Inescapable Artistic Standards

“Until the artistic impulse is eradicated more thoroughly from human life than has so far been done, even by the best efforts of the metallic civilization of our day, we cannot get rid of the categories of good and bad or high and low in the field of art” (J. Gresham Machen, as quoted in Richard Taylor, A Return to Christian Culture, p. 22).

The Death of Scandal in the Death of Jesus

“Ultimately, it was Jesus’ public execution and not his public ministry that consummated the biblical revelation, inspired the New Testament, launched the Christian movement, and eventually led to the anthropological crisis in which we now find ourselves. As the first Christians moved beyond the Jewish cultural orbit into the wider Greco-Roman world, they found people bewildered by the idea that ht world had been saved by a young Jew condemned by his co-religionists and publicly executed as a political nuisance by the Roman authorities. There was an understandable tendency to make the gospel more intelligible to the Greek world by downplaying the crucifixion and stressing instead the teachings of Jesus” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 217).

The Politics of Fruitfulness

Introduction:

What does it mean to be pro-life across the board? We know, of course, that abortion-on-demand is a gross violation of the law of God, and we also know that biblical parents are really “into” their kids. But the question is much larger than this, and so we need to consider the politics of fruitfulness.

The Text:

“In the multitude of people is the king’s honour, but in the want of people is the destruction of a prince”

(Prov. 14:28).

Overview:

This short proverb is not really ambiguous. What is being said here? As with many proverbs, the sentiments of each half of the proverb are juxtaposed. The first half of the proverb says that a large population is a glory for a king. The second half points to the disaster that awaits a political state when there is a dearth of people. The word for destruction here means destruction—ruination.

Children of Issachar

There is a wonderful comment in 1 Chronicles of a blessing that had come to the tribe of Issachar. “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do . . .” (1 Chron. 12:32). This being the case, there were no doubt lots of little kids of Issachar growing up in that same understanding.

There are numerous reasons for a message like this. First, we live in a day when genuine fruitfulness is regarded with genuine suspicion. If you tell a modern New York sophisticate that you are from Idaho and that you have five kids, he will look at you as though you need to retreat back into your cave. Second, we need to be reminded from time to time that the Bible is not a “spiritual” book. By saying this, I don’t mean that Holy Spirit didn’t inspire it; rather, I mean that the dualism that we learned from modernity, the dualism that separates realms of faith and realms of reason into separate compartments, is an unholy dualism. The Bible is authoritative over all of life, and this includes the part of life that requires you to get a van instead of a small two-door. And third, we need to think through this because we want to be like the men of Issachar. We are not looking at our Bibles clearly if we are not looking at our times clearly. This means that faithful preaching is not just exegesis.

Some Qualifications:

This is not a message on birth control considered as a private family matter. When the Scripture is silent, we want to be silent as well. Nothing said here should be taken as a legalistic intrusion into the decision-making of a biblical family. But at the same time, this principle also means that when Scripture speaks, we want to speak just as loudly. And the Bible says, in numerous places, that fruitfulness is a blessing (e.g. Gen. 9:1, 7; Lev. 26:9; Dt. 28:2-6; Ps. 127; 128). Like all blessings, it can be mismanaged—large families are not automatically happy families. But everything else being equal, a blessing remains a blessing. The point that our passage is making, however, is that such a blessing is not just a private, family blessing. Fruitfulness is a political act.

An additional qualification is this: this message is not being preached because our congregations are somehow falling short in this matter. Demographically, a given population’s replacement rate is 2.1. children per couple. If that is the average, then 1,000 people today will be 1,000 people fifty years from now, and two hundred years from now. A rate significantly below that indicates that the culture is in a death spiral. Above that, the population is growing. The United States leads the developed world with a rate that is right about 2.1. Canada is at 1.5. Germany and Austria are at 1.3. Russia and Spain bring up the rear at 1.2 children per woman. Our two congregations average about 3 children per family. So this is not what you would call a scolding sermon. Rather, we should seek to understand the significance of this blessed obedience. It is not enough to be doing what comes naturally; we should seek to understand it in the light of God’s word.

Overpopulation?

We have been repeatedly catechized by our secularist leaders, and have been told that we have a population crisis all right—an over population crisis. But what is over population exactly? When a given population cannot feed itself, it would be fair to say that there are too many people. But this actually means that there are too many people who are not living under the blessing of God. The sin of unbelief looks at people as consumers. But faith sees people more as producers. After all, you were born into the world with just one mouth, and with two hands. What do you have when you have a population that produces more than it consumes? Wealth. What do you have when a population consumes more than it produces? Poverty . . . and overpopulation.

