“Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” – W.Cowper

In times of inexpressible anguish and grief, the words of favorite psalms and familiar hymns have a power to speak peace to our hearts, by the work of God’s Spirit and the grace of our Savior.

This one came to mind today, as our hearts break for a young PRC couple who lost their eight-year old son two days ago.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

For a beautiful musical arrangement of this hymn, listen to this version as sung by the St.Michael’s Singers.
For more on the background to this hymn, visit Tim Challies post on it here.
Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 10:19 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Flower – George Herbert

george herbertAs we close out the week, I searched for a poem fitting for contemplation during this season of Spring and new life, and this also being National Poetry Month. I love the poems of George Herbert, 1593-1633, and found this one to be fitting for us to mark these events. May it provide good food for your soul, as it did for mine.

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasures bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivl’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were,
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Off’ring at heav’n, growing and groaning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-shower,
My sins and I joining together:

But while I grow in a straight line,
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am her
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

Published in: on April 25, 2015 at 10:36 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Easter-Day Poem – A.Toplady

The following poem is found in the work Contemplations on the Sufferings, Death and Resurrection of Christ by Augustus M. Toplady (“published from the author’s manuscripts” in 1822 and republished by Gospel Standard Baptist Trust, 1976).

This unique work includes various “contemplations” by Toplady (see biographical note below) on the subjects given above, interspersed with poems, some of them his own (some of his well-known hymns and poems) and some by others (I.Watts, J.Hart, C.Wesley according to the Preface).

The poem posted here is often attributed to Charles Wesley (a bit ironic considering Toplady’s opposition to John Wesley), but I find the language sufficiently different that I wonder if this one too is not actually Toplady’s (although, comparing it with other of his poems, it does not seem to be in harmony with his usual language). Perhaps someone with more knowledge of poetry than I can help me with this. In any case, the poem is certainly fitting for this Easter Sunday.

  1. Love’s redeeming work is done,
    Fought the fight, the battle won:
    Lo, our Sun’s eclipse is o’er,
    Lo, He sets in blood no more!
  2. Lives again our glorious King;
    Where, O death, is now thy sting?
    Dying, He our souls did save;
    Where’s thy victory, O grave?
  3. Risen with Him, we upwards move,
    Seek by faith the things above;
    Still pursue and kiss the Son,
    Seated on His Father’s throne.
  4. May we die to things below,
    Scarce a thought on earth bestow!
    Joined to Him we soon shall shine,
    All immortal, all divine.
  5. Hail, The Lord of earth and heaven!
    Praise to Thee by both be given;
    Thee we greet triumphant now;
    Hail, the resurrection Thou!
  6. King of glory, soul of bliss,
    Everlasting life is this;
    Thee to know, Thy power to prove,
    Thus to sing, and thus to love!
  7. Come, Desire of nations, come!
    Fix in us Thy humble home:
    Come, Almighty to redeem,
    Rise with healing in Thy beam!
  8. Now display Thy saving power,
    Ruined nature now restore:
    Us into a temple raise,
    Built for Thy eternal praise.
  9. Adam’s likeness, Lord, deface,
    Stamp Thy image in its place;
    Second Adam, from above,
    Seal us with Thy Spirit’s love.
  10. Thee, the unholy cannot see!
    Make, O make us meet for Thee!
    Now to us Thyself impart,
    Formed in each believing heart!

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Dublin, he was converted through a Methodist lay preacher, took Anglican orders in 1762, and later became vicar of Broadhembury, Devon. In 1775 he assumed the pastorate of the French Calvinist chapel in London. He was a powerful preacher and a vigourous Calvinist, bitterly opposed to John Wesley. He wrote the Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England (2 vols., 1774) and The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism (1769). His fame rests, however, on his hymns, e.g., “A debtor to mercy alone”; “A sovereign Protector I have”; “From whence this fear and unbelief?”; and especially “Rock of Ages”….

Published in: on April 5, 2015 at 7:10 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Best Books to Read This Christmas | Christianity Today

The Best Books to Read This Christmas (That You Won’t Find in a Christian Bookstore) | Christianity Today.

