Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts and prayers, once a common expression of sympathy, now vilified as “not enough.” And, in one sense, these words aren’t enough. However, it isn’t the words that have power, but the One who listens to and answers them.

The Second Book of Kings contains a startling passage that illustrates some of the hidden reality behind our prayers:

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city.

And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.”

So, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.”

So, He struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.

And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.

2 Kings 6:15-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Thursday evening, November 5, 1874, C. H. Spurgeon delivered a sermon titled: “Eyes Opened” (No. 3117) In it, he drew lessons for his congregation (and us) from the text in Second Kings.

Spurgeon’s first observation was: “The natural eyes are blind to heavenly things.”

Man boasts that he can see, but he cannot. He sees natural things and he often sees them very clearly.

…For natural things, the natural eyes are sufficient but, as the natural man understands not the things of the Spirit of God, seeing that they are spiritual and must be spiritually discerned, so the natural eyes discern not spiritual things.

…The natural man can go through the world and not see God at all. Yes, and he will even have the audacity to deny that God is there! And he may go further, still, and say that there is no God at all! David says that such a man is a fool, but the modern name for him is, “philosopher.”

…So blind is man that in addition to not seeing his God, he does not see the Law of God…The great reason why men do not comprehend the high spirituality of the Law, its exceeding breadth and wondrous severity, is because they are blind.

Being thus blind to God and to His Law, they are also blind to their own condition. He who has his eyes opened but for a moment will perceive that his soul is as full of sin… He sees that every action he performs is stained with sin and that he is so guilty before God that condemnation has already passed upon him—so guilty that he can never make any atonement for the past and that nothing he can do or suffer can ever save him!

He must feel, if once his eyes have been opened, that he is lost, ruined and undone by nature and by practice, too—and that only a supernatural act of Divine Grace can deliver him from the danger into which he has brought himself and the guilt into which he has plunged himself!

…In-as-much as men are not able to see their sin, and to see their danger, therefore they do not see the way of salvation. They…will not understand it unless their eyes are opened by a miracle which only the Holy Spirit can work. …[They are] not in a position to see the wondrous scheme by which [they are] delivered from that danger through the Grace of God, by the atoning Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the effectual working of the ever-blessed Spirit!

The next Truth of God is: “God alone can open men’s eyes.”

We may lead blind men to Jesus, but we cannot open their eyes. We can, in a measure, indicate to them what spiritual sight is and we may explain to them what their own sad condition is—but we cannot open their eyes! Neither can anyone, but God alone, open their eyes…

Why [is it] that God alone can open men’s eyes? It is because to open the eyes of blind souls is an act of creation. The faculty to see is gone from the fallen spirit—the eyes have perished—the optical nerve has died out through sin. God will not merely clean the dust out of old eyes or take cataracts away from them—but old things must pass away and all things must become new! He gives new eyes to those who have totally lost all power of sight. The act of creating a soul anew is as much a work of God’s Omnipotence as the making of a world!

…We must remember, too, that man is willfully blind. Our old proverb says, “There are none so deaf as those that won’t hear, and none so blind as those that won’t see.” It is not merely that man cannot come to Christ, but he will not come to Christ that he may have life! It is not merely that he cannot see the Truth of God, but that he loves darkness rather than light and does not want to see! You cannot convince a man who is resolved not to be convinced. If sinners were only willing to see, they would soon see, but their will itself is in bondage and utterly estranged from God. And, therefore, it is that only a Divine Power—the will of God—can overcome the desperately wicked will of man!

Thirdly, Spurgeon said, “Though we cannot open the eyes of the blind, we can pray for them that their eyes may be opened.”

This is what Elisha did for his servant. The young man could not see the horses and chariots of fire and Elisha could not make him see them, but he offered this prayer for him, “Lord, I pray You, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw.”

…While teachers or parents entertain the belief that there is some innate power in themselves with which they can do God’s work, they are not on the right track, for God will not work through those who believe in their own self-sufficiency.

But when you say, “I can no more save a soul than I can open the eyes of a man born blind, I am utterly helpless in this matter,” then it is that you begin to pray. And beginning to pray, you are taught how to act—and God uses you as His instrument and eyes are opened—yes, opened by you, instrumentally, but God has all the Glory!

Now, when should you specially pray for those who are blind? I think this narrative teaches us that we should do so whenever we see them in trouble. This young man said to Elisha, “Alas, my master!” So that was the time for Elisha to pray for him, “Lord, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.”

…It is also a good time to pray for sinners when we hear them enquiring. This young man said to Elisha, “What shall we do?” Be always ready, when you hear them asking, “What shall we do?” or, “How shall we do?” to point them at once to Jesus and also to take their case to Jesus in prayer.

It is also a good time to pray for them when we ourselves have had a clear sight of the things of God. You ought, by the very clearness of the vision which you have enjoyed, to pity those who still sit in darkness, and to pray that they may be brought into the Light. Elisha had himself seen the horses and chariot of fire and, therefore, he prayed for his servant, “Lord, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.”

When it is well with you, speak to Christ on behalf of poor sinners. When you have good times, yourselves, remember those who are starving away from the banquet—and pray the Master of the feast to give you the Grace to “compel them to come in.”

It is well to pray for sinners, too, when their blindness astonishes us. I know that, sometimes, you are quite amazed that people should be so ignorant about Divine things. It surprises you that intelligent people should have such mistaken notions concerning the very simplest Truths of God’s Word. Even if you are astonished, do not be vexed at them, but pray earnestly for them.

…Let us also remember, dear Friends, that when we received our spiritual eyesight, it was mainly because others had been praying for us. Most of us can probably trace our conversion to the intercession of a godly father, or mother, or teacher, or friend. Then let us repay those prayers which were offered for us, in years gone by, by pleading for others who still are blind—

“Pray that they who now are blind, Soon the way of Truth may find.”

…Make this the burden of your daily approach to God for anyone in whom you are specially [concerned], “O Lord, I pray You, open his eyes, that he may see!”

Fourthly, he said: “There is this blessed fact…that God does open men’s eyes.”

God can do it and, according to this [description], He has done it in an instant A moment before, this young man could see no horses or chariots of fire, but as soon as Elisha’s prayer was registered in Heaven, his servant could see what was before invisible to him! …The soul is dead, and it is made alive in a single moment!

…My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, pray fervently that the blind may have their eyes opened, seeing that God can do it, and can do it at once!

And Spurgeon’s last remark was: “even those persons who can see need more sight.”

We all need to see more in the Scriptures. Each of us needs to pray to the Lord, “Open You my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your Law.”

…We also need to have our eyes opened as to the great Doctrines of the Gospel.

…We also need to have our eyes opened with regard to Providence.

…Oftentimes we need to have our eyes opened to see ourselves.

…We need to have our eyes opened with regard to temptation, for we may think that we are not being tempted at the very moment when we are in the greatest danger from temptation.

…We need to have our eyes opened as to what is most desirable, for we often aspire after the high places when the lowest are the best— and seek wealth when poverty would be the better soil for the growth of Grace—

…We need to have our eyes opened that we may see a great deal more of our Savior. The strangest thing of all is that though the Lord has opened our eyes and we have seen Jesus as our Savior, we know so little of Him after all.

***

In this day and age, when the love of many has grown cold, those in the churches even doubt the effectiveness of prayer.