One Other Thing:

When this judgment happens, when this disaster befalls a particular culture, the Lord’s hand is in it. The prophet Amos asks, “When disaster befalls a city, have not I the Lord done it?” (Amos 3.6).This particular kind of ruination is not an exception. And in the modern world, we have added a twist that will make the disaster, when it finally comes, more complete and devastating. The secular West has built up a huge entitlements state, as an unquestioned ideal, which requires a young population paying into it.

Opportunity:

Faith sees opportunity in the world that God made, and in the way God governs that world. Unbelief always sees insurmountable obstacles. Joshua and Caleb saw cities that could be conquered. The other ten spies saw cities that would be fiercely defended. And so it was to them, according to their faith.

All Who Hate Wisdom Love Death:

This is what Lady Wisdom says in the book of Proverbs (8: 15, 36). “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice . . . all they that hate me love death.” And this is precisely what we see around us. The culture that rejects biblical wisdom is the culture of death and fruitlessness. Think about this for a moment. Abortion and homosexual marriage are not just cultural sins for which there will be judgment at the Last Day. They are sins that bring their judgment with them. Seventy percent of all pregnancies in Russia end in abortion. This is clearly an aspect of the judgment itself. The opposite is also true. Those who love the God of wisdom, who love Lady Wisdom, know what it is to love life.

Nobility in Narnia

What does it mean to be noble? What is false nobility? And what does it mean to fail in nobility? These are all questions that will be answered if you read the Narnia stories they way they really ought to be read. Like Shasta in The Horse and His Boy, we too often have a distorted view of nobility. “He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave” (p. 75).


Probably the best picture of what true nobility is like is found in The Horse and His Boy. Shasta, who was brought up as a Calormene peasant, has quite a shock when he sees the nobility of the Narnian lords and ladies for the first time.



“Most of them had legs bare to the knee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colors—woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue” (p. 58).


“A few were bareheaded. The swords at their sides were long and straight, not curved like Calormene scimitars” (p. 58).


And here is the important question—what did Shasta think of them?



“And instead of being grave and mysterious like most most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he’d never seen anything so lovely in his life” (p. 58).


But just a few pages before, we had learned what Calormene heroes and gods were like.



“Great statues of the gods and heroes—who are mostly impressive rather than agreeable to look at—rose on shining pedestals” (p. 56).


One of the central characteristics of true nobility in Narnia is that it is merry. For example, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, what is Lord Bern’s family like? “Bern and his gracious wife and merry daughters made them good cheer” (p. 49-50).


In The Horse and His Boy, what was the royal celebration of Archenland like?



“And the wine flowed and tales were told and jokes were cracked, and then silence was made and the King’s poet with two fiddlers stepped out into the middle of the circle. Arvaris and Cor prepared themselves to be bored, for the poetry they knew was the Calormene kind, and you know now what that was like” (p. 221).


Nobility shows in the face. Nobility affects the way the characters look. In The Silver Chair, what did the snow dancers then see? “For now they saw the Prince” (p. 224). And what did he bear on his face?



“That look is in the face of all true Kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King” (p. 225).


And this works the other way too. We see that Edmund’s treachery—disloyalty is one of the most basic ways to reject nobility—was written on his face.



“‘I didn’t like to mention it before (he being your brother and all) but the moment I set eyes on that brother of yours I said to myself, ‘Treacherous.’ He had the look of one who has been with the Witch and eaten her food’” (p. 85).


The fact is that nobility or treachery can be seen at a glance in Narnia. The same is often true here as well, but when it happens the people who see it have to be careful to keep it to themselves. They might find themselves in a lawsuit, accusing them of the discriminatory practice of “lookism.”


Nobility is honest and keeps its word. In Prince Caspian, how does Nikabrik deal with his oath? “‘Court manners, court manners,’ sneered Nikabrik” (p. 165). This shows that he was an ignoble character. A vow taken is obligatory, and cannot be dismissed as mere ceremony.


Nobility is sacrificial. In Narnia, nobility has obligations and involves things completely different than parading around with your nose in the air. We see this in how Rilian speaks the code of sacrifice for a lady. “‘Then, Madam,’ said the Prince, ‘you shall see us die fighting around you’ (p. 197). Nobility is not putting on airs. Nobility is the assumption of responsibility.


The same kind of thing happens in The Horse and His Boy. The Narnians were a chivalrous people.



“‘As to that,’ said the King, ‘I do not doubt that every one of us would sell our lives dearly in the gate and they would not come at the Queen but over our dead bodies’” (p. 70).


So nobility is closely related to this idea of sacrifice. In The Last Battle, what last message does King Tirian receive from Roonwit the centaur?



“‘I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy’” (p. 103).


Where does nobility come from? In Prince Caspian, Edmund goes to issue the challenge of combat to King Miraz. He had been transformed from a small English schoolboy, and a kingly air had returned to him. What was Edmund like now? “Aslan had breathed on him at their meeting and a kind of greatness hung about him” (p. 179). This greatness is what the Bible describes as majesty (1 Chron. 29:25). How does this strike the Telmarines? Edmund was “‘a kinglier man than ever Miraz was’” (p. 179). This means that nobility—in this case a kingly majesty—is a gift of Aslan. In our world, of course, this means that it is a grace from God.


Nobility is the opposite of arrogance and pride. The older expression—noblesse oblige—captures this nicely. Rank is more a matter of responsibility than privilege. When Eustace, Lucy and Edmund come to the Dawn Treader, it is important to note that King Caspian gives up his cabin for the lady. Drinian objects to this.”‘I beseech your Majesty—’ said Drinian” (p. 25).


In contrast, the ignoble character of Eustace is revealed clearly. “‘They call him a King. I said I was a Republican but he had to ask me what that meant! He doesn’t seem to know anything at all’” (p. 31). We also see this in Eustace’s attitude toward women, where he wants men and women to be “equal” so that he doesn’t have to give anything up.



“‘C. says that’s because she’s a girl. I tried to make him see what Alberta says, that all that sort of thing is really lowering girls, but he was too dense’” (p. 31).


Like all good things in a sinful world, nobility has its counterfeits. For example, grandeur is not nobility, but it might fool you. What kind of place was Charn, according to the former Queen of it?



“‘That is the door to the dungeons,’ she would say, or ‘That passage leads to the principal torture chambers,’ or ‘This was the old banqueting hall where my great-grandfather bade seven hundred nobles to a feast and killed them all before they had drunk their fill. They had had rebellious thoughts’” (p. 61).


What kind of city had Charn been?



“‘It is silent now. But I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves, the thunder of chariots, and the sacrificial drums beating in the temples’” (p. 65).


And what was the difference between Jadis in Charn and Jadis in London?



“In Charn, she had been alarming enough. In London, she was terrifying” (pp. 74-75).


But this grandeur is more impressive than it is truly noble.



“But even her height was nothing compared with her beauty, her fierceness, and her wildness. She looked ten times more alive than most of the people one meets in London” (p. 75.)


Doing something on a grand scale is not the same thing as nobility. It is what might be called the “special effects” view of nobility, but it is mere spectacle. If the explosions are big enough, we think it is a good movie. If the stadium is large enough, we think the athletes are great. If there are enough lasers and dry ice, we think the band knows how to play. But nobility is a qualitative thing, not a quantitative thing at all.


One of the strange things about the Christian faith is that we learn that we have duties to our enemies, even if they are enemies we are trying to kill. As Emeth put it, “‘Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?’” (p. 184). For example, in Prince Caspian, what did Peter let Miraz do? When Miraz fell during their duel, he stepped back to let him rise. “‘Need he be as gentlemanly as that? I suppose he must’” (p. 194). And after the victory, how were the Telmarine prisoners handled? “. . . firmly but without taunts or blows . . .” (p. 210).


In The Last Battle, what evil thing do the Dwarfs do? Well, they start shooting the horses, and this causes Eustace to lose it. And how does Tirian instruct Eustace? It is a great lesson in nobility.



“It was the Dwarfs who were shooting and—for a moment Jill could hardly believe her eyes—they were shooting the Horses . . . ‘Little Swine,’ shrieked Eustace, dancing in his rage. ‘Dirty, filthy, treacherous little brutes.’ . . . ‘And peace, Eustace. Do not scold, like a kitchen-girl. No warrior scolds. Courteous words or else hard knocks are his only language’” (pp. 138-139).


How you fight is very important. What happens when the king finds out that Talking Horses were enslaved? “Next moment both the Calormenes lay dead, the one beheaded by Tirian’s sword and the other gored through the heart by Jewel’s horn” (p. 27).