Snow Queen-HC AndersenHere’s an interesting list of new and classic titles (and authors) for some good Christmas-related reading during the holidays – or anytime for that matter. If you enjoy poetry, there are some fine collections here. And if you need a children’s book, one of those may be found here as well.

Sarah Arthur put this list together for Christianity Today, which was posted Dec.19, 2014. I hope it leads you to some pleasurable and profitable reading.

Here is Arthur’s introduction, which is followed by her ten suggestions. Visit the “CT” link above for the list.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a good book or two—or ten. A recent writing project—my new anthology Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press)—sent me hunting for examples of fiction and poetry that often fall under the radar. So, in the spirit of every librarian who ever handed you a book unsolicited, here’s my list of the top ten books to read this Christmas, but with a twist: These are books that aren’t well-known or, if they are, aren’t typically identified as holiday fare. Either way, you’re unlikely to find them along the shelves of the average Christian bookstore. We’ll start with contemporary works and wrap up with some classics.

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity – John Milton

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity: Text.

John Milton-1This beautiful poem describing the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ was penned by the great English poet John Milton (1608-1674) in 1629 (Yes, when he was 21 years old!), and may be found in the wonderful collection of Milton poems in the “John Milton Reading Room” of Dartmouth College (follow the link above).

Belong is the first part of this poem; it is followed by a lengthy hymn, which you are also encouraged to read on this Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning.

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
Compos’d 1629

I

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing, 
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

II

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav’ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.

III

Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no vers, no hymn, or solemn strein,
To welcom him to this his new abode,
Now while the Heav’n by the Suns team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

IV

See how from far upon the Eastern rode
The Star-led Wisards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet,
And joyn thy voice unto the Angel Quire,
From out his secret Altar toucht with hallow’d fire.

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 9:23 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Thanksgiving Day 2014

Psalm 110-4-ThanksgivingFrom our home to yours we wish you a blessed and truly happy Thanksgiving Day! Finding our satisfaction in our faithful Father alone, may our souls find abundant reason to thank and praise Him this day and every day.

I found this wonderful poem online and share it with you here, as it expresses our gratitude to God in and for ALL things. I understand it has also been set to music (a hymn), but I could not find a good version of it online, so I post a video of the familiar Thanksgiving hymn “Now Thank We All Our God”, arranged by John Rutter and performed by the Cambridge Singers

I Thank Thee

O Thou whose bounty fills my cup,
With every blessing meet!
I give Thee thanks for every drop—
The bitter and the sweet.

I praise Thee for the desert road,
And for the riverside;
For all Thy goodness hath bestowed,
And all Thy grace denied.

I thank Thee for both smile and frown,
And for the gain and loss;
I praise Thee for the future crown
And for the present cross.

I thank Thee for both wings of love
Which stirred my worldly nest;
And for the stormy clouds which drove
Me, trembling, to Thy breast.

I bless Thee for the glad increase,
And for the waning joy;
And for this strange, this settled peace
Which nothing can destroy.

–Jane Crewdson (1860)

T.Letis Treasures – Two Hymns

Scottish Psalms and Church HymnaryWhile finishing the cataloging of a few more books from the T.Letis collection this afternoon, I came across a few of his church songbooks, including The Psalms and Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland. The first part of this Scottish songbook is comprised of the “Psalms of David in Metre”, while the second part is “the Church Hymnary” (revised ed. of 1927).

What is interesting about this songbook is that there is no music either for the Psalms or for the hymns, just the lyrics. The hymns are matched with certain meters at the top, so that they can be sung with music. But I love this songbook because the focus is purely on the words.

And so these “hymns” read as poems. And they are not ‘fluff’, but solid in doctrine, breathing the beauty and power of the Bible (at least the ones I have perused). These come from a wide range of the church’s history, including many from the ancient church and from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.

I noticed that Dr.Letis has placed highlighted asterisks by a few of these hymns, and so I thought today I would reference those. I hope you too catch the beauty and power of these poems of the church. These are both found in the section “Worship-Evening”, and you will see why. Appropriate as the day closes.

281.

Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory pour’d
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Divine.

Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world Thy glories, Lord, they own.

-4th century; tr. by John Keble, 1792-1866.

284.

The duteous day now closeth,
Each flower and tree reposeth
Shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
Let us, as night is falling,
On God our Maker calling,
Give thanks to Him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendour
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And man, the marvel seeing,
Forgets his selfish being,
For joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
Lost in the abyss of wonder;
To heaven his soul doth steal:
This life he disesteemeth,
The day it is that dreameth,
That doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
May miss God’s loving-kindness,
And grope in faithless strife:
But, when life’s day is over
Shall death’s fair night discover
The fields of everlasting life.

Yattendon Hymnal, No.83, 1899; based on Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76.

Happy 238th Birthday, America!

The Star-Spangled Banner | Academy of American Poets.

Happy 4th of July to all of you in the U.S.A.! As our country celebrates her 238th birthday, I hope you enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday with family and friends.

For our little celebration here we present this performance of our National anthem by the men’s group, The Vocal Majority. And below that we post the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they were penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814 (cf. the link above).

The Star-Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key

 

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,   
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?   
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,   
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;   
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;   
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?   
   
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,   
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, 
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,   
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?   
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,   
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;   
‘Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave 
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
   
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore   
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion   
A home and a country should leave us no more?   
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. 
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,   
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;   
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
   
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand 
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!   
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land,   
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.   
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.   
And this be our motto— “In God is our trust; " 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A Dutch Poem in English: “Volgen” – “To Follow”

Sometimes tucked away in books given to or purchased by the PRC Seminary library are interesting items – from old bookmarks to receipts to newspaper clippings – to, yes, poems. Even Dutch poems. Translated into English, thankfully (though the Dutch has its own beautiful rhythm and cadence).

As part of today’s archive postings, I give you one I found just yesterday (yellowed stains and all) in a book that came from Neal Pastoor (SE PRC, Grand Rapids). I put the poem aside and then read it this morning. It contains wonderful lines about the nature of the Christian life in terms of following wherever God leads us. I pray it is a blessing to you as it was (and is!) to me (Click on it to enlarge even more.).

Poem - Volgen -To Follow_Page_1

The Power of Words (7) – F.Buechner

Room-Called-Remember-150x150Today on this “word Wednesday” we turn again to the thoughts of Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Buechner on the power of words. These thoughts are taken from his essay “The Speaking and Writing of Words”, found in his larger collection published under the title A Room Called Remember (Harper & Row, 1984).

We pick up where we left off last time, as Buechner is describing the power of words for evil as well as for good, for death as well as for life. Here is writes about the fact that more than merely words are conveyed when we speak.

Lastly there is the danger of words implicit in their power not just to convey information – ‘that is a child,’ ‘the rain will come’ – but also to convey feelings in the sense not just of naming them but of in some measure transmitting them. If it is in any way true that language originates out of our deep inner solitude and our need to escape that solitude by relating ourselves to the world outside the lonely worlds we are within ourselves, then it is not enough merely to tell the world out there who we are but we must also tell what it feels like to be who we are. It is not enough for us merely to tell somebody else that we are happy, say, because in order to share that experience fully, we must enable others to experience it too. We are not content merely to name what is going on inside ourselves but seek to use words that to a degree enable others to feel what it is like to live inside our skins themselves. Then they will really know.

When it comes to spoken words, there are all sorts of auxiliary ways of doing this, of course – the tone of voice, facial expression, gesture and all the non-verbal sounds we make to convey something much richer and more compelling than mere intellectual meaning. And when it comes to conveying this same richness through the written word, there are needless to say a great many other devices to replace these non-verbal ones, as no one knew better, for instance, than such a great prose stylist as John Donne.

JohnDonneFrom here Buechner provides an excerpt from a sermon of Donne which is rich in verbal communication, especially metaphor. If you have never read anything by Donne, do so, and you will understand what he is talking about. Donne is a master at using words. Here is a good online source for Donne’s works, including links to his sermons. Since I love his “Holy Sonnets”, I cannot help but give you this famous one here:

X.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ;  why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ;  Death, thou shalt die.

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