However, the Book of Revelation says:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Revelation 8:3-5 (ESV)

Thus, in this passage, we have a picture of God’s powerful answers to the thoughts and prayers of those who have faith in Him.

Ligon Duncan: Why Should We Pray? YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on Apr 9, 2015

Vessels of Wrath

I was taken aback, a while ago, by a statement I read in G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to the effect that, in his opinion, Calvinism gave rise to the deterministic worldview of the atheists of his century. Here’s a particularly striking quote:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways, the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.

The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus, some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus, some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful…

There is no doubt of Chesterton’s superb erudition. However, his assignment of blame leaves me in a quandary. Was he blaming the Magisterial Reformation for the Radical one? Was he arguing for and against himself all at once?

In answer, what leapt to mind were several fundamental doctrines that even Calvin’s critics concede he held in common with Augustine. The first, in what may become a series of refutations, follows from the following two passages of scripture:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. Romans 9:21-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

and

For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

Romans 11:32-35 (ESV)

We examine what Calvin and Augustine said about these passages. Forgive us if the comparison (for, I believe, there is no contrast) is long-winded. However, if you choose to skim the arguments, please take time to read the two paragraph conclusion at this post’s end.

Calvin says about Romans 9:

Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrary power but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.

And further, bear this in mind, — that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so, God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death.

Still more so:

And what, etc. A second answer, by which [Paul] briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblameable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect.

He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not [proper] that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.

…If we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure.

If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being [reprimanded] in this dispensation?

But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behooves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power. For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.

That he might also make known the riches of his glory, etc. …It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.

…Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.

Concerning Romans 11, Calvin remarks:

For God has shut up, etc. A remarkable conclusion, by which he shows that there is no reason why they who have a hope of salvation should despair of others; for whatever they may now be, they have been like all the rest. If they have emerged from unbelief through God’s mercy alone, they ought to leave place for it as to others also. For he makes the Jews equal in guilt with the Gentiles, that both might understand that the avenue to salvation is no less open to others than to them. For it is the mercy of God alone which saves; and this offers itself to both.

This sentence then corresponds with the testimony of Hosea, which he had before quoted, “I will call those my people who were not my people.” But he does not mean, that God so blinds all men that their unbelief is to be imputed to him; but that he has so arranged by his providence, that all should be guilty of unbelief, in order that he might have them subject to his judgment, and for this end, — that all merits being buried, salvation might proceed from his goodness alone.

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases. There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

But extremely gross is their folly who hence conclude that all shall be saved; for Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And, finally:

Oh! the depth, etc. …Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration. Nor ought we to be ashamed, that if we are not wiser than [Paul], who, having been taken into the third heaven, saw mysteries to man ineffable, and who yet could find in this instance no other end designed but that he should thus humble himself…

How incomprehensible, etc. …Let us then learn to make no [searches regarding] the Lord, except as far as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures; for otherwise we shall enter a labyrinth, from which the retreat is not easy. It must however be noticed, that he speaks not here of all God’s mysteries, but of those which are hid with God himself, and ought to be only admired and adored by us.

Who has known the mind of the Lord? He begins here to extend as it were his hand to restrain the audacity of men, lest they should clamor against God’s judgments, and this he does by stating two reasons: the first is, that all mortals are too blind to take a view of God’s predestination by their own understanding, and to reason on a thing unknown is presumptuous and absurd; the other is, that we can have no cause of complaint against God, since no mortal can boast that God is a debtor to him; but that, on the contrary, all are under obligations to him for his bounty.

Within this limit then let everyone remember to keep his own mind, lest he be carried beyond God’s oracles in investigating predestination, since we hear that man can distinguish nothing in this case, any more than a blind man in darkness.

This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.

As then we cannot by our own faculties examine the secrets of God, so we are admitted into a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit: and if we ought to follow the guidance of the Spirit, [then,] where he leaves us, there we ought to stop and as it were to fix our standing. If anyone will seek to know more than what God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of inaccessible light.

But we must bear in mind the distinction, which I have before mentioned, between the secret counsel of God, and his will made known in Scripture; for though the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful, who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide; but the case is different with regard to his hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.

Who has first given to him, etc. Another reason, by which God’s righteousness is most effectually defended against all the accusations of the ungodly: for if no one retains him bound to himself by his own merits, no one can justly [disagree] with him for not having received his reward; as he, who would constrain another to do him good, must necessarily adduce those deeds by which he has deserved a reward.

The import then of Paul’s words is this — “God cannot be charged with unrighteousness, except it can be proved, that he renders not to everyone his due: but it is evident, that no one is deprived by him of his right, since he is under obligation to none; for who can boast of anything of his own, by which he has deserved his favor?”

Now this is a remarkable passage; for we are here taught, that it is not in our power to constrain God by our good works to bestow salvation on us, but that he anticipates the undeserving by his gratuitous goodness.

But if we desire to make an honest examination, we shall not only find, that God is in no way a debtor to us, but that we are all subject to his judgment, — that we not only deserve no [outlay], but that we are worthy of eternal death.

And Paul not only concludes, that God owes us nothing, on account of our corrupt and sinful nature; but he denies, that [even] if man were perfect, he could bring anything before God, by which he could gain his favor; for as soon as he begins to exist, he is already by the right of creation so much indebted to his Maker, that he has nothing of his own.

In vain then shall we try to take from him his own right, that he should not, as he pleases, freely determine respecting his own creatures, as though there was mutual debt and credit.

***

Augustine, unlike Calvin, tends to use scripture to explain scripture as much as possible in his commentaries. In Chapter 15 of his Anti-Pelagian Writings, titled: “The Apostle Meets the Question by Leaving It Unsolved,” he says:

Since, in the case of those two twins (Romans 9:10-13,) we have without a doubt one and the same case, the difficulty of the question why the one died in one way, and the other in another, is solved by the apostle [Paul] as it were by not solving it; for, when he had proposed something of the same kind about two twins, seeing that it was said (not of works, since they had not as yet done anything either of good or of evil, but of Him that calls), “The older shall serve the younger,” and, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated;” and he had prolonged the horror of this deep thing even to the point of saying, “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.”

[Paul] perceived at once what the trouble was, and opposed to himself the words of a gainsayer which he was to check by apostolical authority. For he says, “You say, then, unto me, “Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” And to him who says this he answered, “O man, who art you that replies against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why have you made me thus?” Has not the potter power of the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?”

Then, following on, he opened up this great and hidden secret as far as he judged it fit that it should be disclosed to men, saying, “But if God, willing to show His wrath and to demonstrate His power, endured in much patience the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, even that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.”

This is not only the assistance, but, moreover, the proof of God’s grace—the assistance, namely, in the vessels of mercy, but the proof in the vessels of wrath; for in these He shows His anger and makes known His power, because His goodness is so mighty that He even uses the evil well; and in those He makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, because what the justice of a punisher requires from the vessels of wrath, the grace of the Deliverer remits to the vessels of mercy.

Nor would the kindness which is bestowed on some freely appear, unless to other equally guilty and from the same mass God showed what was [truly] due to both, and condemned them with a righteous judgment.

For who makes you to differ?” says the same apostle to a man as it were boasting concerning himself and his own benefits. “For who makes you to differ” from the vessels of wrath; of course, from the mass of perdition which has sent all by one into damnation?

