Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

The Enemy–He Is Ourselves

I was reminded this morning of some prescient words from Whittaker Chambers—prescient because they clearly foretold what we see today. In a letter he wrote to William F. Buckley in 1954, Chambers offered this analysis of the state of Western civilization:

I no longer believe that political solutions are possible for us. I am baffled by the way people still speak of the West as if it were at least a cultural unity against Communism though it is divided not only by a political, but by an invisible cleavage.

On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes, and mandates.

His first sentence set the tone, and I agree that our ultimate solutions will never come from our politics. Yet, for many, politics has become the be-all and end-all of life. Everything is seen as political. We believe, by and large, that government can handle all of our problems.

How very wrong.

His second point is truly poignant, as he demolishes the illusion that we are still somehow a cultural unity. Most people today at least see the great divide that now exists between the Christian worldview and the secular. Chambers succinctly and accurately describes the self-identified “enlightened” elite who have rejected our religious roots, and who have created “a new order of beliefs, attitudes, and mandates.”

The America of 2018 is only faintly reminiscent of the America I recall from my younger days. And I’m not just some old-timer speaking out of bitterness or nostalgia. My observation is based on a lifetime of analyzing culture from the Biblical worldview that has now been largely rejected.

Chambers is usually known as a pessimist regarding the future of Western civilization. In his final paragraph to Buckley, he begins with this:

The enemy—he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

Don’t blame outside forces, he counsels. Look within instead. Then he provides, in his own inimitable writing style, what little hope he can look toward:

That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.

Are we of that company—the few—who are willing to keep alive the basis of our civilization? What are we doing to further the truths of God—that Biblical message of sin, repentance, and redemption?

Whittaker Chambers was somewhat of a twentieth-century prophet; he saw the demise that was coming and already had begun in his day. The prophetic mantle has now been placed on the current generation of Christians who need to take the calling seriously.

Will we?

From Slave to Free Man to Missionary: The Story of Lott Cary

LOTT CARY was born a slave in Virginia and died a missionary in Liberia. His birth took place around 1780, about thirty miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Although his father was a respected Baptist, Cary was a profane alcoholic. However, in 1807 his ears were opened to the gospel. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist church. A sermon he heard on John 3 left him eager to know more about Nicodemus. As a result, he learned to read.

Cary became an efficient and faithful worker, able to handle clerical duties at the tobacco firm where his master hired him out. He was able to study Scripture as well. Merchants frequently tipped him and he sold leftover tobacco to build his savings. Consequently, he was able to purchase freedom for himself and his children. After gaining his freedom, Cary preached to slaves around Richmond. Whites who also attended his sermons said they were among the most moving they ever heard.

In 1813 an African-American preacher named William Crane settled in Richmond. Crane and Cary organized a society for African missions. This was the first world mission founded by African Americans. Eventually the society chose Lott Cary and Colin Teague, both free blacks, as its first missionaries. In commissioning him for the task, his board urged him “to dwell much on the doctrine of the cross, a doctrine which has been found in every age of the church of Christ the power of God.”

The tobacco firm offered Cary a large raise to stay, but Cary turned it down. Selling his farm to support himself, he sailed for Africa and reached Monrovia, Liberia, in 1822. His labors included preaching several times a week, instructing native children and settlers, and operating a charity school with his own money. He also fended off armed attacks by local Africans. Unfortunately, Cary got sucked into politics. Free blacks in Liberia were unhappy with colonial agent Jehudi Ashmun’s redistribution of their land and Cary headed their resistance. The United States investigated and stood by Ashmun, who forbade Cary to preach any more until he apologized.

By 1824, Cary and Ashmun had settled their differences and the colony granted its settlers full participation in the government. From then on, Ashmun spoke of Cary with high praise as a selfless man. Cary became vice-agent with enormous responsibilities. He doctored the settlers with remedies he had learned while he himself was suffering from tropical diseases. He also experimented successfully with raising rice and coffee, which became staples of the Liberian economy.

When Ashmun returned to America, he left Liberia in Cary’s hands and recommended him as permanent agent for the colony. However, Cary was mortally wounded before anything came of it. On 8 November 1828, he was helping prepare cartridges for the protection of the settlers when someone overturned a candle. All the ammunition exploded. Six people died on the 9th. Cary and another victim of the accident lingered until 10 November.

