He Readeth George Macdonald

I read The Princess and the Goblins last Lord’s Day. Of course, you can read that book whenever, but those are the sorts of things you can save for Sundays if you believe the fourth commandment is not a suggestion. You can save it for Sundays even if you do believe it is a suggestion, or if you don’t believe anything about that particular commandment at all. I read it because I do not believe the fourth commandment is a suggestion, so I dedicate the whole day to the Lord’s worship specially, and save the Chronicles of Narnia and many other favorite things for that day.

I start on Saturday, usually around 7PM, so it is over after church on Sunday evening. Now this is not approved by some Reformed Baptists since it would leave one open for the super bowl. You would think the approach would be considered Biblical, but it is not the case. It is considered Jewish . . . which I find consolingly ironic. As perhaps you know, there are many varieties of Reformed Baptist, but those among whom I have been are very emphatic on this point. The Presbyterians I am among now are not ones to make it a big deal, they are wary of moralism or legalism, for good theological reasons. They don’t tell you not to profane the Lord’s Day by watching the super bowl like the Reformed Baptists do, and there is as a result a mixed reaction. Church was full last Sunday, but that’s because the three OP congregations hold a quarterly combined service and that happened to be it. It would otherwise have been interesting to see what would have taken place.

Perhaps you are curious about the law. There are three uses, as I understand it. One of them is the civil use of the law, which seems to me somewhat a controversial use. Roger Williams was radical in his society for advocating that only the second table of the law (5-10) ought to be enforced, which leaves out the fourth commandment. The argument for including all of them is not a bad one: they are an expression of God’s character, and as such an unchanging moral norm. The counterargument I can see is that it is perhaps not for society to hold the unregenerate to that norm, but that I think would be a challenging issue. The truth is what exactly the Reformed view of the law’s civil is hasn’t often come up in the teaching I get. Were I the kind to consult Calvin in order to find out, then I could find out, but, as you can probably guess, I am not. I wonder if it isn’t stained with too much Puritan urgency for a godly society. Me, I’m no puritan.

Here’s something interesting: C.S. Lewis takes the Decalogue as a witness to natural law, which is an odd thing to do from the reformed point of view; it is as if Moses just thought it out from custom and Egyptian lore. Of course, he’s making an argument and using it for a certain purpose, but that’s not my point: it is to help you see how some are startled by it.

What I do think I understand is the other two uses of the law. The law’s use for condemnation is undisputed. Everybody believes it is to drive the unregenerate to despair of their own efforts; that I know of. The law serves to condemn, to bring the unconverted to the realization of the bad news that has to come before one can receive the good news. But what is different between a dispensationalist view and a reformed view of the law is that the second have a third use. Those who have new life in Christ have a guide to Christian living in the ten commandments. I’m sure other persuasions will say the same, but when you’re talking where I’ve come from and where I’m at, that’s one of the differences.

From where I was at, I have been given to understand, the reformed view is legalism. From where I’m at, legalism is requiring anything of anybody that we understand God does not. Anything that is made up is legalism, and I sometimes think they believe too much of a focus on applications too much encourageth the legalism/moralism phenomena. Forbidding smoking, for example, is considered legalism where I’m at right now, or ingeniously devising complex interpretations of Scripture in order to forbid drinking alcohol, that would be considered hard-core legalism. Not smoking or drinking is not a problem, but telling someone else that God forbids it is. But requiring church members to refrain from killing, on the other hand, is not considered legalism, nor requiring them to worship on Sunday.

If, on the other hand, you were to intimate that people are accepted with God because they kept the Lord’s Day or refrained from pilfering or perpetrating fraudulent activities, then you would be considered (rightly) a legalist or a moralist. And I think there’s one of the big differences I’ve seen between the Presbyterians and the Baptists I’m currently among: the second group do not back off on preaching the law for fear of being perceived as a legalist or a moralist, and it tends to be the case with the Presbyterians that there is a real aversion to being perceived as one. It is a kind of denominational distinctive of the Orthodox Presbyterian church never to label anything not explicitly labeled in Scripture already, and who can say fairer than that? Except that they shy away from applications, you see, and I am not sure if that is wise or unwise (or entirely the effect of the redemptive-historical view of preaching, which in the OP is ORTHODOXY). Considering applications I’ve not shied away from in the past myself, I am inclined to see some wisdom in it.

Which is all to say I was reading George Macdonald last week and enjoyed it immensely. He is a great one for having spiritual matters in view, and since that’s what I aim for on Sundays, he is awfully helpful. Otherwise, reader, I’d be continually reduced to these little exercises of trying to edify you.


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