On Puritan Excess--Again


I love the puritan writers (some of them). I love the puritan spirit (some aspects of it.) The passage that follows details one of the things I love best about them.

from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

It is easy enough to misinterpret men like George Abbot. He was stern, intransigent and charmless. He had no modern virtues and in a modern lilght can look absurd. Early every Thursday moroning from 1594-1599, he preached a sermon on a part of the Book of Jonah. That is 260 Thursdays devoted to a book which, even if it is one of the jewels of the Old Testament--a strange, witty, surreal short story--is precisely four chapters long, a total of forty-eight verses. Abbot devoted over five sermons to each of them. (He was not alone in that; his brother Robert was the author of a vast commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans of such tedium that it remains in manuscript to this day; Arthur Hildersham, one of the pushiest of the puritans wrote 152 lectures on Psalm 51: if the Word of God encompassed everything, as these men sincerely believed, then no balloon of commentary or analysis could ever be enough. The age had word-inflation built into it.)

Nicolson understands part of what he writes about here, but I suspect a post-modern sensibility cannot fathom the fact that, indeed the word of God is inexhaustible. I do not find it impossible that someone could preach so long on Jonah. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, in the pursuit of understanding, it is entirely conceivable that such a work could be undertaken, perhaps to the great benefit of all who would receive the word.

The word of God is utterly inexhaustible because it is God speaking not only about Himself (inexhaustible in itself) but also about His deep and abiding love for his creation. With this dual stream of inexhaustibilty, it is no wonder that people deeply in love with the word would wind up with what moderns would view as excess. If one were to compile all of the available extant sermons of those who have preached the word, it would come as no surprise to anyone if certain portions of the Bible had thirty, forty, or fifty sermons devoted to each verse.

In short, it is because we do not cherish this inexhaustibility, this comprehensive commentary on the entire world, that we are so lax at our own scriptural meditations. Let me make this more precise. It is because I do not keep an abiding sense of the every growing, ever fruitful, ever changing depths of the love of God embodied in His direct communications with His people, that I am not reading the Bible in the way it should be read. I read neither as frequently nor as thoroughly as the Word itself demands. Were I to do so, and to face the reality of that reading which also reads me, I would be in a much different place as a Christian. And so I think for many of us. Because Catholics have the supreme gift of Christ Himself in the sacrament of the Eucharist, there is a tendency amongst some to neglect other means by which one enters into communion with and understanding of Jesus Christ. Committed, daily scriptural reading and meditation are absolute essentials for growth in the love of Christ and in the imitation of Him that we are called to. If we are to be like God and to become as God, then we probably should spend some time finding out what that nature is.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 5, 2004 7:08 AM.

Via Bill Cork--A List of Blesseds was the previous entry in this blog.

On the Reality of the King James Translation is the next entry in this blog.

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