Monday, January 28, 2013

The Old Orange Flute

Long live Irish and Presbyterian flutes and fifes!

In the county Tyrone, in the town of Dungannon
Where many a ruction myself had a hand in
Bob Williamson he lived, a weaver by trade
And all of us thought him the stout orange blade.

On the twelfth of July as it yearly did come
Bob played on the flute to the sound of the drum
You can talk of your lyre, your piano or lute
But there's none could compare to the Old Orange Flute.

But Bob that deceiver he took us all in
For he married a Papish named Bridget McGinn
Turned Papish himself and forsook the Old Cause
That gave us our freedom, religion and laws.

And the boys in the place made some comment upon it
And Bob had to fly to the province of Connaught;
he left with his wife and his fixins, to boot,
And along with the latter, the Old Orange Flute.

At Mass the next Sunday, to atone for past deeds,
Said Paters and Aves and counted his beads
Till after some time at the Priest's own desire
Bob went with his flute for to play in the choir.

Bob went with his flute for to play in the mass
But the instrument shivered and cried "O Alas!"
And try though he would, though he made a great noise,
The flute would play only "The Protestant Boys."

Well up Bob he jumped with a start and a flutter.
He threw the old flute in the blessed holy water;
He thought that this charm would bring some other sound,
When he tried it again, it played "Croppies Lie Down!"

Now for all he would finger and whistle and blow
For to play Papish music, he found it "No Go"
"Kick the Pope" and "Boyne Water" it clearly would sound
But one Papish squeek and it could'nt be found.

At a council of priests that was held the next day
They decided to banish the Old Flute away;
They couldn't knock heresy out of its head
So they bought Bob a new one to play it instead.

Now the poor flute was doomed, and its fate was pathetic
'Twas fastened and burnt at the stake as heretic.
As the flames soared around, you could hear a strange noise
'Twas the Old Flute still a-whistlin' "The Protestant Boys."

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Chief End of Man

Question 1, The Westminster Shorter Confession:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. 

The question of man’s purpose is one that is often asked, but rarely answered in a right manner. For many people, this question is asked only in its immediate application: What should I do right now? Instead of working out a general principle for life, many will choose some limited goal, like getting to the next level on a computer game or getting a raise at work. Some will rise higher and pick some vague principle like “love.” Why? Well, it sounds nice, doesn’t it? While Christians occasionally fall into these traps, they should have a much greater reason, one that ties all of life into one grand unity: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

This “chief end,” of course, presupposes that man has a purpose to begin with. While this may seem like an obvious point, it is only obvious to one who is used to a culture that once was Christian. Does man have a purpose? Perhaps man is an accident, a random combination of various elements. That man is purposeless, except for some purposeless pragmatic goal, is perfectly consistent with atheism and evolution. This doesn’t seem to fit with man’s self-consciences, his ethical capacity, the order of the universe, and basically everything, but that is only because any religion besides Christianity will not fit with God and the way He made this world. The only way to make sense of this world and to find meaning in our tasks is to submit to our eternal Creator. Because God is independent of His creation and limitation, because He alone is before all things, and because all His creation is dependent on Him, He is the key to the purpose of our existence. Any purpose outside of Him is doomed to fall short.

This question seems to have two parts, and indeed it does, but they are not as separate as one might think. First, we are told to glorify God. This is obvious from the Bible. As God’s creatures, made in His image, our created purpose is to reflect and proclaim God’s glory, His glory being the brilliance and manifestation of His nature. This is our purpose as humans. In everything we do, we are His image and ought to act like it. Second, we are told to enjoy God. Some people mistakenly have the idea that enjoyment and service to God are two separate things, but, as Calvin says, the devotion of our life to God’s glory is “the highest good of man.” It doesn’t get better than this! We can enjoy nothing so much as when we enjoy our God. All other things are limited and fade away. The music to which we listen, the food which we eat, are the most enjoyable, nay, only enjoyable, when they are received in a way that glorifies God, in thanksgiving and righteousness before His face. Fulfilling our purpose of glorifying God is enjoyable; to do otherwise is vanity and manifestly unenjoyable. Furthermore, God is most glorified in us when we enjoy Him, reflecting and proclaiming His “wondrous works to the children of man” (Ps. 107:31).

What a glorious purpose! What a life this sets before us! How we fall exceedingly short of this grand intent! This is the first question of the catechism and it sets the stage for the rest. While we have indeed fallen from our intended role, Jesus Christ, the only mediator of God’s elect, restores us by grace to fellowship with God. As we are sanctified in this salvation let us continue to strive in Christ for this chief end of man.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Keeping the Law in the Covenant of Grace

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not."
-Deuteronomy 8:1-2

This passage (and all of chapter 8) is very helpful in understanding Deuteronomy and the law. Many Christians have a hard time with God's constant admonitions to hearing His voice and obeying His law and figure that the Mosaic Covenant must have been a covenant of works. But I disagree. Here we see that keeping (or not keeping) the commandments of God is important because it it a sign of one's heart commitment.

If one is a child of God by faith, he will hear the voice of His Father, he will heed his Father's law. And the Father loves giving His gifts to His children. Rebellious children are cut off (Deut. 21:18-21). The child does not earn his Father's gifts (or sonship) by his obedience, especially in our case when we are unnaturally adopted as sons by grace. Our obedience always is deficient, and a life of love is also a life of repentance, but obedience and repentance must be apparent in a son. This is what is called a relationship. It is vital to the idea of covenant. This is all over Deuteronomy and the whole Bible.

This is the same as 1 John constantly points out: we love God and our brother because God has loved us (i.e. brought us out of bondage and sin, Ex. 20:2) and loving means keeping God's commandments (1 John 5:1-3). In the Covenant of Grace, whether in the Old or New Testaments, we should be careful, as sons, to do God's whole commandment, that we might receive God's blessing. God's blessing is not a reward for our acts of obedience, but is given to us as His children. And we are the children of God only in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. Praise God!

"But to all who did receive him [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
-John 1:12-13

Monday, January 7, 2013

John Calvin on the Holy Calling of Motherhood

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control" (1 Timothy 2:13-15, see also Genesis 3:15-16).
"'Through child-bearing' To censorious men it might appear absurd, for an Apostle of Christ not only to exhort women to give attention to the birth of offspring, but to press this work as religious and holy to such an extent as to represent it in the light of the means of procuring salvation. Nay, we even see with what reproaches the conjugal bed has been slandered by hypocrites, who wished to be thought more holy than all other men. But there is no difficulty in replying to these sneers of the ungodly. First, here the Apostle does not speak merely about having children, but about enduring all the distresses, which are manifold and severe, both in the birth and in the rearing of children. Secondly, whatever hypocrites or wise men of the world may think of it, when a woman, considering to what she has been called, submits to the condition which God has assigned to her, and does not refuse to endure the pains, or rather the fearful anguish, of parturition [childbirth], or anxiety about her offspring, or anything else that belongs to her duty, God values this obedience more highly than if, in some other manner, she made a great display of heroic virtues, while she refused to obey the calling of God. To this must be added, that no consolation could be more appropriate or more efficacious then to shew that the very means (so to speak) of procuring salvation are found in the punishment itself." (Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Biblical Directions for Art and Pleasure

Ever since Adam was created, man has had to deal with his earthly surroundings. God created man as one to subdue and interact with the world around him, and this interaction was at first perfectly righteous. Since man’s fall into sin, his relations to the world around him have been corrupted. As the Christian experiences Christ’s renewing power, he is forced to consider in what a right relation to this world consists. Especially difficult in Christian history has been our relation to those things that are not necessary for existence variously known as pleasure, art, decor, entertainment, and civilized culture. Even in the days of the Apostles there was conflict over ascetic practices of abstinence (1 Tim. 4:3, Rom. 14). Many extremes can be found in history from Christians who were very strict in prohibition of entertainments, to Christians who were very indulgent in all sorts of excess, although the former has tended to be more common. As we look at what the Bible says concerning earthly pleasures, we will find that it directs us in finding godly enjoyment in them.

Perhaps the most obvious direction we have concerning these pleasures is that they must be used with faith in Christ. Speaking of eating food, Paul teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Without faith in God, our pleasure will be idolatry. We will look to something else as the provider of blessing. We might look at the pleasure itself as the object of our faith. Without faith in God, the blessings that God sends will actually only increase our accountability and judgement. God is the one from whom all blessings flow, and to deny this is to deny His deity. On the other hand, when we have faith in God, our enjoyment becomes a way to praise and worship Him. These blessings then are truly blessings, for our good, because they build up our enjoyment of our relationship with God. With faith in God’s power and goodness through Christ even the littlest pleasure is recognized as a gracious gift from our Father.

Similar to faith, joy is another aspect of what should be our relation to pleasure. When we receive something good and reject it as “earthly vanity,” or as a mere temptation, we are being ungrateful for what God has made for us. “For, although all the imperfections in culture are exclusively due to the sins of man, nevertheless, all that is really good and true and pleasant in culture is due solely to the grace of God” (Lee). Paul harshly condemns this attitude of abstinence, saying, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). It is not the pleasure (marriage and food, in this case) that is evil, but the way we might use it. When we receive it with thanksgiving, praising God in prayer and using it according to His word, it is not only not evil, but good and holy. Paul also got upset at the Roman Christians who were dividing themselves by disputes over food. Food is supposed to increase, not decrease, faith, love, and joy. The food (or similar pleasure) is not an end it itself. The “kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Many people do become absorbed in the pleasures themselves so as to lose sight of God the giver. As John Calvin colorfully describes, “many are so delighted with marble, gold, and pictures, that they become marble-hearted—are changed as it were into metal, and made like painted figures” (471). Instead, “the object of creating all things was to teach us to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence” (470-471). When we eat, drink, dance, and sing with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, our enjoyments are actually expressions of the kingdom of God.

One of the blessings that God gives, to be received in faith and joy, is beauty. Beauty comes from God; it is an aspect of His glory. To seek the source of beauty somewhere else (e.g. in ourselves or the creation) is a form of idolatry. God proclaimed that He would take away and defile Tyre’s beauty because the king of Tyre had set himself up as god, saying, “I am perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 27:3, 28:6-7). On the other hand, God gives beauty to His people. God gave extraordinary physical beauty to Job’s daughters as a blessing (Job 42:15). He describes His salvation in terms of beautification, as in Isaiah 28:5, 62:3. He promises that the beauty and glory of the nations shall come “to beautify the place of my sanctuary” (Is. 60:13, also Rev. 21:24, 26). God’s beauty is all around us in His creation and, as we have said, to ignore it would be wicked ungratefulness (Ps. 19:1, Rom. 1:20). As the heirs of the world (Rom. 4:13, Gal 3:29) we are to rejoice at the beauty that God has made, claiming it as His sons.

Not only do we receive beauty, but we also imitate God in making beauty ourselves. Adam and Eve were created perfectly in God’s image, reflecting Him by taking dominion of the earth in ordering and, among other things, beautifying it. The creation was good already, but it was not developed and needed to be brought into its potential. Since man’s fall, both we and the creation have been negatively influenced by sin. As we are now being renewed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29, Col. 3:10) we must once again learn to obey God by imitating our Creator (albeit imperfectly) by beautifying the world, engaging both the work of dominion as well as the additional work of reversing the ugly effects of the curse.

As Zechariah 9:16-17 says, we are made beautiful because our Savior is great in beauty. We engage in this pursuit of beauty by reflecting the source of beauty, God. I would suggest we define beauty as that which is the earthly reflection of God's nature. As R.C. Sproul Sr. has said, "God is the ultimate standard of beauty, just as He is the ultimate standard of truth. Works of art that somehow reflect His nature are more beautiful than works that do not" (60). There are several aspects of this. For example, order as well as zeal are attributes of God (1 Cor. 14:33, Is. 42:13) and both add beauty, especially when entwined together. Our Triune God is both one and three, bringing aspects of unity and diversity in perfect harmony. God is also ethically pure, and true beauty will reflect this. Since God’s beauty is revealed in His creation, we can study patterns and values in creation, recognizing that we are to take these primitive elements of nature and develop them. It is in this rewarding pursuit of beauty that much of art consists. When we are engaging in painting, music, dance, and poetry we are taking color, sound, bodies, and words and subduing them to God’s beauty. Art, then, is to be God-centered.

Another important direction given to us concerning enjoyment is that it should be relational. The Bible doesn’t really talk much about “me time.” There are times when a person is away from other humans but only to be more focused on God (e.g. Matt. 14:22-23). As we have already mentioned, our enjoyments are always to be done in relation to God in faith, joy, and thanksgiving. To enjoy things purely by one’s self is selfishness. Moreover, the Bible places a high priority on enjoying God’s gifts in community with other people. In the Old Testament thanksgiving feast of the tithe it was important that the intense celebration be done by “you and your household,” incorporating into the household celebration the Levite, widow, orphan, and stranger (Deut. 14:26, 15:20, 26:11). Jeremiah proclaims that the prosperity that God’s salvation brings shall include the dancing of the young and old, men and women, all together (Jer. 31:13). In the parable of the prodigal son, the celebration described, which included feasting, dancing, music, and rich attire, was done in community, celebrating the love of the father for his son (Luke 15:22-32). The Philippian jailer and his household rejoiced together that he had believed in God (Acts 16:34). Hospitality and the sharing of our blessings with others are encouraged and commanded in many places in Scripture (Heb. 13:2, Rom. 12:13). The list could go on and on, including every section of the Bible.