“Who makes you to differ?” And, as if he had answered, “My faith makes me to differ, —my purpose, my merit,”— he says, “For what have you which you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you boast as if you received it not?”—that is, as if that by which you are made to differ were of your own.

Therefore, He makes you to differ who bestows that whence you are made to differ, by removing the penalty that is due, by conferring the grace which is not due. He makes to differ, who, when the darkness was upon the face of the abyss, said, “Let there be light; and there was light, and divided” —that is, made to differ— “between the light and the darkness.”

For when there was only darkness, He did not find what He should make to differ; but by making the light, He made to differ; so that it may be said to the justified wicked, “For ye were sometime darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.” And, thus, he who glories must glory not in himself, but in the Lord. He makes to differ who—of those who are not yet born, and who have not yet done any good or evil, that His purpose, according to the election, might stand not of works, but of Himself that calls—said, “The older shall serve the younger,” and commending that very purpose afterwards by the mouth of the prophet, said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

Because he said, “the election,” and in this, God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find; just as it is written of the remnant of Israel: “There is made a remnant by the election of grace; but if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”

On which account you are certainly foolish who, when the Truth declares, “Not of works, but of Him that calls, it was said,” say that Jacob was loved on account of future works which God foreknew that he would do, and thus contradict the apostle when he says, “Not of works;” as if he could not have said, “Not of present, but of future works.” But he says, “Not of works,” that He might commend grace; “but if of grace, now is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”

For grace, not due, but free, precedes, that by it good works may be done; but if good works should precede, grace should be repaid, as it were, to works, and thus grace should be no more grace.

Augustine goes on, in Chapter 29, titled: “It is an Inscrutable Mystery Why Some are Saved, and Others Not,” to say:

Now there is much significance in that He does not say, “The wrath of God shall come upon him,” but “abides on him.” For from this wrath (in which we are all involved under sin, and of which the apostle says, “For we too were once by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) nothing delivers us but the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust. For “is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

But we must first bend our necks to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, in order that we may each arrive at knowledge and understanding through faith. For it is not said in vain, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” The profundity of this “deep” the apostle, as if with a feeling of dread, notices in that exclamation: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”

He had indeed previously pointed out the meaning of this marvelous depth, when he said: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” Then struck, as it were, with a horrible fear of this deep: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

How utterly insignificant, then, is our faculty for discussing the justice of God’s judgments, and for the consideration of His gratuitous grace, which, as men have no prevenient merits for deserving it, cannot be partial or unrighteous, and which does not disturb us when it is bestowed upon unworthy men, as much as when it is denied to those who are equally unworthy!

Augustine, through various works, explains: that it is justice that all are condemned but mercy that some are saved, the mystery of human will and God’s mercy, that man continues to be born under sin (An argumentation against Pelagius), that God is good in all he does, that God’s secret will and just choice follow from the scriptures, more on His own just and secret judgment, that God’s unmerited favor is bestowed through His secret providence,”, that those that learn, live, and that rebuke in love is necessary for correction; and, lastly, an exquisitely short and subtle commentary on so-called double predestination.

All of this exposition is encapsulated in Augustine’s Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints.

***

God, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 and Romans 11, declares that all stand justly condemned, and yet some are saved by God’s unmerited favor according to His secret will. And, as we’ve shown, both Calvin and Augustine concur with this doctrine.

Therefore, might we not conclude that Calvin was an Augustinian and Augustine a Calvinist, in as much as they are clearly in concordance with each other on these points in their explication of the God-breathed scriptures? What these labels have become over the centuries belies the integrity of these two great men toward the Lord’s Word.

With Or Without Reason, YouTube, The Call – Topic, Lyrics

Coup? – By Bernhardt Writer

I must preface this post with an appeal for civility that United States Congressman Rodney Davis made after he was shot at during the attempted assassination of members of the US House of Representatives including Majority Whip Steve Scalise back in June of 2017.

Rep. Rodney Davis Blames ‘Political Rhetorical Terrorism’ For Virginia Shooting, YouTube, Published on June 14, 2017

Representative Scalise was released from the hospital in late July.

For those uncertain how to pronounce coup, Google provides audio. Wikipedia defines Coup d’état, for which coup is short, as:

The illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus.

Today’s theme was prompted by a recent editorial in the blog American Greatness which opened:

The president was widely seen as incompetent, naïve, hostile to the professional experts in the bureaucracy, if not an outright traitor, paid off by the nation’s ancient enemies.

The traditional political establishment, the intelligence services, and the career federal police were proven patriots and experts, who saw a tragedy unfolding before their eyes. They and everyone in their circle were increasingly worried over the destruction of the nation’s economy and the dangerous concessions to foreign enemies. He must be stopped.

Familiar, no?

In light of recent domestic events, it is worth remembering [that this described the circumstances around] the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev…

The coup leaders thought they would be celebrated as saviors of the nation and that the Soviet people, long bred in habits of fear and passivity, would accept these events regardless…[However,] quite the opposite occurred.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators appeared in Red Square in Moscow and Leningrad to defend nascent democratic institutions…Ordinary people, it turned out, were hostile to the legacy Soviet elite. They wanted change, and they risked their lives for it.

Soon the coup plotters were arrested, several committed suicide, and the Communist Party and eventually the Soviet Union were soon officially disbanded.

The parallels with the current talk against Trump are rather remarkable. As Trump noted in his inaugural address:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished―but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered―but the jobs left, and the factories closed. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

…Whether Trump is somehow forced to resign, taken out in a real or quasi-coup, or hobbled by passive resistance from the federal bureaucracy, it is worth remembering his American enemies echo almost identically the themes of the ’91 Soviet plotters, right down to the excuse of illness, claims of national emergency, and suggestion that the vice president would be a more capable steward of their interests.

…While they might try to pull this off, perhaps they should be worried they’ll share the same fate as the Soviet coup plotters.

I’ve sensed subversion and insurrection in the air for some time now. Perhaps you have too? Our Declaration of Independence says, among other things, that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

A commentator at Claremont Review of Books, Angelo M. Codevilla, wrote:

So many on all sides have withdrawn consent from one another, as well as from republicanism as defined by the Constitution and as it was practiced until the mid-20th century, that it is difficult to imagine how the trust and sympathy necessary for good government might ever return.

Instead, we have a cold civil war. Statesmanship’s first task is to prevent it from turning hot. In today’s circumstances, fostering mutual forbearance may require loosening the Union in unfamiliar and unwelcome ways to accommodate differences that may otherwise become far worse…

Revolutions end when a coherent, persuasive idea of the common good returns to the public mind. Only then can statecraft be practiced rationally, as more than a minimalist calling designed to prevent the worst from happening.

Dennis Prager holds a similar, if gloomier, outlook:

It is time for our society to acknowledge a sad truth: America is currently fighting its second Civil War.

In fact, with the obvious and enormous exception of attitudes toward slavery, Americans are more divided morally, ideologically and politically today than they were during the Civil War. For that reason, just as the Great War came to be known as World War I once there was World War II, the Civil War will become known as the First Civil War when more Americans come to regard the current battle as the Second Civil War.

