A Threefold Cord

March 29th, 2008

Here is an highly competent summary of the Messianic thrust of the Old Testament.

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, Chapter 5, pp.113,114

The most important point here is to keep in mind the organic unity of the Old Testament. Its predictions are not isolated, but features of one grand prophetic picture; its ritual and institutions parts of one great system; its history, not loosely connected events, but an organic development tending towards a definite end. Viewed in its innermost substance, the history of the Old Testament is not different from its typical institutions, nor yet these two from its predictions. The idea, underlying all, is God’s gracious manifestation in the world – the Kingdom of God; the meaning of all – the establishment of this Kingdom upon earth. That gracious purpose was, so to speak, individualized, and the Kingdom actually established in the Messiah. Both the fundamental and the final relationship in view was that of God towards man, and of man towards God: the former as expressed by the word Father; the latter by that of Servant – or rather the combination of the two ideas: ‘Son-Servant.’ This was already implied in the so-called Protevangel; and in this sense also the words of Jesus hold true: ‘Before Abraham came into being, I am.’
But, narrowing our survey to where the history of the Kingdom of God begins with that of Abraham, it was indeed as Jesus said: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he should see My day, and he saw it, and was glad.’ For, all that followed from Abraham to the Messiah was one, and bore this twofold impress: heavenwards, that of Son; earthwards, that of Servant. Israel was God’s Son – His ‘first-born;’ their history that of the children of God; their institutions those of the family of God; their predictions those of the household of God. And Israel was also the Servant of God – ‘Jacob My Servant;’ and its history, institutions, and predictions those of the Servant of the Lord. Yet not merely Servant, but Son-Servant – ‘anointed’ to such service. This idea was, so to speak, crystallised in the three great representative institutions of Israel. The ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to Israel’s history was Kingship in Israel; the ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to Israel’s ritual ordinances was the Priesthood in Israel; the ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to prediction was the Prophetic order. But all sprang from the same fundamental idea: that of the ‘Servant of Jehovah.’
One step still remains. The Messiah and His history are not presented in the Old Testament as something separate from, or superadded to, Israel. The history, the institutions, and the predictions of Israel run up into Him. In this respect there is deep significance in the Jewish legend (frequently introduced; see, for example, Tanch. ii. 99 a; Deb. R. 1), that all the miracles which God had shown to Israel in the wilderness would be done again to redeemed Zion in the ‘latter days.’ He is the typical Israelite, nay, typical Israel itself – alike the crown, the completion, and the representative of Israel. He is the Son of God and the Servant of the Lord; but in that highest and only true sense, which had given its meaning to all the preparatory development. As He was ‘anointed’ to be the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ not with the typical oil, but by ‘the Spirit of Jehovah’ ‘upon’ Him, so was He also the ‘Son’ in a unique sense. His organic connection with Israel is marked by the designations ‘Seed of Abraham’ and ‘Son of David,’ while at the same time He was essentially, what Israel was subordinately and typically: ‘Thou art My Son – this day have I begotten Thee.’ Hence also, in strictest truthfulness, the Evangelist could apply to the Messiah what referred to Israel, and see it fulfilled in His history: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son.’ And this other correlate idea, of Israel as ‘the Servant of the Lord,’ is also fully concentrated in the Messiah as the Representative Israelite, so that the Book of Isaiah, as the series of predictions in which His picture is most fully outlined, might be summarised as that concerning ‘the Servant of Jehovah.’ Moreover, the Messiah, as Representative Israelite, combined in Himself as ‘the Servant of the Lord’ the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, and joined together the two ideas of ‘Son’ and ‘Servant.’ And the final combination and full exhibition of these two ideas was the fulfillment of the typical mission of Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.

Coleridge on Controversy

March 28th, 2008

Here are some striking words from Coleridge, which it is not hard to adapt to current controversies.

“Address Delivered at Bristol” from The Friend, First Section, Essay XVI

The man who would find truth, must likewise seek it with a humble and simple heart, otherwise he will be precipitate and overlook it; or he will be prejudiced, and refuse to see it. To emancipate itself from the tyranny of association, is the most arduous effort of the mind, particularly in religious and political disquisitions. The assertors of the system have associated with it the preservation of order and public virtue; the oppugners, imposture and wars and rapine. Hence, when they dispute, each trembles at the consequence of the others opinions instead of attending to his train of arguments. Of this however we may be certain, whether we be Christians or infidels, aristocrats or republicans, that our minds are in a state insusceptible of knowledge, when we feel an eagerness to detect the falsehood of an adversary’s reasoning, not a sincere wish to discover if there be truth in them;—when we examine an argument in order that we may answer it, instead of answering because we have examined it.
Our opponents are chiefly successful in confuting the theory of freedom by the practice of its advocates: from our lives they draw the most forcible arguments against our doctrines. Nor have they adopted an unfair mode of reasoning. In a science the evidence suffers neither diminution nor increase from the actions of its professors; but the comparative wisdom of political systems depends necessarily on the manners and capacities of the recipients. Why should all things be thrown into confusion to acquire that liberty which a faction of sensualists and gamblers will neither be able nor willing to preserve?

Obviously the example of the Federal Vision controversy leaps to mind. And Coleridge has some good warnings for us in this regard. If your claim is that Federal Vision doctrine (or the Truly Reformed doctrine of its vocal opponents) is scriptural, then it must also be a doctrine according to godliness. And so judging of the truth of the doctrine by the practice of its professors is not a heinous defection from the high standard of real rationality. Of course it is true that a graceless individual may say the truth, and a truthless individual be kind and polite. But if you maintain that your doctrine encompasses the Biblical teaching on salvation, assurance, growth in grace, the right use of the means of grace, and so forth, it is hardly unreasonable to request some demonstration of the beneficial effects of your right teaching: and where better to look for the fruit of that teaching than in the lives of its teachers?

