The Sermon Archive is up-to-date!

Hi all!

This is how I’ve looked for the last three days.
From Twitter

I have finally gotten through the backlog of sermons I hadn’t uploaded here and now everything is up on the blog! Feel free to peruse them here. Do note that most of these also have links to video of the live, preached sermon, which sometimes differs a bit from the manuscript–I will sometimes add extra illustrations on the fly or choose to reword something in my manuscript, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really intend to go back through the videos and rewrite my manuscripts to match the final product. As an old pastor of mine, Gerry Kuhn, used to say, “There’s the sermon I wrote, the sermon I gave, and the sermon you heard.” Sometimes having the disparity between the written sermon and the one given can be a useful homiletical tool when looking back at a text.

If you like anything you read, please comment! I’d love to know what stuck out to you, what you thought was an effective homiletical move, and what you think could have been different. (Nota bene: This is an invitation for constructive criticism, not trolling; not that I would expect anyone to do that here, but hey, this is the internet, and people are sinful.) Thirty sermons don’t make a person an expert on preaching by any means, and so I am still growing and hoping to learn more. The reason why this site exists as it does is to create a portfolio of public work that not only records what I have done in my preaching over my vicarage, but also to be a record of my work for my seminary professors and for future congregations that I may serve. It also exists so that the people who originally heard these sermons can hear them again and contemplate them if something in them stood out during the delivery.

Thank you for reading/listening/watching, and enjoy!

Soli Deo gloria!

Nils

+ St. Peter ad vincula, August 1, 2019 +

“Strong on Doctrinal Topics but Weak on the Books of the Bible” by Dr. Paul Raabe (Grand Canyon University)

Dr. Paul Raabe

I had the pleasure of having Dr. Raabe for Isaiah at Concordia Seminary the semester prior to his retirement and move to Grand Canyon. One of the things Dr. Raabe always entreated us to do was to become intimately familiar with the Biblical text and to always come back to it, chew on it, and work through it when preaching and doing pastoral work. His analysis of the familiarity of people with Scripture in my own church body of the Missouri Synod is both a wake-up call and a call-to-arms to dig back into the text, and it’s something I know that I, myself, can always strive to improve on in my own life. His advice here is a good reminder for any vicar or pastor (or layperson!).

I have reproduced Dr. Raabe’s article from Concordia Theology here in full. Check out the other articles and podcasts there for more good thoughts from the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary St. Louis.


The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) is strong on doctrinal topics but weak on the books of the Bible. After teaching at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis for 35 years I’ve come to that conclusion. In the Synod those trained theologically can typically articulate our orthodox doctrinal position and can work with Lutheran concepts. They can explain, for example, the differences between deus revelatus and deus absconditus. But they can’t tell you the first thing about Haggai or Chronicles or 1 John.  The situation is not a case of false doctrine. It’s just weird.

The theological debates that take place in Synod typically deal with Luther and Luther’s theological position. We debate Luther. “What was Luther’s position on the ministry? Did he have a high view or a low view or in-between? Did the later Luther change his position? Did Luther teach the third use of the law? Well, the expression ‘third use of the law’ never appears in Luther’s works. Yeah, but what about the concept? Yeah, but you have to distinguish between the early Luther and the later Luther. What was Luther’s view on the liturgy? Did he advocate high liturgy or low liturgy? What were his liturgical practices? Yeah, but what about the later Luther?” After a while I want to respond: “What does the Bible teach? You know, the Bible, that book collecting dust on the bookshelf.” By listening to our debates one would get the impression that we are a Society for Luther Studies.

I have taught the books of the Bible to laypeople for decades, and I can speak from personal experience. Our laypeople typically do not know the books of the Bible. I remember once when I taught a series on the Minor Prophets. A solid Missouri Synod Lutheran layman, about 85 years old, sat in the front row every week. At the end of the series he told me that his pastors had faithfully taught him Lutheran doctrine many times over, but no pastor had ever taught him the Minor Prophets. I wondered to myself, “How can this be, a solid, life-long Lutheran was never taught all the books of the Bible?”

Occasionally I visit other churches to hear a variety of pastors preach. Sometimes I am thrilled to hear a solid, textual sermon. But I am surprised how often I hear topical sermons without a specific text in a specific book of the Bible. The sermons are doctrinally sound. I am not hearing LCMS preachers preach false doctrine. But often there is no functioning biblical text from a biblical book in the pulpit.

It seems to me that in the Missouri Synod the 66 books of the Bible take a backseat. Yet, we need to remind ourselves of the obvious. First and foremost, the Bible is a collection of books, not a collection of favorite verses or doctrinal topics but a library of books. And each book needs to be treated as a book, read in a holistic way by attending to how it flows from the opening verse to the closing verse. That is simply respecting the shape of the inspired Scriptures themselves. The Sacred Scriptures come to us in the form of books.

If Martin Luther were here today, my hunch is that he would agree. After all, he wanted the people to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures themselves and not only learn summary statements of what the entire Bible teaches. That is why he translated the Scriptures into the language of the people.  That is why he preached and lectured through books of the Bible.

The books of the Bible are primary literature, while summaries of their doctrinal teaching are secondary literature. Yes, people have to be taught what all of Scripture teaches, the articles of Faith, the corpus doctrinae, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith. The Confessors of the Augsburg Confession realized that. But that desideratum should not overshadow or eclipse the biblical books themselves. The written Word of God comes in the shape of books, and we should honor and love that shape and teach the Word according to that shape.

Have no fear. The exegetes are coming to the rescue! Pardon me for a shameless commercial. The Concordia Commentary series has been putting out excellent Bible commentaries for over 20 years now.  We are grateful to Jeff Gibbs for his third volume on Matthew just out. Twenty nine biblical books have been covered already plus parts of four others (see them all at cph.org). It is a great series for every seminarian, pastor and congregational library to own.

Our motto of sola scriptura sets up the expectation that our churches and ministers actually theologize that way, that in these churches the pastor is all about the Ministry of the Word, not “social justice” or “inclusivity” or feel-good psychology, but the Ministry of the Word (Acts 6). That requires devotion to both the orthodox corpus doctrinae and the books of the Bible.

Patrick Hamilton’s Excursus on Faith, Hope, and Charity from “Patrick’s Places” (1527)

The only known portrait of Patrick Hamilton, painted by John Scougal (1645-1730).

The following is excerpted from the great little treatise on Law and Gospel published by Patrick Hamilton, the first Scottish Lutheran martyr, in 1527 as Patrick’s Places. The treatise was republished in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1751), and recently published for the Kindle by Pastor Don Matzat with a foreword by Pastor Jordan McKinley.

A short biography of Hamilton from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica:

“HAMILTON, PATRICK (1504–1528), Scottish divine, second son of Sir Patrick Hamilton, well known in Scottish chivalry, and of Catherine Stewart, daughter of Alexander, duke of Albany, second son of James II. of Scotland, was born in the diocese of Glasgow, probably at his father’s estate of Stanehouse in Lanarkshire. He was educated probably at Linlithgow. In 1517 he was appointed titular abbot of Ferne, Ross-shire; and it was probably about the same year that he went to study at Paris, for his name is found in an ancient list of those who graduated there in 1520. It was doubtless in Paris, where Luther’s writings were already exciting much discussion, that he received the germs of the doctrines he was afterwards to uphold. From Alexander Ales we learn that Hamilton subsequently went to Louvain, attracted probably by the fame of Erasmus, who in 1521 had his headquarters there. Returning to Scotland, the young scholar naturally selected St Andrews, the capital of the church and of learning, as his residence. On the 9th of June 1523 he became a member of the university of St Andrews, and on the 3rd of October 1524 he was admitted to its faculty of arts. There Hamilton attained such influence that he was permitted to conduct as preceptor a musical mass of his own composition in the cathedral. But the reformed doctrines had now obtained a firm hold on the young abbot, and he was eager to communicate them to his fellow-countrymen. Early in 1527 the attention of James Beaton, archbishop of St Andrews, was directed to the heretical preaching of the young priest, whereupon he ordered that Hamilton should be formally summoned and accused. Hamilton fled to Germany, first visiting Luther at Wittenberg, and afterwards enrolling himself as a student, under Franz Lambert of Avignon, in the new university of Marburg, opened on the 30th of May 1527 by Philip, land grave of Hesse. Hermann von dem Busche, one of the contributors to the Epistolae obscurorum virorum, John Frith and Tyndale were among those whom he met there. Late in the autumn of 1527 Hamilton returned to Scotland, bold in the conviction of the truth of his principles. He went first to his brother’s house at Kincavel, near Linlithgow, in which town he preached frequently, and soon afterwards he married a young lady of noble rank, whose name has not come down to us. Beaton, avoiding open violence through fear of Hamilton’s high connexions, invited him to a conference at St Andrews. The reformer, predicting that he was going to confirm the pious in the true doctrine by his death, resolutely accepted the invitation, and for nearly a month was permitted to preach and dispute, perhaps in order to provide material for accusation. At length, however, he was summoned before a council of bishops and clergy presided over by the archbishop; there were thirteen charges, seven of which were based on the doctrines affirmed in the Loci communes. On examination Hamilton maintained that these were undoubtedly true. The council condemned him as a heretic on the whole thirteen charges. Hamilton was seized, and, it is said, surrendered to the soldiery on an assurance that he would be restored to his friends without injury. The council convicted him, after a sham disputation with Friar Campbell, and handed him over to the secular power. The sentence was carried out on the same day (February 29, 1528) lest he should be rescued by his friends, and he was burned at the stake as a heretic. His courageous bearing attracted more attention than ever to the doctrines for which he suffered, and greatly helped to spread the Reformation in Scotland. The “reek of Patrick Hamilton infected all it blew on.” His martyrdom is singular in this respect, that he represented in Scotland almost alone the Lutheran stage of the Reformation. His only book was entitled Loci communes, known as “Patrick’s Places.” It set forth the doctrine of justification by faith and the contrast between the gospel and the law in a series of clear-cut propositions. It is to be found in Foxs’s Acts and Monuments.


