In Breughel’s Icarus . . . how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. W. H. Auden
Auden is referring to a painting by Dutch painter, Pieter Brueghel, based on Ovid’s Myth of Icarus, the story of a boy who flew too close to the sun. It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.
If you look closely, in the lower right hand corner of the painting you can see Icarus with melted wings falling into the sea. Ovid’s point was the danger of hubris; Brueghel had another idea.
In Brueghal’s version of the myth, Icarus falls and no one cares. Sailors on their ships, farmers and others are unconcerned, going about their own business, unaware of the calamity unfolding in front of their eyes. All are apathetic in the face of appalling tragedy and heartbreak.
Few of us are aware of the sadness all around us; we go our way inattentive and unmoved, too busy with our own business to respond to human need. Something amazing has happened: “a boy falling out of the sky”—right in front of our eyes—but we have “somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.”
You don’t have to go far to uncover tragedy and heartache: a young widow, stricken with loneliness; an anxious parent concerned for a critically ill child; a frightened man awaiting heart surgery; a care-worn checker in a grocery store working at a second or third job to make ends meet; a young boy who’s never had enough father; a single mother whose worries have washed her hope away; an old man who inhabits his bleak world alone; a needy soul behind our own front door—all right in front of us. Perhaps we don’t have much to give, but we can see beyond what others see to the possibility of mercy, compassion and understanding.
I wonder how many times I’ve glanced at a grocery clerk, a bank teller, a waitress and failed to see the marks of woe, the drab, cheerless affect, the weary face, the downcast eyes, the mumbled response to my frivolous query, “How are you?” I hear the splash but miss the forsaken sigh, the deep sorrow in their response. I turn away from the disaster. I feel no tug on my heart; I have somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.
John Newton said on one occasion, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this.” Nor should I.
“Oh, how blessed are those who care,” Israel’s poet mused (Psalm 41:1). How rare and how happy they are.
“How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church! All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny. We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .
Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone. It is so refreshing. Sinners like us can breathe again! It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless. He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving. Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?
Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Our self-focus was crucified with Christ. The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives. Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.
As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.”
Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ (Wheaton, 2014), pages 90-91.
In 1836 Judge William Gould led a movement at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, to buy their first organ. It was a break with tradition. In a congregational meeting, one member rose and demanded chapter and verse where the Bible authorizes “the worship of God with machinery.” But the members voted for the organ, and Judge Gould was appointed to raise the money.
Soon after the Judge ran into Robert Campbell, a member who had opposed the organ. Mr. Campbell asked the Judge why he had not asked him for a donation. Gould replied, “I knew you did not wish to have the organ.” “That makes no difference,” said Campbell. “When the majority of the members of the church have decided the matter, it is my duty to put aside personal feeling and assist as well as I may.”
Narrated in David B. Calhoun, Cloud of Witnesses (Greenville, 2004), pages 40-41.
Putting self aside, submitting to the Body, serving a higher cause . . . .
If, like me, you’ve never seen a city with too much reconciliation, too much forgiveness, too much shalom, and your heart longs for unprecedented blessing from above for all alike, then you may be interested in three city-wide events coming soon to Nashville:
Paul Tripp: peace in relational intimacy, November 14-15
Rosaria Butterfield: peace in sexual identity, January 23
Russell Moore: peace in community involvement, April 18
All are invited. All events are free. You can register here.
“God proceeded in this work in a way that was exceeding cross to their pride.” This was Jonathan Edwards’ observation from the Old Testament — how God’s obvious blessing might be dismissed by some people for unworthy reasons (Judges 8). Obviously but importantly, God has the right to use faithful people we personally don’t warm up to. Then Edwards offers this insight as a practical take-away for us during a time of strong gospel advance:
“As persons will greatly expose themselves to the curse of God by opposing or standing at a distance and keeping silence at such a time as this [the Great Awakening], so for persons to arise and readily to acknowledge God and honor him in such a work and cheerfully and vigorously to exert themselves to promote it will be to put themselves much in the way of the divine blessing.”
Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts on the Revival,” in his Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:385-386.
The next great movement of the Holy Spirit might come through people you and I are predisposed to dislike. Let’s be ready to evaluate not only what’s happening in the movement but also what’s happening in our own hearts, lest we inadvertently exclude ourselves and our churches from a real blessing sent down from above.
It might come in a way exceeding cross to our pride.
Wash, O God, our sons and daughters
Where your cleansing waters flow
Number them among your people
Bless as Christ blessed long ago
Weave them garments bright and sparkling
Compass them with love and light
Fill, anoint them, send your Spirit
Holy Dove and heart’s Delight
We who bring them long for nurture
By your milk may we be fed
Let us join your feast, partaking
Cup of blessing, living bread
God, renew us, guide our footsteps
Free from sin and all its snares
One with Christ in living, dying
By your Spirit, children, heirs
Oh, how deep your holy wisdom
Unimagined all your ways
To your name be glory, honor
With our lives we worship, praise
We your people stand before you,
Water-washed and Spirit-born
By your grace our lives we offer
Re-create us; God, transform!
As soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children. Isaiah 66:8
“If any minister can be satisfied without conversions, he shall have no conversions. God will not force usefulness on any man. It is only when our heart breaks to see men saved, that we shall be likely to see sinners’ hearts broken. The secret of success lies in all-consuming zeal, all-subduing travail for souls. Read the sermons of Wesley and of Whitfield, and what is there in them? It is no severe criticism to say that they are scarcely worthy to have survived. And yet those sermons wrought marvels. . . .
In order to understand such preaching, you need to see and hear the man, you want his tearful eye, his glowing countenance, his pleading tone, his bursting heart. I have heard of a great preacher who objected to having his sermons printed, ‘Because,’ said he, ‘you cannot print me.’ That observation is very much to the point. A soul-winner throws himself into what he says. As I have sometimes said, we must ram ourselves into our cannons, we must fire ourselves at our hearers, and when we do this, then, by God’s grace, their hearts are often carried by storm.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Travailing for Souls,” 3 September 1871. Italics original.
The pulpit, therefore, (and I name it filled
with solemn awe, that bids me well beware
with what intent I touch that holy thing;)
the pulpit (when the satirist has at last,
strutting and vaporing in an empty school,
spent all his force, and made no proselyte;)
I say the pulpit (in the sober use
of its legitimate, peculiar powers)
must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
the most important and effectual guard,
support, and ornament of virtue’s cause.
There stands the messenger of truth. There stands
the legate of the skies; his theme divine,
his office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated law speaks out
its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
as angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
He ‘stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
and, armed himself in panoply complete
of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
bright as his own, and trains, by every rule
of holy discipline, to glorious war,
the sacramental host of God’s elect.
William Cowper, 1731-1800
Last evening I found, in one of my Bibles, this from my dad — a quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ wonderful Preaching and Preachers, with dad’s personal note: “Bud, this is seeking the anointing. I know this is your passion too — Spirit-filled preaching. I love you, my son. Dad”
If all our preaching amounts to is human communication with human impact, then I don’t care about it. In fact, I oppose it, and bitterly, as just another form of oppressive pretense, but with the added wickedness of blasphemy, for it is perpetrated in the name of God.
But if our preaching flows out with authentic divine power, then Jesus will be lifted up, people will be helped, and new beauty will be created that will last forever.
“Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him?”