What’s become of books

March 21st, 2008

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria

In times of old, books were as religious oracles; as literature advanced, they next became venerable preceptors; they then descended to the rank of instructive friends; and as their numbers increased, they sunk still lower to that of entertaining companions; and at present they seem degraded into culprits to hold up their hands at the bar of every self-elected, yet not the less peremptory, judge who chooses to write from humour or interest, from enmity or arrogance, and to abide the decision (in the words of Jeremy Taylor) ‘of him that reads in malice, or him that reads after dinner.’

Of course, now we could go a step further, and say that books are largely not read at all.

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

So you have whole populations settling down, as it were, to a lifetime on the P.A.C. [Public Assistance Committee -RZ.] And what I think is admirable, perhaps even hopeful, is that they have managed to do it without going spiritually to pieces. A working man does not disintegrate under the strain of poverty as a middle-class person does. Take, for instance, the fact that the working class think nothing of getting married on the dole. It annoys the old ladies in Brighton, but it is a proof of their essential good sense; they realise that losing your job does not mean that you cease to be a human being. So that in one way things in the distressed areas are not so bad as they might be. Life is still fairly normal, more normal than one really has the right to expect. Families are impoverished, but the family-system has not broken up. The people are in effect living a reduced version of their former lives. Instead of raging against their destiny they have made things tolerable by lowering their standards.
But they don’t necessarily lower their standards by cutting out luxuries and concentrating on necessities; more often it is the other way about—the more natural way, if you come to think about it. Hence the fact that in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased. The two things that have probably made the most difference of all are the movies and the mass-production of cheap smart clothes since the war. The youth who leaves school at fourteen and gets a blind-alley job is out of work at twenty, probably for life; but for two pounds ten on the hire-purchase system he can buy himself a suit which for a little while and at a little distance, looks as though it had been tailored in Savile Row. The girl can look like a fashion plate at an even lower price. You may have three halfpence in your pocket and not a prospect in the world, and only the corner of a leaky bedroom to ho home to; but in your new clothes you can stand on the street corner, indulging in a private daydream of yourself as Clark Gable or Greta Garbo, which compensates you for a great deal. And even at home there is generally a cup of tea going—a “nice cup of tea”—and Father, who has been out of work since 1929, is temporarily happy because he has a sure tip for the Cesarewitch.
Trade since the war has had to adjust itself to meet the demands of underpaid, underfed people, with the result that a luxury is nowadays almost always cheaper than a necessity. One pair of plain solid shoes costs as much as two ultra-smart pairs. For the price of one square meal you can get two pounds of cheap sweets. You can’t get much meat for threepence, but you can get a lot of fish-and-chips. Milk costs threepence a pint and even “mild” beer costs fourpence, but aspirins are seven a penny and you can wring forty cups of tea out of a quarter-pound packet. And above all there is gambling, the cheapest of all luxuries. Even people on the verge of starvation can buy a few day’s hope (“Something to live for,” as they call it) by having a penny on a sweepstake. Organised gambling has now risen almost to the status of a major industry. Consider, for instance, a phenomenon like the Football Pools, with a turnover of about six million pounds a year, almost all of it from the pockets of working class people. I happened to be in Yorkshire when Hitler re-occupied the Rhineland. Hitler, Locarno, Fascism and the threat of war aroused hardly a flicker of interest locally, but the decision of the Football Association to stop publishing their fixtures in advance (this was an attempt to quell the Football Pools) flung all Yorkshire into a storm of fury. And then there is the queer spectacle of modern electrical science showering miracles upon people with empty bellies. You may shiver all night for lack of bedclothes, but in the morning you can go to the public library and read the news that has been telegraphed for your benefit from San Francisco and Singapore. Twenty million people are underfed but literally everyone in England has access to a radio. What we have lost in food we have gained in electricity. Whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated, in part, by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life.
Do you consider all this desirable? No, I don’t. But it may be that the psychological adjustment which the working class are visibly making is the best they could make in the circumstances. They have neither turned revolutionary nor lost their self-respect; merely they have kept their tempers and settled down to make the best of things on a fish-and-chip standard. The alternative would be God knows what continued agonies of despair; or it might be attempted insurrections which, in a strongly governed country like England, could only lead to futile massacres and a régime of savage repression.
Of course the post-war development of cheap luxuries has been quite a fortunate thing for our rulers. It is quite likely that fish and chips, art-silk stockings, tinned salmon, cut-price chocolate (five two-ounce bars for sixpence), the movies, the radio, strong tea and the Football Pools have between them averted revolution. Therefore we are sometimes told that the whole thing is an astute manouevre by the governing class—a sort of “bread and circuses” business—to hold the unemployed down. What I have seen of our governing class does not convince me that they have that much intelligence. The thing has happened, but by an unconscious process—the quite natural interaction between the manufacturer’s need for a market and the need of half-starved people for cheap palliatives.

…is that everything you say can be easily, almost naturally, misconstrued. It works like this:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures on Shakespeare (from notes taken by John Payne Collier), transcript of Lecture 6

By manners he meant that which was dependent on the particular customs and fashions of the age. Even in a state of comparative barbarism of manners there might be and was morality. But we had seen much worse times than those, when the mind had been so enervated and degraded, that the most distant associations that could possibly connect our ideas with the basest feelings immediately brought forward those base feelings, without referring to the nobler, thus destroying the little remnant of humanity, excluding from the mind what is good, and calling forward what is bad to keep the bestial nature company.