But then, how does Tirian’s conscience strike him? “‘But to leap on them unawares—without defying them—while they were unarmed—faugh! We are two murderers, Jewel. I am dishonored forever’” (p. 30).


The importance of this lesson is one of the reasons Emeth hated the mission into Narnia.



“‘. . . and to work by lies and trickery, then my joy departed from me. And most of all when I found we must wait upon a Monkey, and when it began to be said that Tash and Aslan were one, then the world became dark in my eyes’” (p. 185).


Nobility is fundamentally a question of character, or substance. But it necessarily works its way out into our manners, the way we behave toward one another in the “little things.” In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, why does Reepicheep not fight Eustace? “‘To the convenience of a lady,’ said Reepicheep, ‘even a question of honor must give way – at least for the moment’” (p. 17). And how are Eustace, Edmund and Lucy and Reepicheep honored when they depart for the edge of the world? “The Dawn Treader flew all her flags and hung out her shields to honor their departure” (p. 241). In The Horse and His Boy, how does Aravis meet Cor? “‘The Prince bowed, and a very clumsy bow for a Prince it was. Aravis curtsied in the Calormene style (which is not like ours) and did it very well because, of course, she had been taught how” (p. 203). In Narnia, manners are a way of showing honor to others. In Calormene, manners (at least some of them) were a means of requiring people to dishonor themselves for your sake. “And of course it is only before royalties that people walk backward” (p. 105).


In short, this means that true nobility is a way of showing love; it is a demeanor that loves to give. False nobility is self-seeking. Because false nobility has been so rampant in our world, many people (even good people) have reacted against the very idea of nobility. We still need it, but in the modern world we are unable to find it anywhere. And so, I would suggest that one of the better places to look for it is in Narnia. And when you have found it, you may certainly bring it back—like Digory did with the apple that Aslan gave him.

Deep Lessons for a Shallow People

Israel has already been warned against chauvinism because of their election by God (7:6-10), and against economic smugness because of their coming prosperity (8:17ff). And here they are warned against the moral self-righteousness that afflicts those who are granted military superiority. “Hear, O Israel: Thou are to pass over Jordan this day . . .” (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Recall that this is a continued exposition of the first commandment, the command not to have any other gods before or in place of the one true God. Moral self-righteousness is a clear way to violate this commandment. A great victory is coming, but it is the Lord’s victory, and not the result of Israel’s righteousness (vv. 1-6). The land was given to them to fulfill God’s word to their fathers, and because of the wickedness of the Canaanites. The point that Israelite righteousness was not the cause is driven home with examples of their unfaithfulness, which actually continued down to the present (v. 7). And the first was the incident with the golden calf (vv. 8-21).

The Canaanites were expelled because of their unrighteousness. But the Israelites were not selected to do it because of their outstanding righteousness. The nations to be displaced are great indeed (vv. 1-2). But the Lord, a consuming fire, will go before Israel and destroy them (v. 3). This word destroy is important here. The perennial temptation that accompanies all military victories is the temptation to a moral self-righteousness. But several times in this context they are told it is not because of their own righteousness (vv. 4-5). The conquest is because of wickedness among the Canaanites, and because of God’s covenant faithfulness (v. 5). And they are told again that their righteousness was not the cause (v. 6).

In the previous chapter, God told them to remember His covenant, His laws. Here He says they are also to remember their own dismal record (v. 7). The incident with the golden calf provides an outstanding example. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and there received the ten words, the law of the covenant (vv. 8-13). While there, the people made a molten image, and God threatened to destroy them (v. 14). Look at your people, He says (v. 12). Moses comes down from the mountain still burning with fire, and breaks the tablets of the covenant—broken on day one (vv. 15-17). Moses then intercedes and God spares both Israel and Aaron (vv. 15-20). Moses ground the calf to powder and threw it into the water (v. 21). This disobedience on the part of the Israelites was no fluke. They did the same thing in other situations (v. 22). They did this also at Kadesh-barnea when they refused to enter the land (v. 23). This is their way of doing business (v. 24).

Moses saved the people through his great intercession (v. 25), in which he pled God’s people, God’s promises, and God’s name. He prayed that God would save His people (v. 26). He prayed that God would remember—note that word—the patriarchs (v. 27). If the people are destroyed, then Egypt wouild reproach the name of God (vv. 28-29).

The Sinaitic covenant was truly a gracious covenant. Despite the sins of the people, God invites Moses up to the mountain to renew the covenant again (10:1). God renews the covenant, broken at the very first, and requires that the law be placed in the ark of the covenant, under the mercy seat (vv. 2-3). The covenant of law was a covenant of unbelievable grace. God gives the law again, which Moses brought down to the ark (vv. 4-5). The context of biblical law is always grace and more grace. The preamble of the ten words says that God was the one who delivered them from bondage, which is what biblical law, rightly understood in the context of grace, always does.

That grace continued with Aaron and Eleazar (v. 6). They traveled to the place where the Lord separated the Levites (v. 7). The Levites were appointed to bear the ark, to stand before the Lord to serve Him, and to bless the people in the name of God (v. 8). The Levites had no inheritance of land (v. 9). And so the Lord stayed His hand (v. 10), and commanded a humbled people to enter the land to conquer it (v. 11).

What are some applications? First, we must keep sinful competitors in mind—those who would serve themselves instead of God need to forget their sinfulness. Those who would keep the first commandment must remember it. Second, there is a profound role reversal here. We actually deserve ourselves what we are sometimes called to dispense to others. We must always remember the mysteries of grace. And last, we must guard against military smugness. Few people need the admonitions of this chapter more than modern Americans do, who think that pinpoint accuracy in our cruise missiles means that we are somehow not moral and ethical imbeciles. There are deep lessons here for a shallow people.

Charge It to Christ”s Account

We serve the living God. We are a people who have been ushered into new life. We have heard the word of life declared. This is the bread of life; this is living wine.

Life is a mystery, and only the dead think they understand it. Life is glory; life is movement; life is joy; life is growth; life is grace, from beginning to end. You who have been made alive, consider this. Jesus Christ died in order that you might die. He lives in order that you might live. He gives in order that you might receive, and, following that, that you might give in imitation of Him.

One of your central duties in this Supper is to discern the Lord’s body in one another. You are the body of Christ, and when you quarrel and fight with one another, you are not discerning the fact that you are trying to set Christ at war with Christ. But He will not do that, despite your sinful attempts to get Him to, and He summons you to this Table.

When you arrive here, He tells you that you must discern the body. One loaf, one people, one body. Do not separate yourself from the body in this Supper; do not curl up into a private introspective, self-condemning cocoon. Partake of this meal as you do all others—with your eyes open. Look around, look up and down your row, look ahead of you, and behind. These are your people; you are one with them in Christ.

Are you quarreling with anyone here? Then drop it—charge it to Christ’s account. Do not set one piece of this bread at war with a different piece of it. Are you at odds with your family? Drop it; a right understanding of this meal demands that you drop it.

Be at peace: you are the bread. You are the wine.

Common Era, Humbug!

N.B. This is an old exhortation. It is not really Advent yet. Nor is it 2002. But I stand by everything else.

This is the second Sunday of the Advent season. As Christians, we seek to live our lives before God moment by moment and day by day. Unfortunately, we tend to taper off after this, letting the secularists and compromised covenant members define the months, years, decades and centuries. But we live in an annual cycle because this is how God created the world and us along with the world. If we do not explicitly honor Jesus Christ in the months, years, decades and centuries, then that vacuum will be filled with idols, seeking to define our time, which is exactly what has happened.

Why are we surrounded by civil holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Martin Luther King Day, and so on? Why do we measure our lives by them? Is it because we think independence from Britain is more important than the Incarnation? On paper, no. Practically, yes.

The secularists currently understand this far better than we do, oftentimes going to court over what we think are trifles. But they are not trifles; they are examples of their awareness of the totality of the conflict we are in. This is what lies behind the current push to use B.C.E – Before the Common Era—and C.E.—Common Era—in the dating of years.

But we are servants of the king, our Lord Jesus Christ, who changed history forever. We are His servants, and are now at the beginning of a new church year, approaching the festival of the Incarnation, in the year of our Lord, 2002. If you haven’t sent out your Christmas cards yet, make sure you mark them anno Domini. This is a profound testimony of the cultural potency of an uncompromised faith.

Common era, bah! Common era, humbug!

Root and Fruit

“We must affirm then that at the deepest level there can be no mature Christian character which despises culture, any more than there can be a truly Christian culture which is not rooted in character” (Richard Taylor, A Return to Christian Culture, p. 17).