Cary’s story came to me from the Christian History Institute’s daily e-mail on November 10. I wanted to share it because I was so impressed with his character and Christian commitment. I’m glad to add to my knowledge of another strong African American Christian during this time period in American history. I hope you appreciate it as well.

Birthright Citizenship & Executive Orders

President Trump has thrown the political world into a tizzy. In itself, that’s nothing new; he seems to delight in doing so rather regularly. The latest instance is his suggestion that he can end birthright citizenship by issuing an executive order.

I’ll come back to that assertion shortly, but first, let’s look at the issue itself.

The idea that anyone having a child born in the United States automatically makes that child an American citizen has been judged constitutional by our federal courts. The controversy now centers on illegals giving birth. Are those children American citizens if their parents entered the country in opposition to the country’s laws?

All of this stems from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. How about some historical context here?

The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all added to the Constitution at the conclusion of the Civil War, and all were concerned with slavery and the condition of former slaves. The 13th abolished slavery; the 15th gave former slaves the right to vote. The 13th never caused controversy after the fact; the 15th suffered from attempts to limit that right to vote, but those attempts were eventually banned.

It’s the 14th’s statement about citizenship that is the focus of our current debate. The actual language of the amendment is this:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The first thing to consider is that it was written in the context of ensuring that former slaves were not excluded from citizenship. It was the antidote to the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857, a decision that upended previous American experience by saying that no black person is or ever was a citizen of the United States. That was at odds with the many free blacks who always considered themselves citizens and had even voted in elections.

That was the main reason for the 14th Amendment: to correct that false belief promulgated by the Dred Scott decision. That is the historical context.

Another part of the historical context is to consider the words uttered on the Senate floor by the author of the amendment, Sen. Jacob Howard, who, in 1866, clarified what was intended by the citizenship clause. Howard stated,

This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

According to Howard, citizenship does not apply to foreigners/aliens and those who are representatives of other countries residing in America as ambassadors, etc. In my reading of the statement, I see a distinction between that particular class of foreign representatives and the general connotation of foreigners and aliens. Wouldn’t an illegal alien fit into that latter category?

I realize there can be differing interpretations. That’s why I wouldn’t mind having this debate be open and free, and even submitted to the courts for further clarification.

Now, on to the president’s assertion that he can do his own personal clarification on the issue.

He cannot.

No executive order from any president can undo a constitutional amendment and/or the courts’ decisions based on that amendment. If Trump were to try to undo this precedent merely by the wave of the magic wand of Executive Order, he would not accomplish his purpose—it would immediately be challenged and go directly to the courts.

His goal in making this pronouncement appears to be purely political, an attempt to rally the base as the midterm elections draw near. While that may be understandable politically, it is nonsense constitutionally.

Here’s where I must challenge my conservative colleagues: if you decried how Obama misused executive orders (and I was one of the decriers), you must be consistent and apply that reasoning to Trump’s proposed use of this particular executive order.

If you excuse what Trump proposes as legitimate, you have tossed away your integrity and have decided that constitutional principle no longer matters as long as a president you support resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the substance of this birthright issue, I agree that the original intent of the 14th Amendment has been skewed. However, the old cliché remains true: two wrongs do not create a right.

I’m actually glad that the nation might be led into a debate on whether children born to illegals have the privilege of citizenship, but that debate needs to go forward in the constitutionally prescribed manner, not by a phony application of a presidential executive order.

John Eliot Prepared Indian Converts

Here’s a post I received from the Christian History Institute that I think is worth passing on.

JOHN ELIOT arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1631. He would become one of the colony’s most famous immigrants. Educated at the University of Cambridge, he was ordained to the ministry before coming to America. In the New World, he temporarily filled a vacant pulpit in Boston before moving on to Roxbury in 1632. That same year he wed Hannah Mumford. They would have six children.

Three years after his arrival in Massachusetts, Eliot’s concern for the  Native Americans got him into trouble with colonial authorities when he protested the manner in which a treaty was made with the Pequods without their consent. But his actual ministry began in 1646. His Algonquin hearers asked thoughtful questions such as whether God would understand them if they prayed in their language, Massachuset (also called Natick). By then he had learned the Natick dialect.

He traveled throughout New England preaching among the tribes who spoke Natick, resulting in many Native Americans converting to Christianity. Some became pastors and missionaries among their own people. Eliot also obtained land for them. To provide for their spiritual welfare, he translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Massachuset.

