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8 Devotional Poets You Must Know About

Historically, poetry has always had an important role in the Christian spiritual life. The longest book in the Bible is a book of verse; many of the Bible’s prophetic books, though they are not translated as poetry, are poetry in their original language. In addition, the New Testament’s writers quoted from the wisdom of secular poets and from early hymns.

Although I am a lover of music, it is sad when music overshadows the truths about which we are singing. If you start reading these works, you will find that the best musicians of today are those that draw from the vast treasures of Christian verse in English.

  1. John Donne (1572-1631)
    A Spiritual Romantic
    Literature students will read a few of Donne’s angsty poems that can be read alongside Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. But Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Divine Poems have a depth of work that set the foundation for English devotional poetry. His poems deal with suffering, the cross, and longing for God. Donne was a flighty and romantic soul, but in his lifetime ws better known as a pastor than a poet.
    Samuel Johnson classes Donne as a “metaphysical poet,” because of his flare for difficult metaphors (with no relation to the present trend of “metaphysics” as a religious study). Today critics class with him George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Richard Crashaw—all seventeenth-century poets who wrote on devotional themes, all inspired in part by Donne.

    ‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
    But, that God should be made like man, much more.

    Selection of Divine Poems: vox

  2. George Herbert (1593-1633)
    Lyricist of the Cross
    Herbert follows very much along the line of Donne, but that does not mean his work is not valuable. He frequently contemplates scenes or passages from Scripture, and like Donne, he was a priest. He was also a lute-player, and many of his poems were set to his own music. Herbert died at 39.

    He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.

    Selected Poems (free): pdf

  3. John Milton (1608-1674)
    Poet of Eden
    Author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Although he is most well known for these two poems, he has many other poems, especially on the Nativity of Christ, that are worth a second look.
    Milton also wrote a number of polemical tracts, one of which—the Areopagitica—is regarded as foundational to the Western concept of censorship and freedom of press.
    Milton was blind in his later life. His biographer records that he had his daughter read the Scriptures to him in the original languages for hours every day. While he was writing Paradise Lost, he took comfort in what he considered his most significant literary work, a recent political tract, now all but forgotten in comparison to his poetry.

    Peace hath her victories
    No less renowned than war.

    Paradise Lost (free): amzpdfvox
    Paradise Regained (free): amzpdfvox

  4. Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
    Pioneer of English Hymnwriting
    In his lifetime, Watts was known as a logician more than his verse. In the early 18th century, he published  The Psalms of David Imitated and several others books that set the foundation for English hymnody. Little known to most Christians, there was a time in Reformation England when there was a controversy over whether congregations should sing psalms or hymns. Authors and theologians like Benjamin Keach and Isaac Watts were instrumental—pun intended—in bringing freedom to Christian expression in music and worship, similar to many 20th-century musicians who challenged the Christians music industry to expand its art forms.

    He rules the world with truth and grace,
    And makes the nations prove
    The glories of His righteousness,
    And wonders of His love.

    Psalms of David: amz ($0.99) – pdfvox

  5. Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
    Singer of the Methodist Revolution
    Today John Wesley is known as the “founder of the Methodist movement,” and his brother as the songwriter of the movement. But are the brothers so different? Both brothers were in Oxford’s Holy Club, which Charles founded in 1729; both brothers went to Georgia in 1735; both brothers experienced conversion in 1738; both brothers began open-air preaching in 1739 after the style of George Whitefield; both brothers wrote thousands of hymns, and both preached evangelistically for decades.

    Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
    And looks to God alone;
    Laughs at impossibilities,
    And cries it shall be done.

    Hymns and Sacred Poems: pdf

  6. William Cowper (1731-1800)
    Minstrel of Abolition
    Cowper and Newton arranged Olney Hymns for Newton’s congregation in Olney, England; this was the first work to include “Amazing Grace” (by Newton) and many other now famous hymns.
    Cowper’s The Task is often called the best of his poetry, probably because of its defense of a Reformed theology. But his other long poems like “Charity” have equal merit and are loaded with theological content.

    God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm

    The Task: pdfamz
    Olney Hymns: pdfamz ($6.99)

  7. F. W. Faber (1814-1863)
    The Muse of God’s Character
    Faber was a prolific Catholic writer of both poetry and prose. Although his theology works are strongly flavored by his Catholicism, today many Protestants know and love his verse through the writings of A. W. Tozer. Tozer was so greatly moved by Faber’s poetry, that in his compilation, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, Faber figures more prominently than any other poet. Tozer also quotes Faber multiple times in his devotional books like The Knowledge of the Holy.
    Faber’s hymns deal preeminently with the nature and character of God, which is why Tozer liked them so much. Faber also deals with themes of death, the prayer life, and spiritual dryness. Protestant readers can also get our edition of Faber’s Hymns which has been culled down from his best works.