This community in which we enjoy God’s blessings and create beautiful culture is a complex thing. The basic social unit seems to be the family, or more properly, the household. This is the group of people, tied by the natural ties of blood and time, and more importantly, under the protection of the marriage covenant with strict commands to obey father and mother. Death is the punishment in biblical law for the undermining of the family, i.e. adultery or incorrigible rebellion (Lev. 20:9-10, Matt. 15:4). It is to this unit, under the headship of the husband, that the dominion mandate was primarily given (Gen. 1:26-28). The household is in a manner saved as a unit (Acts. 16:31) and covenantally unified in its aim to glorify God (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39). It is here, in (what should be) the strongest of relationships, that culture and pleasure is primarily enjoyed and developed. It is in the family in which you have the elements of the rest of society: male and female, young and old, with differing gifts. Thus, a culture that is operating biblically will have distinct ethnic, folk, and traditional elements.

Included in the family, and beyond, are the elements of personal community and generational continuity. While the family is basic, it ought not be ingrown. These principles express themselves in the local community in which the family lives, creating nations and their cultures. Both the culture and the medium in which it is conveyed is important, and they actually influence each other. In fact, in today’s situation, “the forms of our popular culture may well have a more significant effect on our perceptions than the content” (Myers, 16). In modern society, culture and its popular forms have been uprooted from the family and become individualistic, impersonal, and revolutionary. As Christians, not only must our motive and standard of enjoyment be right (i.e. thanksgiving and God-defined beauty) but also the situation of our enjoyment. Our enjoyment becomes richer when it is shared by a community, transcending the individual, where each can contribute his/her gifts. It becomes more excellent when it is shaped and built upon by the generations, transcending the moment, where each generation adds more experience and perspective to our enjoyment. And the interaction of people, when done in Christ, is itself something to celebrate. “Like feasts and holidays, celebration in lovemaking is about remembering. It is a love of history, a couple’s history of good times, of positive personal knowledge shared by no others, of refuge from a crazy world” (Jones, 86-87).

While there is much more that could be said concerning our enjoyments, we can see that the Bible does give us good, and comprehensive, directions. Our motivation must be faith in Christ and joy for what God has given us. We must measure our (puny) achievements not only by their usefulness, but by the beauty and glory of our God, submitting our work to His nature. Our medium of pleasure and enjoyment must be rooted in the family and community, sharing God’s gifts and our work with one another. As we have mentioned, this godly culture should not be ingrown, but should grow into our communities and nations. Discipling the nations is our “Great Commission” and includes the art and culture of the nations. The Christian family disciples the nations by its dominion work in its vocation and cultural relations to its neighbors. The Church as an institution also changes culture. Through the preaching of its pastors, a Christian culture is indirectly founded when men are made new creatures in Christ (Van Til, 225). The Scripture which the Church teaches equips us for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). While the exact application is usually left to the families in their vocations, the families of the earth are coming to the Church, the New Jerusalem, to learn the ways of God and to learn to walk in its light (Is. 2:3, Rev. 21:24). May we show the world a culture of delight and hope amid its gloom of death. May we learn to exalt in the goodness of our God who causes

“the grass to grow for the livestock 
and plants for man to cultivate, 
that he may bring forth food from the earth 
and wine to gladden the heart of man, 
oil to make his face shine 
and bread to strengthen man's heart.” 
(Ps. 104:14-15) 


Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008.
Jones, Douglas and Douglas Wilson Angels in the Architecture. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1998.
Lee, Dr. F.N. “Lecture 1: The Roots of Culture” PHL110 Foundation of Christian Culture. Lakeland, FL: Whitefield, 2007.
Myers, Kenneth A. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989.
Sproul Sr., R.C. Tabletalk 36.9, Sep. 2012: 60
The Holy Bible (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.
Van Til, Henry R. The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001.