A Comparison Between Faith and Unbelief

  • Faith is the root of all good: unbelief is the root of all evil.
  • Faith makes God and man good friends: unbelief makes them foes.
  • Faith brings God and man together: unbelief separates them.
  • All that faith does, pleases God: all that unbelief doth, displeases God.
  • Faith only makes a man good and righteous: unbelief only makes him unjust and evil.
  • Faith makes a man a member of Christ: unbelief makes him a member of the devil.
  • Faith makes a man the inheritor of heaven: unbelief makes him inheritor of hell.
  • Faith makes a man the servant of God: unbelief makes him the servant of the devil.
  • Faith shows us God to be a sweet Father: unbelief shows him a terrible Judge.
  • Faith holds firm to the word of God: unbelief wavers here and there.”
  • Faith counts and holds God to be true: unbelief holds him false and a liar.
  • Faith knows God: unbelief knows him not.
  • Faith loves both God and his neighbor: unbelief loves neither of them.
  • Faith only saves us: unbelief only condemns us.
  • Faith extolls God and his deeds: unbelief extolls herself and her own deeds.”

Of Hope

  • Hope is a trusty looking after the thing that is promised us to come, as we hope after the everlasting joy, which Christ has promised unto all that believe in him.
  • We should put our hope and trust in God alone, and in no other thing. “It is better to trust in God and not in man.” Psalm 118:8.
  • He that trusts in his own heart is a fool, Proverbs 28:26.
  • It is good to trust in God, and not in princes, Psalm 118:9.
  • They shall be like unto the images which they make, and all that trust in them, Psalm. 65:8.
  • He that trusts in his own heart is a fool, Proverbs.28:26.
  • Cursed be the man that trusts in man, Jeremiah 17:5.
  • “Bid the rich men of this world, that they trust not in their unstable riches; but that they trust in the living God.” I Timothy 6:17.
  • It is hard for them that trust in money, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Luke 18:25.
  • Well are they that trust in God, and woe to them that trust not in him.
  • “Well is that man that trusts in God, for God shall be his trust.”
  • They shall rejoice that trust in you; they shall ever be glad, and you will defend them.”

Of Charity

Charity is the love of your neighbor. The rule of charity is this: Do as you wouldst be done to: for Christ regards all alike, the rich, the poor, the friend and the foe, the thankful and unthankful, the kinsman and stranger.

A Comparison between Faith, Hope, and Charity.

  • Faith cometh of the word of God; hope cometh of faith; and charity springs from them both.
  • Faith believes the word; hope trusts after that which is promised by the word; charity doth good unto her neighbor, through the love that she has to God, and gladness that is within herself.
  • Faith looks to God and his word; Hope looks to His gift and reward; charity looks on her neighbor’s profit.
  • Faith receives God; hope receives His reward; charity loves her neighbor with a glad heart, and that without any respect of reward.
  • Faith pertains to God only; hope to His reward; and charity to her neighbor.

Hamilton, Patrick. Patrick’s Places: Patrick Hamilton’s Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Faith and Works. Ed. Don Matzat. 2019. Kindle Edition.


Albert Jay Nock, “Isaiah’s Job” (1936)

Albert Jay Nock

Albert Jay Nock originally published this essay in The Atlantic Monthly in 1936, and it has seen a lot of republishing in libertarian circles online in recent years. Its use by libertarian critics aside, Nock’s insights have given me a lot to think about with regard to evangelism and how one goes about doing it, and what one’s motivations are. The following paragraph sticks out to me because it challenges many of our modern assumptions about the job of the evangelist, but you had best read the whole essay to get the full force of what Nock says:

If a prophet were not too particular about making money out of his mission or getting a dubious sort of notoriety out of it, the foregoing considerations would lead one to say that serving the Remnant looks like a good job. An assignment that you can really put your back into, and do your best without thinking about results, is a real job; whereas serving the masses is at best only half a job, considering the inexorable conditions that the masses impose upon their servants. They ask you to give them what they want, they insist upon it, and will take nothing else; and following their whims, their irrational changes of fancy, their hot and cold fits, is a tedious business, to say nothing of the fact that what they want at any time makes very little call on one’s resources of prophesy. The Remnant, on the other hand, want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about.


ISAIAH’S JOB
Albert Jay Nock
I

One evening last autumn, I sat long hours with a European acquaintance while he expounded a political-economic doctrine which seemed sound as a nut and in which I could find no defect. At the end, he said with great earnestness: “I have a mission to the masses. I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the population. What do you think?”

An embarrassing question in any case, and doubly so under the circumstances, because my acquaintance is a very learned man, one of the three or four really first-class minds that Europe produced in his generation; and naturally I, as one of the unlearned, was inclined to regard his lightest word with reverence amounting to awe. Still, I reflected, even the greatest mind can not possibly know everything, and I was pretty sure he had not had my opportunities for observing the masses of mankind, and that therefore I probably knew them better than he did. So I mustered courage to say that he had no such mission and would do well to get the idea out of his head at once; he would find that the masses would not care two pins for his doctrine, and still less for himself, since in such circumstances the popular favourite is generally some Barabbas. I even went so far as to say (he is a Jew) that his idea seemed to show that he was not very well up on his own native literature. He smiled at my jest, and asked what I meant by it; and I referred him to the story of the prophet Isaiah.


“Isaiah” (c. 1896-1902), James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) , The Jewish Museum, New York

It occurred to me then that this story is much worth recalling just now when so many wise men and soothsayers appear to be burdened with a message to the masses. Dr. Townsend has a message, Father Coughlin has one, Mr. Upton Sinclair, Mr. Lippmann, Mr. Chase and the planned economy brethren, Mr. Tugwell and the New Dealers, Mr. Smith and Liberty Leaguers – the list is endless. I can not remember a time when so many energumens were so variously proclaiming the Word to the multitude and telling them what they must do to be saved. This being so, it occurred to me, as I say, that the story of Isaiah might have something in it to steady and compose the human spirit until this tyranny of windiness is overpast. I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech, since it has to be pieced out from various sources; and inasmuch as respectable scholars have thought fit to put out a whole new version of the Bible in the American vernacular, I shall take shelter behind them, if need be, against the charge of dealing irreverently with the Sacred Scriptures.

The prophet’s career began at the end of King Uzziah’s reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however – like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington – where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are.” He said, “Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

II

Apparently, then, if the Lord’s word is good for anything – I do not offer any opinion about that, – the only element in Judean society that was particularly worth bothering about was the Remnant. Isaiah seems finally to have got it through his head that this was the case; that nothing was to be expected from the masses, but that if anything substantial were ever to be done in Judea, the Remnant would have to do it. This is a very striking and suggestive idea; but before going on to explore it, we need to be quite clear about our terms. What do we mean by the masses, and what by the Remnant?

As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, labouring people, proletarians, and it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.

A more modern “mass man.”

