Samuel Taylor Coleridge Returns to the Truth

This is the day that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon, England, in 1772.

Coleridge represents the restless abandonment of truth in the pursuit of truth. He readily devoured those things that led men away from faith in God, only to return to the roots which he valued so little in earlier years. Philosophies, idealism, drugs, irresponsibility and self-will are readily evident in his life.

Samuel’s father was a vicar in the village church and master of the local grammar school. As the youngest of fourteen children young Coleridge failed to develop a good sense of financial management and responsibility. An avid reader he first set out to fulfil his father’s wish that he become a clergyman. Introduced to Unitarian ideas in his first year at Cambridge, Coleridge was immediately drawn to it, as he also was to the older sister of one of his friends.

Coleridge accumulated a large debt while at college, which his older brothers had to discharge for him. He was then distracted by Plato’s Republic, and idealistic notions of going to America to set up the ultimate republic in Pennsylvania with a fellow student named Southey. When Southey married, Coleridge wed the sister of Southey’s bride, Sarah, thus commencing an unhappy marriage that ultimately fell apart. Coleridge still loved his friend’s sister, who was engaged to another man.

Assisted by Wordsworth, Coleridge abandoned the idealised republic and set about writing poetry. The two men travelled to the continent where Coleridge learned German and began translation, while also coming under the influence of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Jakob Boehme and G.E. Lessing.

When he returned to England in 1800, he settled with family and friends at Keswick. Over the next two decades Coleridge lectured on literature and philosophy, wrote about religious and political theory, spent two years on the island of Malta as a secretary to the governor in an effort to overcome his poor health and his opium addiction, and lived off financial donations and grants. Still addicted to opium, he moved in with the physician James Gillman in 1816. He continued to publish poetry and prose, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1830).

In secular circles he is remembered as being “in the first rank of English poets” and a leader of the British Romantic movement. He wrote such famous works as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

While his early life was scarred by a broken marriage, addiction to opium and Unitarian theology, the last 20 years of his life saw him back in the Anglican fold as a ‘practicing Churchman’.

He wrote Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, dealing primarily with the authority of Scripture. “For more than 1000 years,” Coleridge wrote, “the Bible has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, law … in short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the species, always supporting and often leading the way” (quoted in Our Roving Bible, page 142).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died at Highgate, London, on 23 July, 1834.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Jerome Used His Pen To Bless the Church

This is the day that … Jerome died in AD 420, at the age of 89.

Born in Europe just 300 years after the birth of Christ, Jerome had a good education and learned several languages.

At the age of 18 he was baptised and joined the church, probably just to please his godly parents!

He writes concerning two things that happened later, causing him to think more seriously about his commitment. One was a dream in which he saw Judgment Day, and he heard a voice say: “You are not a Christian.”

History usually refers to him as Saint Jerome, but one gets the distinct impression that he was not all that saintly!

He was “controversial, argumentative and barbed in his attacks on those who opposed him,” writes M. Tengbom.

Another says: “He was unable to bear rivals … he died cantankerous and argumentative as ever.”

Another: “Jerome was so objectionable that no-one would live anywhere near him.”

Eventually Jerome went to live in Bethlehem … in a cave. It was in this cave that he translated the Scriptures into Latin, the tongue of the common (vulgar) people, hence it became known as “the Latin Vulgate version”. The “Latin Vulgate” was the main Bible in Europe for over 1000 years.

The story is told that one day while he was translating, a lion entered his cave. It had a thorn stuck in its paw so Jerome pulled it out and the lion became his pet and lived in the cave with him! Since then, whenever someone has painted Jerome doing his translation work, a lion has always been included in the painting.

Jerome produced a huge volume of works, including translations, commentaries and letters, which he intended to see published. He used the pen to argue his points and to press his interpretations.

Initially he looked on the Septuagint as an inspired text, but his continued study of Hebrew and his discussions with rabbis led him to revere the Hebrew text and disdain the Septuagint.

His correspondence is valued for the insight it give to the culture and thinking of his day, both in his own expressions and in the matters which he challenges. His contribution has greatly impacted Christendom.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Book of Books

I am staggered at my ongoing discovery of the Bible as a profound and amazing gift from eternity. So let me extol to you just some of the wonders of this amazing Book of Books.

My Background

As a lad I heard people say that the Bible is the “Book of Books”. I knew that they held it dear, but I could not understand why. It seemed to me that maybe they were the ‘sentimental’ type, or had less personal resource to draw from and so needed something else to assist them.

I was given my first Bible for my tenth birthday, by my Sunday School teacher. She told me she had a wonderful gift to give me for my birthday. When it turned out to be just a Bible I was visibly disappointed. She tried to enthuse me with the wonder of this profound book, but I just couldn’t get excited. I am not sure I was even thankful.

Book of Books

When I heard the term ‘Book of Books’ I realised it was ambiguous. The Bible was both a collection of 66 books written by diverse authors over several millennia, and also a book that stood supreme over all other books. It was “the book” among all books.

I gradually learned to appreciate the Bible. My journey in that direction was painfully slow, despite my regular church attendance and attempts to establish daily Bible reading using the Scripture Union notes. I most often ended up cramming several days’ worth in a dash to catch up on forgotten reading. My main motivation was fear and guilt, not a love for the Bible. I thought that reading the Bible would make a good impression on God and save me from any nasty things I might rather avoid.

New Discovery

Just recently, however, I was excited to discover the true meaning of the term ‘Book of Books’! I am surprised I never saw this before and the discovery quite intrigues and motivates me.

What I came to see is that the Bible is so rich in and of itself that it is able to speak into people’s lives and circumstances as if it was a set of diverse texts, not just what it appears to be. That’s a long way to say it, but I’ll try to explain. I want you to catch the same sense of discovery, assuming you haven’t already caught this insight. Maybe you’re wondering why I’m so excited about something you knew all along. If that’s the case please bear with me.

The Obvious Book

The Bible is obviously a religious text. It is full of things religious people quote and study all the time. So it is most readily relegated to the religious section of any library. It is a book for the religious boffins and devotees who care for such literature. It contains prophecies, regulations, prescriptions for rituals, esoteric spiritual stuff that doesn’t have immediate practical application, a religious vocabulary and much more that attests to its place as a Religious Text.

Now it has been used for much more than religion, but the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the Bible should be put alongside the Koran, Hindu texts and texts about Confucius, Buddha, etc.

But the Bible is much, much more than a religious book. It is a religious text. That is its persona as one of the books it can serve as. But it is able to be pulled off the shelf as other books as well.

A Library in Itself

Imagine having one book on your shelf. When you want a cooking book you grab that one book and open it up. There you find recipes. Then, when you want a handyman book you grab the same text and open it, to find that it is full of drawings and instructions about home maintenance. Suppose then you need a book on managing your home finances. You reach for the same book, open it up and find that it has instructions on budgeting, managing bank accounts, and so on.

That book would be a library in itself. And, in a similar but different way the Bible is just that kind of library in one book. What has impressed me is a sense for just how profound the Bible can be to a diverse range of applications.

The Familiar Diversity

Stories: We are all familiar with the stories recorded in the Bible. Many children, including me, were enthralled by the amazing and wonderful historical accounts given in the Bible. David and Goliath is a perennial favourite, along with Daniel in the lion’s den, the crossing of the Red Sea and the miracles of Jesus. This is a story book par excellence.

History: We are also familiar with the historicity of the Bible. The events described in the Bible are mostly of historical account. They inform us of events and practices which we have next to no other record of. Historians rely on the Bible as a source book for cultural and historical insights.

Poetry: We are all familiar with the Bible as a source of poetry. There are various books in the Bible which are categorised as Hebrew poetry. Other portions are so beautiful and sweet in their content that they are often used as readings in such ceremonies as weddings, funerals and religious observances. So the Bible can be pulled off the shelf when someone wants some deeply beautiful and meaningful poetry.

Wisdom: We are also familiar with the Bible as a source of wisdom. Some books in the Bible are referred to as Wisdom literature. These books, incidentally, are also in the poetic category. Wisdom about relationships, problem solving, avoiding trouble, maintaining the peace, and so on, can be found in the pages of the Bible. So many people who need wisdom for their lives turn to the Bible as a valued resource.

Guidance: We are also familiar with the idea of the Bible being used for guidance. A girl I knew in primary school told me that her mother would open the Bible and point at the page, expecting whatever she chanced upon to be a word from God for her. This is not a recommended practice, as it tends to turn the Bible into a fortune-telling tool, contrary to God’s curse upon such activity. Many Christians, however, do prayerfully put their questions before God and then read their daily Bible reading with expectation that something will speak into their situation.

Moral Mentoring: We have all heard people refer to the moral standards given us in the Bible. Many people have acknowledged Jesus Christ the most exemplary person to have ever lived. He is spoken of as the “greatest man that ever lived” and His life has been studied by many, even when they did not believe Him to be the Son of God. The Bible could be used by every youth, not as a religious text, but as a text to guide them toward exemplary moral character.

From these examples you can see that the one book functions as multiple books, on hand for different applications.

What about ….

The Bible speaks into many other subjects as well, so have you ever considered the Bible as a text book on those things?

What about health and medicine? The Bible promotes sanitation and various health regulations. Certain foods are promoted over others. Is the Bible not a worthy resource text for such things?

And what about government? The Bible has much to say about leadership, forms of government, responsibilities within social order, and so on. So maybe the Bible could be taken off the shelf and studied just as a text for governmental order.

Then, what about business administration? There are many instructions to do with payment of employees, delegation of authority, enterprise and the like. These are business matters which are so valuable in themselves as to recommend the Bible as a business text book too. The Character First organisation applies the character qualities given in the Bible as a means of improving business efficiency and productivity. There may be many applications

The Bible has much to say about legal matters, so the Bible is a worthy Law textbook.

If you were to embrace the Bible for any one of these and other applications you may find that it comes alive in your hands as a much more valuable and richer text than you have ever counted it to be.

If that were the case it would become to you a Book of Books!

William Townsend Births Wycliffe

This is the day that …William Cameron Townsend was born into a Presbyterian family in California, in 1896.

In 1917, after joining the Student Volunteer Movement in his teens, he was selling Spanish Bibles in Guatemala. But 2000 Cakchiquel Indians had no use for the Bible in Spanish, a language they could not understand. He was confronted by the question: “If your God is so smart, why hasn’t He learned our language?” That did it! For the next 13 years Cameron Townsend devoted his life to mastering the Cakchiquel language and translating the Scriptures for them to read.

It was 1929 when he completed the New Testament, by which time he had caught the vision that became “the world’s largest independent Protestant missionary organisation (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker, page 353), to assist missionaries in the task of learning a foreign language, reducing that language to writing, and translating the Scriptures into it.

In 1934 he founded Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas for that very purpose – now known as Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics.

By the end of the twentieth century a mighty missionary force about 5000 strong was busily engaged in translating God’s Word into hundreds of languages and dialects, dedicated to the task of reaching the thousands of tribes who still had no Bible in their own language.

Billy Graham described him as “the greatest missionary of our time” (ibid, page 351).

It is to be confessed that “Uncle Cam” never quite fitted in to the evangelical framework of the majority of his workers, or supporters. Involving his translators in “government-sponsored social programs”, his defence of socialism in Mexico and his co-operation with Roman Catholics, have all caused controversy for Wycliffe Bible Translators over the years (see ibid, pages 353-354).

But none can argue with his conviction that “the greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue.” And thousands of dedicated evangelical missionaries are doing what they can to bring the gospel to every nation, in their mother tongue.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Layard Uncovers Nineveh

This is the day that … archaeologist Austin Henry Layard died in 1894.

He was born in Paris 77 years before, of Huguenot ancestry.

We are told that whilst poring over his law books, which he was supposed to be studying, the images of “Arabian Nights” that he had read in his teens kept filling his mind. Eventually he met an uncle, returned from Ceylon, with a thousand stores of the exotic East.

That did it.

At the age of 22 he set out with a friend to travel overland to distant India.

By 1840 Layard was crossing the Euphrates River … and then into ancient Assyria. Great mounds of buried cities lay before him. Before long he had hired some Arabs and digging commenced.

And thus it was Austin Henry Layard unearthed ancient Nineveh … the palace of Sargon (once thought to be fictitious by critics of the Bible, despite the Biblical reference in Isaiah 20:1).

He also unearthed the palace of Sennacherib. Great winged bulls, some weighing 50 tons, came into view. The tourist to the British Museum may see some of the results of Layard’s exciting discoveries – discoveries that again confirmed the Scripture in its historical accuracy.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.