On 13 October 1652, after fasting and praying all morning, a number of members of the Massachuset tribe gave their testimonies and made confessions so that they might be admitted to a church of their own. However, the confessions took longer than expected and had to be postponed to a later date. War arose, and it was not until 1660 that the converts got a place of worship at Natick, Massachusetts. At the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675, there were eleven hundred Christian Indians in Natick and other towns, but their church would face impossible odds. Unconverted Indians attacked the “praying Indians” as traitors, and whites attacked them as “red men.” Caught in the middle, many died.

Eliot lived until 1690, doing good to the end. A visitor from England described him as “the best of the ministers who we have yet heard.” Among the work of his last years was instructing African slaves and teaching large passages of scripture to a blind boy. Hannah, his “dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife” died three years before him, as did four of his sons. One son and daughter outlived him.

John Adams, Facts, & Brett Kavanaugh: A Primer

It was March 1770 when a crowd of Boston colonists began angrily harassing a British sentry. Soon other soldiers came to his aid. In the confusion, amidst the clamor, the throwing of snowballs, ice, and stones, and even being threatened with clubs, the soldiers misunderstood a command from the officer in charge and began firing into the crowd. Five colonists lay dead and six more were wounded. It became known as the Boston Massacre.

Emotions ran high. Would the soldiers have any hope of a fair trial? Into this tension-packed atmosphere, John Adams entered and volunteered to defend the soldiers. Adams was not in favor of British policies, but he believed the soldiers had been provoked into the attack, and therefore all the facts had to be taken into consideration.

He took a chance by standing up for them. He could have become the most hated man in Boston. Yet he showed that the crowd had been more of a mob than a simple crowd of people standing around. He argued for the soldiers while simultaneously critiquing the British government’s decision to place soldiers in the streets, thereby increasing the tension.

The result? The officer in charge was acquitted, as were most of the soldiers. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and sent back to England. Given that death would have been the sentence if a guilty verdict of murder had been returned, this was quite an achievement for Adams as he stood for the concept of the rule of law—a concept that is currently little understood, even less appreciated, and constantly under attack.

One of Adams’s statements in these trials has come down to us today, repeated by those who understand the basis for the rule of law. Here’s what he said:

Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

At different times in American history, emotions have run rampant and caused no small amount of anguish, civil disturbances, and assaults on the rule of law. I point out John Adams’s strong character in this blog today as a reminder that we must not allow passions to run wild. We must always make all our decisions on the basis of evidence, not mere emotion.

All I have seen in the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh up to this point is pure emotion, stripped of any genuine evidence of wrongdoing. The FBI has now been tasked with another round of interviews to find out if there is any corroboration at all for the allegations against him. This came about through one of the most disgusting displays of partisanship ever seen in Congress, and that’s saying a lot considering what has transpired many times before.

Thus far, all we have is the word of women who are basing their testimony on strong emotion . . . yet without even one piece of corroborating evidence. We are supposed to believe them because they are women.

Do women never lie? Are they always to be believed? Do they not also have agendas at times? Has the media looked into the backgrounds of those who are making the accusations, or are they focused on Kavanaugh only?

Whatever happened to the need for real evidence before convicting someone?

Yes, I know this is not a court of law, but someone can be convicted in the arena of public opinion to the point that truth no longer matters. Just believe, even when there’s no reason to do so.

Could Kavanaugh be lying? Well, if he is, he’s survived six previous FBI background checks. Further, women who have known him in high school have testified that he never acted like the accusers have said. Even further, dozens of women who have worked with him in government have stood solidly with him, attesting to his impeccable character.

But we’re supposed to believe someone, in the case of Prof. Ford, who has escaped all media scrutiny. Where have you seen any in-depth treatment of her background, moral behavior, or current political agenda? Maybe I missed it, but nothing I’ve seen has even broached the subject.

No, she’s a woman who came across as credible. Yet by “credible,” what is really meant is she came across as emotional enough to convince people she must be telling the truth.

Yet where is the evidence?

Thomas Sowell has been a favorite writer and commentator of mine for decades. I’ve come across a couple of his most poignant quotes lately, and they are appropriate for what we have been experiencing in this current controversy.

Facts are seldom allowed to contaminate the beautiful vision of the left. What matters to the true believers are the ringing slogans, endlessly repeated.

