Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Questions we should not ask #2

We are not to ask Him such a question as that: “Who shall ascend to heaven to bring down Christ? or, who shall descend into the depths to bring up Christ?” (Rom. 10:6, 7). We are discharged to say it in our hearts; and yet the heart is ready to say it when we are hearing the Word, and hearing Christ preached in it: O He is far away; He is in heaven; there is no winning to Him. Nay, but we are not to say so; for He is nigh when His Word is nigh. “He is in this Word of faith which we preach.” Now this Word, says the Holy Ghost, is even in our mouths,
and in our hearts. The Word is in our mouths, and when we find it there we should eat it. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them” (Jer. 15:16). And when the Word is in your mouth, Christ is there, and you should feed upon Him in the Word as well as in the sacrament. And as the Word is in your mouth, so it is in your heart that you may embrace Him.

Ralph Erskine

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the riots and moral relativism

The most insightful analysis of the causes of the recent English riots highlights the role of moral relativism. Encouragingly, this was shared by the Prime Minister. Even though he did not acknowledge where the absolutes would be derived. Another perspective is to see something of the symptoms that engulfed the declining Roman Empire as corroding the West into collapse. If we think this is melodramatic we might consider a decent summary of Gibbon's five basic reasons, as summarised by Tieman H. Dippel in The New Legacy:

  1. The sanctity and dignity of the home were undermined.
  2. Taxation became higher and higher, with public money being spent for free bread and circuses for the people.
  3. There was a mad craze for pleasure and violence, and sports became more exciting, brutal, and immoral as people grew increasingly desensitized.
  4. Armaments were built when the real enemy was the decay of individual responsibility.  
  5. Religion degenerated into mere form and lost its touch with life and no longer had the power to guide people in spiritual directions.
Gibbon speaks generally of the decline in civic virtue as much as economic collapse. It appears that factors 2 and 3 were linked with the boredom of thousands of unemployed Romans who were prone to civil unrest and rioting in the streets. They were bought off by the politicians through free bread and circuses. A rather weak argument has been made that there is a link between the English riots and taxation, because some of the rioters thought they were "getting their taxes back" (even though it will put £100m on the tax bill).  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Questions we should not ask #1

We are not to ask such a question as that: “How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?” (Psa. 73. 11). Indeed, whenever you indulge yourselves in secret sins which you would not have the world to see, the language of your heart is, How does God know? But, He that made the eyes, shall He not see? He that gives man knowledge, shall He not know? Yea, His understanding is infinite. The Lord is the God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. He searcheth Jerusalem as with a lighted candle. Do not question His omnisciency, for as He sees in secret to reward openly them that fear Him, so He sees in secret to punish openly them that fear Him not.

Ralph Erskine

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Greed runs riot: my part in it

There have been a multitude of causes proposed for the England riots  There has been an inevitable left-wing counter-offensive against the simple assessment of the rioting and looting as feral criminality. It is a symptom of severe moral bankruptcy as a nation. It is easy and false to depersonalise the causes by blaming social and economic factors but it is also misleading and facile to isolate all of the responsibility with the individuals involved.

One of the proposed factors is the "culture of entitlement". David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University and a former prison governor observes that:
"It's not just about a particular class, it permeates all levels of society. When we see politicians claiming for flat-screen TVs and getting jailed for fiddling their expenses, it's clear that young people of all classes aren't being given appropriate leadership."

We are speaking of a culture of greed where sin is unrestrained and breaches of the 10th commandment go happily hand in hand with the 8th - if you can get away with it.  (The Larger Catechism rightly includes covetousness as a breach of the 8th commandment). Few will in fact face the consequences of this, just as few are brought to justice for their breaches of the 8th commandment. It's about getting what you want and feel entitled to for nothing whether it be significant sums of money or trainers from JD Sports. It is simply greed without fear of restraint from impotent and discredited authority. Government and society promote greed and the breach of the 8th commandment whether through the National Lottery or a dependence upon excessive and irresponsible consumer spending.

I'm not in the habit of quoting women priests but this writer has at least discerned some of this when she says:
"And what will we do? Continue to promulgate the values that have created this deadly cocktail of haves and have-nots, faithless, hopeless people who have been taught that consumerism is a recreational right and all moral and religious education completely nonsensical? Surely that would be nonsensical."

The question is: why is this happening now? Because it is evident to all that greed can run riot without being effectively checked. Politicians and bankers have proved this. "We're showing the police and the rich that we can what we want". I wonder where they learned that?

It comes closer to home in this analysis:
"Politicians have been part of this process, and some on the left may have even encouraged our young people to riot. The liberal intelligentsia encouraged posh kids to protest and riot over student fees – and now poorer kids have joined in and we are all appalled. How can you complain when you supported such activism only a few months ago?
In a way, we are all responsible for the riots, whether directly or indirectly. We watched the previous government talk up rights for young people but with no mention of responsibilities. We have allowed our welfare system to prop up immoral lifestyles. We have not taught all our young people that an entitlement culture is morally wrong. And we have paid the price for this liberalism. Now we need to collectively grow up and take responsibility for responsibility."

It's a start but if the soul-searching is at all real we need to discover "every man the plague of his own heart". That the seeds and a degree of the symptoms are with us too. "Are there not sins with you, even with you?" Though you were restrained by God's common and/or saving grace from joining with the looters, have we not had our own covetous part in the culture of greed? "When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him" (Ps. 50:18). Are we not seeing the full unrestrained working of what is in our hearts and even in our lives in the obsession with material things? Let us examine ourselves in relation to and pray over the biblical exposition of the 8th commandment that we have in the Larger Catechism

Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man_stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Benefit of Meditation

From Virginia Hugenot
Joseph Hall, The Art of Divine Meditation in Works, Vol. 7, p. 44:

It is not, I suppose, a more bold than profitable labour, after the endeavours of so many contemplative men, to teach the Art of Meditation: a heavenly business, as any that belongeth either to man or Christian; and such as, whereby the soul doth unspeakably benefit itself. For, by this, do we ransack our deep and false hearts; find out our secret enemies; buckle with them, expel them; arm ourselves against their re-entrance: by this, we make use of all good means; fit ourselves to all good duties: by this, we descry our weakness; obtain redress; prevent temptations; cheer up our solitariness; temper our occasions of delight; get more light into our knowledge, more heat to our affections, more life to our devotion: by this, we grow to be, as we are, strangers upon the earth; and, our of a right estimation of all earthly things, into a sweet fruition of invisible comforts: by this, we see our Saviour, with Stephen; we talk with God, as Moses: and, by this, we are ravished, with blessed Paul, into paradise; and see that heaven, which we are loth to leave, which we cannot utter. This alone is the remedy of security and worldliness, the pastime of saints, the ladder of heaven; and, in short, the best improvement of Christianity. Lean it who can, and neglect it who list: he shall never find joy, neither in God nor in himself, which doth not both know and practise it.