1. A Graphic Metaphor is Misapplied
Years ago, one of our RCUS ministers overheard a conversation in a hospital waiting-room, which featured a man who lashed out against his sick friend’s doctor. “He has the bedside man- ner of a blacksmith,” he observed, disapprovingly. The metaphor so captured the minister’s imagination that he used it himself to describe sounding-brass, tinkling-cymbal Christians with blacksmith-like manners.
But his romance with his newly found word did not last long. After a sermon in which he employed this word again, he was cor- rected by an auditor who pointed out that a qualified blacksmith must be able to be compassionate with animals. It seems that the son of an elder friend whose very calling was blacksmithing, took offense when he heard the metaphor used critically and disparagingly of his own occupation, chagrined that the minister used it so ignorantly (although sincerely). The minister was humbled and never again compared blacksmiths to cacti.
2. Escaping Atomic Fallout
Mitsuo Fuchida (1902-1976) was the squadron leader of the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After the War, he was converted to Christ after contacting the Reformed Baptist minister Timothy Pietsch (pronounced Peach) and other Gospel heralds. His salvation story was an amazing testimony not only of God’s sovereign grace, but of God’s all-wise providence which preserved him for the day of salvation. First, he escaped not a few skirmishes with death, most notably an escape made possible by the Japanese high command’s decision to pull him out of Hiroshima shortly before the dropping of the atomic there in August of 1945. Additionally, and perhaps his most dramatic escape (especially in Fuchida’s own estimation) was being deliv- ered from the ravages of radioactivity and certain death when commanded to inspect the remains of the razed city. He joined an investigative team to scout out the destruction, spending three days studying the rubble for clues as to the real (!) reason for the complete annihilation of the city. Shortly after the scouting party left Hiroshima, everyone seemed to weaken and mysteriously die. Yet, Fuchida himself seemed immune to the deadly fallout. He estimated of the 70 inspectors, all of them (barring himself ) had died. Although later reports indicated that the number was actually south of all, Fuchida was convinced that his escape from radioactive poisoning was not just miraculous, but preparatory for his future conversion to Christ, which would be triggered by correspondence with Timothy Pietsch, an American missionary.
* He was spiritually nursed along in 1949 until things culminated at a hotel in Osaka in 1950. There in a hotel room, his heart was deepened in the things of Christ and told that three things must happen after his conversion; first, that he read the Word of God every day; second, that he pray every day, and third, that he bear public testimony to Christ every day, which, initially, he was unwilling to do, but eventually complied with, by preaching on a bridge over the Yodogawa River in Osaka via loud speakers: “I am Mitsuo Fuchida, a former naval captain who command- ed the air attacking forces against Pearl Harbor…But now I’m a Christian, and I want to let you know how I became one. All Japanese want peace…. no one less than I who engaged in war as a naval officer for almost four years.
I know the brutality and the cruelties of war better than many people. Now I want to work for peace. But how can mankind achieve a lasting peace? True peace of heart, mind, and soul come through Jesus Christ.” *I heard Timothy Pietsch preach in San Jose, California, about 45 years ago on the doctrine of election from Romans 9. It was a life-changing sermon. His son, a G.A.R.B minister in Paso Robles, California, told me that when his father died, the family cremated him and scattered his remains over Mount Fuji, as a symbol of his zeal to see all of Japan bow the knee to Christ.
3. Overcoming the Fear of Darkness
English Pastor Henry Venn’s (1796-1873) daughter married a widower with several young children, one of which Pastor Venn segregated (a three-year old) who was morbidly fearful of the dark. Instead of employing the promises of Psalm 139 to help cure his fear, he chose another method to allay the child’s dread and to instill a certain confidence that there are no grounds to be terrorized by the night. A correspondent to the Anglican J.C. Ryle reports what happened:
“The first thing he found out was that the poor child was afraid of the dark. That very evening he took him by the hand led him to his study, where the shutters were already closed, and seating him on his knee, with his arm close around him, he told the timid boy so wonderful a story out of God’s book as to make the child forget all beside. This he repeated day by day, until the evening story same to be anxiously expected.‘You will sit by my side today, John, and hold my hands, while you hear a new Bible study…and tomorrow you will like to sit by me without holding my hands, will you not?” This point once gained, a seat at a little distance was chosen, still in the dark; then one opposite; then one at the farthest end of the study; till, before winter closed, my father had entirely forgotten his fears of the dark, nor did they at any period of his life ever recur to him.”
4. Choosing Your Pelagian Poison
A wise saying attributed to Charles Hodge is that “I don’t so much fear the Ghost of Pelagius, as the Ghost of semi-Pelagius.” The background of the saying has its roots in Medieval Roman Catholicism, which sabotaged the doctrine of justification by faith alone, so that“to the one whodoeswhatisinhimselfGod does not deny grace,” which is “a variant of God’s helping those who help themselves.”)* Hodge’s fear was created by a wily Pelagianism which wears many masks, not the least being that all “Dorothy has to do is shut her eyes and click her red shoes and she will empower herself to return to Kansas.” According to this scheme, salvation is a joint-project, an amalgamation of free grace plus the energy of man’s autonomous will.
Hodge believed that the “Ghost of semi-Pelagius” is far more permeating in today’s church than the raw humanism of Pelagius in the 4th Century, who bragged that not a trickle of prevenient grace was required for a man to choose Christ. Like Satan in the Garden, who chose to seduce Adam and Eve incrementally and progressively, his true colors became explicit only after he finally countermanded God,“Ye shall not surely die.” Thus, to affirm that salvation is “mostly” of grace is to deny grace for there can be no truck between the sovereign grace of God and the self-will of a sinner who is dead in sin. The Reformed discovered this when they battled many ghosts of semi-Pelagius at the Synod of Dort.
*I’m indebted to Dr. Richard Gaffin for this short anecdote, which is found in his In the Fullness of Time.
5. Shills Instead of the Trees of the Lord
Shortly after his conversion to Jesus Christ, Mitsuo Fuchida (see anecdote #2) attended a meeting in Japan that was sponsored by General Douglas MacArthur which purpose was to spread the Christian Faith in Occupied Japan via the PocketTestamentLeague. Fuchida’s errand was to serve as a projectionist and show films that would exalt the Gospel and move the Japanese audi- ences to humble themselves and close with Christ. The theater where this was done was occupied by 250 police cadets, and the “conversions” required no more than a token show of hands, in- spired by a police chief, who prepped the audience beforehand, urging: “Yesterday when the missionary asked for a show of hands, no cadet responded. This missionary came to Japan at MacArthur’s invitation. He must be sent back satisfied in order to promote good relations with US and to please MacArthur. So today, all of you raise your hands.”
So, when the day came for Glen Wagner of the Pocket Testa- ment League to preach, every hand was raised. Fuchida (who was accidentally privy to the Police Chief ’s stern warnings) noted that Wagner was elated by the universal response and wrote up a“big report on the success of revivalism in Japan.” Fuchida strangled his laugh and never had the heart to tell Wagner that it was the chief of police, and not God the Holy Spirit, who was the true author of the mass conversion.
(Fuchida had assumed the job of projectionist and came early to set up the screening. That’s when he overheard the Police Chief command the cadets.)
6. The Judge Who Spoke Succinctly
In his autobiography, A Reporter’s Life, the late CBS anchor- man Walter Cronkite reports his observations at the Nuremberg War Trials of Nazis after World War II, and his brush with United States Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, who spearheaded the Ally onslaught to punish Nazi war criminals. Jackson was a man famous for succinctness of speech, the polar opposite of an insufferable garrulity. To illustrate: in an altogether different case under different circumstances Jackson was once implored by a begging prisoner, “As God is my judge!” True to form and personality, Jackson was economic: “He isn’t, I am, you’re not.”
7. A Biblical Anecdote: The Pinkie and the Loin
There are a handful of Biblical anecdotes, besides the most famous about Solomon’s adjudication of the Case of the Two Prostitutes. For example, In First Kings 12:10, God gives us a record of Israel’s demise after King Solomon’s death. Two rivals ( Jeroboam and Rehoboam) competed for the crown, with Rehoboam success- fully upstaging the son of Nebat. Still, even though Rehoboam ascended to the throne, he was urged to be less rigorous and demanding than Solomon, pleading,“Thy father made our yoke heavy so make our yoke lighter.” At first Rehoboam wisely sued the wisdom of the elders before he consulted the young “turks” with whom he grew up. Their counsel proved to be pompous, pugilistic, and oppressive, even using the size of their pinkies to illustrate what Israel’s future government would be and shouldbe. Citing the paraphrased MessageBible:
“These people who complain,‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’–well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!” (1 Kings 12:10) *
*The point of the analogy is not that one’s pinkie is weaker than one’s loin, only thinner, as scientific studies of pinkies reveal that a strong pinkie can increase the strength of the closing of one’s hand as much as 30-37%.
8. Eulogies are Often Insincere
The RCUS often discourages eulogies, especially at funerals and gravesides. The reasoning for this is not always clear: but first and foremost must be that the glory of the deceased must not United States Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson upstage the glory of Christ, Who is the Christian’s “all in all.” Men like Martin Luther and John Calvin loathed the idea of sycophants using their surnames to found a movement or church or denomination. At best, a Christian is nothing more than a wretched sinner saved by God’s sovereign grace. And, added to this, there is a great deal of insincerity that gushes at funerals, as if death is a sacrament that automatically transforms a hellion into a snow-white believer. Accordingly, the eulogist checks himself from saying anything non-complimentary about the deceased, even if the deceased was more a rat than a saint. A vivid example concerns the eulogy by the French skeptic Voltaire of a certain nobleman; Voltaire gushed: “He was a great patriot, a humani- tarian, a loyal friend–provided, of course, that he really is dead.”
9. Voltaire’s Prophecy
Voltaire’s theology was, of course, very much skewed. He was a committed Deist who received Christ only as a great teacher and reformer. His deism led him to deny the existence of miracles, not the least of which was Christ’s resurrection. And, he believed (hoped?!) that Christianity would one day become extinct and the Bible deemed no more than a relic. But subsequent history proved that Voltaire was anything but a true prophet. Why? Years after his death Christians actually purchased his house and property (including his printing press) to print, publish, and sell Bibles!
* Thus Voltaire’s prediction that we are “living in the twilight of Christianity” proved to be one of many humiliating errors that discredited his credibility and proved he was a liar.
*Voltaire’s printing press may also have been used in Genoa to print the Scriptures.
10. Voltaire’s Church
Voltaire (1694-1778) built a model village close to Geneva, Swit- zerland for the villagers. Over the door of his church stood this inscription:“DEO EREXIT VOLTAIRE” (translation:“Erected by Voltaire to God”). Hyper-critical of the Christian Faith, and serving a god created in his own image, Voltaire bragged that it was the only church in Europe that was built to glorify God! The reason is no doubt that Voltaire’s god was created in his own image, thus the god glorified in the church was Voltaire himself.
10. Communist Eschatology
Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973) was an East German Communist leader who incessantly extolled the glories of Communism. He promised the people: “The millennium is on the horizon.” “That was a beautiful speech,” an aide opined,“But is the millennium truly on the horizon?” “Of course,” defended Ulbricht.“Don’t you know the diction- ary defines ‘horizon’ as ‘an imaginary line which recedes as you approach it?”
11. Remembering the Alleluia Victory
Great victories in Church history are often attributed to the mili- tant prayers of God’s people. And the same may be said of the songs and victory shouts of Zion, too. For example, the Britons in 420 achieved a decisive victory over the Picts and Saxons by shouting Alleluiabefore a pending battle. Here’s what happened: the Britons were unarmed, but having Germanus and Lupus as their leaders when the Picts rushed toward them, these two commanders (much like Gideon in the book of Judges), ordered the whole army to shout Alleluiathreetimes,the sound of which spooked the Picts so thoroughly that they fled in confusion, leav- ing the Britons as the masters of the field. To commemorate the victory, a stone monument may have been erected to perpetuate the remembrance of what came to be known as the Halleluiah Victory, which was near Mold in Wales).
12. Cowper’s Futile Suicide Attempt
The Church’s great hymnist, William Cowper (1731-1800), who at times was mentally challenged, on one dismal night contem- plated ending his life by leaping into the Thames. To achieve this purpose, he hired a driver of a hackney coach, and ordered him to drive him to Blackfriar’s Bridge. But the man in turn drove all over London, unable to locate the crossing. As the driver was fa- miliar with the nooks and crannies of London, it was inexplicable why he could not find the bridge that seemed to be more of an apparition than reality. Finally, worn out and fatigued, Cowper said, “O! You’ve driven me far enough, drive me home again.” After arriving home, and filled with inspiration, he retreated to his room where he penned a hymn containing some of the most sublime hymnody in Church History: “God works in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform, he plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.”
Rev. Jim West