The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass-man – be he high or be he lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper – gets off very badly. He appears as not only weak-minded and weak-willed, but as by consequence knavish, arrogant, grasping, dissipated, unprincipled, unscrupulous. The mass-woman also gets off badly, as sharing all the mass-man’s untoward qualities, and contributing a few of her own in the way of vanity and laziness, extravagance and foible. The list of luxury-products that she patronized is interesting; it calls to mind the women’s page of a Sunday newspaper in 1928, or the display set forth in one of our professedly “smart” periodicals. In another place, Isaiah even recalls the affectations that we used to know by the name “flapper gait” and the “debutante slouch.” It may be fair to discount Isaiah’s vivacity a little for prophetic fervour; after all, since his real job was not to convert the masses but to brace and reassure the Remnant, he probably felt that he might lay it on indiscriminately and as thick as he liked – in fact, that he was expected to do so. But even so, the Judean mass-man must have been a most objectionable individual, and the mass-woman utterly odious.

If the modern spirit, whatever that may be, is disinclined towards taking the Lord’s word at its face value (as I hear is the case), we may observe that Isaiah’s testimony to the character of the masses has strong collateral support from respectable Gentile authority. Plato lived into the administration of Eubulus, when Athens was at the peak of its jazz-and-paper era, and he speaks of the Athenian masses with all Isaiah’s fervency, even comparing them to a herd of ravenous wild beasts. Curiously, too, he applies Isaiah’s own word remnant to the worthier portion of Athenian society; “there is but a very small remnant,” he says, of those who possess a saving force of intellect and force of character – too small, preciously as to Judea, to be of any avail against the ignorant and vicious preponderance of the masses.

But Isaiah was a preacher and Plato a philosopher; and we tend to regard preachers and philosophers rather as passive observers of the drama of life than as active participants. Hence in a matter of this kind their judgment might be suspected of being a little uncompromising, a little acrid, or as the French say, saugrenu. We may therefore bring forward another witness who was preeminently a man of affairs, and whose judgment can not lie under this suspicion. Marcus Aurelius was ruler of the greatest of empires, and in that capacity he not only had the Roman mass-man under observation, but he had him on his hands twenty-four hours a day for eighteen years. What he did not know about him was not worth knowing and what he thought of him is abundantly attested on almost every page of the little book of jottings which he scribbled offhand from day to day, and which he meant for no eye but his own ever to see.

This view of the masses is the one that we find prevailing at large among the ancient authorities whose writings have come down to us. In the eighteenth century, however, certain European philosophers spread the notion that the mass-man, in his natural state, is not at all the kind of person that earlier authorities made him out to be, but on the contrary, that he is a worthy object of interest. His untowardness is the effect of environment, an effect for which “society” is somehow responsible. If only his environment permitted him to live according to his lights, he would undoubtedly show himself to be quite a fellow; and the best way to secure a more favourable environment for him would be to let him arrange it for himself. The French Revolution acted powerfully as a springboard for this idea, projecting its influence in all directions throughout Europe.

On this side of the ocean a whole new continent stood ready for a large-scale experiment with this theory. It afforded every conceivable resource whereby the masses might develop a civilization made in their own likeness and after their own image. There was no force of tradition to disturb them in their preponderance, or to check them in a thoroughgoing disparagement of the Remnant. Immense natural wealth, unquestioned predominance, virtual isolation, freedom from external interference and the fear of it, and, finally, a century and a half of time – such are the advantages which the mass-man has had in bringing forth a civilization which should set the earlier preachers and philosophers at naught in their belief that nothing substantial can be expected from the masses, but only from the Remnant.

His success is unimpressive. On the evidence so far presented one must say, I think, that the mass-man’s conception of what life has to offer, and his choice of what to ask from life, seem now to be pretty well what they were in the times of Isaiah and Plato; and so too seem the catastrophic social conflicts and convulsions in which his views of life and his demands on life involve him. I do not wish to dwell on this, however, but merely to observe that the monstrously inflated importance of the masses has apparently put all thought of a possible mission to the Remnant out of the modern prophet’s head. This is obviously quite as it should be, provided that the earlier preachers and philosophers were actually wrong, and that all final hope of the human race is actually centred in the masses. If, on the other hand, it should turn out that the Lord and Isaiah and Plato and Marcus Aurelius were right in their estimate of the relative social value of the masses and the Remnant, the case is somewhat different. Moreover, since with everything in their favour the masses have so far given such an extremely discouraging account of themselves, it would seem that the question at issue between these two bodies of opinion might most profitably be reopened.

III

But without following up this suggestion, I wish only, as I said, to remark the fact that as things now stand Isaiah’s job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest. This attitude towards the masses is so exclusive, so devout, that one is reminded of the troglodytic monster described by Plato, and the assiduous crowd at the entrance to its cave, trying obsequiously to placate it and win its favour, trying to interpret its inarticulate noises, trying to find out what it wants, and eagerly offering it all sorts of things that they think might strike its fancy.

But without following up this suggestion, I wish only, as I said, to remark the fact that as things now stand Isaiah’s job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest. This attitude towards the masses is so exclusive, so devout, that one is reminded of the troglodytic monster described by Plato, and the assiduous crowd at the entrance to its cave, trying obsequiously to placate it and win its favour, trying to interpret its inarticulate noises, trying to find out what it wants, and eagerly offering it all sorts of things that they think might strike its fancy.

The main trouble with all this is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one’s doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favour, and answerable only to his august Boss.

If a prophet were not too particular about making money out of his mission or getting a dubious sort of notoriety out of it, the foregoing considerations would lead one to say that serving the Remnant looks like a good job. An assignment that you can really put your back into, and do your best without thinking about results, is a real job; whereas serving the masses is at best only half a job, considering the inexorable conditions that the masses impose upon their servants. They ask you to give them what they want, they insist upon it, and will take nothing else; and following their whims, their irrational changes of fancy, their hot and cold fits, is a tedious business, to say nothing of the fact that what they want at any time makes very little call on one’s resources of prophesy. The Remnant, on the other hand, want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about. The prophet of the American masses must aim consciously at the lowest common denominator of intellect, taste and character among 120,000,000 people; and this is a distressing task. The prophet of the Remnant, on the contrary, is in the enviable position of Papa Haydn in the household of Prince Esterhazy. All Haydn had to do was keep forking out the very best music he knew how to produce, knowing it would be understood and appreciated by those for whom he produced it, and caring not a button what anyone else thought of it; and that makes a good job.

In a sense, nevertheless, as I have said, it is not a rewarding job. If you can tough the fancy of the masses, and have the sagacity to keep always one jump ahead of their vagaries and vacillations, you can get good returns in money from serving the masses, and good returns also in a mouth-to-ear type of notoriety:

Digito monstrari et dicier, Hic est!

We all know innumerable politicians, journalists, dramatists, novelists and the like, who have done extremely well by themselves in these ways. Taking care of the Remnant, on the contrary, holds little promise of any such rewards. A prophet of the Remnant will not grow purse-proud on the financial returns from his work, nor is it likely that he will get any great renown out of it. Isaiah’s case was exceptional to this second rule, and there are others, but not many.

It may be thought, then, that while taking care of the Remnant is no doubt a good job, it is not an especially interesting job because it is as a rule so poorly paid. I have my doubts about this. There are other compensations to be got out of a job besides money and notoriety, and some of them seem substantial enough to be attractive. Many jobs which do not pay well are yet profoundly interesting, as, for instance, the job of research student in the sciences is said to be; and the job of looking after the Remnant seems to me, as I have surveyed it for many years from my seat in the grandstand, to be as interesting as any that can be found in the world.

IV

What chiefly makes it so, I think, is that in any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those – dead sure, as our phrase is – but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness; and this, I should say, is just the condition calculated most effectively to pique the interest of any prophet who is properly gifted with the imagination, insight and intellectual curiosity necessary to a successful pursuit of his trade.

The fascination and the despair of the historian, as he looks back upon Isaiah’s Jewry, upon Plato’s Athens, or upon Rome of the Antonines, is the hope of discovering and laying bare the “substratum of right-thinking and well-doing” which he knows must have existed somewhere in those societies because no kind of collective life can possibly go on without it. He finds tantalizing intimations of it here and there in many places, as in the Greek Anthology, in the scrapbook of Aulus Gellius, in the poems of Ausonius, and in the brief and touching tribute, Bene merenti, bestowed upon the unknown occupants of Roman tombs. But these are vague and fragmentary; they lead him nowhere in his search for some kind of measure on this substratum, but merely testify to what he already knew a priori – that the substratum did somewhere exist. Where it was, how substantial it was, what its power of self-assertion and resistance was – of all this they tell him nothing.

Similarly, when the historian of two thousand years hence, or two hundred years, looks over the available testimony to the quality of our civilization and tries to get any kind of clear, competent evidence concerning the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing which he knows must have been here, he will have a devil of a time finding it. When he has assembled all he can and has made even a minimum allowance for speciousness, vagueness, and confusion of motive, he will sadly acknowledge that his net result is simply nothing. A Remnant were here, building a substratum like coral insects; so much he knows, but he will find nothing to put him on the track of who and where and how many they were and what their work was like.

Concerning all this, too, the prophet of the present knows precisely as much and as little as the historian of the future; and that, I repeat, is what makes his job seem to me so profoundly interesting. One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet’s attempt – the only attempt of the kind on the record, I believe – to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job. He said that he was running away, not because he was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to; “and as for your figures on the Remnant,” He said, “I don’t mind telling you that there are seven thousand of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are.”

At that time, probably the population of Israel could not run to much more than a million or so; and a Remnant of seven thousand out of a million is a highly encouraging percentage for any prophet. With seven thousand of the boys on his side, there was no great reason for Elijah to feel lonesome; and incidentally, that would be something for the modern prophet of the Remnant to think of when he has a touch of the blues. But the main point is that if Elijah the Prophet could not make a closer guess on the number of the Remnant than he made when he missed it by seven thousand, anyone else who tackled the problem would only waste his time.

The other certainty which the prophet of the Remnant may always have is that the Remnant will find him. He may rely on that with absolute assurance. They will find him without his doing anything about it; in fact, if he tries to do anything about it, he is pretty sure to put them off. He does not need to advertise for them nor resort to any schemes of publicity to get their attention. If he is a preacher or a public speaker, for example, he may be quite indifferent to going on show at receptions, getting his picture printed in the newspapers, or furnishing autobiographical material for publication on the side of “human interest.” If a writer, he need not make a point of attending any pink teas, autographing books at wholesale, nor entering into any specious freemasonry with reviewers. All this and much more of the same order lies in the regular and necessary routine laid down for the prophet of the masses; it is, and must be, part of the great general technique of getting the mass-man’s ear – or as our vigorous and excellent publicist, Mr. H. L. Mencken, puts it, the technique of boob-bumping. The prophet of the Remnant is not bound to this technique. He may be quite sure that the Remnant will make their own way to him without any adventitious aids; and not only so, but if they find him employing any such aids, as I said, it is ten to one that they will smell a rat in them and will sheer off.

The certainty that the Remnant will find him, however, leaves the prophet as much in the dark as ever, as helpless as ever in the matter of putting any estimate of any kind upon the Remnant; for, as appears in the case of Elijah, he remains ignorant of who they are that have found him or where they are or how many. They did not write in and tell him about it, after the manner of those who admire the vedettes of Hollywood, nor yet do they seek him out and attach themselves to his person. They are not that kind. They take his message much as drivers take the directions on a roadside signboard – that is, with very little thought about the signboard, beyond being gratefully glad that it happened to be there, but with every thought about the directions.

This impersonal attitude of the Remnant wonderfully enhances the interest of the imaginative prophet’s job. Once in a while, just about often enough to keep his intellectual curiosity in good working order, he will quite accidentally come upon some distinct reflection of his own message in an unsuspected quarter. This enables him to entertain himself in his leisure moments with agreeable speculations about the course his message may have taken in reaching that particular quarter, and about what came of it after it got there. Most interesting of all are those instances, if one could only run them down (but one may always speculate about them), where the recipient himself no longer knows where nor when nor from whom he got the message – or even where, as sometimes happens, he has forgotten that he got it anywhere and imagines that it is all a self-sprung idea of his own.

Such instances as these are probably not infrequent, for, without presuming to enroll ourselves among the Remnant, we can all no doubt remember having found ourselves suddenly under the influence of an idea, the source of which we cannot possibly identify. “It came to us afterward,” as we say; that is, we are aware of it only after it has shot up full-grown in our minds, leaving us quite ignorant of how and when and by what agency it was planted there and left to germinate. It seems highly probable that the prophet’s message often takes some such course with the Remnant.

If, for example, you are a writer or a speaker or a preacher, you put forth an idea which lodges in the Unbewußtsein of a casual member of the Remnant and sticks fast there. For some time it is inert; then it begins to fret and fester until presently it invades the man’s conscious mind and, as one might say, corrupts it. Meanwhile, he has quite forgotten how he came by the idea in the first instance, and even perhaps thinks he has invented it; and in those circumstances, the most interesting thing of all is that you never know what the pressure of that idea will make him do.

For these reasons it appears to me that Isaiah’s job is not only good but also extremely interesting; and especially so at the present time when nobody is doing it. If I were young and had the notion of embarking in the prophetical line, I would certainly take up this branch of the business; and therefore I have no hesitation about recommending it as a career for anyone in that position. It offers an open field, with no competition; our civilization so completely neglects and disallows the Remnant that anyone going in with an eye single to their service might pretty well count on getting all the trade there is.

Even assuming that there is some social salvage to be screened out of the masses, even assuming that the testimony of history to their social value is a little too sweeping, that it depresses hopelessness a little too far, one must yet perceive, I think, that the masses have prophets enough and to spare. Even admitting that in the teeth of history that hope of the human race may not be quite exclusively centred in the Remnant, one must perceive that they have social value enough to entitle them to some measure of prophetic encouragement and consolation, and that our civilization allows them none whatever. Every prophetic voice is addressed to the masses, and to them alone; the voice of the pulpit, the voice of education, the voice of politics, of literature, drama, journalism – all these are directed towards the masses exclusively, and they marshal the masses in the way that they are going.

One might suggest, therefore, that aspiring prophetical talent may well turn to another field. Sat patriae Priamoque datum – whatever obligation of the kind may be due the masses is already monstrously overpaid. So long as the masses are taking up the tabernacle of Moloch and Chiun, their images, and following the star of their god Buncombe, they will have no lack of prophets to point the way that leadeth to the More Abundant Life; and hence a few of those who feel the prophetic afflatus might do better to apply themselves to serving the Remnant. It is a good job, an interesting job, much more interesting than serving the masses; and moreover it is the only job in our whole civilization, as far as I know, that offers a virgin field.

Gaudete! Festum Asinorum!

“Toppling of the Pagan Idols (The Flight into Egypt): Isaiah 19:1, Pseudo-Matthew 22-23” (1423) by the Bedford Master

January 14 marks the old medieval “Feast of Asses” (“Festum Asinorum“), now an obscure and abandoned observance that, among other things, commemorated the flight into Egypt. It was part of the greater medieval Feast of Fools, which fell out of observance by the 15th Century. But it did give us a particular carol tune that you will no-doubt recognize, “Orientis Partibus“:

The Latin lyrics (while not quite the same as those in the above videos–kind of a conglomeration of the two) are as below. I offer a somewhat free translation from the Latin on my part (with thanks to the resources linked at The Hymns and Carols of Christmas for inspiration):

Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus,
Sarcinis aptissimus.

     Hez, Sir Asnes, hez!

Hic in collibus Sychen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Jordanem
saliit in Bethlehem

Saltu vincit hinnulos
damas et capreolos
super dromedarios
velox madianeos

Aurum de Arabia
thus et myrrham de Saba
tulit in ecclesia
virtus asinaria

Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula

Cum aristis, hordeum
comedit et carduum
triticum ex palea
segregat in area

Amen dicas, asine
Iam satur ex gramine
amen, amen itera
aspernare vetera
From Eastern parts
A donkey came,
Strongest and handsome,
Best for burdens.

Hey, Sir Ass, hey!

Here among the hills of Schechem
Now nursed below the Red Sea,
He went across the Jordan,
Bounded into Bethlehem.

In leaping, he beats the mules,
Fallow deer, and roes.
He is above the camels,
The swift Median camels.

Gold from Arabia,
Incense and myrrh from Saba,
Donkey-strength
brought among the congregation.

While he drags carts
With many a little bundle,
This donkey’s jaws
Grind tough food.

He devours barley,
awns-and-all, and thistles;
He separates the wheat from the chaff
On the threshing floor.

Say amen, Ass,
Now full of grass!
Amen, amen, again
To spurn old things.

Read more about the Feast of Asses here!