Mark Twain’s ancestral hubris:

Thanks to Clayton Campbell for pointing out this hilarious nugget from Samuel Clemens’ autobiography (Vol. 1, pg 204-205):

… And so, by the testimony of instinct, backed by the assertions of Clemenses who said they had examined the records, I have always been obliged to believe that Geoffrey Clement the martyr-maker was an ancestor of mine, and to regard him with favor, and in fact pride. This has not had a good effect upon me, for it has made me vain, and that is a fault. It has made me set myself above people who were less fortunate in their ancestry than I, and has moved me to take them down a peg, upon occasion, and say things to them which hurt them before company.

A case of the kind happened in Berlin several years ago. William Walter Phelps was our Minister at the Emperor’s Court, then, and one evening he had me to dinner to meet Count S., a cabinet minister. This nobleman was of long and illustrious descent. Of course I wanted to let out the fact that I had some ancestors, too; but I did not want to pull them out of their graves by the ears, and I never could seem to get a chance to work them in in a way that would look sufficiently casual. I suppose Phelps was in the same difficulty. In fact he looked distraught, now and then—just as a person looks who wants to uncover an ancestor purely by accident, and cannot think of a way that will seem accidental enough. But at last, after dinner, he made a try. He took us about his drawing-room, showing us the pictures, and finally stopped before a rude and ancient engraving. It was a picture of the court that tried Charles I. There was a pyramid of judges in Puritan slouch hats, and below them three bare-headed secretaries seated at a table. Mr. Phelps put his finger upon one of the three, and said with exulting indifference—

“An ancestor of mine.”

I put my finger on a judge, and retorted with scathing languidness—

“Ancestor of mine. But it is a small matter. I have others.”

It was not noble in me to do it. I have always regretted it since. But it landed him. I wonder how he felt? However, it made no difference in our friendship; which shows that he was fine and high, notwithstanding the humbleness of his origin. And it was also creditable in me, too, that I could overlook it. I made no change in my bearing toward him, but always treated him as an equal.

. . . The evening had its defects; still, I got my ancestor in, and was satisfied.

The 500th Anniversary year of Erasmus’ Edition of the Greek New Testament: Three Reasons Why It Matters Today

A great post that reminds us how blessed we are to live in a time and – largely speaking – place where the Word of God is widely available to us.


Summary of today’s post: 

Today’s post celebrates a major milestone in the history of Bible translation and study of the Greek New Testament. On March 1, 1516 a scholar named Desiderius Erasmus (pictured above) became the first man in history to have published a printed edition of the Greek New Testament. The publication of Erasmus’ edition of Greek New Testament in 1516 celebrates its 500th anniversary this year. This particular post reflects on three reasons why Erasmus’ edition is practically significant today.

Below is a sample picture from a page in the 1516 edition which includes Matthew 1 in both the Greek (left column) and Latin (right column). Photo derives from

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Three reasons why Erasmus’ edition of the Greek New Testament ought to cause celebration over God’s Word today

Dr. Nick Needham, a lecturer in church history at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland and Minister of Inverness Reformed Baptist Church in…

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J. Gresham Machen on the holding of “narrow” beliefs:

[T]he narrow man is the man who rejects the other man’s convictions without first endeavoring to understand them, the man who makes no effort to look at things from the other man’s point of view. … The liberal preacher says to the conservative party [evangelically] in the Church: “Let us unite in the same congregation, since of course doctrinal differences are trifles”. But it is the very essence of “conservatism” in the Church to regard doctrinal differences as no trifles but as the matters of supreme moment. … [T]o suppose that a man can believe that the eternal Son of God really bore the guilt of men’s sins on the Cross and at the same time regard that belief as a “trifle” without bearing upon the welfare of men’s souls – that is very narrow and absurd.

My Wednesday morning study group concluded Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” this morning, and I am so thankful for the insights and lessons learned through studying/discussing this book. It was first published in 1923 and its concise discourses are astonishingly relevant to what is going on in evangelicalism and the visible church today. Highly recommended reading.

Nature is Awesome

Over this past weekend I was hiking and camping with my wife and some friends in Mineral King (Sequoia National Park). As we walked gorgeous trails and admired scenery filled with natural beauty, we found ourselves saying “Awesome” quite a bit. While I have been recently convicted (again) of my use of the word “awesome” to describe things other than the One who is truly Awesome, I think the word choice was appropriate for us during our hiking adventures. The beauty of the natural world is awesome not in and of itself; it causes awe in us for the Creator who made a world of such beauty and variety and gave us the capacity to appreciate and enjoy it. For an atheist, the natural world is beautiful for what it is in and of itself, intrinsically and accidently. But the believer knows that the wonders of creation were designed to point us to the Triune God and in a sense ‘lead’ us in worship (Ps 8:1). So when we are captivated by something we see in nature, we are led to look beyond the remarkable qualities of the mountain, or tree, or waterfall, and see the reality of God, our God. We are aware of His transcendence and the fact that, as J. Gresham Machen says, there is an “awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator”. That God is Holy and we are not was what the Psalmist had in mind when he looked at the creation and asked “what is man that you are mindful of him?”

Nature is, in a sense, awesome, but only insofar as it inspires our awe of the One who made it, who is behind it, and who is alone worthy of our highest praise.

“Liturgical Fidgets”

We have developed many poor habits in our ecclesiology today. One of the evidences of this is the way in which the word “worship”, when used to describe a church service, is often applied exclusively to the music aspect of the service, notwithstanding the reality that the entirety of the service – song, preaching of the word, sacraments, offering, etc – is (certainly should be) an act of worship to our Triune God. Another unfortunate problem that sometimes rears in churches where the prior error is less rampant is the marginalizing of singing, as if it were the ugly stepsister of the Sunday Order. This can be done by selecting songs that are virtually unsingable for the congregation, not leading the congregation well, or failing to ensure the musicians are ready and able to accompany the singing.

These issues came to mind earlier today when I read one of C. S. Lewis’ letters where he discusses corporate worship. Unsurprisingly, he makes many excellent points, though I get the sense from reading this letter that he may have run the risk of marginalizing the outburst of emotion that can sometimes spontaneously manifest in a service where the wonders of God and the glories of His plan are expounded. With at least that one grain of salt (and there may be other things to quibble over), here is a portion of the letter that I found especially full of great insights:

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “’Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

There is a danger in the drive for novelty, but, I believe, also a danger in the automatic rejection of anything that simply seems “modern”. We should be thoughtful in the entire Order of worship, and eagerly anticipate that God just might draw us out to new depths, as Annie Dillard says – from “where we can never return”.


At The Cross

So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart,

“He hath given me rest by his sorrow,

And life by his death.”

Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. [Zechariah 12:10]

Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee!” so the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee”; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; [Zechariah 3:4] the third also set a mark in his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, [“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” Ephesians 1:13] which he bade him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:

“Thus far did I come laden with my sin,

Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,

Till I came hither. What a place is this!

Must here be the beginning of my bliss!

Must here the burden fall from off my back!

Must here the strings that bound it to me crack!

Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be

The Man that there was put to shame for me!”

The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan