Scrooge at Easter

What if you’re a Christian who conscientiously doesn’t celebrate Easter? Why would you buy an Easter egg which reinforces the mistake that Easter has anything to do with the Bible?

You affirm the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You value the themes of “life” and “hope” which people talk about at Easter time. You object to the continued exclusion of Christianity from public life. You like chocolate.

Do you buy the fake Real Easter Egg?

segment sceptics

Selected, in chronological order

• Paul (1886), according to Abercrombie (1991): “In contrast to Pike’s view that a stretch of speech has a natural segmentation is the view that it is an indissoluble continuum, with no natural boundaries within it. This view is at least a hundred years old. It is clearly stated, for example, by Hermann Paul in his Principien der Sprachgeschichte in 1886. The word, he says, is ‘eine continuerliche reihe von unendlich vielen lauten,’ ‘a continuous series of infinitely numerous sounds,’ as HA Strong translates it in Principles of the History of Language. … As he puts it, ‘… A word is not a united compound of a definite number of sounds, and alphabetical symbols do no more than bring out certain characteristic points of this series in an imperfect way.’” (Abercrombie 1991: 29-30)

• Twaddell (1935) – the phoneme is “a fiction, defined for the purpose of describing conveniently the phonological relations among the elements of a language, its forms,” p53; “it is meaningless to speak of ‘the third phoneme … of the form sudden’, or to speak of ‘an occurrence of a phoneme’. What occurs is not a phoneme, for the phoneme is defined as the term of a recurrent differential relation. What occurs is a phonetic fraction or a differentiated articulatory complex correlated to a micro-phoneme. A phoneme, accordingly, does not occur; it ‘exists’ in the somewhat peculiar sense of existence that a brother, qua brother, ‘exists’ – as a term of a relation,” p49.

• Firth (1935) – “It is all rather like arranging a baptism before the baby is born. In the end we may have to say that a set of phonemes is a set of letters. If the forms of a language are unambiguously symbolised by a notation scheme of letters and other written signs, then the word ‘phoneme’ may be used to describe a constituent letter-unit of such a notation scheme” (Firth 1957 [1935]: 21)

• Firth (1948) – on using literacy-inspired transcriptions as a basis for phonological analysis (from the 1930s onwards, the writings of JR Firth show him distancing himself from over-reliance on transcriptions in alphabetic notation, for phonological analysis): “The linearity of our written language and the separate letters, words, and sentences into which our lines of print are divided still cause a good deal of confused thinking in due to the hypostatization of the symbols and their successive arrangement. The separateness of what some scholars call a phone or an allophone, and even the ‘separateness’ of the word, must be very carefully scrutinized” (Firth 1957 [1948]: 147).

• Ladefoged (1959) – quoted by Lüdtke (1969: 151): “The ultimate basis for the belief that speech is a sequence of discrete units is the existence of alphabetic writing. This system of analysing speech and reducing it to a convenient visual form has had a considerable influence on western thought about the nature of speech. But it is not the only possible, nor necessarily the most natural, form of segmentation.”

• Lyons (1962), commenting on Firth: “the practical advantages of phonemic description for typing and printing should not of course be allowed to influence the theory of phonological structure. It has been argued that phonemic theory has been built on the ‘hypostatisation’ of letters of the Roman alphabet: cf Firth, [‘Sounds and Prosodies,’ 1948], p134”

• Abercrombie (1965) is quoted by Lüdtke (1969: 151) as saying, “The phoneme … is not something which has a ‘real existence’.”

• Lüdtke (1969) – abstract, “the phoneme segment is not a natural item but a fictitious unit based on alphabetic writing”

• Householder (1971), summarised by Vachek (1989: 25): “[Householder] formulates the question whether, instead of postulating Chomskyan artificial underlying forms, it would not be more realistic to regard the graphical shapes of words as starting points from which the language user obtains their spoken, phonological shapes.”

• Linell (1982) – a whole book providing comprehensive, detailed coverage of the topic, Written Language Bias in Linguistics.

• Kelly and Local (1989) – the question of notation – aim to avoid doing phonetic transcription with the same symbols as are then used for doing phonological transcription/analysis.

• Abercrombie (1991) – “Segment, then, is the name of a fiction. It is a transient moment treated as if it was frozen in time, put together with other segments to form a ‘chain’ rather than a ‘stream’ of speech. Methodologically it is a very useful fiction. A segment, isolated from the flow of speech, can be taken out of its context, moved into other context, given a symbol to represent it, compared with segments from other languages, placed in systems of various sorts, singled out for special treatment in pronunciation teaching; and used in dialectology, speech therapy, the construction of orthographies. (The same is true, of course, of speech-sound and phone. They do not give rise, however, to the possibility of a word for the process, ‘segmentation.’)” (p30)

• Faber (1992) – “segmentation ability, rather than being a necessary precursor to the innovation of alphabetic writing, was a consequence of that innovation” (p112); “segmentation ability as a human skill may have been a direct result of (rather than an impetus to) the Greek development of alphabetic writing. Thus, the existence of alphabetic writing cannot be taken eo ipso as evidence for the cognitive naturalness of the segmentation that it reflects” (p127)

• Derwing (1992) – “the segment (or phoneme) may not be the natural, universal unit of speech segmentation after all, and that the orthographic norms of a given speech community may play a large role in fixing what the appropriate scope is for these discrete, repeated units into which the semi-continuous, infinitely varying physical speech wave is actually broken down.” p200

• Port & Leary (2005) in Language, 81

• Port (2006), ‘The graphical basis of phones and phonemes.’

• Ladefoged (2005) – “We should even consider whether consonants and vowels exist except as devices for writing down words … [they] are largely figments of our good scientific imaginations,” p186; “We also lose out in that our thinking about words and sounds is strongly influenced by writing. We imagine that the letters of the alphabet represent separate sounds instead of being just clever ways of artificially breaking up syllables,” p190; “the division of the syllable into vowels and consonants is not a natural one. Alphabets are scientific inventions, and not statements of real properties of words in our minds. … vowels and consonants are useful for describing the sounds of languages. But they may have no other existence,” p191; “The alphabet, which regards syllables as consisting of separate pieces such as vowels and consonants, … is a clever invention allowing us to write down words, rather than a discovery that words are composed of segment-size sounds,” p198.

• Silverman (2006) – p6, p11-13, and elsewhere.

• Lodge (2007): “There has been a long history of warnings against the notion of the phonological segment (eg Paul 1890, Kruszewski 1883, Baudoin de Courtenay 1927), as pointed out succinctly by Silverman (2006). Later the concept was criticised by Firthian prosodists (see Palmer 1970) and more recently reviewed by Bird & Klein (1990); the most recent exposé of the misguided acceptance of alphabetic segmentation in phonology can be found in Silverman (2006).”


daily reading

As I’ve confessed here before, I don’t make much use of daily devotionals. Kind friends have recommended – even gifted – the best ones available, especially Surgeon’s Morning and Evening, and the compilation Daily Light. I’m told that the Daily Remembrancer, by James Smith, is also helpful, yet I remain unpersuaded. But multitudes of people more disciplined and sensible than me have benefited from books like these for generations.

Now there is a newcomer on the field – Milk and Honey, edited by Joel Beeke and published at the end of 2010 by RHB. If it’s possible to review a book fairly in the absence of much hope of using it for the purpose for which it was intended, here goes.

This one instantly stands out from the other daily readings currently available because of its variety, freshness, and orthodoxy. It is organised in an appealing manner from the start – each month is devoted to a different section of the bible, and each section (Genesis, Psalms, the OT historical books, the Gospels) has been assigned to a different writer. This means that for a whole month, the reader is guided through a particular book-sized portion of Scripture by a given expositor, giving you a certain amount of continuity and a better-rounded view of each section than you would otherwise have.

As to variety – each month is as varied as its writer, its passage of scripture, and the writer’s treatment of the scripture. That is to say, some of the contributors draw very practical applications from their portion, others are very experiential, others exegetical – on some days ruminative, on others exhorting to diligence; one day encouraging self-examination, the next day provoking the reader directly to worship the Saviour. Sometimes the focus is on one little verse or phrase, sometimes you zoom out to whole chapters. For days at a time you might be taken through closely consecutive portions, and then you might jump from one chapter to another much later in the book, and so on. A wide sweep of Scripture is covered, including narrative, poetical and doctrinal books.

As for freshness – the treatment is entirely contemporary. The contributors are all ordained pastors currently actively serving either in their own congregations or in seminaries. They speak from pastors’ hearts to readers in the flock here and now. I’ve also been surprised at how many new insights and lively expressions this book contains. The contributors have had to compress an indication of the text’s context, an explanation of any difficult words, an instructive application or two or three, and a punchy conclusion – all into a single page suitable for sluggish souls to read first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This has been achieved by getting straight to the point every time, and the resulting distillation means there is something to catch your attention – a new way of putting things, a fresh view of some familiar text or truth – on almost every other page.

And, of course, orthodoxy. Each of the writers stands firmly in what the Foreword calls the Reformed, experiential tradition – the rich, solid heritage of English Puritanism, the Scottish Covenanters, and the Dutch Nadere Reformatie. So if your heart sank when I said ‘contemporary’ above, let your spirits rise again – this is the same old familiar experiential covenantal theology of Rutherford, Boston, McCheyne, and their fellows, only living on and flourishing in today’s world too. This means a constant reference to or presupposition of the great doctrines of the faith, and a continual stress on the necessity of having these truths alive and operative in our soul’s experience here and now.

Personally, I can’t help saying that I found July’s treatment of the prophecy of Hosea to be the most instantly helpful of the whole book. The end of Hosea contains a few ‘landmark’ passages which reward the reader for puzzling through the earlier sections – say the start of chapter 14 especially (Take with you words, and come, and say, Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously…), but the treatment of Hosea here brings the whole book into a light where it all fits together, and in a way that speaks clearly and directly to the varieties of a soul’s spiritual condition. ‘God’s “therefores” are different from our “therefores”. Instead of using the greatness of Israel’s sins to demonstrate the greatness of his justice, he uses them to display the greatness of his mercy. Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound. So, in response to “she forgat me,” the Lord says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her.”’

The only other observation I would make is that apart from the editor himself, none of the contributors to this volume are particularly Big Names. In fact, I would cite that as one of the major strengths of this book. It has been impressing itself on me for the past several months that pastors are meant to pastor. When good men get good work published and gain a wider audience for the truths their function is to proclaim, that is a good thing. But what the church fundamentally needs is not so much writers and broadcasters, as preachers. Good men go unnoticed in wider circles because their first priority is their own congregation, which they pour all their energies into pastoring. It’s a pity if there’s nobody in the church to write books and get published, but we could do with being more appreciative of the hard work that ordinary ministers put in to mining the Word, praying for souls, and feeding the flock, week after week with minimal recognition and maybe not much obvious fruit. It’s the weekly preaching which is the ordained means of convincing and converting sinners and building up the saints, perhaps not with particularly dramatic results in either case, but even when it’s hard work and apparently pointless, there’s no substitute for using the ordained means. The impact of many a faithful pastor, sermons spoken into the air and no publications list to his name, is often summed up in the unquantifiable legacy of gradually edified souls. All of which to say – a book like this is sort of a snapshot of the kind of ministering that we stand sorely in need of today, and if these men aren’t all household names, it’s not for lack of gifts or graces. Envy their congregations (in, of course, the best possible Christian way) and make the most of what they’ve put in print here.

Disclosure of interest: a couple of the contributors are FPs.
Disclosure of ecumenicity: most of them are not.

sitting under the shadow

Recently I acquired a book published in 1813, which is automatically excellent because it’s by Thomas Boston, and specially endearing because it is inscribed ‘Jennet Millar, Kirkcaldy 1857’. Whoever she was, I’ve no idea, but there’s something quite touching about thinking of other women and men in the past appreciating (presumably) the works of Boston and likeminded people.

Anyway, the book is a collection of sermons preached by Boston between the years approximately 1707 and 1726, mainly in locations around the Borders, and mainly associated with Communion services.

Here is an excerpt from one on the text in the Song of Solomon which compares Christ to an apple tree among the trees of the wood, for attractiveness and ability to refresh. ‘I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’ The main idea he develops is of the apple tree providing a shade or a covering from the scorching heat of all the miseries of this life and the life to come, which sinners are liable to, on account of sin.


What is it to sit down under Christ’s shadow? It is the soul fleeing to Jesus Christ for a refuge, coming unto him on the call of the gospel, and receiving him and uniting with him by believing on his name. … ‘How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.’ …

I would exhort and invite you to come in, and sit down under Christ’s shadow this day. Our Lord is spreading out his shadow to you in this place, and we are sent to call you, and every one of you, to come under it. Come then, scorched souls, and repose yourselves under Christ’s shadow. I think you may all answer to that name, even the most insensible among you, whose spiritual barrenness declares your souls to be a scorched and parched soil where no good can grow.

