The Fascinating Life of Charles Thomson

11 12 2008

I recently picked up the book “The Bible in Translation” by Bruce M. Metzger, and it is a very interesting read.  It covers a history of the translation of the Bible and while only half way through it, I have learned some very amazing things about the journey God’s words have taken to the versions we have today.

One of the translations mentioned is Charles Thomson’s Bible.  Charles Thomson has the distinction of creating and printing the first translation of the Bible into English in America.  While this may be in itself an interesting factoid, I found the story of his life quite fascinating.

Childhood & Schooling

Charles was a native of Ireland and boarded a boat for the New World with his father and siblings in 1739.  Within sight of their new home, Charles’ father died.  Since their mother had died back in Europe, Charles and his siblings were now orphans.  The ship’s captain seized the family assets and distributed the children to acquaintances in Delaware willing to raise them.  Unwilling to become a blacksmith’s endentured apprentice, Charles ran away.  He fell upon a kind family who were impressed with his desire to learn and study.  Thus began his scholarly pursuits of the classics.

After his education in Pennsylvania, he moved back to Delaware to open his own school.  Eventually he became a Greek and Latin tutor at Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Academy (later to become the University of Philadelphia).

Thomson also served as a liason for the Native Americans of Delaware seeking to protect them from predatory practices on the part of the settlers.  His reputation for honesty and credibility earned him a special moniker from the Indians: “The Man Who Speaks the Truth”.

The American Revolution

After some lackluster business endeavors, Charles threw himself headlong into politics at the crest of the American Revolution.  He was unanimously selected as the secretary of the Continental Congress and dutifully took notes and minutes as the United States of America were forged.  The first draft of the Declaration of Independance was penned and signed by Charles, and his last act as secretary was to ride from Pennsylvania to Mt. Vernon to notify George Washington of his election to the position of President and escort him to the inaugaration in New York.  Throughout his political career, Charles was regarded as possessing the utmost level of character, honesty, and faithfulness.

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The Forgotten Hymns of William Cowper

10 08 2008

I was listening to Wow Hymns, a compilation of hymns sung by contemporary artists, and came upon “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood”.  I love that old song, so I thought I would see if there were any other hymns I knew of written by the same person.

The author was William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) who was born in 1731 in England.  When he died in 1800, John Newton (of “Amazing Grace” fame) conducted the funeral service as they were friends and hymn writing partners.  As I looked at Cowper’s hymns, however, I didn’t find any others I recognized ( although while I don’t recall ever singing it, I believe “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” is popular among some).

I decided to look through a couple of his hymns anyway and found some gems!  I doubt these will ever become Sunday morning regulars, but they do at least warrant a consideration.  Click on the hymn name to bring up it’s entry on the Cyber Hymnal.

By Whom Was David Taught?

Using the examples of David and Gideon, Cowper recalls that the source of all success in the kingdom of God is God Himself.  It reminds me of “The God of Abraham Praise”.  The last stanza reads:

But unbelief, self will,
Self righteousness, and pride,
How often do they steal
My weapon from my side!
Yet David’s Lord, and Gideon’s Friend,
Will help His servant to the end.

O How I Love Thy Holy Word

Cowper dotes on God’s written revelation for six stanzas, focusing greatly on it’s chastening abilities.  One of my personal heroes is Martin Luther because he was obsessed with the Bible.  Luther’s wonder and utter dependence on God’s Word is reflected in this hymn.  Ask yourself if you think along these lines when you do your daily devotions:

What are the mines of shining wealth,
The strength of youth, the bloom of health!
What are all joys compared with those
Thine everlasting Word bestows!

Jesus, Whose Blood so Freely Streamed

My favorite of what I found in Cowper’s repertoire so far.  This hymn combines wonder for the work of salvation, rejoicing in its sufficiency, and petitions for strength to fight the spiritual war.  I actually tried my hand at composing a new tune for the words on my guitar.  I can’t vouch for how good it sounds, but the words still resonate.  I used the first verse as the chorus:

Jesus, whose blood so freely streamed
To satisfy the law’s demand;
By Thee from guilt and wrath redeemed,
Before the Father’s face I stand.

It’s sad to read that Cowper’s life was mostly defined by bouts of depression and stays at the insane asylum.  Throughout his life, Cowper suffered rejection, loss, and heartache, yet managed to find enough glimmers of hope in his Savior to pen these magnificent poems.  At least we know that he is now utterly filled with joy.  Take some time to look at this great poetry, meditate on it’s truths, and use them to glorify God!

Master of the Song’s Voice

14 05 2008

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the resurgence of contemporary artists reviving old hymns and writing new ones.  However, whenever I start thinking about old hymns being well done by a contemporary artist, one name comes to the forefront of my mind: Fernando Ortega.

This brother has a powerful gift.  Not only is he an accomplished musician (is there an instrument he doesn’t play?) who possesses an amazing voice, most impressive is that he knows how to perfectly craft a song.  He knows how to find the song’s perfect “voice.” 

Some songs have beautiful and rich lyrics, but the music that accompanies them either contradicts the message of the song or distracts from it.  If this happens in secular music, it is disappointing but at the end of the day, it doesn’t make much difference.  However, when this happens with the music of the Church, it can be a real hindrance in allowing the song to engage your mind and fuel your affections.

I could give you negative examples of this, examples of songs in which the lyrics are sadly carried along by an accompaniment far beneath them or contradictory to them.  Instead, I’d rather just point you to someone who does it well- who seems to find the perfect musical vehicle for the message.  Again, Fernando is that artist.

Where this is most clearly on display is in his re-working of old hymns, especially ones with which most of us are familiar.  It is an amazing gift to take a song that many know and love, and remake that song in such a way that those who listen to it say, “That song should have always been played that way!”  Time and time again, this happens when Fernando re-works a hymn. 

As my library of Ortega music has grown (currently 79 songs), I’ve repeatedly had this experience.  He takes songs that I love and makes them even better.  He introduces me to new hymns and his version becomes the standard.  And, because he is doing this with the rich, deep hymns of our faith, when the marriage of music and message is made, the impact is glorious. 

Let me give you an example of what I’m referring to.  I’ve already written a post about Ortega’s version of “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” but there I didn’t emphasize that those soul shaking lyrics are accompanied by just the right musical arrangement.  The tempo is perfect.  The song begins with a haunting harp-like effect produced by a classical guitar. A cello joins the arrangement in the second verses (why aren’t there more songs with the cello?) and a female vocalist accompanies him at just the right moments in the song.  Each turn of the music emphasizes the rich truth of the lyrics,  bringing the message to the hearer with such power and force that you find yourself weeping over your sin and yet rejoicing in firm foundation of the Cross.  Once you hear the song this way, I don’t imagine that too many other versions (even the original musical paring) will come close to being able to satisfy. And this is just one example.

The powerful “This is my Father’s World,” the meditative “What Wondrous Love is This,” the uptempo “Children of the Living God” are others I would point you to in which you could observe this wonderful harmony of music and message. 

When you see this being done so well, and experience the powerful proclamation that results, it makes you desire more.  If you haven’t experienced it, I’d encourage you to buy an album by Fernando Ortega immediately!  If you have tasted this rich blessing, would you join with me in praying that God would raise up other artists who would be just as careful to find the song’s voice? 

Also, would you pray for me?  Although I would not classify myself as a “musician,” as I lead the corporate worship of our Church I want to pursue this goal as well.  I want to strive for accompaniments that fit and assist the songs we sing.  My desire is that our church’s worship in song is aided by the music, not hindered by it.  Although some may downplay the importance of this goal, when you hear a song’s truth communicated in its true voice, you quickly understand.  You begin to see the blessing of God’s gift of music to the Church and why it has had such an important place in the history of His people’s worship.

Thank you, Fernando, for ministering this gift to us.

Life in Louisville…

14 04 2008

…so far, so good!  We arrived in Louisville tonight at 7:30 (eastern standard time).  Our flights (we had to switch planes in Colorado) were thankfully uneventful.  I sat next to Frank & Chris on the first flight.  We discussed Puritan theology (as I was reading Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices) and the difficulties of being a godly husband (as Frank convicted us by reading sections of Love that Lasts out loud).  On the second flight I sat next to a gal from Colorado who works for the VA and is pregnant with their second child.  She claimed to be a believer, so between discussion on parenting, marriage, and faith we had a lot to talk about.  Both flights (each a little over 2 hours) went by very quickly. 

Once at the airport in Louisville, we all praised God that our luggage arrived safe and sound (although Frank picked up several other pastors Shepherd’s Conference garment bags before he found his) and our shuttle to the hotel was ready and waiting.  Our hotel is beautiful and the price we got on it (a special conference rate) is unbelievable.  We are on the 22 floor and have a beautiful view of downtown Louisville.

Speaking of beautiful and unbelievable, we just got back from having dinner at a local steak house where Frank and I were treated to a 48 ounce Porter House (Not one each! We split it.)  Wow.  Some of the best steak I’ve ever had!  As we walked back into our hotel after the terrific dinner (both the food and the company) we ran into C. J. Mahaney and Bob Kauflin.  It was great to meet both of them and especially to tell Bob thank you for putting my favorite book Valley of Vision to music.

The conference begins tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to a wonderful time in the Word and continued blessings from fellowship with my brothers in Christ.

Amy, Rylie, Anna- I miss you and love you.  Thank you for giving Daddy this opportunity!


From the Margin of…2 Corinthians 5:17

4 04 2008

From the Margin of…What does the Cross of Jesus do in our lives?  What does it mean to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20)?  What does it mean to be a “new creature”?  I wrote this powerful quote from the wise doctor, Martin Lloyd-Jones, in the margin of 2 Corinthians 5.  It serves to remind me of who I am and what it means to embrace the Gospel.

There is no point in our saying that we believe that Christ has died for us… unless we can also say… that our outlook towards the world and its method of living is entirely changed.  It is not that we are sinless or perfect, but that we have finished with that way of life.  We have seen it for what it is, and we are new creatures for whom everything has become new.

A Puritan Word to the Postmodern

2 04 2008

As I began reading the April book of the month for the Puritan Reading Challenge (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks) I came across this wonderful gem that challenged the postmodern lurking within.  Living in a relativistic culture and bombarded with a low view of truth, postmodernism has a way of seeping into our brains like some kind of infection.  This quote is good medicine!

Solomon bids us buy the truth (Prov. 23:23)… We must love it both shining and scorching. Every parcel of truth is precious as the filings of gold; we must either live with it, or die for it.  As Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge, and nothing but death shall part thee and me (Ruth 1:16, 17); so must the gracious spirits say, Where truth goes I will go, where truth lodges I will lodge, and nothing but death shall part me and truth… the truth is a jewel that exceeds all price… it is our heritage… It is a legacy that our forefathers have bought with their bloods, which should make us willing to lay down anything, and to lay out anything, that we may, with the wise merchant in the Gospel (Matt. 13:45), purchase this precious pearl, which is more worth than heaven and earth, and which will make a man live happily, die comfortably, and reign eternally.

Listening to My Older Brothers Pray

2 03 2008

Years ago I was given a copy of The Valley of Vision  by my Pastor.  He gives me a lot of books, so I didn’t get to it right away… actually, it sat on my book shelf for two years!  But it didn’t sit there forever.  I still remember the day I finally opened it up and began reading.  I was blown away.  I quickly went and apologized to my Pastor for my negligence and then began reading daily through this wonderful collection of Puritan prayers.  Since that day (several years ago now) this little book has become an integral part of my daily devotions.  It is how I begin my daily time of Bible reading, study, and prayer.  God has used the prayers in this book to help get my focus where it needs to be and quiet my heart for feeding from His Word. 

This week, the two prayers I have been reading and meditating on have been centered on the act of prayer itself and have really challenged me in my own thinking about this crucial part of our new life.  Here are a few quotes from what I’ve been reading (these are the ones I wrote in my journal) and pay specific attention to the way prayer is described:

“Let me know that the work of prayer is to bring my will to thine, and that without this it is folly to pray.”

“When I try to bring Thy will to mine it is to command Christ, to be above Him, and wiser than He: this is my sin and pride.”

“Teach me to live by prayer as well as by providence.”

“Urged by my need, invited by Thy promise, called by Thy Spirit, I enter Thy presence, worship Thee with godly fear, awed by Thy majesty, greatness, glory, but encouraged by Thy love.”

“I bring Jesus to Thee in the arms of faith, pleading His righteousness to offset my iniquities, rejoicing that He will weigh down the scales for me, and satisfy Thy justice.” 

Is that the way you look at prayer?  Is that what comes to your mind when you think of spending extended amounts of time in prayer?  Often, it is not what is coming into my mind.  These pictures of prayer (especially the last one) have convicted me that I often think too little of the greatness of prayer.  

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself this week, as I brought my prayer life into comparison with the pictures of prayer given to me this week from the Puritans:

How often don’t I “live by prayer”?  How many moments and decisions pass by without a word to my Father or any confession of my weakness and need? 

How often do I see those moments in prayer as a time to have my will conformed to God’s?  How often do I allow it to become the exact opposite?

How often do I view those moments before the Throne of Grace as a time of worship, a time to rejoice in the sacrifice of so loving and gracious a Savior?  How often do I delight in His sacrifice and see it as the sole merit I bring?  How often do I, instead, try to manipulate God by focusing on my own merits? Click Here to Order a Copy!

These are just a sampling of what God has brought to mind as I have spent time this week listening to my Christian “older brothers” pray.  I praise God for these wonderful men whose words He is using to teach my what it truly means to be a man of prayer.