be-bop a doo baap

At the end of the week I’m off on a jolly to BAAP – the colloquium of the British Association of Academic Phoneticians, which I earnestly expect will be a lot of fun. All the papers on /r/! and articulation! and talk-in-interaction!

There’s actually a pretty impressive range of topics in the programme and it’s promising to be an extremely interesting time – lots of new, fresh findings, new technologies, and careful, detailed work on sometimes very subtle speech phenomena. Phonetics is so underrated, I say.

So while things like preparatory swotting up on vowel systems gobble up my time, and until I get back, feel free to talk amongst yourselves.


what to hear

Brownlow North was one of Scotland’s most influential preachers, if slightly irregular in that he was never actually ordained to the ministry. He was the great-grandson of Lord North (Prime Minister during the American War of Independence) and lived a life of aristocratic privilege – Eton, Grand Tour, country gentleman lifestyle – until he was converted, dramatically, at the age of 44, when he was suddenly taken ill and thought he was about to die. His career as a lay preacher after his conversion was first occasional and reluctant, but increasingly beneficial, and he was involved in the 1859 revivals in Ulster and Scotland.

There are at least a couple of small books of the sermons he preached – The Rich Man and Lazarus, and Wilt Thou Go with This Man? and possibly others for all I know. The following excerpt is from The Rich Man and Lazarus, in connection with the answer given to the rich man, that his five brothers wouldn’t be convinced even supposing someone was raised from the dead to speak to them – ‘they have Moses and the prophets – let them hear them.’

~ ~ ~

The whole spirit of the Scriptures is the testimony of Jesus. For this one purpose, and for this one purpose only, were they written – that they might testify of Jesus Christ the Son of God; and had God not so loved the world as to give us Jesus, not only there never would, but there never could have been a Bible.

From Genesis to Malachi, and again from Matthew to Revelation, the Bible is one continuous testimony of God manifest in the flesh: a Saviour promised, and a Saviour given. No matter who is the author of the particular book or portion, the one theme of all Scripture is Jesus. Sometimes he may be spoken of typically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes literally, but still it is Jesus.

Jesus ordained to come, Jesus coming, Jesus come; Jesus living, Jesus tempted, Jesus suffering; Jesus fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus forsaken of God and man; Jesus dying, Jesus buried, Jesus rising, Jesus ascending, Jesus exalted at the right hand of God; Jesus a Prince, Jesus a Saviour; Jesus receiving from the Father the Holy Ghost, and shedding him forth on men, that the Lord their God might dwell among them; Jesus able to save, Jesus willing to save: to save not only the rich man’s brothers, but all who come unto God by him; Jesus the Alpha, Jesus the Omega; Jesus the Beginning, Jesus the Ending; Jesus the Author, Jesus the Finisher; Jesus the First, Jesus the Last.

No matter whether written by Moses, the Prophets, or the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour, the one subject of the Bible is the Man Chrsit Jesus, who is over all, God blessed for ever. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, therefore thus saith the Lord himself, ‘Search the scriptures,’ for Moses wrote of me, David wrote of me, the prophets wrote of me, and they are they which testify of me.

… ‘To him,’ says Peter, ‘give all the prophets witness, that through faith in his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins;’ and, ‘Now the righteousness of God without the law,’ says Paul, ‘is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe…’ And more than that, what was offered to these five brethren [in Moses and the prophets] is offered to all who have a Bible. … Jesus Christ, a person – God manifest in the flesh, living and dying for sinners …

[Banner of Truth, 1960, p108f]

Westminster on the Church

Chapter 25 (1).  The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof …

(2) The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

(4) This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

(5) The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error, and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there will always be a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

Chapter 30 (1). The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of his Church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

(2) To these officers, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power respectively to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.

Chapter 31 (3). It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience, to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God apponted thereunto in his Word.

(4) All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

Chapter 1 (10). The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

Reformation as rupture

The Cellarer cites the Pope’s comment that the Reformation was ‘a rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past’.

This is most certainly true. The Scottish Reformers were deeply concerned to new-model (to put it anachronistically) Scotland’s religious scene. There were social and political by-products of the religious reformation, of course, but the main thing is the theological or doctrinal development.

At the Reformation, the Scottish church returned to the inscripturated Word as a thoroughly sufficient authority on “all things necessary for the instruction of the kirk, and to make the man of God perfect”. In terms of ecclesiastical structure, the Scottish church became presbyterian rather than prelatical, and repudiated any role for any bishops, including the bishop of Rome. The Reformation in Scotland went back to the scriptural model of only two sacraments, and confessed that the grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments is not conferred by any power in the sacraments themselves. And the trajectory of Reformed thought was then continued down through the generations through the struggles of the Covenanting times, the increased clarity gained about the nature of the free offer of the gospel in the 18th century, the detailed exegetical work on the nature of the atonement in the 19th century by Smeaton, Martin, et al., and so on – but the breach with Rome was deliberate, conscientious, and thorough.

