Saturday, February 18, 2017

John Owen on private revelations... or, was it Packer?

Perhaps you've seen the absolutely wonderful quotation from John Owen:

What a great quotation! Mic drop!

If you're a regular, you know what a stickler I am for sourcing quotations. So I wanted to source this one in Owen.

My search, however, was fruitless. No online quotation that I found sourced the quotation, and my search of Logos' Owen collection turned up nothing.

But then I hit on this quotation, which I can source. Speaking of Quakers, "if their ‘private revelations’ agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree, they are false."

That's it, right? Pretty much the exact wording.

One problem: it isn't Owen.

Close, though. It's actually J. I. Packer writing about Owen, from the book A Quest for Godliness. He isn't quoting Owen, he's summarizing him.

Still, it's a great quotation, though leaky canoneers try hard to evade its point.

UPDATE: All that said, here is an actual and terrific quotation from Owen which does sound some similar notes. It is from 
Since the finishing of the canon of the Scripture, the church is not under that conduct as to stand in need of such new extraordinary revelations. It doth, indeed, live upon the internal gracious operations of the Spirit, enabling us to understand, believe, and obey the perfect, complete revelation of the will of God already made; but new revelations it hath neither need nor use of;—and to suppose them, or a necessity of them, not only overthrows the perfection of the Scripture, but also leaveth us uncertain whether we know all that is to be believed in order unto salvation, or our whole duty, or when we may do so; for it would be our duty to live all our days in expectation of new revelations, wherewith neither peace, assurance, nor consolation is consistent. 
[John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 4 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 62]

Monday, January 09, 2017

Professor John Sailhamer (1946-2017)

Though I can't find any article or source beyond a tweet from Justin Taylor, I read there the sad news that towering OT scholar John Sailhamer has gone to be with the Lord, sometime this year.

I had the great privilege of taking a Hebrew class from John in the late 1970s, and even then he was amazing. Articulate, funny, low-key, utterly unpretentious, easy to talk to, encouraging. I can actually still hear his voice and casual rhythm of speech with memory's ear.

John was a terrific communicator. He had little tricks for understanding and remembering the baffling things Hebrew verbs do from stem to stem. Struggling Hebrew students (as I was!) cling to such helps as to lifelines.

His own academic background was already broad and deep. Once Sailhamer was showing us how to read through the complex entries in the then-standard Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew lexicon. In the course, John would unhesitatingly pronounce the suggested roots, written in bizarre characters from obscure cognate languages, such as Ethiopic and what-have-you.

So I asked, in an innocent tone, "Can you actually read those, or are you just faking?" The professor replied, "Oh, I can read them."

Then a pause, and with perfect timing, half-aloud, half to himself, looking down at the book, "—'faking'?" The class erupted in laughter.

Another time Sailhamer mentioned in passing his view that the Angel of Yahweh in the OT was not the preincarnate Christ. The pastor in front of me, a longtime student of Sailhamer's, whispered loudly "Should we ask for his testimony?" Sailhamer smiled.

Professor Sailhamer and I had lunch together once, a wide-ranging talk that I won't forget. I was this kid, maybe all of 22 years old, a Christian for around 5 years, with 4 years of Greek and a wobbly start in Hebrew, and as much reading as I could cram in. Nobody. But he very kindly accepted the lunch invitation.

Mostly I just remember just how easy it was to talk with this incredibly scholarly brother, how utterly unaffected he was, and how graciously encouraging he was. That made a lifelong impression on me, gave me a real-life model to embrace.

Decades later, when I was invited to speak at a conference in England on Messianic prophecy, Sailhamer's work was very insightful and helpful, and I popularized it into my talks. I wish I could have told him. I will, one day.

I also wish I could have followed Sailhamer decades earlier as a student, but we parted ways geographically after that 70s class in Long Beach, California. Beyond John's books, I couldn't keep track of him. I eventually heard he was gravely ill, but could find nothing about it online. Now I hear he's dead, and once again find that no news site has taken note of his passing.

But OT scholars and students all around the world will.

As I do.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Very quick thoughts post-election 2016

Well now, let's see if I remember how to do this-here posting thing.




A bit more detail:

Things I was dead-wrong about:
  1. Donald Trump will never ever win the GOP nomination.
  2. Donald Trump is the only GOP candidate Hillary Clinton can beat, and that handily.

Things that are good about this outcome, though I was no Trump fan:
  1. Our country's enemies are more nervous than they've been for eight years.
  2. Israel is more optimistic than it's been for eight years.
  3. Business owners see the possibility of expanding their businesses without fear of Obamacare kicking in, meaning unemployed see hopes for getting a job.
  4. Newscasters and pundits are by and large, en masse, utterly discredited and humiliated — though probably not many are humbled.
  5. There is some likelihood that our constitutionally-guaranteed religious liberty might have a friend in the White  House; with Hillary, there would have been none, barring a miracle.
  6. There is some reason to hope that judicial vacancies will be filled from the position of respect for the rule of law and the constitution; with Hillary, there would have been none, barring a miracle.
In closing:

I think that, by the mercy of God, America in general and practicing Bible-believing Christians in particular really dodged a bullet.

That doesn't mean we haven't, at the same time, stepped into the path of a cannonball. My estimation of Donald Trump hasn't changed. Didn't want him to be president, still wish we had a better man.

But here was the situation, and it was a two-edged sword.

One of my major problems with Donald Trump was that I had no reason to believe he'd do any of the good things he occasional suggested he might do. Sometimes he said (in contrast to his decades-long past) that he was pro-life, pro-2nd-amendment, pro-religious-liberty, pro-small-government, and so forth. I had no reason to believe him.

At the same time, one of my major problems with Hillary Clinton was that I had every reason to believe she'd do every one of the evil, destructive things she consistently promised to do — and a great many other harmful things as well. She was a pro-abortion fanatic who saw no grounds for any protection of the unborn for any reason or in any way, ever. She wanted all of us to pay for abortion. She was not interested in protecting the conscience of Christians; in fact, she said that beliefs would have to change, for this and other of the causes she was interested in pursuing. And on and on.

So, we have a breather.

I propose, in no particular order:
  1. Thank God for His incredible mercy in sparing us from the horribleness that might have been
  2. Pray for Trump's genuine conversion.
  3. Pray that Trump will heed the good counsel of the wiser heads he has around him among his advisers.
  4. Pray for revival.
  5. Pursue revival by: preaching the whole Word intensely, if you're a pastor; joining and wholly supporting a church that preaches the whole Word intensely, if you're not; drawing close to the Lord and immersing yourself in His word, whoever you are.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" — movie review

Movie: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Length: 144 min
Rated: definitely R (language, violence)
Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge, Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Giuntloi

Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Chuck Hogan

No chance I was going to watch this. Zero interest. Michael Bay's first Transformers movie was fun, if flawed. It felt as if the second movie isolated all the flaws, multiplied them, and made a movie exclusively based on them. I came to see that this was director Michael Bay's style. He lost me as a filmgoer.

So when I learned that he was making a film about Benghazi, I wouldn't even watch the trailers. Bay, openly homosexual member of the Hollywood set, would surely have created a piece to whitewash Obama and help Hillary! Clinton. I was already irritated at Hollywood's refusal to create films uniting and encouraging America in war time as it had done in the 40s, so I was positively averse.

But then just recently I saw some buzz saying that the movie was no whitewash. While its focus isn't political one way or the other, it very plainly contradicts the changing WH narrative, I read. There's no "video," there's no protest. All the tragic events unfold deliberately and grindingly, with the White House and everyone else fully notified from the first second — and no aid is sent. They are all left to die, with zero US or other support. And the film, I read, relayed this all straight-up and well.

So then when I received an invitation from Grace Hill Marketing to attend a showing, I readily accepted.

And so?

Bottom line. First, given my readership of fellow-Christians, you do need to know this is a hard-R. Think Saving Private Ryan in terms of cursing, coarse talk, and realistic violence. Not gratuitous, in my opinion, but be advised.

That said, it is a really good movie. It was moving, frustrating, engrossing, infuriating, nerve-wracking, and impossible to look away from. Good to be reminded that Michael Bay can actually make a really good movie when he focuses his talents on some solid material and pursues it with discipline. This film is a solid testimony to the heroes and victims of Benghazi, and an eloquent indictment of the failure of the White House and State Department.

Review. Contrary to his reputation for relying on pyrotechnics and the grand scale, Bay begins with a tight focus on the former-military contractors hired to protect a covert CIA base in Benghazi. Some terse narrative and footage establishes the situation, and then we begin getting to know the men.

Despite the well-known and escalating battles to come, the men really remain the focus of the movie, true to the title. When gunfire and explosions come, though they fill the screen, they're still incidental to these grimly humorous, determined, family-loving, self-sacrificing, and utterly formidable warriors.

We meet all the men through the eyes of a new arrival, and they're all immediately immersed in a tense situation, followed by another and tenser situation. We see that their relationship with the CIA "chief" is unequal, as he shows no respect and little regard for them.

Tension is heightened artfully by the music and occasional time notations, as we see worrisome hints here and there of activity among the heavily-armed and apparently completely idle locals. We're introduced to US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his bright, doomed optimism for making friends with the people of Benghazi. Stevens has been provided with a hollow gesture of two (2!) bodyguards in this highly-dangerous setting.

Gradually and with a sense of mounting dread the stage is set for the initial attack on the compound. When it comes, and as its subsequent waves unfold, Bay's fondness (and adeptness) for explosions and pyrotechnics serve and advance the narrative well. The point of view is all over the place: on the ground, in the air, via satellite. This is masterfully done: the more I reflect on it, the more I admire that aspect.

The contractors are not portrayed as angels or saints, but as grim, seasoned professionals who know exactly what needs to be done and are determined to do it. This makes for squirming, agonizing watching, as the attacks escalate, the embassy begs for help, and the CIA chief dithers and flounders and flatly orders the contractors to "Stand down."

Finally, they can't take it any longer. The embassy pleads for their intervention:"If you do not help us now, we will die," and they feel they must respond regardless of the CIA chief. The team leader gives his men the choice to back out, since they're unauthorized and completely on their own. His team members don't even respond, simply waiting for him to go on with the plan; no one considers not diving in and helpful their fellow-Americans to the full, whatever the risk. This is heroism, and it's nice to see Hollywood represent some for a change.

We watch, knowing how it ends, hoping for a rewrite of history. Despite heroic efforts, they are unable to save Ambassador Stevens — bitterly observing that, had they been unleashed when they asked permission, they would have been able to save both him and his aide.

When the last shot is fired and a way to leave the country finally is provided, we are shaken. The audience at my screening broke out in applause.

Sad, instructive story, excellently told.

What's great about the movie? The way that Bay focuses on the central characters, paces the movie, and somehow manages to keep all the simultaneous movements on the screen. The acting is right in the groove, and of course the special effects are top-notch, down to the sound of rounds zipping past our heads.

Positive portrayals of our warriors are also to be appreciated, not assumed, in today's Hollywood, and this is an instance of it. The men are selfless in their commitment to protect fellow-Americans, committed in their bond to each other, and they go to great pains to avoid shooting non-combatants.

Let me add also about the violence: until the last part of the movie, it is for the most part distant, non-lingering, and non-focal. However, in the final sequences there are some pretty gruelling sights and sounds. But then, this is war, and not a sanitized version of it.

What's less great? Is there Gospel? I fear that the promoters are trying to market this as a faith-based or otherwise Christian-friendly film. It is no such thing, and they would not do the movie a service by selling it as such.

I know nothing of the faith of the actual men involved, but as far as what is onscreen, there is a lot of profanity, a fair dose of crudeness, and a few very general mentions of God. The one explicitly theological statement is directly anti-Christian. It's a quotation from Joseph Campbell, to the effect that "Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us." This is precisely the opposite of how we actually can know the true and living God, and is countered by the world-tilting truth of the Gospel.

There is a bit more shaky-cam than I'd rather. But it's minor enough not to be a problem.

Finally, a split-decision: I found the music to be not very imaginative or creative, sometimes no more than sustained alternating chords. But my son Josiah found it very tense and gripping, and perfectly suited to the movie.

Do you recommend it? For the person prepared for the violence and language, I do, absolutely and enthusiastically. It's a gripping tale of personal heroism and institutional ineptness, and yet another reason to refuse to cede our freedoms to bureaucrats and politicians. It does make one burn to see the inept stewards in Washington called to account for their culpable inaction.

Addendum: here is an interview with the surviving heroes of 13 Hours.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

"Any Day" — movie review

Movie: Any Day
: 98 min
Rated: unrated
Starring: Sean Bean, Kate Walsh, Tom Arnold, Eva Longoria 

Director: Rustam Branaman
Screenplay: Rustam Branaman

Preface: I virtually never enjoy giving a negative review. So I never accept an offer of, say, a movie, unless I think there's a decent chance I'll like it. In the case of "Any Day," the cast of actors, plus the sketch of a redemptive plotline, plus its presentation as a "faith-based" movie, led me to hope that it would make a decent family watch. So I accepted a review copy.

Bottom Line: Once again, I watched it with my family and in-laws. The six of us ranged in ages from 15 to 79. The verdict?

Nobody loved it, and at least one really hated it. The biggest problem could be summed up thus: this movie doesn't know what it wants to be. And that's a problem.

Review: The central character is Vian (not a typo; played by Sean Bean), a boxer and a drunk who, in the opening sequence, is provoked at a party and beats a man to death. A crowd, including his sister Bethley (Kate Walsh), watches him do it, only stepping in when it is too late.

Finger-snap, it's twelve years later, and Bean's out of prison and getting off a bus. Yes, that abrupt. He goes to his sister's house, wanting to stay for a brief time until he can get a job. She will barely speak to him and abruptly rejects him. Why? Why is she still mad at him, 12 years later? We never find out.

This is one of those bothersome things that keep this from being an enjoyable movie. Bethley is portrayed as a decent person, a churchgoing believer, who relents again and again, helping Vian. So what sense does it make for her not to have worked at their relationship while he was in jail? Now he's out and helpless. Why didn't she pick him up? Why hadn't they talked about what he'd do with his life once he got out? Why doesn't she care to help him in his clear and sincere desire to go straight? There's no hint that Vian did anything wrong during that time; his demeanor throughout is meek and defeated, not unrepentant and defiant. This jars.

So Bethley relents, Vian moves into the garage and begins looking for work. The fellow who owns his old gym is also unaccountably still mad at him and unwilling to help. Vian has no other success, since he's an ex-con, until he happens on Roland (Tom Arnold), a fellow working the 12 steps who takes a chance on him. So, one good thing for Vian.

Then, in a grocery story, Vian very aggressively and clumsily "hits on" Jolene (Eva Longoria), obviously an attractive career woman who, unaccountably, succumbs to his utterly charmless, ham-fisted, and arguably menacing pursuit.

They instantly become physically, then sexually involved (more on that, later). But Jolene has a slimy ex-boyfriend who's a stalker. (Maybe she has a "thing" for charmless men who won't take "No, no, no, no, and once again, no" for an answer?) Slimyi-ex-boyfriend/stalker remains a menacing presence until finally he turns up with a folder revealing Vian's background.

Yes, that's right! Vian never tells Jolene that he was in jail for second-degree murder. And she has shown no great curiously about his background. Oopsie! She already accepted his lack of candor about his employment, but this is a bit much. Aaand then this ex-boyfriend, having served his role as a plot-device, disappears.

That happens a few times. There's a storyline about Bethley's precocious son being bullied. He wants Vian to teach him to fight. Vian refuses. Yet, just by watching Vian, somehow this little kid succeeds in slugging the bully and sending his (all much taller) henchmen running. Then that's dropped.

Bethley invites Vian to church, he's not interested. She's pretty vague. Bethley's son and Vian have a vaguely religious conversation. Bethley has a Bible, which is left closed. At one crisis point, she tries to pray part of the Lord's Prayer. The only book Vian reads is The Old Man and the Sea, because the boy urged him to and a crisis has occurred and it contains one of the deus ex machina's.

That's the setup. I'll only tell you that everything goes to hot blazes for Vian and he hits angry, stupid, drunken bottom. Then suddenly, he's all better. His redemption? That he will attend Alcoholics Anonymous with Roland.

But it's worse than that. Things are righted through not one but at least two deus ex machina's which pop up. Maybe even two and a half.

Salvation is achieved through a bunch of unexpected money, and AA.

What's great about the movie? Nothing. Sorry; just, nothing.

The only thing that makes "Any Day" to any degree watchable is the four talented principles, who try hard to make sympathetic characters out of the stick-figures they're given to play and the forgettable dialogue they're given to speak.

What's less great? Everything other than the four leads — and the boy. The camerawork is uneven, occasionally switching to slow-motion for no detectable reason. The music is forgettable. The scenery is nothing.

But here's the thing: this movie isn't any one thing, exactly.

Is it a family film? No; to my chagrin I was shocked by some very coarse language, and an unexpected PG13 semi-clothed sex scene that went on too long. None of that was necessary. Yet neither element were so bad that the movie would not have been an R. So it wasn't a family film, and it wasn't an "adult" film. It was neither/nor.

Was it Christian? Nope. It was religious; there was a smattering of God-talk, and Bethley went to some church. What church? No idea. We only know that it gives free sno-cones.

Where's Bethley's pastor when she is at the hospital, her boy severely injured? Roland, a man with a past history of drunkenness and strippers, does show up. But no pastor. Bethley is struggling to get by, but no hint of help from her church. Unless you count the sno-cones.

But not a syllable about Christ or the Gospel, and Vian's redemption was through AA's 12 steps, and through money. There's even a gauzy glowy appearance of a character fresh out of heaven (deus ex machina number one) spouting platitudes and hinting at the location of some money (deus ex machina number two).

So people who hate religion at all will hate it, and Christians will get nothing out of it.

Also, while I don't look for elements like this to complain about, I was really troubled by the portrayal of the main female characters. Both women are attracted to men who are beneath them. Both women say "No, no, no, no" repeatedly to male characters who will not and do not ever take "No" for an answer. In real life, at least two of these situations would have been very threatening, very dangerous. All the sequences send a bad message to women and men.

Is there Gospel? Not a shard.

Do you recommend it? Sorry, but no.

I've seen worse...but that's hardly a glowing recommendation, is it?

Does Sean Bean die in this movie, too? It depends on what you mean by "die."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gurnall on those who change their "convictions" according to the fashion of the day

Gurnall has been talking about the belt of truth and the need to work hard to get ourselves well-grounded in the truth. Then he says this:
...This might well chastise the strange fickleness and unsettledness of judgment which many labour with in this unconstant age.
Truths in many professors’ minds are not as stars fixed in the heavens, but like meteors, that dance in the air; they are not as characters engraven in marble, but writ in the dust, which every wind and idle breath of seducers deface; many entertain opinions, as some entertain suitors, not that they mean to marry them, but cast them oft as soon as new ones come.
Never was there a more giddy age than ours. What is said of fashion-mongers, that some men, should they see their pictures in that habit which they wore a few years past, would hardly know themselves in their present garb, it is most true in regard of their opinions; should many that have been great professors take a view of their religious principles a dozen years ago, and compare them with their present, they would be found not the same men. They have so chopped and changed, that they seem to have forsaken their old faith.
Not that the old which they renounce was false, or the new which they espouse is true; but because they were either ignorant of the truth they first professed, or were insincere in the profession of it; and it is no wonder that the one should upon easy terms part with that, which he first took upon as weak grounds as now he leaves it; or that the other, who did not love or improve the truth he professed, should be given up of God to change it for an error.
If the heathen, who did not glorify God with the light of nature they had, were righteously given up to a reprobate, injudicious mind to do that which was inconvenient, and morally absurd; then they who dishonour God with the revealed light of Scripture truth much more deserve that they should be given up to that which is spiritually wicked, even to believe lies and errors for truth. A heavy curse, did we rightly judge of it, to wander and wilder in a maze of error, and yet think they are walking in the way of truth.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 212-213. Broken into paragraphs]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Gurnall on the tenacity of people who cling to their error at all costs

This is priceless, and so well-put:
I am persuaded some men take more pains to furnish themselves with arguments to defend some one error they have taken up, than they do for the most saving truths in the Bible; yea, they could sooner die at a stake to defend one error they hold, than all the truths they profess.
Austin [Augustine] saith of himself when he was a Manich├Žan, Non tu eras, sed error meus erat Deus meus: ‘Thou, O Lord, were not, but my error was my god.’
O, it is hard to reduce a person deeply engaged in the defence of an error; how oft had the Pharisees their mouths stopped by our Saviour, yet few or none reclaimed! Their spirits were too proud to recant. What, they lay down the bucklers, come down from Moses’ chair, and confess what they might have taught the people for an oracle is now false! They will rather go on, and brave it out as well as they can, than come back with shame, though the shame was not to be ashamed of their error, but ashamed to confess it.
The cynic answered smartly, who, coming out of a brothel house, was asked whether he was not ashamed to be seen coming out of such a naughty house, said, No, the shame was to go in, but honesty to come out. O, sirs, it is bad enough to fall into an error, but worse to persist. The first shews thee a weak man, humanum est errare; but the other makes thee too like the devil, who is to this day of the same mind he was at his first fall.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 212. Broken into paragraphs]

Friday, June 05, 2015

"Beyond the Mask" — movie review

Movie: Beyond the Mask
: 103 min
Rated: PG
Starring: Andrew Cheney, Kara Kilmer, John Rys-Davis
Director: Chad Burns
Producers: Aaron Burns
Screenplay: Paul McCusker

Preface: Almost six years ago I reviewed an earlier Burns Family Studios production titled Pendragon: Sword of His Father. This was an independent and completely in-house production, seemingly populated by every Burns family member in creation. For all that, it was a really good effort. Some continuity issues and unprofessional acting vied for attention with other decent actors, an interesting plot, decent effects, and a true eye for beauty that resulted in memorable scenes beautifully framed.

Now the same studio makes a full-court press with Beyond the Mask. It still has plenty of Burnses involved, but the screenplay is by Paul McCusker, an accomplished writer known to Christians for his work with Adventures in Odyssey — who, since then, has sadly apostatized to Roman Catholicism.

The three lead roles are also professional actors, probably most famous of them being John Rhys-Davis, known as Sulla in the Indiana Jones movies, Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, and many other roles.

So what of this effort?

Bottom Line: I watched it with my family and in-laws. The six of us ranged in ages from 15 to 79. We all enjoyed it, many very enthusiastically so. We all would recommend it to anyone. It's a good, well-done family movie.

Review: the story begins in the timeframe of the signing of America's Declaration of Independence. As the movie opens, we hear the voice of the main character, William Reynolds, introducing us to "this monster called the East India Company." He is speaking guiltily to "Charlotte" — who? Why? We were intrigued.

When watching an independent production, one always begins with bated breath. Production quality is often low, if well-intentioned. First impressions cast a shadow over the rest of the experience.

In this case, opening scenes immediately and ably take us to England in 1775 and introduce us to the speaker, William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney), who serves as an assassin and intriguer for that organization. With relief, we see that the hand behind this movie has an expert eye for a beautifully-framed scene, as we often observed and remarked in reviewing Pendragon. This is our first, night-time view:

It is the first of many beautifully framed period shots sparkling throughout the film. Later, we're shown revolutionary-era Philadelphia:

Back to the start: this peaceful view immediately bursts into action, in almost a steampunk sniper situation. Protagonist Reynolds and his assistant briskly set up and launch a mission to replace critical documents that would have been damaging to the EIC. After this Reynolds hands over the unfavorable report to EIC employer, Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies). We learn that Reynolds wants out; he's had enough of his life as an assassin, and wants to live a new life enjoying the rewards that Kemp promised him. Kemp pleads with him to stay on and be his man in America, but Reynolds is resolute.

As it turns out, the EIC's retirement plan for Reynolds involves planting a bomb on the carriage that he thinks will bear him to his new life. However, on the road, a clergyman-to-be sees the bomb's sparks, and rides in pursuit to warn the carriage. In the ensuing action, Reynolds' rescuer is killed and Reynolds is wounded. He takes on the identity of the erstwhile vicar, and rides to the vicar's new church, to take on his duties and his life.

When he arrives, he is half-dead, and must be rescued by the lovely Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer). In the ensuing developments, Reynolds recovers and makes a shaky start as vicar to a very (very!) gracious little congregation, and his relationship with and feelings for Charlotte blossoms.

Reynolds eventually wants to marry Charlotte, but he has not been honest about his past. When his old boss learns he's not dead yet, our hero once again is targeted, and eventually flees. Reynolds means to earn Charlotte's love by undoing some of his wrongs and becoming a hero to the patriots in America. He becomes a sort of Zorro figure, a masked man on a horse, rescuing those in peril and thwarting the violence of the East India Company conspirators.

Reynolds eventually thwarts an assassination attempt, but in the effort he is himself framed as the assassin, which is all too easy to do, given his past. All looks dim. Reynolds has lied to Charlotte, he's failed in his attempt to earn grace, and he's about to be hanged. What will happen?

At this point, to continue the narrative would be to spoil the plot. So:

What's great about the movie? Scene after scene, as I've mentioned, is simply beautiful. Since the movie was all shot in modern Michigan, obviously some must be CGI — yet it's done flawlessly and well. The CGI has to be supplemented with real sets and, as in Pendragon, they are all very well-done and authentic as well.

There are many action sequences, involving pursuits, fist-fights, sword-fights, shooting, and explosions. They're all done really excellently, top-notch. There's even a rooftop pursuit:

This is no small matter. I've recently seen studio movies, fully financed and done by "professionals," which fudge the action scenes by nauseatingly shaky-camera shots, or snip-snip-snip over-editing. This movie does neither. The climactic scenes even go steam-punk on us, in a mostly-successful (more in a moment) reach.

The acting of the principals is all well done, including the actor who plays Benjamin Franklin (!). There are no distracting dead-notes as there were in Pendragon. The dialogue is largely believable and largely natural. There are touches of humor, and a number of surprising plot-twists.

In most scenes the music is lush and appropriate, and highlights either the action or the mood of the scene.

The plot is interesting and involving, and largely moves right along to resolution, holding our interest.

What's less great? There are no elements that spoil the movie, though if I didn't mention a quibble or two, you'd think it wasn't me. For my part, I kept being taken a bit out of the lovely scenes by the lighting. These were outdoor or indoor scenes, yet the actors faces and clothes would shine brightly white on the sides with what was clearly theatrical lighting, not anything like ambient light. It was so pronounced as to distract me several times.

My dear wife noted that, though the last part of the movie was June-July, the actors' breath made steam, even indoors. She also wondered where the rather anachronistic cabling came from in a strategic sequence.

My older son Josiah, with his eye for detail on all matters relating to weaponry, squawked a couple of times when actors holding what were supposed to be flintlock pistols carried them aimed straight into the air. That's the proper way to carry a modern pistol; it would have been disastrous with a flintlock pistol.

I felt the whole imposter-vicar portion of the movie was brushed by. After the initial scene, we were given nothing to help us understand how a fellow who clearly knew nothing about religion carried off this

Is there Gospel? Yes, clearly enough but very briefly. It's a Christian movie, or Christianoid — given that the writer is a Roman Catholic; but it's not a movie about Christianity.

Do you recommend it? Yes, very enthusiastically so. As I said, we all enjoyed it, men and women, young teens and almost-eighty. It's very well-done from start to finish.

This movie is being released to theaters today, June 5. If it is playing near you and you're looking for a family movie, this is a great pick. It will be even better on a big screen with big sound.

The Burns Family Studios continues to strive for excellence in moviemaking. I look forward to future productions!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gurnall on those who sleep during sermons

Gurnall makes the point that anyone who wants divine knowledge must wait on the ministry of the word, including at the places of instruction God ordained for learning (i.e. church). He adds, "But it is not enough to sit under the means; woful experience teacheth us this; there are some no sun will tan; they keep their own complexion under the most shining and burning light of the word preached, as ignorant and profane as those that never saw gospel-day; and therefore if thou wilt receive any spiritual advantage by the word, take heed how thou hearest."

In that vein, his first bit of advice is to be
a wakeful hearer. Is it any wonder he should go away from the sermon no wiser than he came, that sleeps the greatest part of it away, or hears between sleeping and waking? It must be in a dream sure, if God reveals anything of his mind to him. So indeed God did to the fathers of old; but it was not as they profanely slept under an ordinance. O take heed of such irreverence. He that composeth himself to sleep, as some do, at such a time, or he that is not humbled for it, and that deeply, both of them betray a base and low esteem they have of the ordinance. Surely thou thinkest but meanly of [i.e. do not place much value on] what is delivered, if it will not keep thee awake; yea, of God himself, whose message it is. See how thou art reproved by the awful carriage of a heathen, and that a king; Ehud did but say to Eglon, ‘I have a message from God unto thee, and he arose out of his seat,’ Judg. 3:20. And thou clappest down on thy seat to sleep! O how darest thou put such an affront upon the great God? How oft did you fall asleep at dinner, or telling your money? And is not the word of God worth more than these? I should wonder if such sermon-sleepers do dream of anything but hell-fire. It is dangerous you know to fall asleep with a candle burning by our side; some have been so burnt in their beds: but more dangerous to sleep while the candle of the word is shining so near us. What if you should sink down dead, like Eutychus? here is no Paul to raise you as he had; and that you shall not, where is your security?
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 123. Emphases added.]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gurnall Another reason the Christian should thank God constantly

"...Satan’s power is so limited, that he shall not do what he can: God lets out so much of his wrath as shall praise him, and be as a stream to set his purpose of love to his saints at work, and then lets down the flood-gate, by restraining the residue thereof. God ever takes him off before he can finish his work on a saint. He can, if God suffers him, rob the Christian of much of his joy, and disturb his peace by his cunning insinuation; but he is under command; he stands like a dog by the table, while the saints sit at this sweet feast of comfort, but dares not stir to disturb their cheer; his Master’s eye is on him. The want of this consideration loseth God his praise, and us our comfort, God having locked up our comfort in the performance of our duty. Did the Christian consider what Satan’s power is, and who dams it up, this would always be a song of praise in his mouth. Hath Satan power to rob and burn, kill and slay, torment the body, distress the mind? Whom may I thank that I am in any of these out of his hands? Doth Satan love one better than Job? or am I out of sight, or beside his walk? Is his courage cooled, or his wrath appeased, that I escape so well? No, none of these; his wrath is not against one, but all the saints; his eye is on thee, and his arm can reach thee; his spirit is not cowed, nor his stomach stayed with those millions he hath devoured, but keen as ever, yea, sharper, because now he sees God ready to take away, and the end of the world drawing on so fast. It is thy God alone whom thou art beholden to for all this; his eye keepeth thee; when Satan finds the good man asleep, then he finds our good God awake; therefore thou art not consumed, because he changeth not. Did his eye slumber or wander one moment, there would need no other flood to drown thee, yea, the whole world, than what would come out of this dragon’s mouth."
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 102.]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gurnall on the way we should feel about glib, popular false teachers

Years ago I was very bitterly angry over a prominent politician who seemed invincible, who could get away with literally anything, and could do it with a sneer and a wink and a swagger. A pastor friend said "Dan, pity him. He has this, and this is all he has. Then he spends eternity in Hell under the wrath of God."

That put it in perspective.

As does Gurnall here at length, talking about evil men who are used by Satan to oppose the truths of God:
Do you see any driving furiously against the truths or servants of Christ; O pity them as the most miserable wretches in the world; fear not their power, admire not their parts; they are men possessed of and acted by the devil, they are his drudges and slaughter-slaves, as a martyr called them. Augustine, in his epistle to Lycinius, one of excellent parts, but wicked, who once was his scholar, speaks thus pathetically to him: O how I could weep and mourn over thee, to see such a sparkling wit prostituted to the devil’s service! if thou hadst found a golden chalice, thou wouldst have given it to the church; but God hath given thee a golden head, parts and wit, and in this, propinas leipsum diabolo, thou drinkest thyself to the devil. When you see men of power or parts using them against God that gave them, weep over them; better they had lived and died, the one slaves, the other fools, than do the devil such service with them.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 89.]

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Spurgeon's first preaching "assignment"

I just saw, and loved, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon. Great film, joy to watch. I recommend it heartily. I would pick a nit, here. The film suggests that "Bishop Vinter" lied to Spurgeon and his companion, telling each that the other would preach. The real story is much more charming. In Spurgeon's own words, relating the incident not long after his sixteenth birthday:
There is a Preachers’ Association in Cambridge, connected with St. Andrew’s Street Chapel, once the scene of the ministry of Robert Robinson and Robert Hall. A number of worthy brethren preach the gospel in the various villages surrounding Cambridge, taking each one his turn according to plan. In my day, the presiding genius was the venerable Mr. James Vinter, whom we were wont to address as Bishop Vinter. His genial soul, warm heart, and kindly manner were enough to keep a whole fraternity stocked with love; and, accordingly, a goodly company of zealous workers belonged to the Association, and laboured as true yoke-fellows. My suspicion is, that he not only preached himself, and helped his brethren, but that he was a sort of recruiting sergeant, and drew in young men to keep up the number of the host; at least, I can speak from personal experience as to one case 
I had, one Saturday, finished morning school, and the boys were all going home for the half-holiday, when in came the aforesaid “Bishop” to ask me to go over to Teversham, the next evening, for a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company. That was a cunningly-devised sentence, if I remember it rightly, and I think I do; for, at the time, in the light of that Sunday evening’s revelation, I turned it over, and vastly admired its ingenuity. A request to go and preach, would have met with a decided negative; but merely to act as company to a good brother who did not like to be lonely, and perhaps might ask me to give out a hymn or to pray, was not at all a difficult matter, and the request, understood in that fashion, was cheerfully complied with. Little did the lad know what Jonathan and David were doing when he was made to run for the arrow, and as little did I know when I was cajoled into accompanying a young man to Teversham. 
My Sunday-school work was over, tea had been taken, and I set off through Barnwell, and away along the Newmarket Road, with a gentleman some few years my senior. We talked of good things, and at last I expressed my hope that he would feel the presence of God while preaching. He seemed to start, and assured me that he had never preached in his life, and could not attempt such a thing; he was looking to his young friend, Mr. Spurgeon, for that. This was a new view of the situation, and I could only reply that I was no minister; and that, even if I had been, I was quite unprepared. My companion only repeated that he, in a still more emphatic sense, was not a preacher, that he would help me in any other part of the service, but that there would be no sermon unless I delivered one. He told me that, if I repeated one of my Sunday-school addresses, it would just suit the poor people, and would probably give them more satisfaction than the studied sermon of a learned divine. I felt that I was fairly committed to do my best. I walked along quietly, lifting up my soul to God, and it seemed to me that I could surely tell a few poor cottagers of the sweetness and love of Jesus, for I felt them in my own soul. Praying for Divine help, I resolved to make the attempt. My text should be, “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious,” and I would trust the Lord to open my mouth in honour of His dear Son. It seemed a great risk and a serious trial; but depending upon the power of the Holy Ghost, I would at least tell out the story of the cross, and not allow the people to go home without a word.
[C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1834–1854, vol. 1 (Cincinatti; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1898), 200–201.]

Friday, January 02, 2015

Gurnall: encouragement for Christians amid the battle's ebbs and flows

"This gives a strong cordial to our fainting faith, in the behalf of the church of Christ. If all the devil’s wits and wiles will not serve him to overcome one single soldier in Christ’s camp, much less shall he ever ruin the whole army.

These are days of great confusions in the Christian world; and the chief fear of a gracious heart is for the ark, lest that should fall into the enemy’s hand, and when this palladium is taken, the city of God (his church) be trod under the feet of pride. I confess Satan seems to get ground daily; he hath strangely wriggled into the bosoms and principles of many, who, by the fame of their profession and zeal, had obtained, in the opinion of others, to be reckoned among the chief of Christ’s worthies in their generation.

"...And now, Christian, may be their confidence, together with the distracted state of Christ’s affairs in the world, may discompose thy spirit concerning the issue of these rolling providences that are over our heads; but be still, poor heart, and know that the contest is not between the church and Satan, but between Christ and him; these are the two champions.

"Stand now, O ye army of saints, still by faith, to see the all-wise God wrestle with the subtle devil. If you live not to see the period of these great confusions, yet generations after you shall behold the Almighty smite off this Goliath’s head with his own sword, and take this cunning hunter in the toil of his own policies; that faith, which ascribes greatness and wisdom to God, will shrink up Satan’s subtilty into a nigrum nihil, a thing of nothing. Increduli timent diabolum, quusi leonem, qui fide fortes despiciunt quasi vermiculum.—Bern. Unbelief fears Satan as a lion; faith treads on him as a worm. Behold, therefore, thy God at work, and promise thyself, that what he is about will be an excellent piece; none can drive him from his work.

"...A pinch may come, when it is as vain to say, Help, O king, as Help, O beggar; man’s wisdom may be levelled with folly, but God is never interrupted. All the plots of hell and commotions on earth, have not so much as shaked God’s hand, to spoil one letter or line that he hath been drawing. The mysteriousness of his providence may hang a curtain before his work, that we cannot see what he is doing; but then ‘when darkness is about him, righteousness is the seat of his throne for ever.’

"O where is our faith, sirs? let God be wise, and all men and devils fools. What, though thou seest a Babel more likely to go up, than a Babylon to be pulled down, yet believe God is making his secret approaches, and will clap his ladders on a sudden to the walls thereof. Suppose truth were prisoner with Joseph, and error the courtier, to have its head lift up by the favour of the times, yet dost not remember that the way to truth’s perferment lies through the prison? yea, what though the church were like Jonah in the whale’s belly, swallowed up to the eye of reason, by the fury of men; yet dost not remember the whale had not power to digest the prophet?

"O be not too quick to bury the church before she be dead. Stay while Christ tries his skill before you give it over; bring Christ by your prayers to its grave, to speak a resurrection word.

"Admirable hath the saints’ faith been in such straits; as Joseph’s, who pawned his bones that God would visit his brethren, willing them to lay him where he believed they should he brought. Jeremiah purchaseth a field of his uncle, and pays down the money for it; and this when the Chaldean army quartered about Jerusalem, ready to take the city, and carry him with the rest into Babylon! and all this by God’s appointment, Jer. 22:6–8, that he might show the Jews by this, how undoubtedly he, in that sad juncture of time, did believe the performance of the promise for their return out of captivity.

"Indeed God counts himself exceedingly disparaged in the thoughts of his people, (though at the lowest ebb of his church’s affairs,) if his naked word, and the single bond of his promise, will not be taken as sufficient security to their faith for its deliverance."

[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 75–76.]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday Music - Sultans of Swing... on ukulele?

"Eclectic" means it can even go beyond my taste. Not a big fan of this song, the original group, or the ukulele... yet what this gent does is pretty wonderful. Thanks to reader Randy Talley for the tip: