travel traumas

My travelling woes were as follows. After fighting through blizzards and snowdrifts to get to the train station (where blizzard = snowfall and drifts = puddles of slush, but they tend to morph as time passes), and with a cold coming on, it turned out that the train was hoaching and there were no seat reservations and my luggage had to go at the opposite end of the coach I ended up finding a seat in.

Nothing unremarkable for a north-bound train at this time of year, but the woes worsened. First, the middle engine failed. Then, the front engine failed. An early indicator of trouble was the lights in the carriage suddenly cutting out, along with the air ventilation system, meaning that for a few minutes the train glided along silently in the near-complete darkness. Spooky. Things sprang back to life fairly quickly, but only temporarily. Somewhere around Perth, after most of the passengers had decanted, the heating failed altogether. By Pitlochry, the word had got out that we weren’t getting heating back, and we were having to travel at reduced speed, and it was all due to the freezing temperatures, with which the engines couldn’t cope, and we should just be glad we were moving at all.

As things got colder and colder, the human spirit really began to show through. Nothing like a crisis, for bringing out the best in people. Thus we had:

1. The Moan. Youngish, from the north of England, she took the opportunity roughly every twenty minutes to call up her hostess in Inverness to say that she ‘couldn’t take any more’ and although she had no idea where the train was, wanted the telephonee to find her a hotel at the next stop, where she would ‘get off and walk’. This was all immensely cheering.

2. The stoical Belgian. Had been on the train all day, starting with EuroStar at 6am. You either laugh or you must cry, he said. It is better to laugh.

3. The irrepressible English couple. Tremendously well-mannered, they remained resolutely cheery throughout, although they did escape early, in some obscure station several stops short of Inverness.

4. The Expert. Knew before everyone else exactly what the problem was and made free with advice to the conductor in a most helpful manner once it became clear that the conductor and driver had things in hand.

5. The Complainer. This lady was not in my carriage, but after we’d spent a fruitless hour in Aviemore attempting to be coupled to a rescue engine sent down from Inverness (to appreciate the full horror of this, at -16°C, please be aware that Aviemore should only be half an hour from Inverness under normal conditions) the entire train got transferred onto the single carriage that had come down from Inverness. There the conductor – now swathed in a proper winter coat, instead of the mere blazer in which she had previously patrolled the train, dispensing optimism and patiently answering endless enquiries (not to mention helping fix things out of doors, at the -16°C) – made an apologetic stop at the Complainer’s table to placate her with instructions for how to make an official complaint to ScotRail, a note of her own name, and yet another clearly heartfelt apology. She stopped at our table next – but only to say that she’d run out of complaint forms. I was aghast. Our table told her she’d done a great job, and we wouldn’t be complaining. It was all quite astonishing. I trust I will always fail to understand why it ever seems helpful to people to feel the need to make Official Complaints, when there is quite clearly nobody to blame and nothing to be done to reduce discomfort beyond putting up with it.

So we only reached Inverness two hours late. And my lovely hosts had hot chocolate and a hot water bottle ready and waiting. Bliss. But I never did manage to parse what was being displayed on the electronic message board in Aviemore, despite having had a whole hour in which to ponder it: SERVICE DISRUPTION WEATHER.


himself alone

John Bunyan wrote a whole book on Christ’s words in John 6, the promise that he will not cast out anyone who comes to him. He expounds this text from all sorts of angles and shows how the promise is full to overflowing with encouragement for anyone who might be troubled about their sins – they should come to Christ, and trust Christ himself alone to save them from their sins. Christ alone is able, so to Christ alone we should go.

“Christ as a Saviour will stand alone, because ‘his own arm alone has brought salvation to him’. He will not be joined with Moses, nor permit John the Baptist to be tabernacled by him; I say they must vanish, for Christ will stand alone. … Christ will not permit any law, ordinance, statute, or judgment to be partners with him in the salvation of the siner. Nay, he saith not, ‘And him that cometh to my Word’: but, ‘And him that cometh to me‘. The words of Christ, even his most blessed and free promises, such as this in the text, are not the Saviour of the world: for that is Christ himself, Christ himself only. The promises, therefore, are but to encourage coming sinners to come to Jesus Christ, and we are not to rest in them short of salvation by him.

The man therefore that comes aright, casts all things behind his back, and neither looks at nor has his expectations from anything but the Son of God alone. David says, ‘My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him: he only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence: I shall not be moved.’ His eye is to Christ, his heart is to Christ, and his expectation is from him, from him only.

Therefore the man that comes to Christ is one that has had deep considerations of his own sins, slighting thoughts of his own righteousness, and high thoughts of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ: yea, he sees, as I have said, more virtue in the blood of Christ to save him, than there is in all his sins to damn him. He therefore sets Christ before his eyes; there is nothing in heaven or in earth he knows that can save his soul, and secure him from the wrath of God, but Christ; that is, nothing but his personal righteousness and blood.”

plodding up and down the vocal track

This is the first time for several years that I don’t have any December marking to do.

In celebration, here are some snippets of brilliance from previous years’ efforts.

Give two examples of words which have regular plural forms in English.

  • floor and happy
  • cat’s and dog’s
  • walk > walk’s and sing > sing’s

Give two examples of words which have irregular plural forms in English.

  • what and when
  • beautifully and happily
  • sheep, sheep; ox, oxens
  • you and child

And from a short-essay answer:

  • The weakening of function words is affluent in this dataset.

These students are our future!

a few hours to go

The latest victim of the ‘secular mindset’?

There’s still time to sign a petition calling for “Justice for Duke”, before his appeal hearing tomorrow afternoon (15th December).

He was dismissed from his job with Wandsworth Council after a meeting with a client in which he suggested that she could put her faith in God.

The details are on this website along with a petition you can sign (click here). There were 4000 signatures within a week, and what the campaign organisers call a great swell of support from the media and members of the public. There should be enough time left to register your own support.

still free to criticise

The freedom of speech scene in this country isn’t the prettiest at the moment, even though all is not yet lost.

Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, as you’ll no doubt have heard, were cleared this week of ‘religiously aggravated threatening behaviour’ (which seems to be the shortest summary available of the charges which were brought against them under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31(1)(c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998).

Ericka Tazi, a convert to Islam, had been staying in their hotel, and had got involved in a discussion with them which seems to have centred on three controversial points – whether Jesus was the Son of God or just a minor prophet, whether Muhammed was a warlord, and whether the hijab is oppressive to women.

The strongest possible criticism of the Vogelenzangs which it seems reasonable to make is that their contributions were indicative of ‘a rather Fawlty-ish attitude to their guests‘. But being committed Christians, they could hardly be expected (i) not to be capable of giving an apologia for their belief that Jesus is the Son of God and (ii) keen to give it and (iii) underwhelmed by claims about what a peaceful and liberating-to-women religion Islam is.

The most serious question about their case, though, is not specifically whether Christianity is a better religion than Islam, but the extent to which people in this country remain free to say things which other people might find offensive. The Vogelenzangs were, thankfully, cleared – but in what unhealthy climate was it ever thought appropriate to arrest and charge them in the first place? and can the judge’s decision in this case really be taken as a guarantee that similar cases won’t arise in the future?

The judge has been widely quoted as saying that religion and politics was a tinderbox in this case – but it would be completely missing the point to see the case as nothing more than a foolish spat between committed adherents to two religions, neither of which is comprehensible to a secular mindset. It just happened to be Christians who were prosecuted in this case – but the views they are reported to have put to Mrs Tazi about Muhammed and the hijab are held widely. It could equally well have been an atheist, an agnostic, a Jew, a Hindu, or anyone else, who had found themselves in court, accused of religiously aggravated threatening behaviour.

The core problem is the growing readiness to treat someone’s subjective feeling of being offended as enough to constitute a conversation a matter for the police. The implications for free speech are not restricted to what Christians can say to Muslims, but what anyone can say to anyone else. What they can say, you’ll note, in conversation, as opposed to committing acts of violence against their persons or property.

It is offensive to Christians to say that Jesus was only a prophet, to say that we believe in three gods, to say that we worship the Virgn Mary, and whatever else Christians typically have to deal with in dialogues with Muslims. But how absurd it would be, for a Christian to take a Muslim to court for the offence caused by having to hear such things thrown in their teeth. Offensive they may be, but the actual issue is not how offended the Christian might be, but how defensible, or otherwise, their views are.*

So Christians find offensive what Muslims say, and Muslims get offended when anyone says Muhammed was a warlord. And it is offensive to atheists to call them fools, and offensive to everyone else when atheists call them ignorant and sick in the head. Then again, it is offensive to sociolinguists when Chomsky says caring about data is only as important as butterfly collecting, and who can truly estimate how offensive it is to a generativist to go all declarative on them.

But as the judge in the Vogelenzang case said, “Freedom to speak inoffensively is freedom not worth having.”


* Strictly speaking, if Christians were more spiritually sensitive to the outrages perpetrated against the honour of the Lord every time such profanities were uttered, we would be a lot more offended and hurt than we currently tend to be. But a heightened spiritual sensitivity would only increase our sense of the absurdity of going to court about the offence caused to us, rather than taking practical, apologetic, action to enlighten and persuade. See also the first few paragraphs in this post from the olden days, when the blog was young and Muslims were offended for another reason.

season’s greetings

That was not, incidentally, the blog’s Christmas message, that last post.

That is because Scottish Presbyterians (my breed of) don’t do Christmas.

No, we have no truck with it, none whatsoever, and no compromise, no, not so much as a mince pie.*

So you can take your consumerism and bacchanalia and non-Regulative-Principle-compliant religiosity elsewhere; for festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.

Not by way of turkey or goose, of nativity play or advent calendar, of tinselled tree or Santa Claus, of present, pudding, or office party, for you cannot serve God and Mammon, and you ought not to innovate in worship even in ways received by tradition from others, whether under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever.**

Said post would have been better published back in November, when the thought of it first wafted into my head – but it does conveniently reinforce the point that this anti-Christmas feeling is in no way the offspring of any disrespect for the fact and the doctrine of the incarnation.

Just as the anti-Easter thing is perfectly consistent with thorough-going commitment to the fact and the doctrine of the resurrection.

Revelation 22:12.

* Although if you were to call it seasonal baking, and really, really insist, one might be tempted.
** I may just have to re-title myself as The Westminster Larger Catechism abridged and paraphrased.

the captain of their salvation

What is God? At Westminster, they said: God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible…

This is true of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, since these three persons are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

It is beyond our understanding, why it pleased him to create anything, seeing he does not need any thing; but he did. Then there was rebellion among his creatures. Angels fell, and man fell. It is utterly beyond us to understand why he chose to continue taking any interest in this sinful fallen human race. It was out of his mere good pleasure, but we can’t say much more than that. In his mere good pleasure he made arrangements so that his own glory would be consistent with our good.

He made all the arrangements – he would bring some sinners out of their state of sin and misery, and bring them into a state of salvation, and he would do so by a Redeemer. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever. The Son was, and continues to be, and never ceased to be, infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection. Within the Godhead he had ample scope for loving and being loved by the other persons of the Godhead, who are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. Yet when the Father appointed him to the work of redeeming his people, he was pleased to do it.

It was undoubtedly a glorious work, all majesty and power and wisdom and love, but in order to carry it out, he needed to become of no reputation, and take on himself the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men, and humble himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, this one who was by the Father from everlasting, as one brought up with him, daily his delight, and rejoicing always before him.

It was necessary that the Mediator should be God; it was necessary that the Mediator should be man; it was necessary that the Mediator should be God and man in one person. These are all necessary, if sinners were ever to be saved, but there was no obligation on the Son to be the Mediator, even though only he could be that mediator: no compulsion whatsoever. He would still be God over all, blessed for ever, if we had never been, or if we had been miserable. Yet as he was daily the Father’s delight, his delights were with the sons of men, and his delight was in mercy.

Strictly speaking, it is not the incarnation so much as the atonement which should above all absorb us in wonder and worship. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that by the sacrifice of himself. The Son of man was lifted up, so that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life; there is life for a look at the crucified one. Still it is legitimate, not to say necessary, to look in awe on this infinite stooping down, that the eternal Son of God became man, and to pause half way through Paul’s faithful saying – that Christ Jesus came. “His being clothed with our nature derogates nothing from the true reason of divine worship due unto him,” said John Owen, “but adds an effectual motive unto it.”