That’s not to say that no good thing has ever come from Rome, or that people in communion with Rome aren’t lovely people, or that we can’t learn from Rome, or agree on a whole lot of things, theological and not. But there is no denying that, as far as the Reformers were concerned, they were cutting ties with an institution which they regarded as unbiblical in its structure, its soteriology, and its practice.

religious self-hatred

You know, there’s a term, ‘linguistic self-hatred’, which was widely used at one time to describe the attitude of Scots towards the way they spoke. When Prof Angus McIntosh was investigating language attitudes back in the day (or was it David Abercrombie?), he rarely came across a Scot who would admit to speaking anything other than “slang,” pejoratively understood, and whoever spoke the “best” Scottish, it was certainly somebody else.

Things are bound to be different now, decades after the era of McIntosh/Abercrombie/Aitken, and there is bound to be less self-consciousness and self-denigration about how you speak.

But consider a somewhat similar attitude, in the realm of Scottish religion. Several conversations over the past week or so have made me ponder attitudes towards the church and Scottish religion, as held within the church in Scotland. This is, of course, the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland, meaning that for 450 years, we have been freed to a greater or lesser extent from superstition and blatant corruption in the clergy, superstition and bible-illiteracy in the pulpit, superstition and lukewarm moralism in the pew – and in society we have felt the benefits of descending from an intelligent and upright populace, individuals who lived and acted in a context steeped in biblical, Christian morality even when they were not always themselves professedly Christian.

Contemporary Christians who follow in the line of the Reformation generally develop a fairly thick skin to handle the constant equation of Reformation-style theology and practice with all that is dour, joyless, calvinistic, puritannical, sabbatarian, oppressive, repressive, hypocritical, and legalistic. We know it’s not actually like that, but nobody wants to know, so what can you do.

More worrying, though, is the way that contemporary Christians in the Reformation tradition are liable to let their confidence in the theological underpinnings of their practice leach away. There is, for example, a clearly articulated theology of preaching and the sacraments. ‘The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.’ And, ‘The sacraments become effectual means of salvation … by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.’ So why do we have such low expectations from the plain, ordinary, preaching of the Word week in and week out? Why do we attach so much importance to (perfectly good in themselves) things like bible studies and conferences? Why do we expect so much in the way of conversions and edification from conferences and youth camps, when we don’t greatly trouble ourselves to look for these things in the communion of the saints around Word and sacrament? We are, surely, too fearful of the criticism that the regular plain preaching of the word is boring and ineffective, or that our deliberate and theologically motivated simplicity of worship is inadequate for contemporary congregations.

It’s exactly the same with the principle that when the Holy Spirit converts a sinner he also sanctifies them. Is there not too much of a tendency to secretly agree with kneejerk criticisms from people outside the church who persistently refuse to believe that Christian living is anything more than hypocrisy and self-righteous moralism. For sure, there are enough people putting themselves forward as Christians who don’t live up to the name particularly well, but Reformed Christians in Reformed Christian circles know enough of the real thing to be able to refute this quite thoroughly. Yet Reformed Christians themselves sometimes retain the suspicion that the godliness and piety of the past was a bit of a show and really quite unnecessarily strict. And sometimes they themselves perpetuate the myth that old-time religion consisted mainly in the rabid tithing of mint and cumin, and narrow-minded fuss about whether you wore red or black. No doubt sanctification is never total, and how sanctification manifests itself must vary slightly depending on the wider social or cultural context, but there is a danger of slackening in our conviction that it is nevertheless real. It is also more valuable and you could almost say glorious, even when attended by many quirks and foibles, than our spiritual short-sightedness often allows us to recognise.

Scottish Presbyterians of the old school: we need to get over our religious self-hatred. There’s nothing to be proud of, but we don’t need to be ashamed of it either.  There is nothing to be embarrassed about, when we attach so much importance to the preaching of the word, the singing of psalms, the simplicity of the sacraments, and the life of godliness. That theory should work itself out in practice as a hearty conviction that the plain preaching of the Word itself will be effective in converting sinners and edifying saints – that worship is real and at its best when most stringently conformed to the scriptural pattern – that the ordinances in the hand of the Spirit are effectual means of grace – that genuine godliness is possible, ought to be normal in Christian circles, and not to be denigrated in the lives of previous generations of Christians. ‘Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.’