The Cosmos in an Apple

I can think of another instance in which a piece of fruit had cosmological significance, but this time we’ll focus on Newton’s apple:

Now, when Isaac Newton observed a certain relationship between and likeness between the behavior of the falling apple and that of the circling planets, it might be said with equal plausibility either that he argued by analogy from the apple to a theory of astronomy, or that while evolving a theory of astronomical mathematics he suddenly perceived its application to the apple. But it would scarcely be exact to say that, in the former case, he absurdly supposed the planets to be but apples of a larger growth, with seeds in them; or that, in the latter case, he had spun out a purely abstract piece of isolated cerebration that, oddly enough, turned out to be true about apples, though the movements of the planets themselves had no existence outside Newton’s mathematics. Newton, being a rational man, concluded that the two kinds of behavior resembled each other – not because the planets had copied the apples or the apples copied the planets, but because both were examples of the working of one and the same principle.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian, pp. 124-125

Doesn’t it seem like this story could have come out of a fairy tale? This is one of the reasons I am glad I was encouraged to read Polanyi: he reminds us that science and imagination cannot be, and therefore are never, separated. Newton’s articulation of the law of gravity was a massive act of the imagination which saw an explanation of the workings of the cosmos in a falling apple.

It almost sounds as if he were a poet. Keats heard a nightingale and thought of ‘Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.’ Newton saw a falling apple and thought of the workings of the galaxy. Chesterton’s idea that everything is poetic really isn’t that far fetched.

The story also reminds us of the importance of analogies. As a preacher it reminds me that analogies are important for engaging the imagination, which in turn can lead to a better grasp of the truth. Call it a reminder of the need for ‘whimsical’ preaching.

Chesterton and Mr. Smith: Everything is Poetic

I spent some time today listening to an audiobook of Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton. This passage made me a little giddy:

The sense that everything is poetical is a thing solid and absolute; it is not a mere matter of phraseology or persuasion. It is not merely true, it is ascertainable. Men may be challenged to deny it; men may be challenged to mention anything that is not a matter of poetry. I remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a book in his hand, called “Mr. Smith,” or “The Smith Family,” or some such thing. He said, “Well, you won’t get any of your damned mysticism out of this,” or words to that effect. I am happy to say that I undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy. In most cases the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical. In the case of Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic matter for the man to live up to it. The name of Smith is the name of the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed. The spirit of the smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith.

Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that creative violence. The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the wierdest of earthly elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written, briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith… From the darkest dawn of history this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the Hammer of Thor.

-from G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, chapter 3 (On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small)

This could have easily been mentioned in the Ethics of Elfland chapter of Orthodoxy. After reading that chapter I have never looked at trees and apples and rivers quite the same. Now I believe I will never look at a person’s name quite the same.

Bless’d Are The Humble Souls That See

This is Isaac Watts’ rendering of the beatitudes for singing:

Bless’d are the humble souls that see
Their emptiness and poverty;
Treasures of grace to them are giv’n,
And crowns of joy laid up in Heav’n.

Bless’d are the men of broken heart,
Who mourn for sin with inward smart;
The blood of Christ divinely flows,
A healing balm for all their woes.

Bless’d are the meek, who stand afar
From rage and passion, noise and war;
God will secure their happy state,
And plead their cause against the great.

Bless’d are the souls that thirst for grace
Hunger and long for righteousness;
They shall be well supplied, and fed
With living streams and living bread.

Bless’d are the men whose bowels move
And melt with sympathy and love;
From Christ the Lord they shall obtain
Like sympathy and love again.

Bless’d are the pure, whose hearts are clean
From the defiling powers of sin;
With endless pleasure they shall see
A God of spotless purity.

Bless’d are the men of peaceful life,
Who quench the coals of growing strife;
They shall be called the heirs of bliss,
The sons of God, the God of peace.

Bless’d are the suff’rers who partake
Of pain and shame for Jesus’ sake;
Their souls shall triumph in the Lord;
Glory and joy are their reward.

-Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Hymn 1:102 Matt. 5:3012

And Heaven Begins Below

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

And when we taste thy love,
Our joys divinely grow
Unspeakable, like those above,
And heaven begins below

-Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (on 1 Peter 1:8)

Which is reminiscent of,

The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.

-Isaac Watts, Come We that Love the Lord (We’re marching to Zion)

A Theology of the Sabbath (5): Follow-Up Questions Concerning Application

This is a follow-up to a four part series on John Owen’s doctrine of the Sabbath. The other posts will clarify the answers here. See Part 1 (the Sabbath as Moral and Mosaical) HERE,  part 2 (the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE, part 3 (Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and its Mosaical Elements) HERE, and part 4 (on the Sabbath in the New Covenant) HERE. For a summary list of quotations by Owen see HERE.

When I started blogging through John Owen’s treatise on the Sabbath, Brian posed several questions for discussion. I’ve kept them in mind as I’ve thought through Owen. These are my attempts to answer the questions:

  • I would love to hear your take on America’s historical “Blue Laws”, related to Owen’s thoughts.

Unless I missed it somewhere, Owen did not argue for or against state-based laws regarding the Sabbath. Reading between the lines, however, I do not think he would necessarily be for such laws (my main reason for this is the fact that he was a convinced Congregationalist, who likely would not want the government over-meddling in the affairs of the church). That’s the simple answer, let me expand it a bit.

Owen’s main case for the New Covenant Sabbath is that it is realized spiritually only as we rest and trust in Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel. The actual observance of the first day Sabbath is simply a sign and symbol pointing to that reality – Christ resting from his works, and us resting in Christ. It therefore would seem illogical to demand that pagans and atheists observe the Sabbath. It could be enforced as a law just as much as idolatry and graven images could be banned, which is not an easy task. Therefore, at least in my mind, I see the Sabbath as a wonderful opportunity to be counter-cultural. It should be one of the things that distinguishes God’s people from the world.

Now the problem with what I have just written is that the Sabbath command (in principle, not as a civil law) remains in effect for all time. This means that those who fail to honor it are sinning. Shouldn’t we therefore encourage the world not to sin in this regard? My answer to this is that we cannot do this by coercion; we need to preach the law and preach the gospel. Conversion is the answer, not coercion.

  • I would also enjoy hearing your take on pastoral recommendations to their busy flocks to take a “sabbath hour” if you cannot find time to rest for the whole day. Along those same lines, I’ve also seen the particular day extolled as entirely unimportant by some Christians, claiming that you can just take a “day of rest” or a moment of rest, whenever you find time in the week. Finally, this all would seem connected to the modern [Americans’] blatant disdain for tradition and symbolism. Can you speak to all of this?

We’ve discussed this already to a degree. The idea of a ‘sabbath’ hour is not related to the fourth commandment, which entailed one entire day each week. As for any day of the week serving as a sabbath, again I don’t think this can be justified biblically. If we observe the first day of the week as a sabbath precisely because of its connection to the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, then we are missing the entire point by observing it on another day. If sabbath only entails rest, this could be feasible; but I’ve followed Owen in emphasizing the fact that the sabbath is not simply about physical rest. It is about resting in Christ, as he is offered in the gospel; and the first day of the week connects us to the reality of the resurrection in particular.

If you want to apply this principle to daily life, then the primary application, I think, would be that we are constantly resting and trusting in Christ. This means that we are not to be striving for acceptance with God, but that we are already accepted in Christ by faith. Living in that light honors the principle of the sabbath. It means that we can die to sin and rise from the dead anew each day as we wake from our sleep to live by the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The last thing to cover here is the simple idea of physical rest. I do not think our traditional idea of a weekend is what the Lord Jesus Christ has in mind when he calls us to rest in him. But I am reminded of an anecdote:

 At one point in the course of their very influential ministries, George Whitfield, the Calvinist evangelist, and John Wesley, the Arminian evangelist, were preaching together in the daytime and rooming together in the same boarding house each night. One evening after a particularly strenuous day the two of them returned to the boarding house exhausted and prepared for bed. When they were ready each knelt beside the bed to pray. Whitfield, prayed like this, “Lord we thank Thee for all of those with whom we spoke today, and we rejoice that their lives and destinies are entirely in Thy hand. Honor our efforts according to Thy perfect will. Amen.” He rose from his knees and got into bed. Wesley, who had hardly gotten past the invocation of his prayer in this length of time, looked up from his side of the bed and said, “Mr. Whitefield, is this where your Calvinism leads you?” Then he put his head down and went on praying. Whitefield stayed in bed and went to sleep. About two hours later Whitefield woke up, and there was Wesley still on his knees beside his bed. So Whitefield got up and went around the bed to where Wesley was kneeling. When he got there he found Wesley asleep. He shook him by the shoulders and said to him, “Mr. Wesley, is this where your Arminianism leads you?”

Who correctly applied the principle of rest before work?

Lastly under this heading, let’s speak to modern America’s ‘disdain for tradition and symbolism.’ America is a strange contradiction here. In some sense, modern folk love tradition and symbolism. We love holidays. We’re fresh off the heels of halloween; there’s certainly a lot of tradition and symbolism there. Same goes for the fourth of July, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc. We have a weekly rhythm of five days of work and two off. There is certainly some tradition and symbolism involved in that (TGIF).

The thing that leaps out at me, however, in these symbols and traditions that American’s love is that we have weighed them down with our own baggage. The Fourth of July means fireworks; Valentine’s Day means candy and roses; St. Patrick’s Day means green and beer. We love the weekend because it means time off from work, time to party, hang out, whatever. What we really hate are symbols and traditions that are not about us and our self-fulfillment, especially blatantly religious traditions and symbols which resist being re-branded. We’ve tried it with the sabbath – we call it the weekend. The problem is that a day or two off from work does not offer man the rest that he truly needs. Physical rest pales to the deep rest of the soul in Christ.

  • I would also like to hear what you think about calling it the “Sabbath” vs “The Lord’s Day.”

Owen called it both, and I have no problem with that. The Lord’s Day title is more of a traditional title since it’s hard to argue that ‘Lord’s day’ spoken of by John in Revelation was necessarily the first day of the week. It may very well have been, but it’s hard to sustantiate beyond doubt. That does not mean, however, that we cannot use the title with confidence.

Pieper (in Leisure) argues that the sabbath is akin to the temple in that it is cut off specifically for the service of the Lord. The temple was cut off geographically; the sabbath is cut off chronistically (you could say chronologically I suppose). It is the Lord’s day in that sense. Jesus also calls himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath,’ which at least means that he asserts ownership over it.

The issue here is that we are pretty much afraid to use the term ‘sabbath’ today, because we have a distinct sense that we do not observe the first day of the week in that way. If that’s true, then the term ‘Lord’s Day’ could serve as a cop-out, and we don’t want that. Which means that we need to remind people that the day actually does belong to Christ in a special sense in comparison to all other days. He is the Lord of time, but he claims special ownership over the day of his resurrection. And if Owen’s doctrine is correct, this is vital to our spiritual well-being.

Sunday Hymn: There is a Fountain

The story of hymnwriter William Cowper is the stuff of legend. No less than G.K. Chesterton saw fit to devote a few paragraphs in Orthodoxy to lambast him because of Cowper’s well-known bouts with depression. (It was all Calvinism’s fault or course!). Cowper wrote hymns in order to fight for his sanity. So what if perhaps he went insane. As he did so he gave us hymns about the Lord Jesus Christ that have continued to minister to the sanity of other saints for generations.

It is the pain in Cowper’s life, and knowing of that pain, at least for me, that adds power to the beautiful words of so many of his hymns. Today I want to share one of my favorites. Plus, you can read about Cowper HERE. May we all, whether happy or sad, joyful or miserable, say with Cowper, ‘Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.’