Emotions neither prove nor disprove facts. There was a time when any rational adult understood this. But years of dumbed-down education and emphasis on how people ‘feel’ have left too many people unable to see through this media gimmick.

He’s one of the new John Adamses in our day. May there be more.

Jeremy Lanphier & the Prayer Revival of 1857

I teach about this man when I cover the Civil War era. This account is taken from a Christian History e-mail I receive daily. I thought it was worth sharing today.

JEREMY LANPHIER was born in Albany in 1809 but he made his mark in New York City. He moved there to find employment and became a success as a clothing wholesaler.

Although he attended church to sing in the choir, he was not a Christian. While attending the Broadway Tabernacle he discovered Christ’s provision for his salvation and claim on his life. Lanphier immediately became concerned for the souls of those in spiritual darkness around him. Unmarried, he was able to give his evenings and spare time to passing out tracts and talking to people.

Meanwhile, a Dutch Reformed church in lower Manhattan had been declining in numbers because as members prospered they tended to move to wealthier districts. The leadership decided to reverse this trend with an active visitation program. They offered the job to Lanphier and he accepted. He would spend entire days visiting members, witnessing in the blocks around the church, and holding Bible studies with anyone he could interest. The work depleted him spiritually, but he found he was recharged if he spent an hour at noon in prayer. Even so, his efforts seemed fruitless.

It occurred to him that if prayer were vital to himself, perhaps others would benefit, too. He obtained a room on Fulton Street and printed 20,000 flyers, setting the first meeting for noon on this day, Wednesday, 23 September 1857.

If ever there was a time to pray, this was it. Americans in the 1850s feared that a civil war was coming. Many were disillusioned with the church because William Miller and others had preached the end of the world in the 1840s.

Lanphier knelt to pray alone. His flyer, it seemed, had been dismissed by all who saw it. For half an hour, he remained praying in solitude. Then a man showed up and, without a word, knelt beside him. Then another. By 1 PM, ten knees were on the floor beside Lanphier. The following week, several more men appeared. By October, Lanphier had to get a larger building. On 7 October, he had forty businessmen as prayer partners and they asked to meet daily. The timing could not have been more perfect.

On 10 October 1857, financial panic struck America. Banks folded, railroads went bankrupt, factories closed, and unemployment skyrocketed. Desperate people turned to prayer. Such a great number of people flocked to churches that soon many places of worship around the city were forced to open their sanctuaries at noon and evening for prayer.. A reporter who rushed from sanctuary to sanctuary one noon counted over six thousand people praying—and he was not able to visit every meeting place. The New York Herald and the New York Tribune covered the phenomenon, bringing it to the attention of others.

Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and other large cities began noon prayer meetings. The YMCA also held prayer meetings wherever its branches had formed.

The result was labeled America’s Third Great Awakening. People began to inquire how they might be saved. As many as a million people were converted or renewed in the revival that followed. Churches that had been dying filled anew with worshipers. The revival leapt around the world, primarily in regions occupied or influenced by the British Empire but also on the European continent.

Jeremy Lanphier continued his work in New York’s streets until he was too old to get around any longer. He died in 1898.

Character: That Which Is in Our Hearts

We are all free moral agents made in the image of God. In order for His creation to operate the way He intended, we must reflect His character. If we don’t, everything falls apart [which is evident just by observing the world].

Noah Webster’s dictionary definition of character, distinct from the human aspect, was simply “a mark made by cutting, engraving, stamping, or pressing.” Like a typewriter—you remember those? Put in the paper, press the key, the arm jumps up and cuts, engraves, stamps, or presses on the paper, making a “mark.”

It works the same way with people. Our character is made by the various cuttings we must endure, the engravings that sometimes hurt, the stamping and pressing that oftentimes leaves us wondering how we are going to survive. Yet those very circumstances of life make us into what we are. They form our character.

Character is created within; it reveals itself externally. We cannot simply grit our teeth and determine we will have godly character; it must spring from a heart that is changed. The Apostle Paul alluded to this when he wrote to the Corinthian believers:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (II Cor. 3:2-3)

The real change takes place in the heart. What is in the heart will be manifested. Some may not like this explanation:




Truth can disturb us—but that’s the nature of truth. Only when we face up to the truth and acknowledge it for what it is can we be set free.