This Second Civil War, fortunately, differs in another critically important way: It has thus far been largely nonviolent. But given increasing left-wing violence, such as riots, the taking over of college presidents’ offices and the illegal occupation of state capitols, nonviolence is not guaranteed to be a permanent characteristic of the Second Civil War.

There are those on both the left and right who call for American unity. But these calls are either naive or disingenuous. Unity was possible between the right and liberals, but not between the right and the left.

Liberalism – which was anti-left, pro-American and deeply committed to the Judeo-Christian foundations of America; and which regarded the melting pot as the American ideal, fought for free speech for its opponents, regarded Western civilization as the greatest moral and artistic human achievement and viewed the celebration of racial identity as racism – is now affirmed almost exclusively on the right and among a handful of people who don’t call themselves conservative.

The left, however, is opposed to every one of those core principles of liberalism.

Like the left in every other country, the left in America essentially sees America as a racist, xenophobic, colonialist, imperialist, warmongering, money-worshipping, moronically religious nation.

Just as in Western Europe, the left in America seeks to erase America’s Judeo-Christian foundations. The melting pot is regarded as nothing more than an anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic meme. The left suppresses free speech wherever possible for those who oppose it, labeling all non-left speech “hate speech.”

But, how did we get here? We’ve discussed it before on this blog. However, this time, let’s go back to our miraculous beginning to see where we’ve come from:

The Great Awakening profoundly shaped the American Revolution. Growing as it did out of a period of deep religious fervor and ferment, the American Revolution was not going to be an anti-religious revolution like the one in France. “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced,” John Adams wrote, “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People. A Change in their Religious Sentiments of their Duties and Obligations.”

Lord Acton traced the history of liberty as the story of mankind’s struggle down through the centuries to realize the political implications of the Gospel. Harry Jaffa agreed: “That the equality of human souls in the sight of God ought to be translated into a political structure of equal political rights has come to be regarded as the most authentic interpretation of the Gospel itself.”

It was the Founders’ great achievement, after nearly two millennia, to make equal political rights that authentic interpretation.

City Journals Fred Siegel wrote:

The Constitution…established a society in which property was widely if not always evenly distributed, but it did not pit the owners of property against the workers in intractable opposition. The Constitution was meant to serve and represent the broad middle ranks of society.

The great danger to the Constitution was the rise of an oligarchy able to convert its wealth into political power and vice versa. Madison, the Constitution’s primary author, warned that, eventually, “the proportion being without property” would increase, and create a crisis of legitimacy for the ruling class. At that point, Madison intuited, “the institutions and laws of the country must be adapted, and it will require for the task all the wisdom of the wisest patriots.”

But, wisdom did not prevail. Instead, the oligarchs took control:

Against the concept of Biblical monarchy, the republicans counterposed the Biblical idea of covenant among individuals whose spiritual sovereignty arose from their personal experience of revelation…through Scripture. …No other nation had entrusted religion to individual citizens rather than to a state church. Americans emerged from the beginning as a covenantal people.

How then did America leap from Lincoln’s Calvinism to the Progressive conceit that the world was under human control, not under divine judgment? …Perhaps it is no accident that Woodrow Wilson’s father was a Southern Presbyterian minister who defended slavery: The Civil War’s losers did not like the idea that their humiliation was a divine judgment.

Instead of a world redeemed by God, the Progressives envisioned one made whole by human cleverness. “The Progressive response to all the problems posed by trusts, strikes, immigrants, corruption, education, public health, and more was scientific management through governance informed by credentialed experts…A modern society needed a modern state to fulfill the promise of rapid and permanent progress.”

[And] So did a modern world. [Mainline Baptist preacher and social gospel proponent] Walter Rauschenbusch … “claimed that God had not raised the United States to great power and wealth merely to be an example to other nations…but rather to act strenuously on behalf of righteousness in the world.”

And these idolatrous tenets were instituted through a new, living constitution embodied in an unelected administrative state. Phillip Hamburger, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, spoke about this subversion of America’s founding principles:

Administrative law…is a post-1789 development and—this is the key point—it arose as a pragmatic and necessary response to new and complex practical problems in American life…and, of course, if looked at that way, opposition to administrative law is anti-modern and quixotic.

But there are problems…Rather than being a modern, post-constitutional American development, I argue that the rise of administrative law is essentially a re-emergence of the absolute power practiced by pre-modern kings. Rather than a modern necessity, it is a latter-day version of a recurring threat—a threat inherent in human nature and in the temptations of power….

In this way, over the past 120 years, Americans have reestablished the very sort of power that the Constitution most centrally forbade. Administrative law is extra-legal in that it binds Americans not through law but through other mechanisms—not through statutes but through regulations—and not through the decisions of courts but through other adjudications…

…Much early administrative procedure appears to have been modelled on civilian-derived inquisitorial process. Administrative adjudication thus becomes an open avenue for evasion of the Bill of Rights. [emphasis mine]

And this constitutional subversion continues apace:

There is an obvious logic to the progressive dynamic. So long as there is no realistic prospect of dismantling the administrative state whose foundations were laid by Wilson and built upon by the New Deal [by FDR] and the Great Society [by LBJ], the movement of history must be in a progressive direction. Every major conservative political victory becomes a victory for the status quo; every major liberal victory becomes another step forward. Progressives are always just one electoral victory away from resuming the forward march of history.

And yet, this “progress” must not stand says Myron Magnet, Editor at Large for City Journal, who wrote:

For Americans to think that it is “progress” to move from the Founders’ revolutionary achievement—a nation of free citizens, endowed with natural rights, living under laws that they themselves have made, pursuing their own vision of happiness in their own way and free to develop as fully as they can whatever talent or genius lies within them—to a regime in which individuals derive such rights as they have from a government superior to them is contemptible.

How is a return to subjection an advance on freedom? No lover of liberty should ever call such left-wing statism “progressive.” In historical terms, this elevation of state power over individual freedom is not even “liberal” but quite the reverse.

…Deference to the greater wisdom of government, which Wilsonian progressivism deems a better judge of what the era needs and what the people “really” want than the people themselves, has been silently eroding our unique culture of enterprise, self-reliance, enlightenment, and love of liberty for decades.

…As the Founders often cautioned, a self-governing republic doesn’t have a governing class. Part of America’s current predicament is that it now has such a class, and the American people are very angry about it.

This governing class, Madison’s oligarchs who are: “able to convert [their] wealth into political power and vice versa,” view the people of the United States with contempt. These establishment elites (of the so-called right and the left) are globalists who think in this way:

We live in an interconnected world. Globalization and the internet have created new networks of belonging and new forms of social trust, by which borders are erased and old attachments vaporized…The nation-state was useful while it lasted and gave us a handle on our social and political obligations. But it was dangerous too, when inflamed against real or imaginary enemies.

In any case, the nation-state belongs in the past, to a society in which family, job, religion and way of life stay put in a single place and are insulated against global developments. Our world is no longer like that, and we must change in step with it if we wish to belong.

In rebuttal, the author continues:

The argument is a powerful one…but it overlooks the most important fact, which is that democratic politics requires a demos. Democracy means rule by the people and requires us to know who the people are, what unites them and how they can form a government.

This globalist elite seeks to abolish the people by overturning their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness:

[Globalism’s] purpose is not to seek value in the earth’s far corners but to get across the border to where the customs, expectations, and regulations that arose in the industrial age regarding compensation of the workforce don’t apply…

…In 1993, during the first month of his presidency, Bill Clinton outlined some of the promise of a world in which “the average 18-year-old today will change jobs seven times in a lifetime.” How could anyone ever have believed in, tolerated, or even wished for such a thing?

A person cannot productively invest the resources of his only life if he’s going to be told every five years that everything he once thought solid has melted into air. Far from being a promise, this much-touted side of globalization would be worth a great deal of hardship to avoid.

The more so since globalization undermines democracy… Global value chains are extraordinarily delicate. They are vulnerable to shocks. Terrorists have discovered this. In order to work, free-trade systems must be frictionless and immune to interruption, forever.

This means a program of intellectual property protection, zero tariffs, and cross-border traffic in everything, including migrants. This can be assured only in a system that is veto-proof and non-consultative—in short, undemocratic. That is why it is those who have benefited most from globalization who have been leading the counterattack against the democracy movements arising all over the West.

This last paragraph brings to mind two thoughts from the Book of Revelation:

They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,

    you mighty city, Babylon!

For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. [emphasis added]

Revelation 18:10-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” Revelation 13:4 (ESV)

Our recent election sought, through lawful means, to correct the actions of the subversive elite:

What if a naïve faith in voters’ rationality is not the source of our system’s difficulties?

What if the problem is that the public wants to tell its leaders something they don’t want to hear?

What if the literature of anti-democratic political science, like so much of our elite conversation about politics, is just a way to tell the public to shut up?

What if, as a result, the leaders who secure a hearing for public frustrations manage to do so by working around or undermining our institutions, rather than by harnessing them?

What if that willful elite ignorance is why our institutions face a crisis of legitimacy, leading to elections that force us to choose between bland technocrats and reckless brutes?

In other words, what if our constitution-bound democratic republicanism is not the problem but the solution—not a romantic delusion but the epitome of realism? If that were so, what then would this moment demand, both of citizens and of those who would be practitioners of a political science that deserves the name?

Friedrich Hayek foretold the outcome of this journey to totalitarianism in his book, Road to Serfdom, albeit, in terms of collectivist socialism rather than the current elite’s globalism.

Walter E. Williams’ foreword to the condensed version summarized Hayek’s argument and remedy:

In the last paragraph of The Intellectuals and Socialism, Hayek says, ‘Unless we [true liberals] can make the philosophic foundation of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, …the prospects of freedom are indeed dark’. If Hayek is correct that neither selfish interests nor evil intentions motivate intellectuals towards socialism, there are indeed grounds for optimism. Education offers hope. We can educate them, or at least make others immune, to the errors of their thinking.

…There is not a lot to be gained by challenging the internal logic of many socialist arguments. Instead, it is the initial premises that underlie their arguments that must be challenged. Take one small example. One group of people articulates a concern for the low-skilled worker and argues for an increase in the minimum wage as a means to help them. Another group of people articulating the identical concern might just as strongly oppose an increase in the minimum wage, arguing that it will hurt low-skilled workers.

How can people who articulate identical ends, as is so often the case, strongly defend polar opposite policies? I believe part of the answer is that they make different initial premises of how the world works…

The only way government can give one person money is to first take it from another person. Doing so represents the forcible using of one person, through the tax code, to serve the purposes of another. That is a form of immorality akin to slavery. After all, a working definition of slavery is precisely that: the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another.

Well-intentioned socialists, if they are honest people as Hayek contends, should be able to appreciate that reaching into one’s own pockets to assist one’s fellow man is laudable and praiseworthy. Reaching into another’s pocket to do so is theft and by any standard of morality should be condemned.

Collectivists can neither ignore nor dismiss irrefutable evidence that free markets produce unprecedented wealth. Instead, they indict the free market system on moral grounds, charging that it is a system that rewards greed and selfishness and creates an unequal distribution of income.

Free markets must be defended on moral grounds. We must convince our fellow man there cannot be personal liberty in the absence of free markets, respect for private property rights and rule of law. Even if free markets were not superior wealth producers, the morality of the market would make them the superior alternative. [emphases mine]

How, then, can we get back to our founding principles:

The nobility of the founding consists in its realism about the self-interested nature of man, combined with its idealism about building a government that serves the common good by enabling people to acquire enough property to live, while making it possible for people in their private lives to serve God in the way they believed best and to cultivate their minds without being tormented by persecution.

And

The Founders’ generation embraced and emphasized this distinction. John Adams inserted this passage in the Massachusetts state constitution:

“All people are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in [short], that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

Therefore, we must seek godly and lawful correctives before it’s too late and we find ourselves where a once prosperous Venezuela finds itself now:

That’s what’s new in the protests taking place in Venezuela — the conviction that the 21st-century socialism begun by former President Hugo Chávez has failed and has left the country in ruins. And there are other, darker new elements involved — police brutality, mass detentions and the use of paramilitary groups armed by the government to carry out the dirty work the military doesn’t want to handle: murdering people.

The demonstrations multiplied across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, knowing they face armed repression, because they have realized that the institutions that make democracy work are in grave danger and that they must defend themselves against a despotic government.

What awakened them was the declaration made early last month by the attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, concerning two resolutions, 154 and 155, issued by the Supreme Court’s constitutional division that in effect voided the National Assembly. She denounced the ruling as “breaking the thread of constitutional continuity,” words that were translated into a rallying cry for the protesters:

“Maduro, coup-monger! We didn’t say so — the attorney general said so!”

Maduro held a stacked vote that 7 in 10 opposed. The Venezuelan people want democracy, not a Cuban inspired dictatorship.

Here, in America, the Republicans are fractured and the Democrat party is breaking up. This lost political consensus is not without grave national security implications, too.

Our shared situation calls for faithful witness and patient endurance.

We must remember: God is on His throne and directs the kings’ decisions as He wills. Even more, let us remember that He says:

The king is not saved by his great army;

    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.

The war horse is a false hope for salvation,

    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,

    on those who hope in his steadfast love.

Psalm 33:16-18 (ESV)

Therefore, pray for peace and seek well-being for the people of these United States.

I Am Back! and I’d Like to Tell You Something Important to Me, May 26, 2017, YouTube, soniastravels

How Did We Get Here? – by Bernhardt Writer

Matt Hennessy, writing for City Journal, characterized the state of the 2016 US election. He blames the Democrats for our situation. But, in my opinion, both parties are complicit:

…They’ve spent the last 100 years expanding the scope of executive authority, granting the federal administrative agencies the power of judge, jury, and executioner over their ever-widening dominion. If liberals and progressives didn’t want that awesome, intrusive power to fall into the wrong hands, perhaps they should have heeded the warnings of small-government conservatives, who railed for a century against the bloat, rot, and corruption they saw metastasizing within the District of Columbia. Perhaps they shouldn’t have declared the U.S. Constitution—with its bill of rights and enumerated powers—to be an antiquated relic.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge chronicled the rise of progressivism and statism over the past 100 years in their book: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. We reviewed it here on this blog over a multi-week period in 2015. Here are some excerpts describing progressivism’s rise:

Beatrice Webb’s vision—the state as the epitome of reason and truth—enabled her to develop the ideology adopted by pro-statists worldwide. To her, the state stood for: planning versus confusion, merit versus privilege, and science versus prejudice…Why cause revolution when the same change could be brought about more lastingly through subversion of society using propaganda and recognized committees of experts.

Beatrice and her husband Sidney founded the Fabian Society as guardians of this socialist transformation. They established the London School of Economics to train a global cohort of social engineers…The Webbs also founded the New Statesman, a weekly review of politics and literature, as the clarion of their revolution.

In the period 1905-1915, the Webbs helped enact redistributive taxation to pay for [British] programs and lessened the stigma of “Poor Laws.” The poor became “victims,” not layabouts…They embraced eugenics as eagerly as they did town planning. The Webbs trusted the judgment of professional experts over the “average sensual man” when it came to bettering the life of commoners.

A prominent liberal ally of the Webbs, John Maynard Keynes, advocated for government intervention to aid Adam Smith’s hidden hand of the market. Although he spelled out caveats to his philosophy, these were conveniently forgotten over the years. His philosophy, Keynesianism, still powers big government.

The British Statist model was adopted by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Peron. They all blended Hegelian state worship into their dictatorships and used the state to control their economies. America, however, took a different turn under the Roosevelts.

Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909) acknowledged that the Webbs were right when they said that laissez-faire capitalism was over. He established regulatory bodies to constrain the power of corporations over the American people…By not embracing European style statism, with its comprehensive welfare state, he squared-the-circle through his progressive republicanism and saved the US from Europe’s excesses.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for his part, imposed tighter regulation instead of nationalizing broad sectors of the economy in the face of economic collapse and world war. World War II demonstrated big government’s ability to marshal all of industry to the service of war through detailed planning, financial incentives, and coercion.

The same occurred on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific…When Winston Churchill returned to power in October 1951, his government did nothing to roll back the welfare state. In the closing days of World War II, international supervisory organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created under Keynes influence as a result of the Bretton Woods international agreements.

In his article titled: “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” which we reviewed in 2014 on this blog, Myron Magnet, former Editor-in-Chief of City Journal, says:

President Wilson established in the WWI era the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” administered by the Supreme Court thereby codifying judicial activism that undid civil liberty victories in the aftermath of the Civil War. Secondly, President Roosevelt established prior to and during the WWII era unelected extra-governmental commissions (aka agencies) that have independent legislative, administrative, and judicial powers within themselves. Agencies are created as a matter of course now by legislative action. FDR also strengthened the power of the judiciary to act as a permanent constitutional convention amending the document through their decisions.

Fred Siegel characterized the increasing alienation of the liberal left from common US citizens in his book: The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. We reviewed his book here and here in 2014. This is a brief excerpt from our review:

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

Whereas, pre-war Progressives {in the US] hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial (1926-27) as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

In 1928, H. G. Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the [instinctive fellowship] of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

…In this light, American liberalism of the early twentieth century, as distinct from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, was driven by hatred of the common man, his morals, and his liberty.

Reflecting on the impact of such “liberal” ideology, Kenneth Minogue wrote: Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. We reviewed it in this blog. Here is a synopsis of Minogue’s thought on the outcome of implementing such philosophy in our society:

In Western societies, individuals follow customs or conduct projects of which others may dislike or disapprove and the result may be conflict.

However, Western society is predominantly peaceful in spite of potential (or actual) conflict because individuals master internalized rules of law and morality. Poverty, inequality, and disappointment are inevitable consequences of open participation in a risk based society even when it is free from iniquitous societal distortions (e.g., American slavery).

Ideologists say these consequences result from hidden structural flaws that can only be remedied through the destruction of the prevailing system. One must attain the perfection of social harmony. If material possessions cause envy, then all possessions must be jointly owned. Rather than insisting on moral decency to curb envy, ideologists will abolish ownership altogether.

This same approach, rooted in externals, is applied to all inequality and disappointment. Transcendent principles (e.g., morality) are not applicable to unruly minds. Once harmony is achieved there will be no need for the transcendent; all humanity will become one in thinking and affections.

Finally, Myron Magnet writes on how Tocqueville foresaw the “End of Democracy in America” in the 1830s. Magnet, speaking of current society says:

Today’s sovereign…forces men to act as well as suppresses [their] action…As Tocqueville observed, “It is the state that has undertaken virtually alone to give bread to the hungry, aid and shelter to the sick, and work to the idle.”

…And whatever traditional American mores defined as good and bad, moral and immoral, base and praiseworthy, the sovereign has redefined and redefined until all such ideas have lost their meaning. Is it any wonder that today’s Americans feel that they have no say in how they are governed—or that they don’t understand how that came about?

Such oppression is “less degrading” in democracies because, since the citizens elect the sovereign, “each citizen, hobbled and reduced to impotence though he may be, can still imagine that in obeying he is only submitting to himself.”

Moreover, democratic citizens love equality more than liberty, and the love of equality grows as equality itself expands. Don’t let him have or be more than me. Tocqueville despairingly concluded, “The only necessary condition for centralizing public power in a democratic society is to love equality or to make a show of loving it. Thus the science of despotism, can be reduced…to a single principle.”

By this last statement, Tocqueville anticipated the controlling idea of Orwell’s classic allegory, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

***

Progressivism used to stand for progress and truth. But, collectively, we’ve abandoned that paradigm for historical revision and nihilism. Perhaps we should “adjust,” as our leaders say, to a new normal: terrorism, crime, corruption, and complicity. Perhaps…

But, then I remember that the United States of America was founded not upon blood and soil as other nations were but on ideals summarized in our Declaration of Independence and Preamble of the Constitution.

In case you don’t recollect these ideals word for word, the Declaration of Independence says:

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

And the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America says:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

***

If you profess Christ as Lord and Savior, why should you care about the direction this country is taking? The Prophet Jeremiah spoke to that question in his letter to all those whom King Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

…Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

While He dwelt among us, the Lord Jesus Christ pressed home this lesson:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

And, while characterizing the whole of God’s law, He said:

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (ESV)

***

After all this, maybe you’re thinking: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

I think that this election is about consolidating power of the unconstitutional administrative state and persecuting, either overtly or covertly, those opposed to its decisions versus a return to a constitutional republic of, by, and for the People of the United States of America, however tentative that return seems at the moment.

It’s your choice.

Declaration of Independence of the United States of America

Principles for Voting, R. C. Sproul, 27.5 minute MP3, 2012, Associated post, Declaration of Independence courtesy of the National Archives – Charters of Freedom

For your consideration:

The Art of Fiction – A Review

The book: The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner is not prescriptive in the same way as is Jon Franklin’s book: Writing for Story. Gardner surveys contemporary literature in general, pointing out its structure, methods, and morality. Morality in literature, for Gardner, is whether a story portrays what is real and eternally true about human life, as opposed to what is false or philosophically trendy.

His New York Times obituary quoted him writing:

“The value of great fiction is not just that it entertains or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our failures and limitations.”

This quote is from The Art of Fiction. Though he won the 1976 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for October Light, he deeply offended the literary powers-that-be at the time, especially with his book: On Moral Fiction.

In The Art of Fiction, Gardner describes — the work of fiction:

In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened…This kind of documentation, moment by moment authenticating detail, is the mainstay not only of realistic fiction but of all fiction…It’s physical detail that pulls us into the story, makes us believe…The importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind.

Its value:

The value of great fiction, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.

In great fiction, we not only respond to imaginary things—sights, sounds, smells—as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge…All fiction treats, directly or indirectly, the same thing: our love for people and the world, our aspirations and fears.

The overall method to create it:

The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life (the method of the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and many other writers, ancient and modern); by working his way back from his story’s climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation.

It’s by the whole process of first planning the fiction and then writing it—elaborating characters and details of setting, finding the style that seems appropriate to the feeling, discovering unanticipated requirements of the plot—that the writer finds out and communicates the story’s significance, intuited at the start.

Pitfalls in its creation:

The most obvious forms of clumsiness, really failures in the basic skills, include such mistakes as inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice, inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs [e.g., Slapping him silly, she proceeded to…] , shifts in diction level or the regular use of distracting diction, lack of sentence variety, lack of sentence focus, faulty rhythm, accidental rhyme, needless explanation, and careless shifts in psychic distance [i.e., the reader’s nearness to the character].

And, finally, the real work that the fiction writer does:

The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform.

To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.

John Gardner describes, in far more detail, these things, the state of fiction writing up to the early nineteen eighties, and his thoughts on it all in his book. A worthy read, especially after studying a process for creating works of fiction. The Art of Fiction is highly motivational and recommended.

The Art of Fiction - Gardner

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, John Gardner

Writing for Story – A Review

Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, wrote: Writing for Story – Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction to teach authors his methods. Franklin illustrates his technique with annotated versions of his two essays: “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” and “The Ballad of Old Man Peters,” the first of which won the 1979 Pulitzer prize. The goal of his technique is to impart knowledge and truth to readers. To paraphrase Franklin:

The secret to professional writing is a fusion of learned craftsmanship with artistic vision born of experience. The successful writer is the one who grasps the separate parts of their story and sees how those components work together to produce a compelling and dramatic tale.

Franklin’s writing process consists of three parts: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing. Outlining concerns the conceptual associations between the character and action which, for a short story, consists of a time sequence of five major focus narratives: the beginning complication focus, three development focuses which constitute the story body, and the ending resolution focus. Roughing in the draft (i.e., the structural level) involves the internal makeup of major focuses: sequence, emphasis, pacing, and orientation of action. Polishing entails good grammar, word usage, imagery, and principles of sentence and paragraph structure. More details of this process, abstracted from Franklin’s book, are described next. First, he describes the object of his process: the story.

Content of a Story

A story consists of a chronological action sequence that a captivating character undertakes and/or endures to solve a complication that they face. The flow from the complication’s introduction, through the action events, to the resolution constitutes a fiction story’s plot or a non-fiction story’s structure.

The resolution results, often, from a character’s flash of insight as to how to solve their problem rather than directly from the action. A story is said “to work” when a real character struggles diligently to solve a significant problem that confronts them, overcomes the problem, and becomes a changed character as a result.

Story Anatomy

Active images, built on action verbs, are the focuses of action. They are the smallest possible unit of story. Collections of these units form minor focuses. These join via simple transitions to form larger focuses glued together by increasingly complex transitions. Transitions guide the reader through changing times, places, moods, subjects, and characters. These larger focuses combine to form several major focuses that compose the principal subunits of stories.

There are typically five principal subunits in a short story and more in longer form copy. Each subunit has a specific role: the first is the complicating focus. The complicating focus consists of a series of subfocuses that grab the reader’s attention, introduce the characters, and reveal the complication that the story depicts. As examples, jokes may consist of a single image that doubles as a major focus whereas a psychological novel may consist of hierarchical image aggregations at multiple levels.

The next three development focuses (i.e., the story body) describe the actions that the character takes to resolve the complication. These are longer than the first or last focuses but easier to write. The first developmental focus enters deeper into the story and the third (last) developmental focus carries the story to the brink of the resolution.

The climax of the last developmental focus (at its end) is where the character has a “moment of insight” when they realize what they must do to solve the problem. Screenwriters call this flash of realization the second plot point. The complication is the first plot point.

The resolving focus which ends the story can be long or short but reads very quickly. This is possible because the necessary background has been laid and the character has made choices and taken actions to get them to this point. All that remains is the character’s psychological or physical action to clearly solve the problem.

Sagas

The saga is a variation on the five focus short story. Sagas consist of a major complication and resolution; but, instead of having three developmental focuses it has five, more or less, interlinked substories (or episodes) with their own complications and resolutions. These episodes interlink by presenting the complication (or cliffhanger) of the next substory either before or after the resolution of the current substory. This preserves and reinforces the tension of the story as a whole.

The Writing Process

The practicing writer is concerned with three hierarchical processes: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing.

Outlining

Outlining is based on complications and resolutions. There is one statement for each major focus (e.g., typically five for a short story) and every subfocus. Use a subject, active verb, and object (i.e., noun-verb-noun form) for outline statements to reduce the story to its essentials. In storytelling, the dramatic action that makes your point comes at the end of each section where the climax belongs. So each outline statement represents the focus ending.

The most dramatic aspect of any story is growth and change in the main character. The outline centers on this growth and change so that it will emerge as the story’s backbone. The outline presents the story’s drama via action that proceeds from complication to resolution.

The main advantage of constructing the outline first is in discovering structural flaws before any text is written. Structural problems can be simply resolved without wasted effort and emotional commitment. The outline is the psychological roadmap of your story and brings out eternal truths.

Rough Draft

Expanding the outline’s focus statements into rough copy marks the halfway point in story creation. Most of the creative work of the story is complete at the start of this stage. At the structural level, word choice is important only at dramatic high points.

This is where the writer constructs transitions, scene-settings, action sequences, and other products that enable the reader to slide through the story. Phrase order and sentence rhythms are not critical when roughing in the draft narrative.

Three Types of Narrative

There are three major types of narrative: transitional, preparatory, and climatic. Transitional narrative switches scenes and keeps the reader oriented. Preparatory narrative comes next and sets the reader up to understand the ensuing dramatic scene. Climactic narrative evokes the reader’s emotions via detailed action descriptions. After the climactic narrative ends, transitional narrative moves the reader to the next time and place so preparatory narrative can hasten them to the next climactic scene.

Transitional Narrative

Transitional narrative enables the reader to negotiate a story’s twists, turns, and changes without getting disoriented or lost. Good narrative makes the reader forget their reality and step into your character’s world. It establishes the time, place, character, subject, and mood at the story’s start and maintains “threads” of continuity through focus changes to the story’s end.

Three Transition Types

There are many types of transitions. Three major ones are: the break, the flashback/flash-forward, and the stream-of-consciousness appeal to emotion. The break transition breaks all five threads with typographic symbols, jars the reader, and is therefore weak. The cinematic equivalent is a fadeout or commercial break.

A flashback, if necessary, is best located immediately after the complication. It is used only once in short or medium length stories. The flashback’s danger is that it forces the reader to break with their experience of time flow, disrupting several threads and weakening others. It is a point of confusion for the reader.

The last transition method is psychological: a stream-of-consciousness emotional connection (e.g., rhyming, common movement, etc.) The human mind is easily directed by exploiting its emotional engine. Psychological transition is a very useful tool to associate images not usually brought together in order to display enduring truths.

Preparatory Narrative

Preparatory narrative follows a transitional narrative to prepare the reader intellectually and emotionally for a dramatic highpoint. An example of preparatory narrative is strong scene-building and character-strengthening text, preferably incorporating action, to help the reader understand and enter into the story.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a powerful technique used in preparatory narrative. It unobtrusively inserts details early in a story that enable later dramatic scenes to be told without explanation of background details which would distract the reader from the ongoing drama.

Climactic Narrative

Climactic narrative expresses a story’s dramatic action and accounts for almost all of a story’s emotional impact. Climactic narrative focusses tightly on events and supporting details. It never tells how a character feels or what he or she does; it shows what happens, what the character does in response, and what happens next. The proverb: “actions speak louder than words,” reflects this understanding.

In climactic narrative, you see generalizations described with detailed action that would be explicitly stated in preparatory and transitional narrative.

Creating the Rough Draft

Start at the ending of a story in order to know what to foreshadow. Write the end of last developmental focus where your character’s point of insight occurs; then write the transitional and preparatory narratives that set up the first scene of the resolution. Finally, write the rest of the resolution scenes to the end.

Next, write the story complication (i.e., the first plot point); introduce your characters, set up the situation, and bring them face to face with the problem. Capture it in as few pages as possible. Once you have the beginning, write successive developmental focuses until you’ve completed your (short) story.

Whenever your story seems to be going wrong, stop, go back to the outline, and read it carefully. Determine why you deviated and modify the story or outline accordingly. This process of refining the story per the outline and outline per the story is called calibration. Once the story and outline match (and you like the story) stop.

Pacing and Intensity

Pacing consists of transitions leading to smooth preparatory narrative cascading into dramatic scenes. Pace is determined by how rapidly the narrative moves from climactic point to climactic point within a major focus.

Intensity is built by closely focusing on the characters and surroundings. The interplay between pace and intensity is complex and can produce a variety of effects.

Cutting Dead Wood

A critical part of the rough draft process involves throwing away words. Remove unnecessary text, no matter how well written and, therefore, distracting, if it doesn’t fulfill Chekov’s law (i.e., a shotgun described as hanging over the mantel must be fired by story’s end.)

Unless you are willing to redefine the story to incorporate the distraction and remove aspects of the original story, the dead wood must be removed.

At this point, the rough draft is finished. Take a few days off to let your subconscious process what you’ve written before conducting a read through.

The Read Through

The read through should ask questions that a reader would ask: who is the character, what happens to them, what does he or she learn from the experience? What does the story make you feel?

Look for errors: is a transition too long, is a scene shortchanged, does a flashback come too quickly after the complication because the transition is too short, etc. After you make any necessary structural corrections then you can retire the outline.

Polishing

Polishing converts rough copy into clear, active, and integrated narrative that moves the story along without intruding into it.

The rules of polish are straightforward and not abstract. They are, however, one-part: logic, prejudice, authority, and tradition. The three rules of polish are: do it consciously, read and apply Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and read good writing voraciously.

Polish – Procedures

Polishing procedures, as opposed to rules, are similar to those for outlining and rough composition. Polish your story without regard to sequence, concentrating on the most critical scenes first and working from focus to focus in the order of their importance.

Once a story is completed, the lead or narrative hook is easier to rewrite. The lead helps the reader transition from their world to that of the character by establishing (or starting to establish) the story’s five threads.

Polish – Imagery and Sequencing

Polishing principles divide into image clarification and image sequencing. To achieve image clarity, make proper word choices and use strong verbs which cohere the words around it in only one way. Sequencing organizes the flow of paragraphs, images, and words to unfold the story image-by-image in a way that best accomplishes the story’s structural (i.e., dramatic) goals.

Complex sentences laden with prepositions and qualifiers alert the writer to inadequate or inessential images. If the copy seems confused, reorder the images as necessary, and rewrite them into new sentences. If the order of two images isn’t important (i.e., one doesn’t build on the other), one of them needs to be discarded.

Rhythm is important in sequencing. A series of long sentences, establishing a slow rhythm, may be broken by a short terse summation thereby adding impact to the conclusion. Rhythms such as blank verse can add psychological effect.

Recap

To sum up the results of Franklin’s process: active images build upon one another to reach an evocative statement at paragraph’s end. The drama drops off through a minor transition, if necessary, and starts rising again in preparatory text. Successive paragraphs rise and fall building towards the climax of a small focus consisting of that focus’s most dramatic images. This focus ends with a statement that summarizes the focus’s drama.

Small focuses transition one to another in sequence. Each one peaks with a dramatic summary statement. These small focuses build toward the major focus resolution where the focus statement is demonstrated. The narrative then passes through a major transition to start the next major focus. At the end of the story, the final few images of the narrative resolve the story’s complication and the story ends.

We heartily recommend Franklin’s method and urge you to read his book yourselves to discover his annotated essay examples and the numerous nuances that we, by necessity, left out.

Writing for Story - Franklin

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, by Jon Franklin

Comity — Raising American Political Discussion

Left or Right, Conservative, Libertarian, Progressive, or Liberal, I challenge you to honestly disagree with the sentiments expressed in this speech and the follow-on question and answer session by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Comity is defined as:

Com·i·ty [ˈkämədē] NOUN

  1. Courtesy and considerate behavior toward others.
  2. An association of nations for their mutual benefit.

With all the hoopla, rancor, fear-mongering, and winner-take-all declarations this election season, Ryan’s candor and humility are refreshing.

Some key quotes culled by WSJ’s Kristina Peterson from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s presentation are:

“We think of [politics] in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”

“If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”

“Our political discourse—both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other—did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way.”

Please listen to the 36-minute video.

The State of American Politics, Speaker Paul Ryan

A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation by Adolphus Writer — An Excerpt

A Digital Carol cover (quarter scale) - copyright, all rights reservedA Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation is the old Dickens’s favorite—A Christmas Carol—reimagined. No longer do we read a tale of a mean miser who, through sorrowful experiences, becomes kindly. We now face a monstrous egotist who teeters between damnation and redemption.

Mandated Memoranda’s third eBook, A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation was first available November 2014. This speculative fiction story’s goal is not to inspire a more joyous holiday or a more generous spirit, but to question the very premise of our existence. Are we too far into the dark night of the soul for anything but drastic measures?

Click here to read an excerpt. Learn More about A Digital Carol on Amazon’s landing page.

Tragic Wonders – Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder — An Excerpt

Tragic Wonders - Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder cover imageWhat if this world we live in is set up as a diabolical trap meant to prevent us from seeing that which is truly necessary? The anthology focuses on themes, situations, and emotions that are tragic, full of wonder, or, combined in some way, both.

In the stories, you’ll meet a serial killer, alien snails, a petulant eleven-year-old, a beloved astronaut, a laid-off worker, and many others. Two poems provide a transition from fiction to opinion. The short essays castigate, decry, praise, and skewer our personal, local, national, world, and cosmic conditions.

Mandated Memoranda’s second eBook, Tragic Wonders – Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder, edited by Ninja S. and Adolphus Writer, was first available December 2013. These writings are meant to engage readers in a reality that we all deny daily, whether we profess faith in Christ, are ambivalent, or are hostilely opposed to religion.

Click here to read an excerpt. Learn More on Amazon’s landing page.