the fence that got kicked in last weekend has now been fully replaced, which is nice – it’s actually a vast improvement on the old situation).

puritan-galleryAnyway, the long and short of it is that I have been feeling weary and dull this week.  I have felt the need to have my soul fed on good food.  When I am feeling flat, there is not always a great deal modern that appeals to me.  When I am looking for something to do me good, I look not for something light and quick, but substantial and solid.  I suppose it is like feeling a real hunger, when the spiritual equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King won’t cut it, neither will the new-fangled theological counterparts of an alfalfa, guava and bean-curd wrap from some recent high-street start-up.  I want meat – real spiritual steak, nourishing and dense.  It does not need to be easy to ingest and digest, but rather substantial and profitable once ingested and digested.  I do not need tonnes of the stuff, either – but enough to satisfy my heart and mind and soul.

I want something careful, reasoned, solid.  I want the truth, extensively and pithily, well-ordered and engaging, assured and enjoyed, known and felt.  I want high views of God the Father, ardent views of God the Son, devoted views of God the Ghost.  I want the overwhelming simplicities of the truth and I want its entrancing intricacies.  I want the uplifting and humbling of true worship.  I want my head in the clouds and my feet upon earth.  I want sure guides with clear eyes and warm, pastoral hearts.  I want Jesus Christ applied to my soul in the power of God’s Spirit.  I want my mind touched and my heart fired.  I want my sins exposed and rebuked, my graces cultivated and catalysed, my thoughts directed and instructed, my feelings trained and raised, my Saviour exalted and made glorious in my eyes.

Where do I turn?  Generally, to the Puritans.  I might occasionally head for their forebears – Calvin, Knox, Luther, and the like will sometimes do it for me.  I might seek out their successors – men like Fuller, Spurgeon, Thornwell, or Warfield.  But I will most usually turn to those men of God who represent, in many ways, a high water mark for Biblical Christianity in the United Kingdom.  A few pages of their Scripture-saturated prose will generally give me something to walk away with, however weary and dull I might have been.

This week, it was Stephen Charnock on regeneration with a few propositions explaining the necessity of the new birth.  Nothing staggering, but all soaked in Scripture, pressed down and running over with the realities of God himself.

When my soul desires something of God, after the Bible, I look for someone who will bring the Bible to bear on my soul.  These men of God do so time after time.  Oh, for more of their kind, and more of their spirit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 November 2008 at 18:29

%d bloggers like this: