A Call for Grace in the Midst of Controversy

NewtonJohn Newton (1725 – 1807), a sailor and slave trader who was converted by the grace of Jesus Christ and became an Anglican clergyman and prominent abolitionist, also penned several hymns. His most well-known hymns include “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” As an orthodox Anglican minister, Newton affirmed the Thirty-Nine Articles and, therefore, Calvinism. When a fellow minister was prepared to author an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of Reformed orthodoxy, he wrote to Newton regarding his intention. Newton’s reply, found in his letter, “On Controversy” in The Works of John Newton, states:

Dear Sir,
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

Consider Your Opponent
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

Consider the Public
By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

Consider Yourself
This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

FY 2015 Proposed Defense Budget

BudgetCutsThe Military Officers’ Association of America (MOAA) is the largest and most influential association of military officers in the United States.  Their mission is to speak up for a strong national defense and to represent the interests of military members and their families at every stage of their careers.  As the Obama Administration revealed its proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 defense budget on 4 March, MOAA noted that the Pentagon is “shifting personnel costs onto the backs of servicemembers to free up funding for other programs.”   The proposed budget includes slashing personnel compensation and healthcare benefits, a 20% cut in headquarters operating budgets, a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in FY 2017, and $159.3 billion in modernization and recapitalization of equipment and facilities.  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the  proposed budget from those who feared that steep cuts in the plan would leave the United States vulnerable in an increasingly dangerous global situation.  Overall, the Obama administration plans to slash defense spending to about $495 billion in 2015 (about $113 billion less than the levels contemplated in last year’s budget proposal). 

Specific cuts impacting military members directly include a military pay cap at a 1% raise (-.8% below the private sector wage growth) through 2017, with a 1.5% raise in 2018 and a 1.8% raise in 2019.  During the 1990s a 13.5% military pay gap between the military and the private sector led to extensive retention problems.  There is also a call for massive changes for TRICARE (the medical program for military personnel).  The proposed budget would eliminate the existing TRICARE Prime, Standard, and Extra options for military family members and for retired veterans under age 65.  The options would be replaced by a consolidated health care plan that would be most similar to the current Standard / Extra options.  The new plan is a fee-for-service program that will require all beneficiaries to cover the costs of co-pays and a deductible out-of-pocket.  Retired veterans will be required under the plan to pay an annual participation fee.  Access would not be guaranteed under the proposal.  In addition to these costs, the plan will also establish an annual TRICARE for Life (TFL) enrollment fee.  The fee will be based upon a percentage of retired pay, rising to 2% of pay per year in 2018.  It is expected that there will be a dramatic increase in pharmacy co-pays, and all beneficiaries will be required to obtain their maintenance medication refills through either a medical treatment facility (MTF) or the mail-order pharmacy.  The proposed budget also calls for increases in housing cost-shares for military families.  It increases the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) out-of-pocket expenses until military members pay 5% of the cost.  If enacted, the BAH cuts will become effective upon a military member’s next Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move.  MOAA notes on its website, “In total, the annual loss of purchasing power for active duty personnel would be severe.”  A sergeant (E-5), for example, will lose nearly $5,000, while a captain (O-3) will lose nearly $6,000.

In addition to the cuts impacting personnel personally, the Department of Defense proposed slashing the number of active-duty Army personnel from 450,000 down to 440,000, less than 10% below its size before the 9/11 attacks.  Army National Guard and Army Reserve units will draw down by 5%, and the Army’s helicopter force structure will be reduced by 8%. The active Army’s helicopter fleet will be slashed by 25%.  The Navy will remove 11 ships from its operational inventory in order to modernize them and then return them to service with what is hoped to be greater capability and extended lifespans.  The Marines will draw down to 182,000, though an additional 900 members will be assigned to embassies.  The Air Force will be forced to retire its A-10 and U-2 fleets.


“In God is Our Trust”: History of the National Anthem

american_flag-sunshine.jpg83 years ago this month (3 March 1931), President Herbert Hoover signed a Congressional resolution that adopted “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official anthem of the United States.

Francis Scott Key, an attorney and amateur poet (not to mention a Calvinist), composed the lyrics to “In Defence of Fort McHenry” in 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore. The battle, one of many with Great Britain during the War of 1812, occurred approximately one week after the burning of Washington, D.C. After torching the city, British ships and troops moved to the nation’s primary port at Baltimore Harbor in Maryland in order to cripple America’s defenses and economy.

Key, along with the American prisoner exchange agent, Col. John Stuart Skinner, boarded the HMS Tonnant at the invitation of three British naval officers. The purpose of Key and Skinner’s visit was to negotiate the release of prisoners, including Dr. William Beanes. Key and Skinner were detained by the British since they had observed the strength and location of British forces who were intent on attacking Baltimore. Ft. McHenry was bombarded through the night on September 13. On the morning of September 14, Key noticed the American flag still waving over the post, indicating America had not been defeated. The experience moved him to pen “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” which has has since been renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was utilized unofficially as the national anthem throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Its first formal recognition came when it was employed for official use by the U. S. Navy in 1889. Over two decades later, it was utilized by the entire military due to an Executive Order given by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. During the World Series of 1917, it was sung in honor of the military members fighting in World War I (and has been sung in every World Series game since). A congressional resolution, signed by President Herbert Hoover, adopted the song as the nation’s official anthem on March 3, 1931.

While most Americans know the first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by heart, not many are familiar with the other three stanzas. The fourth stanza is sometimes added to the first during more formal occasions. The phrase “In God is our Trust” is declared in that stanza as the national motto. Of course, it wasn’t until 1956 when Congress adopted the motto, “In God We Trust.”  Here is the last stanza:

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
     Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
     Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
     And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
     O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

What is Ash Wednesday?

ashwedAsh Wednesday (also known as dies cinerum, ‘day of ashes’) is a moveable feast day, observed exactly 46 days before Paschal (Easter) Sunday (40 days, not including Sundays). It is a day of repentance, and marks the beginning of Lent (a period of fasting in preparation for Easter). Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ceremony where congregants come before a minister, who dips his thumb into ashes and marks their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance. As he does this, he reminds them, “Remember, O man, that thou art but dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” He may also utter the phrases, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or “Repent, and hear the Good News.” The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

Holy Scripture indicates dusting oneself with ashes (and wearing sackcloth) was a way for penitents to express mourning over sin. Job, for example, said to the LORD, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Other examples include laws for purification (Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13), the repentance of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-8), and the Lord Jesus’ warning to Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13).  Protestant/ Evangelical groups which observe Ash Wednesday include Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Methodists/Wesleyans, Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson), and some Baptists.  Here are some thoughts from various Reformed Baptists regarding the observation of Ash Wednesday as noted by The Confessing Baptist.

Food Stamp Increase in Military

milfoodstampsThe use of food stamps increased in 2013 among military families, with nearly $104 million worth of food stamps redeemed at military commissaries during the past fiscal year. The use of food stamps has increased steadily among military members since 2008. According to the executive director of the National Military Family Association, Joyce Raezer, some states have lowered the eligibility requirements for receiving food stamps, and that may account for some of the increase. Thomas Greer, spokesperson for Operation Homefront (a non-profit organization that helps military members experiencing financial difficulties), stated that his group received 2,968 emergency requests for food last year. While that number is down from two years ago, it is three times as high as the number in 2008. He added, “I’m amazed, but there’s a very real need [for food stamps].”


St. Valentine

st_valentineMarriage was outlawed by Claudius II, Emperor of Rome, in the third century.  The emperor thought married men, who were reluctant to be separated from their wives and children, made terrible soldiers.  He believed outlawing marriage would strengthen his army.  Individuals were either imprisoned or put to death.  Claudius also outlawed Christianity, desiring to extinguish  the one religion  which repudiated the validity of worshiping the emperor as divine.

The Bishop (Pastor) of Interamna, Valentinus, believed individuals should be free to worship the true and living God and to follow God’s plan for union through marriage.  Many young couples requested Pastor Valentinus to conduct their wedding ceremonies, which he did gladly, though in secret.  He was arrested for this eventually and brought before Emperor Claudius.  The Roman leader tried to persuade Valentinus to abandon his faith in Christ Jesus, promising full pardon if he would only serve Rome and its deities.  The bishop refused to renounce Christ, further angering the emperor and resulting in the sentence of a three-part execution.  Valentinus was to be beaten brutally, then stoned with rocks, and finally beheaded.

While imprisoned and awaiting his fate, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, Asterius.  Prior to his execution, which was carried out on February 14, AD 270, he sent her a final farewell note.  It was signed, “From Your Valentine.”  Now you know the rest of the story about St. Valentine’s Day.

The Four Chaplains

USAT_DorchesterThe U.S.A.T. (U.S. Army Transport ship) Dorchester, a 5,649-ton luxury coastal liner that had been converted into a transport ship, was one of three ships traveling in a convoy from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland on 2 February 1943. The convoy was escorted by three Coast Guard Cutters (CGCs) – the Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche. There were 902 military members, merchant seamen and civilian workers aboard the Dorchester. The ship’s captain, Hans J. Danielsen, was concerned because the Tampa, utilizing its sonar, detected a German U-Boat. Several ships had already been torpedoed and sunk by the Nazis in these same waters. Captain Danielsen ordered those on board to sleep in their clothing and to keep on their life jackets. Many in the ship’s hold disregarded the order, however, because the engine’s heat kept the area heated to an uncomfortable level. Others disregarded the order because the life jackets were simply uncomfortable to wear.

The night was passing without incident, but at 0055 hours (3 February) U-223 of the German Navy targeted the ship and fired three torpedoes. One of them struck the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line. When Captain Danielsen was notified that the Dorchester was sinking rapidly he ordered those aboard to abandon ship. The ship had less than 20 minutes before it would be submerged in the icy Atlantic. Although the torpedo strike knocked out the ship’s power and radio contact with the escort ships, members of the CGC Comanche witnessed the explosion. It rescued 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba rescued an additional 132 survivors while the CGC Tampa escorted the other two ships in the convoy.

The explosion killed many on board, and seriously injured many others. Those aboard were in a state of panic. Many soldiers tried to jump from the ship into lifeboats, but over-crowding caused many of them to capsize. Other lifeboats drifted away before men were able to get into them. Eyewitnesses recalled that in the midst of the chaos, four Army chaplains provided a sense of peace and hope. The chaplains – Lieutenant George L. Fox (Methodist), Lieutenant Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed), Lieutenant John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), and Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode (Jewish) quickly spread out among the soldiers, calmed those who were frightened, tended to the wounded, offered prayers for the dying, and guided the disoriented towards safety. Private William B. Bednar was floating in oil-smeared water, surrounded by dead bodies and debris. He recalled, “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.” A sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, attempted to reenter his cabin to get his gloves, but was stopped by Lt. Goode. “Never mind,” Goode told him, “I have two pairs.” The rabbi then gave the sailor his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney recalled that Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that had no intention to leave the Dorchester.

Most men were topside at this point. The chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. Engineer Grady Clark witnessed the locker being emptied until there were no more life jackets. The chaplains then removed the ones they were wearing and gave them to four frightened young men. Another survivor, John Ladd, remarked, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” Survivors in the nearby rafts witnessed the four chaplains link their arms, brace themselves against the slanting deck as the ship was sinking, and offer prayers in their final moments.

The-Four-ChaplainsThe U.S.A.T. Dorchester lost 672 of its 902 members, leaving only 230 survivors. When news of the tragedy reached America, the nation was stunned not only by the magnitude of the calamity, but also of the extraordinary faith, extreme courage, and selfless conduct of the four chaplains. The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to the four chaplains on 19 December 1944 to the next of kin by Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor to the four chaplains as well, but was blocked by the stringent guidelines required to award the decoration. A unique posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress with the intention of having it carry the weight equal to the Medal of Honor. It was awarded (only once) to the four chaplains, given to their family members by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 18 January 1961.

By a unanimous act of Congress in 1988, 3 February is “Four Chaplains Day.” It is unfortunate that the courage of these four men is not observed by government agencies, reported by the media, or taught in public schools. Members of the American Legion (wartime veterans) in California, however, are convinced that the selfless service and courage of the Four Chaplains should be remembered by Americans. By resolution, they have initiated an effort to honor these men on Four Chaplains Day 2014. On Monday, 3 February, at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.) ceremonies will be held dedicating a permanent plaque at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial to honor the military chaplains.

The service will include tributes from America’s most decorated living veteran, Major General Patrick H. Brady (ret.), Medal of Honor, and Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton (ret.), who spent seven years and seven months as a Prisoner of War (POW) in Vietnam (and later served as a U.S. Senator). General Brady’s tribute states:

“As one who has been honored by many great men up to and including the president of the United States, no honor has been more satisfying than my Humanitarian Award from the chapel of the Four Chaplains. Their legacy of courage and sacrifice is vital for our nation’s survival. Our youth need to know that courage is the key to success in life and that God will give us all we ask for. You can’t use it up – and their faith is the foundation of their courage. Sacrifice is love in action, the source of happiness and our eternal inheritance from the Four Chaplains.”

Admiral Denton’s tribute declares:

“The Four Chaplains proved their faith with ultimate sacrifice – not in a flash of combatant action – but with peaceful discernment, humble devotion and extraordinary valor. They lived this life knowing God’s real presence and eternal promise. Blessed with men of this caliber, our nation must do the same.”

General Brady, Admiral Denton, and other veterans and patriots will honor the Four Chaplains at Mt. Soledad, beneath the cross there that honors veterans.


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