Saturday, January 17, 2009
As we continue to examine the world of bad guys, we will turn our attentions this bi-week to Solomon Grundy. A character it is impossible to actually pin down. Grundy has been everything form a mindless hulk (yes, that does sound familiar, doesn't it?) to a criminal scheming mastermind. He is almost as old as comics, as you can see here his original appearance dates back to the Golden Age. He really cannot be killed - he's a reanimated corpse, so go figure - and he has shown up in more titles fighting more super-heros than almost any bad guy in the DC Universe.
Solomon Grundy may be one of the most "popular" recurring bad guys in comic history - certainly in the DC Universe. My question is - "Why?" There is no character there, no back story, at least not a stable one, and he has morphed into so many things so many times, that there really is no central core that defines Solomon Grundy. He is whatever the current creator wants him to be.
Which, frankly accounts for why he shows up so much - he is the perfect plot device for a heroic comic book. Comics in which Solomon Grundy appears are not about Solomon Grundy - they are about the hero. He is a foe with sufficient power levels to challenge any hero, even hero teams, stretching them, challenging them, basically giving a writer exactly what he needs to develop his heroic character(s) without actually getting the in the way an eclipsing the hero, ala Darth Vader.
Which raises an interesting question. If there is a Marvel analog to Grundy it would be The Hulk. The Hulk has been through more changes than a stripper. But the Hulk books remain quintessentially about Bruce Banner and his alter ego. There is, of course, that whole transformation hook thing that spells the big difference between the two characters, and explains why in the end, the Hulk must be a heroic figure, we like him too much.
But my real point is that comparing these two is an exercise in the writer's art. Grundy may be the perfect plot device in character form, all things the writer needs at anytime. The Hulk takes a very similar basic formula and makes it interesting enough to become a central character.
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Current event - for the record - there is no news here. Characters of this bent have existed before, though never as a title character, at least in the US. Heck there is a Doctor Who (in the current BBC series they are making the contention that he is a super-hero) spin-off show on BBC with gratuitously gay scenes in it. It's just Stan Lee trying to generate heat and sales. Best response? Don't buy.
Friday, January 16, 2009
And last, but not least, the back page gives us coupons. Lots of coupons. Use them all, please. As quickly as possible. Like now. Stop reading this blog’s drivel and go buy yourself some Christianity.My disdain for Christian gee-gaws is well known, which is most of what Dan devotes his post to, well, not MY disdain, but the ugliness of gee-gaws.
But his closing paragraph there set me to thinking - "buying Christianity" - how do we do that? Yep, getting spendy at the Christian bookstore is one way, but I'm thinking there are more insidious ways.
I remember a conversation I had with a pastor not long after he came to a church. His focus on the future of the church was on hiring a lot of part-time staff. I mean a lot. When his plans came to fruition (and they long since have) the number of bodies on the staff was going to be doubled - the part time thing kept the payroll from growing quite that much, but it sure is a passel of people for a moderately sized church.
As we went through his laundry list of what they were going to do, I would point out that we could accomplish the same thing with volunteers and in doing so we would provide ministry volunteers and "recipients" alike. "Not in this day and age, that just doesn't work," came the rapid retort, and he was kind of right.
In adult ed, when one of us with minimal credentials teaches (take myself for example - I did not finish seminary) the response is mediocre. But, if the credentials increase, or better yet, we bring in a pro from a nearby seminary, the numbers blossom.
If we try to organize a large event like Vacation Bible School, when we run it on a volunteer basis, all sorts of little things fall through the cracks, cookies don't show up in a classroom on time or whatever. But if there is a pro about triple checking and cajoling it just all seems to run more smoothly. and when VBS runs more smoothly, registrations rise.
But what does all this really produce - well, easy to consume, non-challenging Church in a box. Think about it. Volunteer teachers have to stretch themselves to teach and while the presentations may be slightly less dazzling, they may cause the attendees to work harder to get the info - which means they just might make it their own. What about when the cookies don't arrive on time? - Maybe there is a lesson in patience in there somewhere.
You see, when we staff up, we make church easy to consume, but also easy to hold at arm's length. It allows us to consume Jesus, but not really digest Him.
You bet we buy Christianity, and with more than those catalogs.
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Thursday, January 15, 2009
Skepticism Does Not Constitute War
One of the classics of the genre is the "mad scientist" bent on science for science sake, without thought to ethical or human consequence. I could not help but conjure up that image when I read this BBC article:
The researchers compared attitudes to nanotechnology in 12 European countries and the US.And although it does not appear in the story, one feels almost compelled to conclude that speech with "'And thus the religious must be crushed lest they stand in the way of real progress! Bwah-ha-ha-ha,' laughed the man in the sparkling white coat with just a hint of evil intent in his voice." Actually, this is how the piece concludes:
They then rated each country on a scale of what they called "religiosity" - a measure of how religious each country was.
They found that countries where religious belief was strong, such as Ireland and Italy, tended to be the least accepting of nanotechnology, whereas those where religion was less significant such as Belgium or the Netherlands were more accepting of the technology.
Professor Dietram Scheufele from the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin, who led the research, said religious belief exerted a strong influence on how people viewed nanotechnology.
"Religion provides a perceptual filter, highly religious people look at information differently, it follows from the way religion provides guidance in people's everyday lives," he said.
The US was found to be the most religious country in the survey, and also the least accepting of nanotechnology.
The researchers say their finding support the idea that underlying cultural beliefs have a stronger influence on opinions formed about nanotechnology than science based information about its potential and pitfalls.Now let's break that down just a little. Technology has moral and ethical consequence. Well, all human action has moral and ethical consequence. And so, as society struggles to deal with and control the consequences of, in this case, nanotechnology, it would seem only natural to call on the experts in morality and ethics. I always thought that was religious people. And yet, what this study attempts to do is paint religion as purely divisive in such matters and hence take it off the table in the discussion. While certainly more gentile than our manically laughing evil scientist, pretty much the same thing.
Professor Scheufele says the findings have implications for policymakers trying to regulate nanotechnology.
Which raises the question that always seems to arise in these religion/science discussion, who is picking a fight with whom? Skepticism about technology and its consequences does not amount to a war between religion and science, what it amounts to is a simple desire to ask if some technologies are worth it.
I cannot help but analogize this with the culture war on religion that has erupted with regards to most recently, same-sex marriage. In both cases, some scientists and some in the LGBT community, wish to do things that traditional religious teaching says has negative moral consequences, or as I like to call them "wrong." So, rather than struggle with those consequences they choose instead to delegitimate the other side of the discussion rather than simply engage in it. That is usually how war starts.
They claim "reason" and reason and tolerance are supposed to go hand-in-hand, and yet they are the ones that act intolerantly.
I keep thinking - it's not about the technology or the behavior, it's about the person. Now that is what the gospel is all about.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I think the Dane was saying that "conversations that 'matter'" are an important part of relationships but they aren't the be all and end all of them. I don't think you can ever get to those until you've gotten good and comfortable with the more superficial and trivial conversations. I mean really, it would be "deep" if my wife and I got into a conversation about the merits of supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism, but that won't "deepen" our relationship near as much as knowing that she likes tulips and I hate fish and me telling some silly story that makes her laugh. Similarly, when it comes to my guy friends, I always enjoy a deep theological conversation, and in the church there is lots of business that needs to be discussed, but those are the conversations of associates. Relationships are built on deep conversations about SEC football and endless "oh yeah, that's nothing, I can top that" stories.Now that is a good point that I want to expand on a bit, but I also want to present a bit of a counter point.
Let's start with the expansion. What is happening in the world of the internet is that social activity/networking is bifurcating from blogging. This is not an either/or question - but a both/and. Blogging is a publishing tool, always has been, always will be. When it first came on the scene, it was used for networking purposes, but that did not change its fundamental nature. Since it was used far more for networking than actual serious publishing, people saw the need for good stuff for networking and behold - Facebook, LinkedIn, and now Twitter. Blogging, now free from the networking load it was never designed to carry becomes, once again, publishing, which is serious.
Now, there is an interplay between the networking and publishing side of things because, unless you are an established name somehow, the networking is how you build audience for the publishing, but they are two very different things.
The point to all this is, if you are on the internet to make friends, etc, then by all means go for the social networking stuff.
Now, the counterpoint. When building relationships, the medium does matter. Indeed deep relationships are comprised of 1000's of trivial encounters, but, at some point, that requires presence - Physical human presence of the other. Otherwise, I think God could have accomplished salvation without incarnation. Each time we are present with the other, we do a mini-incarnation.
Think about the importance of touching - it may be the deep intimacy of marriage, it may be the simple "chuck on the shoulder" between buddies, it might be the butt-slap between team mates, or a hug with friends, but whatever it is, touching matters. Heck with one of my better friends it consisted of beating the crap out of each other, at least until we got to be around 35-40, then it hurt too much.
Technology has a long way to go before it can provide a physical touch.
Right now, Jollyblogger is healing from a most serious illness. I have posted comments, written blog posts, sent emails, and done whatever I could to express my concern and offer prayer for my friend. But what I most want to do is lay hands on him in prayer.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Time was when Christian missions occurred “over there.” Every now and then, the missionary would show up at church dressed like a time traveler, to show slides of exotic places and to enchant the stay-at-homes with tales about the strange diet and customs of the natives. Foreign missions still happen, but that model seems like ancient history. With the new immigration and the increased ease of travel and communication, the mission field has moved into the neighborhood, and every church that has its eyes open is asking every day how to do “foreign missions.”The metaphor is great and I really agree with it, but as I read his introduction just quoted, I could not help but wonder why we insist on the typical slash and burn mission that is referenced?
That poses a problem. Missions has always been the place where the bookish question of “Christ and culture” turns practical. Now, at the same time that missions has become a challenge “right here,” multiculturalists question the very legitimacy of missions. Since the gospel always comes clothed in culture, how, on the premises of multiculturalism, can missionary work be anything but a veiled form of cultural imperialism? From Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, missionaries are depicted as tools of Western hegemony. But, if we’re all missionaries now, are we all cooperating in genocide?
Under the regime of multiculturalism, mission efforts face a cruel dilemma. Either missionaries can preach an uncompromising gospel that will cause everything to fall apart, or they can soft pedal the gospel of God’s judgment and grace in order to permit non-Christian cultures to survive. But is the situation as dire as this? Does the Bible perhaps offer a model for re-conceiving the question in a way that avoids the unhappy choice between compromise and cultural cataclysm?
The answer, I think, is yes. The Bible provides a theology of missions that is neither accommodation to existing culture nor total war that leaves the existing culture in smoking ruins. Mission is more like cultivation, a process of nurturing the hidden but unforeseen potential within a culture. Mission, we might say, is like water. Tertullian said, Nunquam sine aqua Christus—Christ is never without water. Neither is the Church; neither is her mission.
I think it is because we use our own culture to hide from Christ. That's right, we hide behind culture rather than have a genuine confrontation with Jesus. We let the culture stand in for Him.
We keep forgetting the essential ministry of Christ - it was not to change culture, it was not to change behavior, it was not to change "the world" - IT WAS TO CHANGE US. We keep getting things a little backward. Christ changes us, then by simply being those new creatures, our behavior and our culture will change in order to conform to our new nature. But we don't want to change, we want everyone else to change, so we go about trying to change all that stuff.
Next time you have an urge to change anything other than yourself, start with confession of the urge. Drop into self-examination, find out where you failed.
If we all did that, the world really would change.
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Monday, January 12, 2009
What can we do about the hyperactive deadness of so much American Christianity?And from Post II
While reading Michael Horton's generally excellent book, Christless Christianity, it struck me with considerable force why so many Americans recoil from "organized religion" and why they favor an undefined "spirituality" over religion.It seems to me that when you look at these two posts - they answer each other. Christianity is "hyperactively dead" (a phrase I think is a winner!) because organized religion spends so much time focused on "self." In the case of the more traditional mainlines the self is the church - the church serves itself, not the Lord - hence the hyperactivity for hyperactivity is indeed necessary to keep an organization like that running. In the case of the modern evangelical church, the "self" served is the individual, but in this case so much so that the church becomes void of the things that make it church. In both cases people do not find what they are looking for. we are left with either a lifeless husk, or a formless nothing.
Would any sane person desire unorganized courts or an unorganized police force or an unorganized medical service? Of course not. In these areas knowledge and authority are recognized as necessary. But when it comes to spirituality, we are on our own. There is no objective and knowable authority, supposedly. The individual soul discerns what it takes to be sacred (for a season--or a weekend).
But organized religion--religion with creeds and offices and a remembered history--well, that just tramples the untrammeled Self. It imposes (another hated word today) on our dispositions. It challenges the authority of the "I."
It just seems like we never quite get church right. I have met individuals that seem to get the what it means to be a Christian. No, they are not perfect, but they seem to understand that proper balance of claiming righteousness and acting humbly, they seem to grasp the tension, and live comfortably in the "already, not yet." I have seen Christian communities that can grasp such, but generally only for limited periods, but unlike the individuals, when they corrupt they seem to lack capacity for confession and restoration - a corrupted community seems to stay corrupted, unless, of course, it just goes ahead and dies.
I think that is the key - somehow, organizations lack the capacity for confession, for repentance. Why is that? What would it look like if a church confessed?
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Sunday, January 11, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born at Kelvedon, Essex, England, in 1834. He was one of the most powerful and popular preachers of his time, and his extraordiniary force of character and wonderful enthusiasm attracted vast audiences. His voice was unusually powerful, clear and melodious, and he used it with consummate skill. In the preparation of sermons he meditated much but wrote scarcely a word, so that he was in the truest sense a purely extemporaneous speaker. Sincerity, intensity, imagination and humor, he had in pre-eminent degree, and an Engiish style that has been described as “a long bright river of silver speech which unwound, evenly and endlessly, like a ribbon from a revolving spool that could fill itself as fast as it emptied itself.” Thirty-eight volumes of his sermons were issued in his lifetime and are still in increasing demand. Dr. Robertson Nicoll says: “Our children will think more of these sermons than we do; and as I get older I read them more and more.” He died in 1892.
But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night? - Job 35:10.
Elihu was a wise man, exceeding wise, though not as wise as the all-wise Jehovah, who sees light in the clouds, and finds order in confusion; hence Elihu, being much puzzled at beholding Job thus afflicted, cast about him to find the cause of it, and he very wisely hit upon one of the most likely rea¬sons, although it did not happen to be the right one in Job’s case. He said within himself - “Surely, if men be tried and troubled exceedingly, it is because, while they think about their troubles and distress themselves about their fears, they do not say, ‘Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?’” Elihu’s reason was right in the majority of cases. The great cause of the Christian‘s distress, the reason of the depths of sorrow into which many believers are plunged, is this - that while they are looking about, on the right hand and on the left, to see how they may escape their troubles, they forget to look to the hills whence all real help cometh; they do not say, “Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?” We shall, however, leave that inquiry, and dwell upon those sweet words, “God my maker, who giveth songs in the night.”
The world hath its night. It seemeth necessary that it should have one. The sun shineth by day, and men go forth to their labors; but they grow weary, and nightfall cometh on, like a sweet boon from heaven. The darkness draweth the curtains,, and shutteth out the light, which might prevent our eyes from slumber; while the sweet, calm stillness of the night permits us to rest upon the lap of ease, and there forget awhile our cares, until the morning sun appeareth, and an angel puts his hand upon the curtain, and undraws it once again, touches our eyelids, and bids us rise, and proceed to the labors of the day. Night is one of the greatest blessings men enjoy; we have many reasons to thank God for it. Yet night is to many a gloomy season. There is “the pestilence that walketh in darkness”; there is “the terror by night”; there is the dread of robbers and of fell disease, with all those fears that the timorous know, when they have no light wherewith they can discern objects. It is then they fancy that spiritual creatures walk the earth; thoogh, if they knew rightly, they would find it to be true, that
Unseen, both when we sleep and when we wake,”
and that at all times they are round about us - not more by night than by day. Night in the season of terror and alarm to most men. Yet even night hath its songs. Have you never stood by the seaside at night, and heard the pebbles sing, and the waves chant God’s glories? Or have you never risen from your couch, and thrown up the window of your chamber, and listened there? Listened to what? Silence - save now and then a murmuring sound, which seems sweet music then. And have you not fancied that you heard the harp of God playing in heaven? Did you not conceive, that yon stars, that those eyes of God, looking down on you, were also mouths of song - that every star was singing God’s glory, singing, as it shone, its mighty Maker, and His lawful, well-deserved praise? Night hath its songs. We need not much poetry in our spirit, to catch the song of night, and hear the spheres as they chant praises which are loud to the heart, though they be silent to the ear - the praises of the mighty God, who bears up the unpillared arch of heaven, and moves the stars in their courses.
If we are going to sing of the things of yesterday, let us begin with what God did for us in past times. My beloved brethren, you will find it a sweet subject for song at times, to begin to sing of electing love and covenanted mercies. When thou thyself art low, it is well to sing of the fountain-head of mercy; of that blest decree wherein thou wast ordained to eternal life, and of that glorious Man who undertook thy redemption; of that solemn covenant signed, and sealed, and ratified, in all things ordered well; of that everlasting love which, are the hoary mountains were begotten, or are the aged bills were children, chose thee, loved thee firmly, loved thee fast, loved thee well, loved thee eternally. I tell thee, believer, if thou canst go back to the years of eternity; if thou canst in thy mind run back to that period, or are the everlasting bills were fashioned, or the fountains of the great deep scooped out, and if thou canst see thy God inscribing thy name in His eternal book; if thou canst see in His loving heart eternal thoughts of love to thee, thou wilt find this a charming means of giving thee songs in the night. No songs like those which come from electing love; no sonnets like those that are dictated by meditations on discriminating mercy. Some, indeed, cannot sing of election: the Lord open their mouths a little wider! Some there are that are afraid of the very term; but we only despise men who are afraid of what they believe, afraid of what God has taught them in His Bible. No, in our darker hours it is our joy to sing:
Who in Jesus Christ believe;
By eternal destination,
Sovereign grace we now receive.
Lord, thy favor,
Shall both grace and glory give.”
Think, Christian, of the yesterday, I say, and thou wilt get a song in the night. But if thou hast not a voice tuned to so high a key as that, let me suggest some other mercies thou mayest sing of; and they are the mercies thou hast experienced. What! man, canst thou not sing a little of that blest hour when Jesus met thee; when, a blind slave, thou wast sporting with death, and He saw thee, and said: “Come, poor slave, come with me”? Canst thou not sing of that rapturous moment when He snapt thy fetters, dashed thy chains to the earth, and said: “I am the Breaker; I came to break thy chains, and set thee free”? What though thou art ever so gloomy now, canst thou forget that happy morning, when in the house of God thy voice was loud, almost as a seraph’s voice, in praise? for thou couldat sing: “I am forgiven; I am forgiven”:
A sinner saved by blood.”
Go back, man; sing of that moment, and then thou wilt have a song in the night? Or if thou hast almost forgotten that, then sure thou hast some precious milestone along the road of life that is not quite grown over with moss, on which thou canst read some happy inspiration of His mercy toward thee! What! didst thou never have a sickness like that which thou art suffering now, and did He not raise thee up from that? Wast thou never poor before, and did He not supply thy wants? Wast thou never in straits before, and did He not deliver thee? Come, man! I beseech thee, go to the river of thine experience, and pull up a few bulrushes, and weave them into an ark, wherein thy infant faith may float safely on the stream. I bid thee not forget what God bath done. What! hast thou buried thine own diary? I beseech thee, man, turn over the book of thy remembrance. Canst thou not see some sweet hill Mizar? Canst thou not think of some blest hour when the Lord met with thee at Hermon? Hast thou never been on the Delectable Mountains? Hast thou never been fetched from the den of lions? Hast thou never escaped the jaw of the lion and the paw of the bear? Nay, 0 man, I know thou hast; go back, then, a little way, and take the mercies of yesterday; and the it is dark now, light up the lamps of yesterday, and they shall glitter through the darkness, and thou shalt find that God hath given thee a song in the night.
But I think, beloved, there is never so dark a night, but there is something to sing about, even concerning that night; for there is one thing I am sure we can sing about, let the night be ever so dark, and that is, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, and because His compassions fail not.” If we cannot sing very loud, yet we can sing a little low tune, something like this - ” He hails not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” “Oh!” says one, “I do not know where to get my dinner from tomorrow. I am a poor wretch.” So you may be, my dear friend; but you are not so poor as you deserve to be. Do not be mightily offended about that; if you are, you are no child of God; for the child of God acknowledges that he has no right to the least of God’s mercies, but that they come through the channel of grace alone. As long as I am out of hell, I have no right to grumble; and if I were in hell I should have no right to complain, for I feel, when convinced of sin, that never creature deserved to go there more than I do. We have no cause to murmur; we can lift up our hands, and say, “Night! thou art dark, but thou mightst have been darker. I am poor, but, if I could not have been poorer, I might have been sick. I am poor and sick - well, I have some friend left, my lot cannot be so bad, but it might have been worse.” And therefore, Christian, you will always have one thing to sing about - “Lord, I thank Thee, it is not all darkness!” Besides, Christian, however dark the night is, there is always a star or moon. There is scarce ever a night that we have, but there are just one or two little lamps burning up there. However dark it may be, I think you may find some little comfort, some little joy, some little mercy left, and some little promise to cheer thy spirit. The stars are not put out, are they? Nay, if thou canst not see them, they are there; but methinks one or two must be shining on thee; therefore give God a song in the night. If thou hast only one star, bless God for that one, perhaps He will make it two; and if thou hast only two stars, bless God for the two stars, and perhaps He will make them four. Try, then, if thou canst not find a song in the night.
But, beloved, there is another thing of which we can sing yet more sweetly; and that is, we can sing of the day that is to come. I am preaching tonight for the poor weavers of Spitalfields. Perhaps there are not to be found a class of men in London who are suffering a darker night than they are; for while many classes have been befriended and defended, there are few who speak up for them, and (if I am rightly informed) they are generally ground down within an inch of their lives. I suppose that their masters intend that their bread shall be very sweet, on the principle, that the nearer the ground, the sweeter the grass; for I should think that no people have their grass so near the ground as the weavers of Spitalfields. In an inquiry by the House of Commons last week, it was given in evidence that their average wages amount to seven or eight shillings a week; and that they have to furnish themselves with a room, and work at expensive articles, which my friends and ladies are wearing now, and which they buy as cheaply as possible; but perhaps they do not know that they are made with the blood and bones and marrow of the Spitalfields weavers, who, many of them, work for less than man ought to have to subsist upon. Some of them waited upon me the other day; I was exceedingly pleased with one of them. He said, “Well, sir, it is very hard, but I hope there is better times coming for us.” “Well, my friend,” I said, “I am afraid you cannot hope for much better times, unless the Lord Jesus Christ comes a second time.” “That is just what we hope for,” said he. “We do not see there is any chance of deliverance, unless the Lord Jesus Christ comes to establish His kingdom upon the earth; and then He will judge the opprest, and break the oppressors in pieces with an iron rod, and dash them in pieces like a potter‘s vessel.” I was glad my friend had got a song in the night, and was singing about the morning that was coming. Often do I cheer myself with the thought of the coming of the Lord. We preach now, perhaps, with little success; “the kingdoms of this world” are not “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ”; we send out missionaries; they are for the most part unsuccessful. We are laboring, but we do not see the fruits of our labors. Well, what then? Try a little while; we shall not always labor in vain, or spend our strength for naught. A day is coming, and now is, when every minister of Christ shall speak with unction, when all the servants of God shall preach with power, and when colossal systems of heathenism shall be scattered to the winds. The shout shall be heard, “Alleluia! Alleluia! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” For that day do I look; it is to the bright horizon of that second coming that I turn my eyes. My anxious expectation is, that the sweet Sun of righteousness will arise with healing beneath His wings, that the opprest shall be righted, that despotisms shall be cut down, that liberty shall be established, that peace shall be made lasting, and that the glorious liberty of the gospel shall be extended throughout the known world. Christian! if thou art in a night, think of the morrow; cheer up thy heart with the thought of the coming of thy Lord.
There is another sweet tomorrow of which we hope to sing in the night. Soon, beloved, you and I shall lie on our dying bed, and we shall want a song in the night then; and I do not know where we shall get it, if we do not get it from the to-morrow. Kneeling by the bed of an apparently dying saint, last night, I said, “Well, sister, He has been precious to you; you can rejoice in His covenant mercies, and His past loving-kindnesses.” She put out her hand, and said, “Ah! sir, do not talk about them now; I want the sinner’s Savior as much now as ever; it is not a saint’s I want; it is still a sinner’s Savior that I am in need of, for I am a sinner still.” I found that I could not comfort her with the past; so I reminded her of the golden streets, of the gates of pearl, of the walls of jasper, of the harps of gold, of the songs of bliss; and then her eyes glistened; she said, “Yes, I shall be there soon; I shall meet them by-and-by;” and then she seemed so glad! Ah! believer, you may always cheer yourself with that thought. Thy head may be crowned with thorny troubles now, but it shall wear a starry crown directly; thy band may be filled with cares - it shall grasp a harp soon, a harp full of music. Thy garments may be soiled with dust now; they shall be white by-and-by. Wait a little longer. Ah! beloved, how despicable our troubles and trials will ‘seem when we look back upon them! Looking at them here in the prospect, they seem immense; but when we get to heaven, we shall then,
The labors of our feet.”
Our trials will seem to us nothing at all. We shall talk to one another about them in heaven, and find all the more to converse about, according as we have suffered more here below. Let us go on, therefore; and if the night be ever so dark, remember there is not a night that shall not have a morning; and that morning is to come by and by.
And now I want to tell you, very briefly, what are the excellences of songs in the night above all other songs.
In the first place, when you hear a man singing a song in the night - I mean in the night of trouble you may be quite sure it is a hearty one. Many of you sang very prettily just now, didn’t you? I wonder whether you would sing very prettily, if there was a stake or two in Smithfield for all of you who dared to do it? If you sang under pain and penalty, that would show your heart to be in your song. We can all sing very nicely indeed when everybody else sings. It is the easiest thing in the world to open your mouth, and let the words come out; but when the devil puts his hand over your mouth, can you sing then? Can you say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”? That is hearty sing¬ing; that is real song that springs up in the night. The nightingale singeth most sweetly because she singeth in the night. We know a poet has said that, if she sang by day, she might be thought to sing no more sweetly than the wren. It is the stillness of the night that makes her song sweet. And so doth a Christian’s song become sweet and hearty, because it is in the night.
Again: the songs we sing in the night will be lasting. Many songs we hear our fellow¬ creatures singing in the streets will not do to sing by-and-by; I guess they will sing a different kind of tune soon. They can sing nowadays any rollicking, drinking songs; but they will not sing them when they come to die; they are not exactly the songs with which to cross Jordan’s billows. It will not do to sing one of those light songs when death and you are having the last tug. It will not do to enter heaven singing one of those unchaste, unholy sonnets. No; but the Christian who can sing in the night will not have to leave off his song; he may keep on singing it forever. He may put his foot in Jordan’s stream, and continue his melody; be may wade through it, and keep on singing still, and land himself safe in heaven; and when he is there, there need not be a gap in his strain, but in a nobler, sweeter strain he may still continue singing His power to save. There are a great many of you that think Christian people are a very miserable set, don ‘t you? You say, “Let me sing my song.” Ay, but, my dear friends, we like to sing a song that will last; we don’t like your songs; they are all froth, like bubbles on the beaker, and they will soon die away and be lost. Give me a song that will last; give me one that will not melt. Oh, give me not the dreamster‘s gold! he hoards it up, and says, “I ‘m rich”; and when he waketh, his gold is gone. But give me songs in the night, for they are songs I sing forever.
Again: the songs we warble in the night are those that show we have real faith in God. Many men have just enough faith to trust God as far as they can see Him, and they always sing as far as they can see providence go right; but true faith can sing when its possessors cannot see. It can take hold of God when they cannot discern Him.
Songs in the night, too, prove that we have true courage. Many sing by day who are silent by night; they are afraid of thieves and robbers; but the Christian who sings in the, night proves himself to be a courageous character. It is the bold Christian who can sing God’s sonnets in the darkness.
He who can sing songs in the night, too, proves that he has true love to Christ. It is not love to Christ to praise Him while everybody else praises Him; to walk arm in are with him when He has the crown on His head is no great deed, I wot; to walk with Christ in rags is something. To believe in Christ when He is shrouded in darkness, to stick hard and fast by the Savior when all men speak ill of Him and forsake Him - that is true faith. He who singeth a song to Christ in the night, singeth the best song in all the world; for He singeth from the heart.
I am afraid of wearying you; therefore I shall not dwell on the excellences of night songs, but just, in the last place, show you their use.
It is very useful to sing in the night of our troubles, first, because it will cheer ourselves. When you were boys living in the country, and had some distance to go alone at night, don‘t you remember how you whistled and sang to keep your courage up? Well, what we do in the natural world we ought to do in the spiritual. There is nothing like singing to keep your spirits alive. When we have been in trouble, we have often thought ourselves to be well-nigh overwhelmed with difficulty; and we have said, “Let us have a song.” We have begun to sing; and Martin Luther says, “The devil cannot bear singing.” That is about the truth; he does not like music. It was so in Saul‘s days: an evil spirit rested on Saul; but when David played on his harp, the evil spirit went away from him. This is usually the case: if we can begin to sing we shall remove our fears. I like to hear servants sometimes humming a tune at their work; I love to hear a plowman in the country singing as he goes along with his horses. Why not? You say he has no time to praise God; but he can sing a song - surely he can sing a Psalm, it will take no more time. Singing is the best thing to purge ourselves of evil thoughts. Keep your mouth full of songs, and you will often keep your heart full of praises; keep on singing as long as you can; you will find it a good method of driving away your fears.
Sing, again, for another reason: because it will cheer your companions. If any of them are in the valley and in the darkness with you, it will be a great help to comfort them. John Bunyan tells us, that as Chris¬tian was going through the valley he found it a dreadful dark place, and terrible demons and goblins were all about him, and poor Christian thought he must perish for certain; but just when his doubts were the strongest, he heard a sweet voice; he listened to it, and he heard a man in front of him saying, “Yea, when I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Now, that man did not know who was near him, but he was unwittingly singing to cheer a man behind. Christian, when you are in trouble, sing; you do not know who is near you. Sing, perhaps you will get a companion by it. Sing! perhaps there will be many a heart cheered by your song. There is some broken spirit, it may be, that will be bound up by your sonnets. Sing! there is some poor distrest brother, perhaps, shut up in the Castle of Despair, who, like King Richard, will hear your song inside the walls, and sing to you again, and you may be the means of getting him a ransom. Sing, Christian, wherever you go; try, if you can, to wash your face every morning in a bath of praise. When you go down from your chamber, never go to look on man till you have first looked on your God; and when you have looked on Him, seek to come down with a face beaming with joy; carry a smile, for you will cheer up many a poor way-worn pilgrim by it.
One more reason; and I know it will be a good one for you. Try and sing in the night, Christian, for that is one of the best arguments in all the world in favor of your religion. Our divines nowadays spend a great deal of time in trying to prove Christianity against those who disbelieve it. I should like to have seen Paul trying that! Elymas the sorcerer withstood him: how did our friend Paul treat him? He said, “Oh, full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of the righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” That is about the politeness such men ought to have who deny God’s truth. We start with this assumption: we will prove that the Bible is God’s word, but we are not going to prove God’s word. If you do not like to believe it, we will shake hands, and bid you good-by; we will not argue with you. The gospel has gained little by discussion. The greatest piece of folly on earth has been to send a man round the country, to follow another up who has been lecturing on infidelity just to make himself notorious.
Why, let them lecture on; this is a free country; why should we follow them about? The truth will win the day. Christianity need not wish for controversy; it is strong enough for it, if it wishes it; but that is not God’s way.
God ‘s direction is, “ Preach, teach, dogmatize.” Do not stand disputing; claim a divine mission; tell men that God says it, and there leave it. Say to them, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned”; and when you have done that, you have done enough. For what reason should our missionaries stand disputing with Brahmins? Why should they be wasting their time by attempting to refute first this dogma, and then another, of heathen¬ism? Why not just go and say, “The God whom ye ignorantly, worship, I declare unto you; believe me, and you will be saved; believe me not, and the Bible says you are lost.” And then, having thus asserted God’s word, say, “I leave it, I declare it unto you; it is a thing for you to believe, not a thing for you to reason about.”
Religion is not a thing merely for your intellect; a thing to prove your own talent upon, by making a syllogism on it; it is a thing that demands your faith. As a messenger of heaven, I demand that faith; if you do not choose to give it, on your own head be the doom, if there be such, if there be not, you are prepared to risk it. But I have done my duty; I have told you the truth; that is enough, and there I leave it. Oh, Christian, instead of disputing, let me tell thee how to prove your religion. Live it out!
Live it out! Give the external as well as the internal evidence; give the external evidence of your own life. You are sick; there is your neighbor who laughs at religion; let him come into your house. When he was sick, he said, “Oh, send for the doctor”; and there he was fretting, and fuming, and whining, and making all manner of noises. When you are sick, send for him, tell him that you are resigned to the Lord’s will; that you will kiss the chastening rod; that you will take the cup, and drink it, because your Father gives it.
You do not need to make a boast of this, or it will lose all its power; but do it because you cannot help doing it. Your neighbor will say, “There is something in that.” And when you come to the borders of the grave - he was there once, and you heard how he shrieked, and how frightened he was - give him your hand, and say to him, “Ah! I have a Christ that will do to die by; I have a religion that will make me sing in the night.” Let me hear how you can sing, “Victory, victory, victory!” through Him that loved you. I tell you, we may preach fifty thousand sermons to prove the gospel, but we shall not prove it half so well as you will through singing in the night. Keep a cheerful frame; keep a happy heart; keep a contented spirit; keep your eye up, and your heart aloft, and you prove Christianity better than all the Butlers, and all the wise men that ever lived. Give them the analogy of a holy life, and then you will prove religion to them; give them the evidence of internal piety, developed externally, and you will give the best possible proof of Christianity.
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