Author Archive

John Craig: How a Black Dog Saved a Reformer

April 2, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

Rome

The condemned prisoner could not sleep—for two reasons. The first reason he could not sleep was that it was his last night on earth, and he did not want to waste his final hours in needless slumbers. The next sunrise would be his last. The second reason he could not sleep was that his cell in the Palazzo dell’ Inquisizone was filled with chest-high water. The Tiber River had been flooded for the last twelve hours and he had no place to lie down even if he wanted to. So he stood and waited for the light of his last dawn, listening to the many church bells of the city of Rome.

The bells tolled deeply and solemnly, ringing out over the city of seven hills. During the long night, one bell reminded the Reformer of his native home far, far away. The sound brought back a rush of memories. He remembered his wee home in a Scottish glen near Aberdeen, his father and mother, his brothers and sisters. He remembered his joyful boyhood days, the bluebells and heather that adorned his native hills. He remembered his days at the University at St. Andrews, and his days as a tutor to a noble family. He remembered the day that he had devoted his life to the service of the Church, the day that he yielded his life up to the Dominican Order. He remembered his first journey to the Holy City of Rome, his interview with Cardinal Reginald Pole, and his appointment to the monastery at Bologna.

Basilica of San Domenico

He remembered especially that fateful day when he had been perusing the well-stocked library at the Dominican monastery in Bologna and his eyes fell upon a forbidden book, written by a Frenchman, titled “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” With much trepidation, he had opened the pages of this book and had begun to read. That book changed his life. He found in those pages the simple truth of the Gospel, the errors of the papacy, the emptiness of the mass, and the sufficiency of the Savior’s finished work. Soon, he had embraced the doctrines of the Reformation and had begun to speak, first in private and then in public, in favor of the new reform. Some of his brother monks at Bologna had listened. But others had reported him to the Inquisition. He had been quickly tried, defrocked, and sentenced to be burned to death at the stake.

This is what had brought him to Rome, to the Palazzo dell’ Inquisizone. As he stood, reminiscing on his past, he heard a new and growing intensity in the ring of the church bells. No longer were they merely sounding the hours. There was some great occasion, some notable event that had occurred. He waded through the water over to the window and looked out. The lurid glare of flames reflected on the floodwaters of the Tiber, giving the scene an eerie glow. In the distance, he could hear shouts.

Pope Paul IV

Unbeknownst to the imprisoned Reformer, the sitting pope, Paul IV, had died the evening before. Now the people of Rome were in an uproar. Paul IV had been a very unpopular pope. The people of Rome were in the streets giving vent to their joy. They took the marble statue of Pope Paul IV from its place in the Piazza del Campidoglio, gave it a mock trial, dragged it through the streets, and decapitated it before casting it into the Tiber.

The imprisoned Reformer heard the shouts getting nearer and nearer, not knowing what it all meant. As part of the celebration, the people stormed and sacked the Palazzo dell’ Inquisizone. The people of Rome thus released the Reformer on the very day that he would have died a martyr’s death at the stake. Thus freed unexpectedly, he slipped out of the tumultuous city before the fickle crowds could be subdued by the forces of order. The Reformer headed toward the Alps, hoping to make it to Protestant territory before he was overtaken.

The first dramatic event of his flight occurred in the outskirts of Rome. An Italian soldier searching for the escaped prisoners found a group of them in an old abandoned building, resting for the night. Our hero was among them. In the providence of God, this particular soldier had once been in need and had come to the imprisoned Reformer for help. Remembering this kindness, the soldier intentionally ignored the refugees for the sake of our hero.

A few weeks later, on a lonely mountain road in the Italian Alps, an even more remarkable event took place. As the traveler was resting by a pond, wondering how he was to continue his journey without provisions, he was approached by a large black dog. The dog walked deliberately up to the Reformer. The traveler noticed that the dog carried a bag in his mouth. The dog deposited the bag into the Reformer’s hand and walked on, his mission accomplished. As the trembling hands of the Reformer opened the bag, he found that it was a purse full of gold.

The Reformer never saw the dog again. The Jesuits who later heard the incredible story of their enemy’s deliverance claimed that, since the beast was black, the dog must have been the Devil in canine form. The Protestants all united in ascribing the deliverance to the Lord who says, “every beast of the forest is mine.” The Lord who opened the mouth of the donkey, who summoned the ravens to feed Elijah in the dry wadi, who rode the unbroken colt into Jerusalem, is the same Lord who sent the dog to the assistance of His servant.

The Lord of dogs, and men too, had more work for our hero to perform. The Reformer safely crossed the Alps, using the purse of gold to defray expenses along the way. He went to Germany and eventually made his way back to his native Scotland.

He reached Scotland in 1561 just as his native land was openly embracing the Reformed faith. The returning exile was joyfully welcomed by John Knox, who made him his colleague in Edinborough. He was appointed minister at Holyrood Palace and assisted John Knox in opposing the popery of Mary Queen of Scots. During this time, our hero became a great enemy of the Earl of Bothwell. He also served as the assistant to John Knox at the Kirk of St. Giles, standing shoulder to shoulder with Knox for a decade. The author of the Scot’s Worthies said of our hero that he was “a bold opposer of every encroachment made upon the crown and dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

On one occasion, the Earl of Arran, a great enemy of the Reformation, mocked our hero, calling him a “false friar.” Our hero replied calmly, “Mock the servants of God as thou wilt, God will not be mocked, but shall make thee find it in earnest, when thou shall be cast down from the high horse of thy pride, and humbled.” A few short years after this bold prediction, the Earl of Arran was thrown from his horse in battle. His corpse was eaten by dogs and swine before it could be buried. God thus vindicated His faithful servant. For the rest of his long and active life, our hero preached truth, rebuked error, taught children, and wrote a very popular catechism.

King James as a boy

The most enduring service ever rendered by our hero was performed in 1580, when he authored a short declaration of the Reformed Faith for the young prince James. It was called “The King’s Confession.” King James lived to repudiate and despise it, but this short and bold document became the core of one of the most important documents in Scottish history, the “National Covenant,” expanded and embraced by the following generation in 1638. Our hero never lived to see the days of the Covenanters, but he was their forerunner, a man loved and honored by the mighty men of his day. Sadly, the name John Craig is today almost entirely forgotten.

In the year 1595, at the ripe age of 83, John Craig heard again the summons of death. It had been many years since he had faced death on the banks of the Tiber River. John Craig had lived to see his native land submit to the Law of God. He had authored the document that would give courage and resolve to a new generation of Reformed Scots. The God that had sent a dog to assist him in the Italian Alps now sent His messenger again, this time not in the form of a black dog but in the resplendent garments of celestial glory, to welcome His servant into eternal rest.
Bibliography

The Scots Worthies by John Howie
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne
The Story of the Scottish Church by Thomas McCrie

Girolamo Savonarola: A Faithful Dog Cannot Leave Off Barking

March 1, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

Girolamo Savonarola c. 1524

A thin, awkward, and nervous young man ascended the steps to the high pulpit. The crowd looked at their new preacher. In appearance, he was not much to see. He was of medium height, had brown hair, and was noticeably thin. His prominent nose stuck out from his face and caused some people to hide their smiles. Was this the best that Florence, Italy, could produce?

Florence was the center of art and culture. Here lived Michelangelo and other famous artists of the Renaissance. The powerful Medici family ruled this opulent city, and their palace was stunningly adorned with all that money could buy. Silks, jewels, paintings, art, theatre, and literature made this one of the preeminent cities in all of Europe.
Into this city had come a young man in the plain black robe of a Dominican friar. The young man announced his text. He was awkward in his delivery. His eyes were riveted upon his manuscript. His voice faltered. But he preached the Word of God.

The city of Florence was used to oratory, to fine metaphysical discussions on the writings of the ancients. Here, Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages were revered. Humanists studied Plato and Aristotle and Cicero, and the gay and pleasure-loving populace loved oratory.

Instead they got the Bible, for beneath the black robe lay a heart that beat warmly for God’s truth. The young monk was weary of sophistry that cloaked iniquity. He had seen what went on in the monasteries, and his tender conscience trembled at the abominations that went on behind closed doors. His father’s family had disowned him, and he had given his life up to the service of God and His truth.

Slowly, steadily, the little friar in the black robe preached. Week after week, he opened his Bible and preached, not in the Latin of the ecclesiastical liturgy, but in the vernacular Italian of the streets. At first, the crowds dwindled. One Sunday, there were but 25 faithful souls that attended his preaching.

Gradually people began to come back. It was as though all of Europe was awakening. While the powerful families like the Medicis regaled themselves in their splendor, the middle classes were thirsty for truth. The reigning pope had come to the triple crown by a parade of sins: fornication, simony, and nepotism. Harlots were as common in Rome as were priests. Billowing clouds of sweet incense disguised the reeking stench of moral corruption. Rich vestments covered lustful hearts and gluttonous appetites. Candles were lit in vain to hide the thickening darkness. The common people were growing weary of the hypocrisy and corruption all around them.

Savonarola preaching

The preaching of the black-clad friar gradually became more and more pointed, more and more keen. In his Bible he found that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” He found that his Lord had rebuked the ungodly religious leaders of His day who had turned the Temple of God into a den of thieves.

Like Christ, this young friar saw whited sepulchers, but he knew that within were dead men’s bones. Wherever he saw error, he preached against it. Some of his statements were so pointed that they became startling. One day, looking out at the fancy dresses, plaited hair, and painted faces of the ladies of his congregation, he said, “Ye women, who glory in your ornaments, your hair, your hands, I tell you, you are all ugly.” To the astonished ladies, the ugly monk with the prominent nose described true inner beauty, the “meek and quiet spirit” which is in the sight of God of great price.

Fixing his eyes upon the humanists who boasted of their learning, he said, “A simple old woman knows more of the truth than Plato.” Of the Renaissance paintings, he said, “your art is an idolatry of heathen gods, or a shameless display of naked men and women.” Of bishops and cardinals, he cried, “O Lord! Arise and deliver us from the hands of devils, from the hands of tyrants, from the hands of iniquitous prelates.”

Savonarola Preaching

The results were astounding. In their secret chambers, young ladies with tear-streaked faces and pounding hearts discarded their fashionable garb and wore simple and modest dresses. Learned men gathered their books of Platonic philosophy and exchanged them for Bibles. The crowds swelled. As with Jesus of Nazareth, the common people heard him gladly. This young friar was saying truthful things that they had long suspected, but were too timid to say.
The cathedral of San Marco was, before long, filled with 12,000 men, women, and children hanging upon every word spoken by their earnest preacher. Large fires were kindled in the streets of Florence called “Bonfires of Vanities.” Into these blazing fires were thrown lewd and idolatrous paintings, immodest garments, gambling dice, lascivious poetry, humanistic literature, and Platonic books.

The powerful preaching of the black friar had not gone unnoticed, and the priests and powerful nobles resented the insolent monk who rebuked their sins. Lorenzo de Medici, one of the most wealthy men in Europe, sent the earnest preacher a large gift of money and fine flatteries for his oratory, with a request that he dull the sharp edge of his preaching. The little man in the black robe replied, “A faithful dog does not leave off barking in his master’s defense because a bone is thrown to him.”

Gifts would not silence him. Threats would not silence him. Excommunication would not silence him. All Europe took notice when the worst pope in history issued a papal bull to silence the best monk. Scorning the papal bull, the black friar announced to his astonished congregation,

I hereby testify that this Alexander is no pope, nor can he be held as one; inasmuch as leaving aside the mortal sin of simony, by which he purchased the papal chair, and daily sells benefices of the Church to the highest bidder, and likewise putting aside his other manifest vices, I declare that he is no Christian, and believes in no God.

All of Europe trembled to its foundation when a friar announced that the pope of Rome was no Christian. Like John the Baptist, this friar clad in a black garment had spoken the truth. Also, like John, this friar would seal the truth with his blood.

Savonarola’s Execution

In 1498, on the brink of the Reformation, the friar ascended a rough scaffold. In a solemn voice, the prelate read the sentence of excommunication and the defrocking of the heretic. The little man with the prominent nose was shaved and defrocked, and stood now clad in only a simple white tunic.

As the hooded executioner advanced to perform his office, the pope’s man slowly said, “I separate thee from the church militant and triumphant.” The little friar said his last words on earth, “You have no power to separate me from the church triumphant to which I go.” The order was given. The little man was shoved from the platform, and his neck broke with an audible crack. The worst pope had just killed the best monk.

But the church triumphant had gained another martyr to the truth. Within one generation, the truth preached by this friar would be embraced by half of Europe. In Germany, a young man named Martin Luther was studying law. In France, a princess named Marguerite had recently been born. In Switzerland, a young shepherd boy named Ulrich Zwingli was memorizing the New Testament. The little man in a black robe had ignited a spark that would never go out.

Let it not be said that succeeding generations of Protestant Christians forget the noble courage of the Italian friar with the prominent nose. He was willing to say what no one would: that fashion was ugly, that Plato was a fool, that art was lewd, that prelates were liars, and that the pope was no Christian.

The faithful dog had indeed barked in his Master’s defense. Wherever truth is preached, wherever boldness is honored, wherever Christ is worshiped in purity, the name of Girolamo Savonarola should be remembered and loved.

Bibliography

Girolamo Savonarola by Douglas Bond and Douglas McComas
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne

Florence Today

Edward VI: One Sword Is Yet Wanting

February 22, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

Edward VI before his coronation

A slender young boy slipped out of his bed to prepare himself for the biggest event of his life. He was a small, sickly-looking boy, but his eyes shone with a radiant luster that seemed to glow with an inner light. Some remarked of him that he was an “angel in the body of a boy.” But this boy, a humble Christian, would have been the last to call himself an angel

Before getting dressed, he slipped to his knees to pray. This was a habit he carried all through his life. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed a prayer that his tutor had taught him and he had memorized,

Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from Thy ways like a lost sheep. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart. I have offended against Thy holy laws. I have left undone those things which I ought to have done; and I have done those things which I ought not to have done; and there is no health in me. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon me a miserable offender. Spare Thou me, O God, which confess my faults, restore Thou me, that am penitent; according to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that I may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen.

These words are now famous as one of the important prayers in the English Book of Common Prayer. But in this day, they were the words composed by a Godly preacher named Thomas Cranmer for the personal use of his young charge, a prince named Edward. The boy prayed this prayer, not as liturgy, but as the fervent prayer of a humble heart.

Finishing his prayer, Edward allowed his servants to enter his private chamber in the Tower of London. They were already waiting to attend him. For three full weeks, they had been preparing for this event. They dressed their young master in a long gown of crimson velvet. The outer garments were embroidered with silver and gold. Rubies were set in his belt. Upon his head was placed a white cap set with diamonds and pearls. As the boy emerged onto the street, he was greeted by a shout of triumph from crowds assembled in the streets, “God save the King!”

Edward was only nine years old, but today was the procession to his coronation ceremony as King Edward VI, ruler of one of the most mighty and respected kingdoms on the face of the earth. In spite of the warmth of his long velvet robe, he trembled at the weight of responsibility he now carried. A pang of sadness also passed over him as he thought upon the event that made this day so important. Only recently he and his two sisters had wept together over the death of their father. The crown had passed by dynastic law to the head of Edward, the only son.

Edward VI around 1550

Finally, the young king was ready. First there would be a royal procession from the Tower of London through the streets of the city to Westminster Abbey, where the coronation ceremony was to take place on the following day. A magnificent horse was brought forward, and the young king had to be lifted onto the back of the noble steed. Bishops, dukes, lords, and officers took their places in the royal train.

Three swords were brought forward, emblematic of the three kingdoms under his dominion. These swords were to be carried in the procession. Edward now spoke up with a remark that surprised his attendants, “One sword is yet wanting.”

For a moment, the attendants thought they had omitted something in the royal ceremony. Had a treaty been made, a kingdom added, that they were unaware of? No. The youthful king had in mind a different sword. When the nobles and attendants inquired what the king meant, Edward replied,

The Bible. That book is the Sword of the Spirit, and to be preferred before these swords. That ought in all right to govern us, who use them for the people’s safety by God’s appointment. Without that sword we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have not power. From the Bible we are what we are this day. From it we receive whatsoever it is that we at present do assume. He that rules without it is not to be called God’s minister or king. Under the Bible, the word of God, we ought to live, to fight, to govern the people and to perform all our affairs. From it alone we obtain all power, virtue, grace, salvation, and whatsoever we have of divine strength.

At these words, a Bible was brought and carried in the royal procession in front of young King Edward. At Westminster, the king was prepared for the official coronation, which was to take place the following day.

On this next day, at Westminster Abbey, the King was brought before the people. The King of England lay prostrate before the Throne of God as Thomas Cranmer prayed for Divine Blessing upon the new king. Edward was anointed with oil, and then the Crown Imperial was placed upon his head. The crown he wore was actually a reproduction, specially made to fit his small head. Trumpets sounded in the hall as the people cried, “God save the King.”

Thomas Cranmer, the minister of God, now gave a charge to the king. For the first time in many long years, a King of England was crowned, not by the authority of the Roman Pope, but by the authority of Jesus Christ. Cranmer announced,

Not from the bishop of Rome, but as a messenger from my Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall most humbly admonish your Royal Majesty what things your highness is to perform.

Cranmer then proceeded to give the king a charge from the Bible. He quoted the duties of a king from the Book of Deuteronomy. He admonished King Edward to see that Jehovah be worshipped in truth, to destroy idolatry, and to banish the tyranny of Roman bishops from his dominions. He commanded him “to reward virtue, to avenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice” in his dominions.

Cranmer then compared the young king to Josiah, the eight year old king of Judah of whom it was written “while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (II Chronicles 34:3).

Concluding his address, Cranmer invoked the blessing of the God of David, Solomon, and Josiah upon the head of the new English monarch, “The Almighty God in His mercy let the light of His countenance shine upon your majesty, grant you a prosperous and happy reign, defend you, and save you; and let your subjects say, ‘Amen, God save the King.’”

Cranmer

Edward VI reigned only six short years. But his brief reign was a model of Godliness. Cranmer once said of the young king that he had “more divinity in his little finger than we have in our whole bodies.” Edward wrote a scholarly treatise “Against the Primacy of the Pope” when he was only 12 years old. He outlawed the idolatrous mass in England, enforcing the prohibition even against his own sister, Mary. His tender letters to his older sisters are a model of gracious but firm Christian witness. He elevated Godly preachers such as Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to places of influence. He also secured the release of John Knox from the French galleys, paving the way for the Scottish Reformation. On the practical side, Edward founded schools for the poor and hospitals for the needy. Under his reign thirty-four editions of the English Bible were printed and disseminated over the land. This was all less than a decade after William Tyndale, the translator, had been burned at the stake.

Edward VI died at the age of fifteen. Bishop Hopper wrote of his life and death, “He died young but lived long, if life be action.” Edward VI has been called, and rightly so, the “British Josiah.” His example serves as an enduring model of what a Christian ruler over a Christian people ought to be. The “Sword of the Spirit” was the guiding rule of his life and reign, and God’s Word did not return void.

Bibliography

The British Josiah by N. A. Woychuk
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne

Robert Lewis Dabney: Hold Fast That Which Is Good

February 11, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Dabney

Prove All Things
Hold Fast That Which Is Good

So reads a tombstone of one of the most splendid “mighty men” the continent of North America has ever produced. Before we reveal his name, let us consider his influence. This elegant epitaph, drawn from I Thessalonians 5:21, accurately sums up the life of this man. The Greek word translated “prove” here is δοκιμάζω and means “to test” as an assayer or a metallurgist examines the quality of the metal of a coin. Our hero spent his long and useful life “testing” and “examining” the various trends of his day. He sounded warnings that anticipated some of the greatest disasters that befell the Christian world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Yet, our hero was misunderstood and largely hated in his own lifetime, which was lived in the latter two-thirds of the 1800’s. He bore all sorts of hateful labels. Called an old fogey, a kill-joy, a racist, a critic, and a complainer, our hero ignored all the mud-slinging of his antagonists. Most of these angry labels were piled on him near the end of his long and useful life, and an ungrateful people hated the man who was trying to warn them of dangers lurking within their own homes and churches.

Born in Virginia in 1820, our hero was one of the most eloquent and lucid writers of his age. His background fully prepared him to handle the many areas of life and culture he addressed. He was a pastor, a farmer, a husband, a father, a university professor, an army officer, a lawyer, a scientist, an author, and a world traveler. Nothing escaped his penetrating gaze, and when his eyes were fixed upon something he considered a threat to the cause of Christ, woe be to that man who stood in his way. His pen cut deep. His arguments carried with them a cultivated and keen mind. He drew his authority from the Scripture, and wielded it with sharp and cutting precision. Here are some of the things that fell before his pen.

He discerned the early dangers that feminism would bring upon a patriarchal society. He loved the Biblical role of the wife and mother, being deeply devoted to the wife of his youth. He feared that feminism would destroy not only Biblical femininity, but Biblical manhood as well. He attacked it ferociously and defended the Biblical, time-honored role of a wife and mother as the crowning virtue of womanhood.

Long before the rise of Nazi-Germany, he asserted that the autocratic policies of men like Abraham Lincoln in the United States and Otto von Bismarck in Germany, as popular as these men were and still are in large parts of the modern world, would eventually lead to tyranny and centralized control of banking, education of children, farming, food production, religion, and local affairs. His views were not popular in his day, and the cause for which he fought was eventually suppressed by the brutal heel of Federal power, but our hero did not cease to warn that centralized power would become a major problem both in Europe and in America in the coming decades.

He also decried against Darwinian science. Long before the modern Creation science movement, he ferociously asserted the authority of God’s Word and the futility of any system of Christian synthesis with Darwinian evolution.
He also asserted that the new “higher textual criticism” coming out of the German rationalistic schools of thought would have a huge impact upon the honor that Christians gave to the Bible. He feared that men applying their depraved reasoning to the Bible would try to “explain away” its Divine origins. He feared that the rationalistic questioning of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch would lead to the undermining of the very authority of Scripture, and give so-called “scholars” a loop-hole to live as they chose, and take or leave the passages of Scripture they found.

Robert Lewis Dabney

But, closer to home, he also attacked things inside the church. He warned against worldliness in Christian families. He wrote a long and scathing paper against Christians engaging in popular amusements such as dancing and theatre. He wrote against innovation in church music. He asserted that novels, even “Christian novels,” and historical novels, were dangerous reading and should have no place in a Christian home.

For all these things, he was bitterly hated by many. He was viewed as out-dated, cynical, and overly harsh. But he labored on, his copious pen producing thousands of pages in his long and useful lifetime.

Though hated, our stalwart hero remained convinced of the Biblical truth of the positions he so firmly maintained. He closed one of his books with these words,

Let the arrogant and successful wrongdoers flout our defense with disdain. We will meet them with it again, when it shall be heard in the day of their calamity, in the day of impartial history, and in the Day of Judgment.

The name of our stalwart hero was Robert Lewis Dabney. The words quoted above were the words with which he concluded his Defense of Virginia and the South.

Dabney’s life was full of heartaches. He lost two of his sons to a malignant fever. He was stricken with malaria at the same time which led to his eventual blindness. He saw bitter feuds divide the churches over which he presided. He fought on the losing side of a war, and saw the cause which he loved trampled into the dust by the strong arm of centralized power. He lived the last of his life an exile from the university where he had taught so long, despised, ridiculed, and only enjoying the domestic comforts of the loyal love of his wife and children. He was blind and he suffered from severe pain, but he labored on, preaching and writing whenever he had the opportunity.

Dabney delivered a series of lectures shortly before his death. The elderly saint of God had to be led into the pulpit, where he lifted his sightless eyes to heaven and implored God’s blessing upon the young men and women of a new generation, that they might learn from the mistakes of the past, and be discerning in their time, “proving all things and holding fast that which is good.”

Shortly before his death, Dabney wrote to a friend,

Have I not written? My arguments, founded on Scripture and facts, are as impregnable as the everlasting hills. But who reads it? The self-satisfied insolence of the pharisaical slanders makes them disdain my work – they never condescend to hear of it. I have no audience.

Although relatively few in his own generation gave heed to his warnings, it is encouraging that there is a rising interest in the writings of Robert Lewis Dabney, and a number of his works have been republished by several publishing companies. His warnings against feminism, Unitarianism, rationalism, statist control of education, centralized national power, national banking, and the worldliness of the church have been fully realized, and we can stand amazed at his prophetic insight into the creeping errors of his own generation.

There are those that say to men like Dabney, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” But the same Christ that said this in Matthew 7:1, went on to call men swine and dogs in just a few verses, and to urge His disciples to beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Dabney was not being critical or judgmental in the harmful sense that Jesus warned against. He was being discerning, warning all who would listen that wolves in sheep’s clothing were creeping into the Church and State.

Finally, the day came when the mortal remains of Robert Lewis Dabney were laid to rest in the soil of his native State, Virginia. It was 1898. He was buried on the grounds of Hampden-Sydney College, where he had spent the majority of his life warning against the innovations of his era. Dabney was buried in the old Confederate uniform he had worn serving on the staff of Stonewall Jackson. The words said in the book of Hebrews concerning the first martyr, Abel, apply well to the life of R. L. Dabney, “He, being dead, yet speaketh.” As long as men shall read the writings of R. L. Dabney, his life of careful discernment will not be in vain. As long as lovers of truth shall make their pilgrimage to this quiet spot in central Virginia, they will read the motto of his life inscribed in stone, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Dabney’s Best Works
Defense of Virginia and the South,
Life and Campaigns of Lt. Gen. T. J. Jackson,
Five volumes of his published Discussions

Polycarp: The Man the Flames Would Not Touch

January 20, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Ancient by

Polycarp

Polycarp

 

The church was yet young. The day had come of which Jesus had spoken in Matthew 10:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:16-20).

That time had come. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was on the throne. These were the days when Christians were fed to the lions in the Arena at Rome, the days when the catacombs were full of earnest believers who met together to strengthen and encourage one another for the trials of life. Throughout the Empire, Christianity was spreading at an alarming rate for the Roman emperors. In spite of fire, sword, and beastly fury, Roman officers and even high government officials were being converted from paganism to serve the true and living God of Heaven.

In a somewhat obscure city in Asia Minor, in present day Turkey, far from the seat of Imperial power in Rome, there lived an elderly pastor who had long escaped the fury of the power of Rome. He was well into his eighties, and for many years he had pastored his church. In fact, he was so old, that as a young boy he could have been a contemporary of the Apostle John.

The year was 162 A.D. The place was none other than the city of Smyrna, for that is where this elderly pastor shepherded his congregation. Christ himself had written a letter to this church. The words of our Lord to the church of Smyrna contained not a single rebuke, and they glow with warmth.

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11)

Perhaps our elderly hero, as the pastor of this church, treasured these words in his bosom, and carried them with him wherever he went. For over 80 years, he lived in relative peace. Persecution did rage in the city, and the enemies of the gospel had sought his life, but he himself had always been able to escape martyrdom.

But one day, he was betrayed and the place of his residence was discovered. The soldiers rushed into his chamber and demanded that he follow them. The venerable old man asked the young soldiers to give him a season of prayer before he left. Stunned and bewildered by this strange request, the young soldiers saw no reason to deny the man this simple request. Many of these young soldiers were so touched by the fervency and tenderness of his prayers that they later repented.

The elderly man was brought before the Roman proconsul of the province and was condemned to be burned alive in the market place. Perhaps the words of Christ came back to him, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

The appointed day arrived. The old man was led to his place in the open agora, the market place where public executions were held. A stake awaited him. It was usual practice in Roman times to nail victims to the stake. But the old man had given his word of honor that he would not require the nails. He would stand immovable.

As the elderly hero took his position at the stake, the proconsul, knowing the frailty of the old man’s frame, took pity upon his victim and gave him an opportunity to recant. “Swear, and I will release thee – reproach Christ.”

The answer of the venerable man has gone down in history as among the most famous “last words” of a dying martyr. A hushed silence from the assembled throng awaited his reply. Fixing his aged eyes upon the proconsul, the old man gave his answer, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who has saved me?”

The order was given. The torch was applied to the fagots, and the flames leaped upward. But to the astonishment of the crowd, the flames curled upward and around the elderly martyr, leaving him in the middle of the flames, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, untouched by the flames. It was as if the flames themselves were protesting the execution and refusing to touch this elderly servant of God.

A dramatization of the death of Polycarp

A dramatization of the death of Polycarp

The entire assembly had the opportunity to observe this singular miracle. Finally, the executioner was ordered to run the old man through with a sword, which he did. But upon this act, such a quantity of blood flowed out, that the fire was extinguished. The old man soon died, and his dead body was burned to ashes, but his spirit had long risen to the God who gave it, and we can be sure that the Lord Jesus Christ advanced to the portals of heaven to welcome His faithful servant into His presence, and to give him the promised reward, “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

The man’s name was Polycarp of Smyrna. Many have at least heard the name, but few know the details of his martyrdom. His life and testimony set the pattern for the long train of men, boys, matrons, and maids that would follow his example and lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel throughout Christian history.

Selected Bibliography

This article was drawn from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

 

Gen. Francis Marion: A Jump Out of the Window

January 5, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

General Francis Marion

It was a disgusting scene. What had begun as a sober and important council of war to discuss the affairs of a besieged American city had become a drunken party. Officers were behaving like drunken privates. Lucid statements of military defense had become boisterous shouts of confidence, confidence inspired by the illusions of liquor rather than by concrete plans of sound strategy.

The successful defense of Charleston, South Carolina, was vital to the Patriot cause. This proud seacoast city, having already resisted several attacks by the British navy, was now assaulted by a combined land and naval force that was quickly cutting off all hope of escape or of help from friendly armies.

The American officers charged with Charleston’s defense had met to discuss affairs even as the British tightened their hold on the harbor. The tavern keeper, in whose tavern the meeting was held, was a selfish man who desired to profit from his customers’ fondness for drink. He kept the liquid flowing, and the conversation became more and more boisterous as the night crept into the wee hours of the morning.

In the middle of this wild hubbub of drunken officers sat a slim, athletic figure of medium height. He was a good officer of French Huguenot descent who had played a leading role in the defense of the city in the past. He was resolved again to do his best or perish in the attempt. But he was becoming disgusted with the conduct of his drunken comrades.

Knowing that meaningful statements were now rare and that any clear remarks he could make would be lost upon the drunken ears of his comrades, he decided to leave the meeting and return to his post of duty. But when he tried to leave the upper room of the tavern, he found it locked. The tavern keeper had locked the officers in the room so they could have their fill of rum and give him a good profit.

Now the only sober man in the place, the Christian officer looked for a way out of his dilemma. He was a very abstemious man who, in the hard days of active field campaigns, often subsisted on sweet potatoes and water. He would not become drunk, and he sought a way out of the room.

There was only one way of escape, a window. He opened the window and looked out. The ground was a long way off, but he was an athletic man, and he thought he could make the jump and get out of the drunken company he was in. Deciding to try, he made the leap. But in falling, his ankle turned the wrong way, and his ankle was broken badly.

To his deep chagrin, he had to be taken out of the city on a litter. He had longed to play his part in the defense of Charleston, but now he would be able to play no role in her defense. He was disappointed, frustrated, and dismayed by the lack of military preparedness among his comrades. But he was advised that he should leave the city and head into the interior of South Carolina to recover from his broken ankle. There was but one safe way out of the city, and on this route he was removed to a place of safety.

Charleston

In only a few days, the city was environed by the enemy, and General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered the city of Charleston to the British forces. The vast majority of commissioned officers in the Southern Department had all become prisoners of war. But our hero’s noble resolution not to become drunk had, in the providence of God, preserved him at a crucial period of South Carolina history.

Now one of only a handful of officers in the State of South Carolina who held a commission from the Continental Congress, our hero began to plot how to field a viable force that would oppose the advances of the enemy. After his recovery, he gathered a small band of men that would become famous in the history of South Carolina’s struggle for liberty.

Today, every South Carolinian knows the name, or at least should know the name, of General Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” as he was called by the British. But few know the story of how his resolution not to get drunk preserved him from becoming a prisoner of war in the fall of Charleston.

For three long and grueling years, Francis Marion harassed the British forces in South Carolina. With a fluctuating force of mounted men and boys, General Marion succeeded in baffling the most determined efforts of the British to destroy his command. Emerging from the dismal swamps, he would strike the British column, disperse pickets, raid supplies, cut communications, and capture isolated posts.

Marion Shares a Meal with a British Officer

Marion Shares a Meal with a British Officer

“Light Horse Harry” Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee and comrade in arms of General Marion, said of his friend,

Fertile in stratagem, he struck unperceived, and retiring to those hidden retreats selected by himself in the morasses of the Pee Dee and Black rivers, he placed his corps, not only out of reach of his foe, but often out of the discovery of his friends—never elated by prosperity, nor depressed by adversity, he preserved an equanimity which won the admiration of his friends and exalted the respect of his enemies.

Finally, a real army was sent south to his assistance, and the British were slowly and gradually drawn out of the state by such able generals as Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan. Francis Marion continued to render assistance, raiding British posts in concert with the efforts of Greene and Morgan.

The supreme American commander in the South, General Nathanael Green, gave this glowing tribute to the labors of Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” in a personal letter,

Certain it is, no man has a better claim to the public thanks than you. History affords no instance wherein an officer has kept possession of a country under so many disadvantages as you have. Surrounded on every side with a superior force, hunted from every quarter with veteran troops, you have found means to elude their attempts, and to keep alive the expiring hopes of an oppressed militia, when all succor seemed to be cut off. To fight the enemy bravely with the prospect of victory is nothing, but to fight with intrepidity under the constant impression of defeat, and to inspire irregular troops to do it, is a talent peculiar to yourself.

After the war, Francis Marion went on to a useful life of agriculture and service in the South Carolina Senate. He married a Godly lady of Huguenot ancestry like himself, but they never had children. Marion had a bright Christian testimony and once gave this testimony of the power of the Gospel, “The religion of Jesus Christ is the only sure and controlling power over sin.” Marion died peacefully in February of 1795 beloved by the grateful people whom he had served so well. His tombstone reads:

History will record his worth,
and rising generations embalm his memory,
as one of the most distinguished patriots and heroes
of the American Revolution;
which elevated his native country
to honor and Independence,
and secured to her the blessings of liberty and peace.
This tribute of veneration and gratitude
is erected in commemoration
of the noble and disinterested virtues of the citizen,
and the gallant exploits of the soldier,
who lived without fear, and died without reproach.

The bold deeds of the “Swamp Fox” have stirred the hearts of each generation. Young Thomas Jackson held Marion as his foremost boyhood hero, and the subsequent campaigns of Jackson, Stuart, and Mosby reflect Marion’s exploits in South Carolina.

But were it not for his resolute decision to jump from a window to avoid drunkenness, Marion would have been captured along with the rest of the officers defending Charleston and would never have been able to liberate his native state from the clutches of the enemy. A man’s resolution to do right may seem insignificant, but the God of providence can do great things with such resolute and obedient men.

The Grave of Francis Marion. Source

Selected Bibliography

The American Revolution in the South by “Light Horse Harry” Lee
The Life of General Francis Marion by M. L. Weems
The Life of Francis Marion by William Gilmore Simms
The Swamp Fox by Robert D. Bass

New Series – “Tales of Mighty Men”

January 1, 2016 with 2 Comments and Posted in News by

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to announce a new series brought to us by John Huffman recounting the stories of the great mighty men of the past. You can expect new posts several times a month over the coming year. 

The Siege of Jerusalem

The Bible presents us with the historical records of the “mighty men” of Scripture. The lives of Abraham, Joshua, Gideon, David, Benaiah, Jehoiada, Josiah, Isaiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Tychicus are described and held up to us as noble examples. Following these Biblical narratives, the “Tales of Mighty Men” seeks to preserve the record of the “mighty men” of Christian history. Each issue in this series gives a brief biographical sketch of the life and character of a specific “mighty man.” Some of these men were warriors. Some were pastors. Some were civil magistrates. Some were merchants or farmers. Some were famous. Others were unknown in their generation. These stories range in time from the earliest days of the Roman persecutions all the way up to our modern era. Reformation martyrs, Waldense soldiers, Scottish Covenanters, Hawaiian princes, English Puritans, American patriots, French Huguenots, and bold missionaries traversing the interior regions of Africa are presented here. It is my prayer that these sketches will encourage, inspire, and edify a new generation of “mighty men” and “virtuous women.” Each biographical sketch ends with book recommendations so that the interested reader can learn more about the heroes presented.