how to receive

Something recently made me think of this post from a while back – John Flavel pointing out the correspondences between how salvation is offered, and how it is received (when it is, in fact, received).

1. The gospel offers Christ to us sincerely and really, and so the true believer receives and accepts him. …

2. Christ is offered to us in the gospel entirely and undividedly, as clothed with all his offices, priestly, prophetical, and regal, as Christ Jesus the Lord, Acts 16:31; and so the true believer receives him. …

3. Christ is offered to us in the gospel exclusively, as the only Saviour of sinners, with whose blood and intercession nothing is to be mixed; but the soul of a sinner is singly to rely and depend on him, and no other. Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11. And so faith receives him … Psalm 71:16.

4. The gospel offers Christ freely to sinners as the gift of God, John 4:10; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17; and so faith receives him. …

5. The gospel offers Christ orderly to sinners, first his person, then his privileges. … Romans 8:32. In the same order must our faith receive him. …

6. Christ is advisedly offered in the gospel to sinners, as the result of God’s eternal counsel, a project of grace upon which his heart and thoughts have been much set. Zechariah 6:13 … And so the believer receives him, most deliberately weighing the matter in his most deep and serious thoughts; for this is a time of much solicitude and thoughtfulness. …

(Re-posted from here.)


Something has been really annoying me, this ‘festive’ season. Several days ago the person doing Thought For The Day was drawing a somewhat stretched parallel between the misery and despair in the situation of women who end up as prostitutes (and the compassion with which we should regard them) and the situation of Mary in Bethlehem when there was no room for them in the inn. He’d been in a brothel in India, he said, and there was nothing glamorous about it: doesn’t that remind you of the gritty realities that Mary faced, which don’t quite match with the sentimentalised version of events portrayed in nativity scenes and carols.

As he pointed out, prostitution in Britain is almost always, in something like 90% of cases, linked with one or more of these three factors: addiction, abuse, and dysfunctional personal relationships. (This observation not only shows the futility of the arguments in favour of legalising prostitution in this country, but also highlights the sick desperation of the men who provide the demand in this exploitative trade: that by the way.) Prostitution is not a choice, in other words, for the majority of women involved – unless it’s the choice between that and thieving, as one of the women recently murdered in Surrey was quoted in the papers as saying.

But my point is, basically, that the situation of these women is worlds away from how Mary was placed in Luke 2. There was no addiction, there was no abuse, and she was honourably engaged to be married to a very decent man. They weren’t particularly well off, and a manger wasn’t maybe the most luxurious of cots for a newborn baby, but everything was going according to plan and both Mary and Joseph were content with the situation.

All these associations which people try to draw between Mary and women in difficult situations today, don’t really hold water. However old Mary was, she wasn’t ‘a teenage mum.’ Although Joseph wasn’t the biological father, the child was not illegitimate. They might have been poverty stricken, and only able to offer a pair of pigeons for a sacrifice, but it wasn’t a poverty inflicted by substance abuse and inappropriate lifestyle choices.

It doesn’t bother me in the least to think of the gospel message mingling with the grubby realities of our miserable contemporary society. That is, after all, what it’s for – and the even more miserable, grubby reality of our situation is something called sin, and original sin at that, which tends not to come too sharply into focus when Thought For The Day types blether away about society’s problems.

But the gospel message isn’t primarily a message of sympathy – it’s a message of rescue. It may well be helpful to a person with problems to know that someone else has gone through an equivalent tough time, but the gospel is better than that – a way of escape from our misery which is caused by our sin – and escape from the eternal punishment which is the consequence of our sin, and ultimately escape from our sin itself. The reason why the hope and joy of the gospel is lost has a lot more to do with the minimising of the problem of sin which it is designed to deal with, than a failure to find any meaningful parallels between a given person’s situtation and that of some bible characters.

do you have your own bag with you today?

It was with only the tiniest hint of accusation that the woman behind the till in Sainsbury’s asked me this. Actually it’s the first time I’ve heard it put like that: you must be more likely to say yes to this question than no to ‘Do you need a bag?’ Proud to say, I did indeed have space in another bag. Every little helps, we agreed, in spite of that being Tesco’s slogan; she should technically have said, Try something new today. In fact (or so she implied anyway), I’ve just gained us 500 years longer as a planet by making this choice. Good to know eh!

christmas repeal

Radio 4’s Christmas Repeal is not, alas, proposing to abolish Christmas, as I thought for a mad moment of optimism. Instead it means you get to vote for the piece of legislation which you think is Britain’s ‘least useful or most damaging’ law – the votes will be counted on New Year’s Day.

The problem is, there’s just too many to choose from.

The 1967 abortion act?
The ID cards act 2006?
The 1972 European Communities Act?
The Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003?
The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006?

These are just the ones that spring to mind immediately.

And it’s noticeable how recent they mostly are. It reminds me of this article by Nick Clegg (the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman), where he says:

“The current Labour government is addicted to legislating; this has led to the curtailment of freedoms, confusion in business and crisis in our public services. In less than a decade in power the Blair government has clocked up over 50 Home Office Bills and created more than three thousand new criminal offences. They have added over a hundred thousand new pages of legislation to the statue book…”

How worried should I be, incidentally, to discover that I agree with almost all his Top Ten To Go?
1. Restrictions on protests in Parliament Square
2. Identity Cards
3. Extradition to the US without proper evidence
4. Police power to impose conditions on public assemblies of 2 people or more
5. Criminalising trespass in areas designated by the Home Secretary
6. Control orders
7. DNA retention of those not charged, or found innocent
8. Removal of the public interest defence for whistleblowers
9. Removal of the right to silence under arrest
10. Admissibility of hearsay evidence in court

wugs for sale

One of the most famous psycholinguistic tasks to have ever been done with children is the Wug Test.

First catch your child (aged about 4 for maximum effect), then show them a picture of a made-up animal-like object. Tell them, “This is a wug.”

Then show the child a picture of two of those objects, and say, “Now there are two of them. There are two _____”

If the child knows how to produce regular plurals in English, they should reply, “two wugs.”

So far, so obvious – but there’s more to it than that. In English, there are at least three ways of pronouncing the plural marker which we write “-s” – either /s/, /z/, or /əz/, depending on the phonological properties of the word you’re attaching it to.

If the word ends with a voiceless consonant, like cat, you use the /s/ version of the plural marker: /kats/.
If the word ends with a voiced sound (consonant or vowel), like dog or bee, you use the /z/ version: /dɔgz/, /biz/.
If the word ends with a sibilant, like horse, you use the /əz/ version: /hɔɹsəz/.

The different versions are called allomorphs – alternative forms of the one morpheme – and as you can see, the choice of which particular allomorph to use is rule-governed (or at any rate, it can be described in terms of fairly straightforward rules).

In the quest to find when and how children acquire this rule, Jean Berko Gleason came to fame with the wug test. As it explains in the Wikipedia article, it takes till about 5 or 6 years for children to master all the different aspects of this allomorphy – but the default /z/ form is usually acquired by the age of about 4. Meanwhile, the endearing little wug itself has taken on a life of its own and acquired an iconic status in the child language acquisition research community.

And in fact, so much so, that wug-based merchandise has in fact been recently made available from You can get wug t-shirts, bags, aprons, and even a wug mug! It’s so exciting, and all in time for you know what pagan festival as well.

So if you were, in fact, wondering what to get me … well, first of all try Present Aid or Oxfam Unwrapped, but if you were still feeling generous after that, I really don’t feel my life would be complete without at least, let’s say, a fridge magnet to accompany Nelson Mandela’s ‘great generation’ quote and the obligatory humorous ‘sometimes I wake up grumpy’ one. The perfect gift solution, as the saying goes, for the language acquisitionist in your life.

intuitions on nasality

I’m looking at the section on prosody in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. It goes through the standard aspects of prosody – intonation, rhythm, loudness, etc, and then there’s a box at the side which talks about the “paralinguistic” uses of prosody, or the way that you can use those features of spoken language to send messages ‘alongside’ the actual words you speak (in much the same way as body language does).

So far, so uncontroversial, but I did have a question about one of the examples which was given to illustrate the use of ‘voice quality’:

The following examples of paralinguistic effects are accompanied by a gloss indicating the context in which they commonly occur.
* whisper – secrecy or conspiracy
* breathiness – deep emotion or sexual desire
* huskiness – unimportance or disparagement
* nasality – anxiety
* extra lip rounding – intimacy (especially to animals and babies).

Did anyone else think that nasality wasn’t particularly closely connected with anxiety? or is it just me?

Presumably part of the problem is that the distinctions between, say, breathiness and huskiness, is left to the reader’s own impressions, and I think it’s fairly well recognised that ordinary language users can classify a startlingly wide range of speech phenomena as being “nasal,” even when acoustically and articulatorily there’s no nasality to be found. (The air coming out of the lungs in speech production flows out either by your mouth or by your nose – if it’s flowing through the nasal cavity, that’s when the sounds are nasal. It happens automatically with sounds like m, n, ng, but the suggestion here is that nasality would characterise a much larger stretch of speech as produced by an anxious person.)

It could well be a lack of imagination on my part, but I would be grateful if anyone could explain what might have been behind this claim.

David Crystal (1995), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, p248-249

specially welcome

It’s been dawning on me for the past few months that all the books I’ve personally found most helpful have been written by English authors – Ryle, Bunyan, also Thomas Goodwin although I don’t mind admitting he was something of a struggle, and Spurgeon on and off.

Obviously, if a thing is true, it doesn’t matter who said it. But I’ve been starting to feel I should make more use of more home-grown talent. Theologically speaking, I don’t know if you can beat Thomas Boston or George Smeaton, but I should really branch out into other practical works in addition to The Christian’s Great Interest.

So yesterday I had a look at the works of Robert Traill, which I’d heard good things about, and instantly gleaned some very heart warming things. He was talking about coming to ‘the throne of grace,’ meaning approaching God in prayer, and in more than one place in the couple of sermons I managed to read he made the point that some people were more specially welcome at the throne of grace than others. Those who come to the throne of grace early and often, he said, are especially welcome. Also those who come when they have no other source of support whatsoever. Although he said it was a sad sign of unbelief that people don’t go to God for help until they have absolutely nowhere else to turn, he still said those people were welcome when they did come, because their faith would be the more undiluted, the fewer props were available to them.

Another category of people who he said were especially welcome at the throne of grace were those who come “to get, and not to give.” You might think it was obvious that your prayer wouldn’t include anything by way of self-help – by definition, it should be a going out of yourself to another for help. But he went on:

“Take heed to your spirits in this matter. When you come to the throne of grace, come to receive out of Christ’s fullness, and come not to bring grace with you to add to Christ’s store. He loves to give, and glories in giving, but he scorns to receive grace from you, and in truth you have none but what he gives. Bring your wants to him to supply, but bring not your fulness to brag of. Spread your sins before this throne with shame and sorrow, and plead for a gracious pardon, but take heed you bring not your sorrow, tears, and repentance; nay, your faith itself, as a plea for that pardon. How abominable it is to Christians’ ears, and how much more to Christ’s, to hear a man plead thus for pardon: ‘Here is my repentance; where is thy pardon? Here is my faith; where is thy justification?’ I know men abhor to say so. But take good heed, lest any thought bordering on it enter into thy heart. Faith is the tongue that begs pardon – faith is the hand that receives it, it is the eye that seeth it; but it is no price to buy it. Faith uses the gospel plea for pardon, but itself, neither in habit nor act, is the plea itself. That is only Christ’s blood. Christ’s blood goes for the remission of your sins, if ever they be forgiven, and it is the only plea to be heard at the throne of grace.”

Traill was a covenanter and I think (if I remember) it mentioned in the brief account of his life that he was a friend of William Guthrie (author of the Christian’s Great Interest). All I managed to read yesterday was Sermon I and Sermon II on the throne of grace, in the first volume of his works published by the Banner of Truth (ie, I didn’t take a note of the page numbers, but that’s where to find these quotes if you wanted to track them down!).

incontestable and unquestionable

This is a piece from Matthew Henry’s Communicant’s Companion – it’s not the quote I’d intended to post next, but the one I’d made a mental note of, I can’t actually find now that I’m looking for it.

Here [at the Lord’s table] we must confide in his power, trusting in him as one that can help and save us. He has an incontestable authority – is a Saviour by office, sanctified and sealed, and sent into the world for this purpose; help is laid upon him. We may well offer to trust him with our part of this great concern [ie salvation], which is the securing of our happiness, for God trusted him with his part of it, the securing of his honour, and declard himself well pleased in him.

He has likewise an unquestionable ability to save to the uttermost. He is mighty to save, and every way qualified for the undertaking. He is skilful, for treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in him; he is solvent, for there is in him an inexhaustible fulness of merit and grace, sufficient to bear all our burdens, and supply all our needs.

We must commit ourselves and the great affairs of our salvation unto him, with a full assurance that he is ‘able to keep what we commit to him against that day,’ that great day, which will try the foundation of every man’s work.

We must confide in his promise, trusting in him as one that will certainly help and save us, on the terms proposed. We may take his word for it, and this is the word which he has spoken – ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out,’ a double negation, ‘I will not, no, I will not.’ He is engaged for us in the covenant of redemption, and engaged to us in the covenant of grace, and in both he is the Amen, the faithful witness. On this, therefore, we must rely, the word on which he has caused us to hope. God has spoken in his holiness, that he will accept us in the Beloved, and in that ‘I will rejoice…’.

There is not salvation in any other but in him; trust him for it therefore, and depend upon him only.

From Chapter 10, ‘Helps for the exciting of those pious and devout affections which should be working in us while we attend this ordinance;’ the second section.

for sinners only

From Owen on Psalm 130.

The proposal of repentance is a thing fitted and suited, in its own nature, to beget thoughts in the mind of a sinner that there is forgiveness with God. Repenting is for sinners only. ‘I came not,’ saith our Saviour, ‘to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’ It is for them, and them only. …

O sinners, come and deal with God by repentance! Doth it not openly speak forgiveness in God? and, if it were otherwise, could men possibly be more frustrated or deceived? would not the institution of repentance be a lie? Such a delusion may proceed from Satan, but not from him who is the fountain of goodness, holiness, and truth.

His call to repentance is a full demonstration of his readiness to forgive. … God deceives none: whoever comes to him on his proposal of repentance shall find forgiveness. It is said of some, indeed, that he ‘will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh.’ … But who are they? Only such as refuse his call to repentance.

From John Owen, Practical Exposition of Psalm 130, p203. What he’s saying here is more or less an expanded version of what it says in the Shorter Catechism – repentance involves among other things, some glimpse or apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. Your conscience could tell you that you should turn from your sins, but it’s another thing to realise that there’s the possibility of turning from them to God. But the gospel call on sinners to repent is itself an assurance that salvation is available, that sinners can be reconciled to God, that ‘there is forgiveness with him,’ as Psalm 130 says.

an unexpected hero

This post follows firmly in my tradition of not getting round to talking about newspaper articles until ages after they were printed. This particular article was in the Guardian (well, where else) and it was about a nineteenth century social reformer called Josephine Butler, described by the writer, Julie Bindel, as one of feminism’s unsung heroes and the first publicly recognised feminist activist in Britain.

Josephine Butler (1828-1906) made her name by campaigning on a wide range of women’s rights issues. Prior to women even getting the vote, she was active in the cause of putting an end to exploitatative practices such as prostitution (including child prostitution), legalised brothels, and sex trafficking.

An example of her dedication and persistence was the 16-year fight against one particularly discriminatory piece of legislation – the Congatious Diseases Act of 1864, which aimed to stop the spread of venereal diseases amongst the armed forces. Apparently, “Under these laws, any woman in designated military towns could be forcibly investigated for venereal disease. It was decided that men would not be examined because they would resist. Women believed to be prostitutes could be reported to the authorities, and those found to be infected could be imprisoned for three months in a secure hospital. There were instances of such women, many of whom were not prostitutes, being subsequently forced into the sex trade.” The article explains, “The sexual double standard of the act, which Butler took to mean that men could use prostitutes with impunity while at the same time punishing the women, disgusted her, and she led a campaign to repeal it. After winning that battle – the law was repealed in 1886 – Butler took the campaign to India, where women were being sold into prostitution by the British army.”

What was particularly interesting about this article in G2 was that the same woman (and the same biography of her by Jane Jordan) were featured in none other than the Christian Institute’s Update magazine of Summer 2006: Josephine Butler was in fact a Christian, determined that nobody should be treated as ‘scum,’ not even ‘fallen women,’ as “everyone is equal under God” – and living out her beliefs through letter writing, pamphleteering, and public speaking, as well as intensely practical measures which went to the lengths of taking women dying of disease into her own home, before she raised the funds to set up a separate, nondenominational refuge or ‘house of rest’ for desperate prostitutes.

I doubt that even I would always agree with the Guardian’s classification of people into the category of heroes, but this time I think it’s safe enough. The analysis of ‘sex work’ as exploitative and degrading is accepted both by this journalist and the Christian Institute’s researchers, and in both publications the point is made that, while Butler’s achievements were radical and progressive and brought huge benefits not just to women but society at large, they’re unfortunately under increasing threat of being dismantled now, only a couple of generations after Josephine Butler’s.

A quote from Butler herself to finish off:

The degradation of these poor unhappy women is not degradation for them alone; it is a blow to the dignity of every virtuous woman too, it is dishonour done to me, it is the shaming of every woman in every country of the world.

Julie Bindel’s article is worth the read if you have a minute, and the biography by Jane Jordan is on my wishlist.