John Milton: Early Modern (1608–1674)

PARADISE LOST

Book I

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he [245]
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail [250]
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [255]
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [260]
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss [265]
Lye thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion, or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell? [270]


It’s hard to imagine deaf Beethoven, producing symphonic masterpieces composed in the chambers of his mind, but equally staggering is John Milton, completely blind by his fifties, yet dictating his epic poem Paradise Lost with its ten thousand verses. The work is so ubiquitous to the canon of literature its lines are often confused with scripture.

He was deeply bitter when he wrote a poem which has come to be called “On His Blindness.” He could not understand why God would give him both talent and desire, yet rob him of the sight needed to see the written page.  He wrote

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

In the poem above, he works through the anger and ultimately acknowledges that no, it’s not about him.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

John Milton showed admirable personal courage in several ways.

First, he stuck to his republican beliefs even when most opted for a return to monarchy. Whatever the merits of his convictions, he held them even when it was dangerous to do so.

Second, he composed some of his greatest works after going blind.

Finally, he was willing to offend even his Puritan patrons by taking more liberal positions on divorce, religious freedom, and doctrine than most would contemplate.

Read his poetry looking for creative genius freely dealing with biblical history. Milton was willing to take creative liberties that other writers such as Shakespeare had avoided by ducking most direct allusions to scriptural stories. Compare his scope and style to that of Homer, and watch Milton do in English what Homer had done in Greek.

Milton said “The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n
.” Do you agree?  Is it all relative to one’s mind?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Evil and Heroism

Frederica Mathewes-Green

The magnificent opening lines of Paradise Lost, with their echoes of Homer, Virgil, and Ariosto, announce Milton’s aim not only to equal but to soar above all previous epics. His hopes rest not only on his poetic powers, supported by his heavenly muse, but on the height of his chief argument. Whereas Virgil chose for his subject matter the foundation of the Roman Empire, and Homer told of the battle between East and West, Milton selected the creation of mankind and the opening battle of the war with their greatest enemy. Given his sublime subject matter—and, given that his story transcends all national limitations—Milton’s challenge will be to find and maintain an “answerable style” (IX, 20) across the grand canvas of his twelve books.

After the trumpet fanfare of the prologue, Paradise Lost plunges directly into the middle of its story. Although beginning the narration in medias res may be conventional, Milton still delivers a shock by his choice of where in the tale to start; or, more precisely, with whom. Epics customarily begin at a critical point in the story of their heroes. Paradise Lost opens with the fall of the rebellious angels, the critical point in the account of Satan.

As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that Milton has chosen Satan as the central protagonist. Not only does Satan have more stage time and more lines than any other character, he also is the subject of the most conventions associated with epic heroes. It is Satan who goes on an epic journey, fights a momentous battle, faces off with monsters, rallies his troops with inspiring speeches, visits noble courts, employs cunning stratagems, and of course, descends to the underworld.

Another way to measure the centrality of Satan’s role is to observe that Paradise Lost takes six (out of twelve) books to reach the point where the Genesis account of man’s disobedience begins. The half of Paradise Lost Milton supplements to the biblical story is not about man but Satan, and the effect of adding prequels that portray the origins of the villain is to transform the entire saga into the story of the villain.

Giving the role of epic hero to Satan commits Milton to investing his character with the heroic qualities of strength, eloquence, resolution, and grandeur. These attributes are all on full display in the opening scenes of Satan lifting himself up from the fiery flood and rousing his fallen troops to action. However, if it’s evident that Milton has found in Satan the virtues that will make him a compelling epic hero, it is less evident that his decision will allow him to craft a virtuous epic. A work of art can hardly be called virtuous if its effect is to create sympathy for the devil.

One way of discovering an acceptable moral is to disassociate Milton’s Satan from the Satan of Christian tradition and belief. Perhaps his character doesn’t represent enmity with the Creator, malice toward humanity, pernicious deception. Perhaps in Paradise Lost he stands for freedom from social conformity, fidelity to personal vision, opposition to entrenched power.

———

This understanding seems to lie behind William Blake’s positive assessment of Milton as “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Blake, and other Romantic poets after him, saw in Milton’s Satan a defender of liberty, parallel to Milton himself, a vigorous champion of freedom of speech and religion and a steadfast opponent of the tyranny of Charles I.

This Romantic reading is only possible if one radically underestimates how deeply ingrained the biblical drama was in the imaginations of Milton and his audience . . . and if one ignores sizable portions of the text. C. S. Lewis (in his Preface to Paradise Lost, 99) handily dispels the notion that Milton’s Satan is intended to be admired or emulated. He observes that in the course of the poem, Satan undergoes a “progressive degradation”: “From hero, to general . . . to politician . . . to secret service agent, [to peeping Tom], and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake.”

However, it is unnecessary to read to the end of the epic to ascertain Milton’s judgment. Even in Book I, where Satan is most impressive, he is introduced as an “infernal serpent” (I, 34) filled with the ugly vices of envy, hatred, and guile, and the narrator interrupts the account several times to remind the reader that Satan’s plans are futile, serving only to bring on himself “treble confusion, wrath, and vengeance” (I, 220). From the outset, Milton’s Satan is a fiend and fool.

Milton’s design, which caused him to cast a fiend as his hero, becomes clearer when one recognizes that the association between Satan and epic heroes cuts both ways. It not only—dangerously—points out the possibility of heroic virtues in Satan, it also—discerningly—points out the possibility of satanic vices in the epic heroes. With his moral senses trained by Christian truth, Milton can detect more than a whiff of brimstone in Achilles’ “sense of injur’d merit” (I, 98), in the guile of Odysseus, in Aeneas’s lust for “Honour, Dominion, glorie, and renoune” (VI, 442). Although Milton can be said to be following the tradition of epic one-upmanship, he achieves it not by creating a more impressive hero (as Virgil does) but by creating a despicable and damnable hero who throws into doubt the whole concept of heroism.

Although Milton’s approach to heroism in Paradise Lost is primarily critical, he does go on to offer glimpses of a greater heroism in God’s Son, in Abdiel, and particularly in Adam, who demonstrates “the better fortitude of patience and heroic Martyrdom” (IX, 31–32). Adam’s surprising heroism consists of patiently enduring his fallen state and accepting that his roles as husband and father will be his part in God’s design to bruise the serpent’s head. Paradise Lost also sets the stage for the Son of God’s “deeds Above Heroic” in Paradise Regained (I, 14–15).
In the final account, Milton’s epic transcends previous works not by its eloquent style or by its sublime imaginative creations but by its simple moral: trust and obey.

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a noted Christian author and speaker. She has written several books, including The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God and The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation. She is a frequent contributor to Christian and religious publications such as Christianity Today and Beliefnet.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Holy Name Of Jesus

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UPON THE CIRCUMCISION
JOHN MILTON

YE flaming Powers, and wingèd Warriors bright,
That erst with music, and triumphant song,
First heard by happy watchful Shepherds’ ear,
So sweetly sung your joy the clouds along,
Through the soft silence of the listening night,—
Now mourn; and if sad share with us to bear
Your fiery essence can distill no tear,
Burn in your sighs, and borrow
Seas wept from our deep sorrow,
He who with all Heaven’s heraldry whilere
Entered the world, now bleeds to give us ease.
Alas! how soon our sin
Sore doth begin
His infancy to seize!
O more exceeding Love, or Law more just?
Just Law indeed, but more exceeding Love!
For we, by rightful doom remediless,
Were lost in death, till He, that dwelt above
High-throned in secret bliss, for us frail dust
Emptied his glory, even to nakedness; 20
And that great Covenant which we still transgress
Intirely satisfied,
And the full wrath beside
Of vengeful Justice bore for our excess,
And seals obedience first with wounding smart
This day; but oh! ere long,
Huge pangs and strong
Will pierce more near his heart.


According to Luke 2:21, the infant Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day after birth, as Torah requires. New Year’s Day has many other associations for people now, but it has a long history as the Feast of the Circumcision, now more commonly called the Feast of the Holy Name.

In the early Christian church, circumcision was a topic of great debate and division – so much so that Jewish common language characterized people as either “the circumcised” or “the uncircumcised” (i.e., the godly versus the ungodly). The Apostle Paul (who worked primarily among the Gentiles) taught  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

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Luke 2:21–24

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

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Art: The Circumcision Of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens (1605), Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Literature: Upon the Circumcision is an ode by John Milton. It discusses the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ and connects Christ’s Incarnation with his Crucifixion.

Milton’s poem is held to have been written in 1633, on or about January 1, the day commemorating the event in the church’s calendar which it treats. Using the stanza from Petrarch’s canzone to the Blessed Virgin, it celebrates Christ’s circumcision, looking back to the Nativity and forward to the Passion. Milton feels and tries to convey the pain which Christ felt: “He who with all Heav’ns heraldry whilere / Enter’d the world, now bleeds to give us ease”. Using the historical present tense, Milton draws the connection between circumcision and the Passion explicitly when he says that in submitting to the rite Jesus thereby

… seals obedience first with wounding smart
This day, but O ere long
Huge pangs and strong
Will peirce [sic] more neer his heart.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

In what might be the best country song ever written, Don Williams sings this verse:

“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine thru the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head”

What Do You Do With Good-ole Boys Like Me resonates with every southern man over 50 and most of the rest because it gets 51D8R4NZ2HLat the essence of our boyhood. The verse is important because it is informed by another tale of southern boyhood, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, who indeed whispers in our head.

When Wolfe died, William Faulkner said he was the greatest writer of their time.

Few have really read this book because it isn’t easy reading. It’s written in stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wolfe was criticized for his unapproachable style but remained unrepentant.  F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to him suggesting shorter novels, but Wolfe’s reply letter was 8 times longer than Fitzgerald’s.

Angel does, however get right at the marrow and rewards good ole boys willing to stick with it.  Wolfe’s title was almost Alone, Alone, borrowed, he said, “from the poem I like best, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; then it evolved to O, Lost!; finally, when his publisher asked for something more inspired, Wolfe went to Milton:

. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.

Milton’s angel in Lycidas was St. Michael; the statue in Look Homeward, Angel was of a different sort, based on one that Wolfe’s father had purchased for his tombstone shop.  The actual Wolfe statue has been identified on the grave of the wife of a Methodist minister in the Asheville, North Carolina area, and is today a stop for the literary traveler.

When you finish this great book, then read You Can’t Go Home Again.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Literature’s Illumination Of Theology by Josh Herring

Josh Herring

Theology offers the Christian believer not just a faith which demands belief, but one which makes sense intellectually. As such, theology is a necessarily intricate discipline; probing the revealed thoughts of God is no light, simple task. Christian theology done right, whether it is biblical, systematic, or historical, brings the minds of the current generation into conversation with those of past believers about the eternal things of God; it equips us to live lives pleasing to God in this world. And yet, it is boring to read.

Few disciplines approach theology for combining significance with wooden prose; in part because of the weightiness of the theologian’s claims, he must take care to write precisely. Eternal souls, after all, hang in the balance when one discusses topics of ultimate significance. But what if theology could do everything it must do (strengthen the believer, intellectually support the faith,draw principles and doctrines from the text of Scripture, rearticulate the faith for the living generation) and not be dry as dust? If this goal could be met, two things would happen. First, more people would read theological texts. Secondly, more people would enjoy reading theological texts.

Writing well belongs properly to literature. What the 18th century called belles lettres, the craft of beautiful writing, takes timeless ideas (from whatever source the author chooses to draw them) and crafts them together into a narrative; some of the most persuasive theologians of the Christian tradition have combined the rigor of theology with literary skill to produce timeless classics which proclaim the glory of God’s salvation through the ages; because the writing is so well done, the spiritual message is conveyed from generation to generation.

Two examples will serve to illustrate this claim, one medieval and one modern. Thomas Aquinas was an earth shatteringly important theologian; his Summa Theologica serves to this day as the high mark of medieval theology. In Aquinas’ quest to marry Aristotelian philosophy with medieval Catholicism, he produced a system of thought which continues to inspire philosophical and theological work. Reading the Summa, however, is an easy way to combat insomnia. Aquinas combines the highest intellectual capacity with logical form, producing a significant yet unbearably dull piece of theological philosophy. The form of his writing reads like the notes from a debate judge:

“There are three objections to my point (lists them). Here is a quote. Here is my point. Here are my replies to the three objections. Next.”

Aquinas is rich, yet we would deceive ourselves if we thought the masses could read him and find spiritual benefit from him. G. K. Chesterton tells this story about a parishioner who tried to read Aquinas:

“A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, “The Simplicity of God.” She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, “Well, if that’s His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like.”

Aquinas’ significance is difficult to overstate, but in terms of practical spiritual benefit for most people, Dante would provide more spiritual nourishment. Dante took Aquinas’ theology (a hierarchy of goods and sins, a system of punishment, a vision of divine love which moves the cosmos, and a synthesis of knowledge between the Greco-Roman world and the Christian) and turned it into the first Christian epic poem. As the reader travels with Dante and Virgil through the winding road to Dis and the Adversary frozen at the Inferno’s core, we accidentally learn an enormous amount of medieval theology. By studying the balance of sins and justice Dante used, we cannot help but begin to ask questions of practical application: if Francesca and Paolo spent eternity like that for their lust, is there any of the restless wandering of lust within me? Rather than beginning with the intellect, Dante seizes our hearts and imagination and fuses them together with his poetic vision; in so doing, he also instructs our minds. Pastorally, I would not give Aquinas to just any church member; Dante I would hand out freely. Because of his literary skill, Dante guides us into the deep waters of Thomistic theology and sustains us through it.

In the modern era, I know of no greater literary theologian than C.S. Lewis. A literature professor by inclination and training, Lewis combined all the craft of a medievalist with his deep, theological studies. Consider the theological principles Lewis brings up in The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe addresses multiple understandings of substitutionary atonement (as Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund); it illustrates the curse being undone (as Aslan breathes life into stone creatures); it shows the balance of justice and mercy necessary in the divine economy (in Aslan’s explanation of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time). Prince Caspian shows God concerned with joy and the flourishing of his creatures; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains a profound image of redemption (Eustace Scrubb’s change from dragon to human and his inability to change himself). The Horse and His Boy waxes missional, reminding us that God loves all men (even Calormen). The Silver Chair contains a version of the Anselm’s Ontological Argument, as well as showing the human predilection for ignoring God’s commands. The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle reinforce each other, framing the fictional world of Narnia as one of divine beginning and ending; both are riddled with the implications of creation and redemption, displaying the hope offered by Revelation; The Last Battle concludes with a vision of heaven where all that is good in creation is brought into Aslan’s Country and made perfect, dwelling with him forever. Children who read these books, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, are being instructed in essential theological categories preparing the ground for God’s work in the gospel.

Theology is a vital, ongoing need for the Christian church. Christians are served by men who study the deep things of God and maintain the tradition of theological engagement; theology as it currently exists, however, is oriented predominantly to the academy. As such, theology only reaches those who are intellectually inclined to it. God has not reserved theology only for the intellectually elite; when paired with the craft of literature, theology becomes both accessible and enjoyable. John Bunyan and John Milton both discovered this truth. As Puritans, both were deeply read theologically and intellectually inclined. Both used their giftings to serve the church at large. For Milton, this culminated in Paradise Lost, an epic poem through which the call of God’s grace resounds to this day. For Bunyan, his pastoral work caused him to formulate his theology in the form of allegory. Pilgrim’s Progress remains one of the hallmark pieces of Protestant theology; its accessibility makes it one of the beloved texts of Christians for the past four centuries.

Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Pray to the Lord of the Harvest that He might send workers.” Perhaps we might paraphrase that prayer, and ask God to continue raising up literary theologians who use their giftings to “sing the song again in our time” in a beautiful, accessible way.

 


Josh Herring is a Humanities Instructor at Thales Academy, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hillsdale College, and a doctoral student in Faulkner University’s Great Books program. He has written for Moral Apologetics, The Imaginative Conservative, Think Christian, and The Federalist; he loves studying the intersection of history, literature, theology, and ideas expressed in the complexities of human life.

It Is Well by Kayla Hodges

Kayla Hodges

You stop, finally sit down for a moment, and actually remember what it feels like to just breathe. It’s been a long day. Correction, it’s been a long season of what can only be described as seemingly endless nights that turn into mornings where the darkness doesn’t go away. You feel the weight of it and harbor the guilt even though you are fully aware that the emotions you feel are mostly birthed from lies. It’s as if you have chains attached to your limbs and moving your body is comparable to running a marathon, but you know that’s a lie, too. You tend to get stuck on the roller-coaster of your inner thoughts, even when surrounded by a sea of faces. And each time a new day dawns, you whisper to yourself, “Deep breath. It is well.”

Somehow, telling yourself to breathe actually helps you do so. You repeat your reminder over and over again, and it helps the heaviness in your soul dissipate little by little. You are inexplicably unhappy—burdened in a way that you cannot describe—yet simultaneously have a heart so full of joy. Joy? But, how can there be joy in the midst of pain—in the midst of being overwhelmed by your brokenness?

Say this with me, “Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Horatio Spafford, an American lawyer in the late 1800s lived through unimaginable loss—the kind of loss that led his fellow church members to believe that he was being divinely punished for something. Spafford and his wife lived in Chicago with their four daughters, surviving the great fire of 1871. After the fire had devastated the city, they planned a family getaway to Europe. Horatio sent his family to sail ahead while he was held back on business. Their vessel, the Ville du Havre, collided with a British ship and sunk into the ocean, leaving only a few survivors. His wife was among them. His daughters were not.

Years later, the Spaffords lost another child to disease. From the tragedies that this family endured, though, came lyrics that would go on to stir countless hearts. Despite having nearly every reason under the sun to run from and blame God, Spafford chose to press on in joy, declaring, “It is well with my soul!” Tragedy prompted the creation of a timeless, soul-moving hymn. It is a hymn that moves my heart to worship and brings me to tears each time I recite or sing the words.

This persistent battle for joy reminds me of John Milton’s poetic depiction of the original story of mankind’s tainted desire. In Paradise Lost, the blind poet narrates the fall of mankind and the expulsion from Paradise, the Garden of Eden. In the story, we see Satan enticing Eve:

Here, happy creature, fair angelic Eve,
Partake thou also; Happy though thou art,
Happier thou may’st be, worthier canst not be;
Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods
Thyself a goddess, not to Earth confined.

Satan deceives Eve and builds her self-esteem, filling her with the same lies that we fall prey to. I imagine Eve almost in a trance—as if she is watching him dangle the most precious jewel on a thread of gold. Satan essentially says, “Sure, you’re happy right now, but don’t you want to be even happier?” Let’s be realistic, who wouldn’t want to always be happier? The problem is: we often forget what real happiness is. We are creatures of the moment, seeking to satisfy the flesh rather than nourish the soul. We chase after momentary happiness that will leave us disappointed, broken, unsatisfied, and worn. We crave temporary satisfaction, and we’ll trade true joy—the kind of joy that persists even in the darkness—in order to get it.

I often wander into believing the same lies that Eve believed—lies that cause my perception of myself and my surroundings to become a distorted reality, regardless of how aware I am of the Truth and the countless blessings I have received. Yet, thanks be to God, for He continues to save me from myself! This is a daily, silent battle that we all endure, whether in the face of mental illness or simply the normal challenges of life. It is a self-imposed fight against the desires of the flesh. Satan makes Eve feel empowered, saying she is worthy and can be a limitless goddess with just a simple taste of the forbidden fruit. Eve is drawn to the point that she rebels against her Creator leading her and her husband to trade communion with their Creator in Paradise for a moment’s taste of what she thought she was missing.

We, too, succumb to the lies of the Deceiver, whether in our pursuit of happiness or in our quest for perfectionism. And we, too, trade in communion with our Creator in Paradise for empty promises that continue to leave us wanting.

But there is good news.

Our Creator does not abandon us in our rebellion. He has made a way for the heartbreaking separation from His dear ones to be reversed. Someday, the Creator, who cast out His children from Paradise, will bring Paradise right back to them.

Friends, we are those children, and our Father—our Rescuer—is coming for us. I pray that you receive His invitation with open arms as He beckons you—as he invites you not into temporary, empty happiness, but true, eternal, unshakeable joy. Because true joy can lead a grieving heart to proclaim, as Spafford’s hymn continues: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well! It is well with my soul!’”

This life can be dark, but there is One who has conquered the darkness and leads us to the light. We just need to surrender to Him. And the irony of surrendering is that it’s actually the only path to liberation. In the surrendering of our desires, plans, hopes, dreams, and even our suffering, we find freedom—a freedom that is only found in the presence of our Creator.

And it is there in His presence—in Paradise—that we’ll be able to forever declare, with nothing to hinder our joy, “It is well.”


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Kayla Hodges lives in Cypress, Texas and loves being at home learning her new role as a mother to her baby girl, Eden Grace. After graduating from Baylor University, she and her husband Matthew began partnering in ministry together with Bridge Point Community Church, an Acts29 church plant that they have helped launch with dear friends in Cypress. Kayla works part-time at Alternative Health Center of The Woodlands and is passionate about her family, stewarding God’s Creation of this earth, and mental health awareness.

Books Promiscuously Read: Day 5

Areopagitica
John Milton

Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion. Truth is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.


What makes a book worthy of destruction?  Books have been banned and burned for one reason or another since they were first created.  Even Moses smashed his first edition copy of the Ten Commandments!  The burning of books was featured in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a logical conclusion to selective information curation. Should we be free to read anything we choose?

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior wrote:

The next time my youth leaders had an overnighter at their home, the husband took us up to his attic—it wasn’t a real attic, mind you, but kind of a cubby hole built into the side of an upstairs room—and told us that he had taken all the albums from his youth that he had once stored there and burned them.

Should any book be destroyed because of its content? Is the same rule true for music?

Exodus 32:19

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.


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Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.


RickThe expression of ideas as never been safe.  Though we proudly espouse our freedom of speech, we likewise find its limits quickly.  In some circumstances, speaking against popular beliefs and mores can get you ostracized.  In other cases it can get you killed.  The church is no exception. Through the centuries, many people have been martyred for their words, only to be canonized later.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered a speech at the March on Washington that has become one of the greatest of recorded history.  Entitled “I Have A Dream“, he rallied the people in the name of God to stand against racial injustice.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

The only other passage in all of English letters that gives me goose bumps to compete with this passage from Milton is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Incidentally, the two works, in their most powerful moments, draw upon some of the very same scriptures.

How do we draw the line between allowing freedom of speech and defending against heresy?

2 Corinthians 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

STRENGTH TO LOVE by Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published five books in his lifetime; a sixth was released after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 at the age of thirty-nine. They are all seminal works for American Christians. Stride Toward Freedom (1958) tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Measure of a Man (1959) is a slim volume explaining the theological and philosophical roots of nonviolent activism. Why We Can’t Wait (1964) is a history of the civil rights movement in general, and the 1963 Birmingham Campaign in particular. This book includes his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which was addressed to eight clergymen and urged the church to join the struggle for racial justice. King’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, is a clear-eyed look at the state of race relations at a moment when the civil rights movement was in disarray. The book also makes a provocative connection between the bankrupt ideology of systemic discrimination and the literal impoverishment of millions of Americans, white and black. The five speeches that make up The Trumpet of Conscience, published posthumously in 1968, link the evils of poverty, militarism, and racism and call for nothing less than a nonviolent revolution.
Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, and John Pattison, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

Books Promiscuously Read: Day 3

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge.  This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest.  We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I remember the titles, pictures, and the words of so many favorite books: the colorful chaos of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World; the tale of Ralph, the rodent with the helmet made of half a pingpong ball in The Mouse and the Motorcycle; the adventures of the mutt every child wishes were her own, Clifford the Big Red Dog; Casey The Utterly Impossible Horse, that contradicts every girl’s horse fantasy; the story of the inimitable and enviable anti-hero Harriet the Spy; that tomboy of tomboys, Ramona the Brave; the smart and sassy Nancy Drew series; the delightful and whimsical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Where the Red Fern Grows, which left me weeping inconsolably the night I finished it, alone, lying in the top bunk of my bedroom; my favorite horse book ever, The Black Stallion; and Pippi Longstocking. I secretly liked that my dad’s special nickname for me was “Pippi” because of my own freckles and pigtails. I didn’t even point out to my father that my pigtails didn’t stick straight out like Pippi’s did. I remember The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Ever since, I have loved wardrobes so much that my own home is furnished with as many as I can reasonably fit.

Considering Emily Dickinson’s quote today, how did your childhood books help ‘Truth to dazzle gradually’?

John 18:37

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”


D I G  D E E P E R


Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born Dec. 10, 1830, Amherst, Mass., U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst) American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.

Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.

 

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.