    Shoreless Ocean! who shall sound Thee?
    Thine own eternity is round Thee,
    Majesty Divine.

    Faber’s Hymns: amz ($2.99) – pdf

  8. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
    She was often quoted simply as Mrs. Browning, and her husband Robert was, of course, a famous poet in his own right. In some books of the period, she is introduced as “Mr. Browning’s wife,” but, ironically, I see her quoted more often in devotional readings.
    Though she shies from comparing her Drama in Exile to Milton’s Paradise Lost, she follows a similar line by starting where Milton left off.

    Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God:
    But only he who sees takes off his shoes.

    Drama in Exile (free): amzpdfvox

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Begin Here review

Review: Begin Here: A Wartime Essay (Sayers)

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Dorothy Sayers, 20th-century novelist, linguist, and essayist; Sayers is most famous for her mystery novels, but I will be reviewing her non-fiction. I should add, Sayers is known as an “honorary” Inkling (the club was men-only) and could probably hold her own in an arm-wrestling match with C. S. Lewis.

Overview: Begin Here is a 1940 “wartime essay,” as the British subtitle states, putting World War II in its historical context in terms of how the Brits got there and what attitude they should have towards the war. Although this makes the book sound ephemeral, Sayers is broad enough in her analysis to give her book lasting relevance. Her writing is also impeccable.

The six essays included are “The Serial Drama of History,” “By the Author of ——?”, “Synopsis of Preceding Installments,” “What Happened in the Last Chapter,” “Brief Outline of the Characters,” and “Begin Here.”

Meat: The meat of the book is Sayers’ explanation, in Chapter III, of how our philosophy of man has progressed. She divides it this way, starting from what she calls :

  1. The Whole Man, the image of God — theological man.
  2. The Whole Man, a value in himself, apart from God — humanist man.
  3. Man the embodied Intelligence — rational man.
  4. Homo Sapiens, the intelligent animal — biological man.
  5. Man the member of the herd — sociological man.
  6. Man the response to environment — psychological man.
  7. Man the response to the means of livelihood — economic man. (p. 72)

“The first structure of Western-Mediterranean-Christian civilization which presents itself for our examination was theological. . . . It differs in two ways from any succeeding theory of civilization: it referred all problems to one absolute Authority beyond history and beyond humanity; and as a scheme for the satisfactory fulfillment of the individual and the world-community it was and remains complete and unassailable.” (p. 29-30)

Sayers elaborates one how different understandings of man have successively set up Reason, Life, the State, the individual, and money as absolutes to which all else must bow. None of these had an absolute basis for authority outside itself, and therefore every attempt to substitute an absolute fails.

Likewise, man has languished, she says, in the presence of so much wartime entertainment, all of which is shallow, none of which is devised to capture the reason or imagination of man. Such passive entertainment is derived from an underestimation of man as man. “For man is never truly himself except when he is actively creating something.” (p. 15) Attempts to find inner peace in passivity, then, are unfounded, she says; we are like a cyclist on a tightrope over Niagara Falls; the only recourse is to keep going.

We cannot complain of totalitarianism when we have sat in front of the television, hamstrung our reasons, complaining without creating. Germany, she says, succumbed to Hitler because they were crestfallen, restless, and unproductive; and Hitler appealed on a basic level, not as an elite.

Spoiler: As the final suggestion of the book, Sayers suggests the following:

“There are only two ways to move the world: the way of the Gospel and the way of the Law, and if we will not have the one we must submit to the other. Somehow we have got to find the integrating principle for our lives, the creative power that sustains our balance in motion, and we have got to do it quickly. The task is urgent; we must not push it into the future; we must not leave it to others: we must do it ourselves, and we must begin now and here.” (p. 155-156)

Bones: (I almost forgot to put a critical section, I was so fastened by my first Sayers read.) This book shoots over my head sometimes, as it sweeps along through Communism, the medieval era, the rise of Hitler, and occasional details of wartime Britain. But then, Harry Conn would say you should only read books that you don’t fully understand.

Quotes:

“Seeing that these principles, left to function on their own, produced so strange and insoluble an antinomy, the logical mind could come to only one conclusion: without the theology, the principles have no authority. There is no reason whatever why, having abandoned the theology, we should not abandon the principles. We shall then be free to make our own absolute.” (p. 76)

“We keep on thinking that the German state is the old-fashioned Christian kind of sinner that knows what is right but does what it knows to be wrong; we are unable to conceive that more desparate condition of sin that honestly believes the wrong to be right.” (p. 89)

“”We are like a man riding a bicycle on a tight-rope across the Niagara Falls: we cannot go back, we dare not stop, we must go forward and keep our balance if we are not to fall into destruction.”

“There is one foe within his own gates that every tyrant fears, and that is the Rational Man.” (p. 115-116)

“Peace is not a static thing: it is the supreme example of balance in movement.” (p. 135

Review: The Diary of an Old Soul

Rating: ★★★★

Full Title: A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul.

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Overview: MacDonald arranged this book into 366 daily readings, most of which are devotional and meditative. Each day has a seven-line stanza, many of which are addressed as prayers. (John Keble, an Anglican, had produced the much more popular “Christian Year” about 50 years earlier.)

This is probably MacDonald’s best book of poetry, though he has many. His poetry is a mix of the sentimental (very accessible) and more classical attempts (very inaccessible).

Meat: The stanzas here are simple, devotional thoughts and prayers, many of which can help to express a longing for God. Like the Epistle of James, MacDonald is always stirring his readers to be “doers, and not hearers only.” He speaks from the heart and speaks to the root of the spiritual life.

Bones: MacDonald’s poetry here is simple, and occasionally simplistic. My only other criticism is that MacDonald is so introspective. It can be rather angsty at times.

Quotes:

“When I no more can stir my soul to move,
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire,—
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.”
(January 10)

This book is free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, and on LibriVox.

Chrysostom’s Invincibility Before the Byzantine Empress

There is a famous story about John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople facing persecution at the hands of Eudoxia and the Emperor Arcadius in the Byzantine Empire in the fifth century. First, Eudoxia threatens Chrysostom with banishment, to which he replies:

“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house,” said John.
“But I will kill you,” the empress said.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”
“I will take away your treasures,” said Eudoxia.
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left,” Eudoxia responded.
“No, you cannot,” said John, “for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

Is the Story True?

This is a fantastic sermon illustration on persecution. I found it in F. W. Boreham‘s book Mountains in the Mist, where Chrysostom is never mentioned. It has been quoted on The Gospel Coalition, John MacArthur’s commentary, and many other sources.

The earliest source I have found for this quote is from 1874 (1). It is given in a Scottish commentary on Daniel. It gives a summary of something Chrysostom preached more than once, but it doesn’t appear that he said these words in dialogue with any of his persecutors.

Chrysostom was in fact banished under the emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. He faced threats of violence more than once in his lifetime. In 1840, Henry Milman’s famous church history quotes Chrysostom as saying (2):

What can I fear? Death? “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Exile? “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Confiscation? We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out of it. I fear not death. I desire to live only for your profit. . . .

Milman says this homily is uncertain. As will be shown, it seems that Chrysostom in fact said this, but not at the end of his life, but much earlier.

What Did Chrysostom Say While Facing Banishment?

What Chrysostom did say when facing banishment is very similar to this quote, but much longer. Phillip Schaff, in his biography of Chrysostom, gives the following from a letter from Chrysostom to Bishop Cyriacus (3):

When driven from the city, I cared nothing for it. But I said to myself, if the empress wishes to banish me, let her banish me—”the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” If she would saw me in sunder, let her saw me in sunder—I have Isaiah for a pattern. If she would plunge me in the sea—I remember Jonah. If she would thrust me into the fiery furnace—I see the three children enduring that. If she would cast me to wild beasts—I call to mind Daniel in the den of lions. If she would stone me, let her stone me—I have before me, Stephen the protomartyr. If she would take my head from me, let her take it—I have John the Baptist. If she would deprive me of my worldly goods, let her do it—naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. . . .

It appears that, because he here quotes Psalm 24 and Job 1, to the same effect, the two quotations have been conflated. Below, you will find the original sermon (or homily) in which Chrysostom did in fact say something very similar to the quote that is passed around today. If anything, his original words state his invicibility more strongly, and more scripturally.

Chrysostom Protects Eutropius

The rabbit hole keeps going. Mosheim’s church history (4) appears to be the first to point out the significant quotation as an example of eloquence. He recommends Montfaucon’s 13-volume edition of Chrysostom’s works (5). Thanks to Google, Internet Archive, and my Latin teacher, I found there the two homilies on Eutropius, which are the original source of the famous anecdote (6). The second homily (7) contains the following words:

For what is terrible? Death? Nay, this is not terrible: for we speedily reach the unruffled haven. Or spoliation of goods? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart” (Job 1:21); or exile? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1); or false accusation? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Mt. 5:12). (8)

This also has been included in Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 9, which is widely available. It seems a volume set like this is so large, we hardly know what is there.

So here’s what we know about the story: It is a homily—not a dialogue—that Chrysostom wrote about Eutropius, who had found sanctuary in his church from Aelia Eudoxia, the wife of the Byzantine Emperor, Arcadius. Eutropius was a consul who had fallen out of favor with Byzantine royalty, and it seems he had great trust in John Chrysostom, whom he had previously nominated for Archbishop of Constantinople. When Eutropius fled to the church, armed soldiers entered, demanding that Chrysostom release him. Chrysostom told them to leave, and appealed to the emperor, claiming that he would not give up his church’s right to be a place of sanctuary. After he left the church, Eutropius was eventually apprehended, sentenced, and beheaded.

Within a few days after Eutropius fled the church, Chrysostom gave two homilies related to the events, which you can read in English with an introduction here. It seems that the story was variously paraphrased in the mid-19th century, and while the speaker is correctly given as Chrysostom, it was not his heroic reply to an emperor or empress; it was his exhortation to believers while he was still in a place of great influence as Archbishop of Constantinople. Now that you know the context, here is a fuller quotation. (8)

“I Saw the Swords and I Meditated on Heaven”

Walls are shattered by barbarians, but over the Church even demons do not prevail. And that my words are no mere vaunt there is the evidence of facts. How many have assailed the Church, and yet the assailants have perished while the Church herself has soared beyond the sky? Such might hath the Church: when she is assailed she conquers: when snares are laid for her she prevails: when she is insulted her prosperity increases: she is wounded yet sinks not under her wounds; tossed by waves yet not submerged; vexed by storms yet suffers no shipwreck; she wrestles and is not worsted, fights but is not vanquished. Wherefore then did she suffer this war to be? That she might make more manifest the splendour of her triumph. Ye were present on that day, and ye saw what weapons were set in motion against her, and how the rage of the soldiers burned more fiercely than fire, and I was hurried away to the imperial palace. But what of that? By the grace of God none of those things dismayed me.

Now I say these things in order that ye too may follow my example. But wherefore was I not dismayed? Because I do not fear any present terrors. For what is terrible? Death? Nay, this is not terrible: for we speedily reach the unruffled haven. Or spoliation of goods? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart” (Job 1:21); or exile? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1); or false accusation? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Mt. 5:12).

I saw the swords and I meditated on Heaven; I expected death, and I bethought me of the resurrection; I beheld the sufferings of this lower world, and I took account of the heavenly prizes; I observed the devices of the enemy, and I meditated on the heavenly crown: for the occasion of the contest was sufficient for encouragement and consolation. True! I was being forcibly dragged away, but I suffered no insult from the act; for there is only one real insult, namely sin: and should the whole world insult thee, yet if thou dost not insult thyself thou art not insulted. The only real betrayal is the betrayal of the conscience: betray not thy own conscience, and no one can betray thee.

(1) November 1874 issue of The Original Secession Magazine of the Church of Scotland, on page 839.
(2) Henry Milman. History of Christianity, vol. 3, p. 229.
(3) Phillip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 9, p. 14.
(4) The original title of this book was Institvtiones Historiae Ecclesiasticae Novi Testamenti, published in 1727 in Frankfurt.
(5) Mosheim points this out in footnote 17 on page 241-242 of the English edition.
(6) Montfaucon. Opera Omnia Quae Exstant, etc. volume 3, page 454. (This PDF file is over 1,000 pages.)
(7) The translation of these homilies is by W. R. W. Stephens. You can read them here in the original Greek.
(8) Phillip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 9, p. 14.

Author Guide: Samuel Zwemer

This is a bibliography of works by Samuel Zwemer, adapted from Apostle to Islam by J. Christy Wilson, Sr.

Zwemer may have been the most famous missions mobilizer of the 20th century. He pioneered in Bahrain, Iraq, and Egypt, in addition to missions tours and conferences virtually everywhere that Islam is found. He preached in English, Arabic, and Dutch. His sermons and books called the Church to acknowledge the challenge of Islam head-on.

While some of his works are left for specialists in religion, many of his devotional works are just as compelling today.

***Asterisks mark those that are highly recommended.

 

Works by Samuel Zwemer

  1. Arabia: The Cradle of Islam. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1900. 434 pages.
  2. Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Muslims. Funk and Wagnalls, New York. 1902. 172 pages. (Spanish edition.)
  3. The Muslim Doctrine of God. American Tract Society, New York. 1905. 120 pages.
  4. Islam, A Challenge to Faith. Student Volunteer Movement, New York. 1907. 295 pages.
  5. The Muslim World. Young People’s Missionary Movement of the United States and Canada. Eaton, New York, 1908. 239 pages. (Revised edition of Islam, A Challenge to Faith.)
  6. The Unoccupied Mission Fields of Africa and Asia. Student Volunteer Movement, New York. 1911. 260 pages.
  7. The Muslim Christ. Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, London. 1912. 198 pages. American Tract Society, New York.
  8. Mohammed or Christ. Seeley Service and Company, London. 1915. 292 pages.
  9. Childhood in the Muslim World. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1915. 274 pages.
  10. The Disintegration of Islam. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1916. 227 pages.
  11. The Influence of Animism on Islam. Macmillan, New York. 1920. 246 pages.
  12. Christianity the Final Religion. Eerdmans Sevensma Co., The Pilgrim Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1920. 108 pages.
  13. A Muslim Seeker After God: Life of Al-Ghazali. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1921. 302 pages.
  14. The Law of Apostasy in Islam. Marshall Brothers, London. 1923. 164 pages.
  15. The Call to Prayer. Marshall Brothers, London. 1923. 79 pages.
  16. The Glory of the Cross. Marshall Brothers, London. 1928. 128 pages. (Arabic edition.)***
  17. Across the World of Islam. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1929. 382 pages.
  18. Thinking Missions with Christ. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1934.
  19. The Origin of Religion. Cokesbury Press, Nashville, Tenn. 1935.
  20. Taking Hold of God. Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London 1936. 188 pages.
  21. It is Hard to be a Christian. Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 1937. 159 pages.
  22. The Solitary Throne. Pickering and Inglis, London. 1937. 112 pages.***
  23. Studies in Popular Islam. Macmillan, New York. 1939. 148 pages.
  24. Dynamic Christianity and the World Today. Intervarsity Fellowship, London. 1939. 173 pages.
  25. The Glory of the Manger. American Tract Society, New York. 1940. 232 pages.
  26. The Art of Listening to God. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1940. 217 pages.
  27. The Cross Above the Crescent. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1941. 292 pages.
  28. Into All the World. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1943. 222 pages.
  29. Evangelism Today. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1944. 125 pages.
  30. Heirs of the Prophets. Moody Press, Chicago. 1946. 137 pages.
  31. The Glory of the Empty Tomb. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1947. 170 pages.
  32. How Rich the Harvest: Studies in Bible Themes and Missions. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1948. 120 pages.
  33. Sons of Adam. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1951. 164 pages.

 

Works of Joint Authorship

  1. Topsy Turvy Land, with Amy E. Zwemer. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1902. 124 pages.
  2. Methods of Mission Work among Muslims, with E. M. Wherry. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1906. 232 pages.
  3. The Mohammedan World of Today, with E. M. Wherry. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1906. 302 pages.
  4. Our Muslim Sisters, with Annie Van Sommer. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1907. 299 pages.
  5. The Nearer and Farther East, with Arthur J. Brown. Macmillan, New York. 1908. 325 pages.
  6. Lucknow, 1911, with E. M. Wherry. Madras, 1912. 298 pages.
  7. Zig-Zag Journeys in the Camel Country, with Amy E. Zwemer. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1911.
  8. Daylight in the Harem: A New Era for Muslim Women, with Annie Van Sommer. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1912. 224 pages.
  9. Islam and Missions, report of the Lucknow conference with E. M. Wherry. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1912. 300 pages.
  10. Christian Literature in Muslim Lands, with a committee. Doran, New York. 1923.
  11. Muslim Women, with Amy E. Zwemer. United Study Committee, New York. 1926. 306 pages.The Golden Milestone: Reminiscences of Pioneer Days Fifty Years Ago in Arabia, with James Cantine. Fleming H. Revell, New York. 1939. 157 pages.

 

Short Works and Contributions

“Report of a Mission Tour Down the Euphrates from Hillah to Busrah.” The Christian Intelligencer, Jan. 4 & 11, 1893.

“Report of a Journey into Yemen and Work among the Jews for the Mildmay Mission.” The Christian Intelligencer. c. 1894.

“Mohammedan World of Today.” 1898.

“Epilogue: A Sketch of the Arabian Mission.” Kamil Abdulmasih. [Formerly Kamil Abdul Messiah.] 1898.

“Advice to Volunteers.” Advice for Student Volunteers. [Formerly The Call, Qualifications and Preparation of Candidates for Foreign Missionary Service Ed. Robert Speer. 1901.

“Thinking Gray in Missions.” n.d.

“The Impending Struggle in Western Asia.” An address delivered January 2, 1910.

“Islam, the War, and Missions.” c. 1914.

“Introduction.” The Vital Forces of Christianity and Islam, with W. H. T. Gairdner, et al. Oxford, London. 1915.

“A Primer on Islam.” Continuation Committee, Shanghai. 1919. 24 pages.

“Report of a Visit to Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and India.” Summer of 1924.  American Christian Literature Society for Muslims, New York. 1924. 31 pages.

“Report of a Visit to India and Ceylon.” September 23, 1927, to February 28, 1928. A.C.L.S.M., New York. 1928. 33 pages.

“A Factual Survey of the Muslim World.” Fleming H. Revell, New York, 1946. 34 pages.

“The Glory of the Impossible.” 1950.

Review: Phantastes (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Overview: This book is a mixed genre foray into fantasy, written very early in MacDonald’s career. The story is framed as an episodic journey, but it incorporates many sideplots and poems, so that many chapters are only loosely strung to the narrative. This relatively difficult book has some dark themes and is written primarily for an adult audience.

The plots and subplots deal with themes of imagination, bondage and freedom, love and infatuation. Anodos falls in love with a statue, but cannot free her from her pedestal; Anodos is warned about the Ash Tree, which is precisely who he finds himself encountering; and so on.

Meat: This book had great appeal for C. S. Lewis—before his conversion—and wrote in Surprised By Joy that it “baptized [his] imagination.” For my own part, I can say that some of the images and metaphors were profound; others, rather protracted. This is definitely one of MacDonald’s most ambitious works of fiction, and may appeal to more ambitious readers.

Bones: When C. S. Lewis recommends a novel, one expects to see sweeping themes like those of the Space trilogy, or elegant metaphors like those of Narnia; I didn’t find either to be in large number here. The fantasy is more of art for art’s sake, or language for language’s sake; it was costly reading with no payoff.

I am a great fan of George MacDonald, but not a fan of his darker work. (I should add, Lewis has pointed me to other fantasy works that I found disappointing, like those of Charles Williams.)

Quotes: “We receive but what we give.” (loc. 854)

“The waters lay so close to me, they seemed to enter and revive my heart. I rose to the surface, shook the water from my hair, and swam as in a rainbow, amid the coruscations of the gems below seen through the agitation caused by my motion. Then, with open eyes, I dived, and swam beneath the surface. And here was a new wonder. For the basin, thus beheld, appeared to extend on all sides like a sea, with here and there groups as of ocean rocks, hollowed by ceaseless billows into wondrous caves and grotesque pinnacles. Around the caves grew sea-weeds of all hues, and the corals glowed between; while far off, I saw the glimmer of what seemed to be creatures of human form at home in the waters. I thought I had been enchanted; and that when I rose to the surface, I should find myself miles from land, swimming alone upon a heaving sea; but when my eyes emerged from the waters, I saw above me the blue spangled vault, and the red pillars around. I dived again, and found myself once more in the heart of a great sea.” (loc. 1089)

“Hardly knowing what I did, I opened the door. Why had I not done so before? I do not know.” (loc. 2448)

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Chrysostom and the Goal of Missions

In early modern missions, Carey and many of his contemporaries seemed to think that they were ushering in the Millennial kingdom in some sense. It’s interested that their optimism may have been partially misfounded, or misdirected; we are not commanded to Christianize all nations, but simply to preach, as the following from Chrysostom shows:

For the signs too are now complete, which announce that day. For “this Gospel of the Kingdoms,” saith He, “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Attend with care to what is said. He said not, “when it hath been believed by all men,” but “when it hath been preached to all.” For this cause he also said, “for a witness to the nations,” to show, that He doth not wait for all men to believe, and then for Him to come. Since the phrase, “for a witness,” hath this meaning, “for accusation,” “for reproof,” “for condemnation of them that have not believed.”

So the goal of missions is not a Millennial kingdom; the goal of missions is that all may hear. May the offer of Christ’s grace go forth.

(Source: John Chrysostom, Homily X on Matthew. Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post Nicene Church Fathers.)