Come under Christ’s shadow, you who are under apprehensions of the Lord’s wrath gone out against you for your sins, who feel … a sting of guilt in your consciences. Here is a shadow for ease to you, a covert of blood of infinite value, that will turn away wrath, give peace with an offended God, and pull the sting out of your consciences. ‘For the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and purges the conscience from dead works.’ No arrows of wrath can pierce you here.

Come tempted souls, whom Satan is plying with fiery darts, ready to take hold of and set on fire the corrupt heart. If you sit under Christ’s shadow by faith, it will be a defence to you. ‘Above all, take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.’ You are harrassed on every side with fiery flying serpents – look to the brazen serpent on the pole of the gospel. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy stransgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.’

Come you whose souls are pining and withering away within you, for lack of the kindly influences of heaven on them. Here is a reviving and refreshing shadow for you. ‘They that dwell under his shadow shall return: they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.’ This shadow will put sap in the bones that are burnt as a hearth, a freshness in the heart that is withered as the grass, and make those who are faint, indisposed and inactive in their souls, to be lively and vigorous, like a giant refreshed with wine.

Come you, whose corruptions are rampant, and like summer vermin are destroying every green thing in or about you. Christ’s shadow will cool the distempered heat of your souls, and reduce them to a holy temperature. The sanctifying virtue of his blood, and the efficacy of his Spirit, is able to master the strongest sins. ‘And such were some you, but you are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.’

Come you to whom the world is made a weary land with the scorching heat of troubles. ‘And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of waters in a dry pace, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’ You are full of complaints of the hardships which you are made to undergo in the world. Trouble on your bodies, vexations in your mind, crosses and losses in your means, reproaches on your names. No ease can you find, however you shift about for it. The Lord lets the sun beat thus on your heads, to drive you to this shadow. Comply then with the design of his providence, by coming under this shadow.

Lastly, come all of you, whatever your case may be.


Sermon XIII in Sermons on the Most Important and Interesting Subjects. Song 2 v 3, titled ‘Suitable Improvement of Christ the Apple Tree,’ Galashiels, Saturday 28 July 1722 (p221-223)

by Rutherford

I’ve kindly been given some quotes from Samuel Rutherford, from letters he wrote to people who had been bereaved. They come from the collection titled The Loveliness of Christ.


She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of your sight, doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere: ye see her not, yet she doth shine in another country.

Ye know not what the Lord is working out of this, but ye shall know it hereafter.

He taketh the bairns in his arms when they come to a deep water; at least, when they lose ground, and are put to swim, then his hand is under their chin.

My shallow and ebb thoughts are not the compass Christ saileth by. I leave his ways to himself, for they are far, far above me… There are windings and to’s and fro’s in his ways, which blind bodies like us cannot see.

Learn to believe Christ better than his strokes; himself and his promises better than his glooms … “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” ergo, shipwreck, losses, etc work together for the good of them that love God: hence I infer, that losses, disappointments, ill tongues, loss of friends, houses or country, are God’s workmen, set on work, to work out good to you, out of everything that befalleth you.

Let not the Lord’s dealings seem harsh, rough, or unfatherly, because it is unpleasant. When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth cross your desires, it is best in humility to strike sail to him and to be willing to be laid any way our Lord pleaseth: it is a point of denial to yourself, to be as if ye had not a will, but had made a free disposition of it to God, and had sold it over to him; and to make use of his will for your own is both true holiness, and your ease and peace.

Let Christ know how heavy, and how many a stone weight you, and your cares, burdens, crosses, and sins are; let him bear all: make the heritage sure to yourself: get charters and writs passed and through, and put on arms for the battle, and keep you fast by Christ, and then let the wind blow out of what airt [direction] it will your soul will not blow in the sea.

The floods may swell and roar, but our ark shall swim above the water; it cannot sink, because a Saviour is in it.

Ye may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ of your own shaping.

Your rock doth not ebb and flow, but your sea.


This website provides the context, and a note of hope in a very sad situation.

how short a time

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

All our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our days as a tale that is told.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

What time my heart is overwhelmed, and in perplexity,
do thou me lead unto the Rock that higher is than I.

For he remembers we are dust,
and he our frame well knows.
Frail man, his days are like the grass,
as flower in field he grows.
For over it the wind doth pass
and it away is gone,
and of the place where once it was
it shall no more be known.
But unto them that do him fear
God’s mercy never ends,
and to their children’s children dear
his righteousness extends,
to such as keep his covenant
and mindful are alway
of his most just commandments
that they may them obey.
(Psalm 90, Psalm 61, Psalm 103)