An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist

Dear Dawkins

I’ve finished it.  I can now pray more intelligently for Professor Dawkins, having read part one of his memoirs.  As I’m a Christian, the man has made himself my enemy, so I’ve been trying to work out how I can do good for him and pray for him.

What did I find?  A review of an autobiography might follow the same chronological order, but following the example of the Gospels, I’m not going to tie myself to that.  Let’s split it up into

  • Music & poetry,
  • Embarrassment & bullying, and
  • Information  & science.

There is a real possibility that my inferences are incorrect, and I’m no psychologist, but read the book for yourself and see what you think.  At least Dawkins is an expert on himself.

An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.  Richard Dawkins.  Bantam Press ISBN 9780593070895  RRP £20.

Music & Poetry

From hymns to drinking songs, music features strongly throughout, even woven into the biology of birdsong at Oxford.

Going back to the two books I received from Amazon, of which this is one, I was surprised there were more lines of Christian hymns in this autobiography than in the other kids’ song book ‘Jesus Loves Me’.  Whether or not that’s to establish some credentials as an erstwhile keen theist who saw through it, I don’t know, but it is revealing.  From my own experience, hymns from my childhood still have direct access to my brain – a phenomenon Oliver Sacks observes as bypassing much of the thought pathways we so scramble and tinker with during our lives.

There’s a friend for little children,
Beyond the bright blue sky
A friend who never changeth
Whose love can never die…

Dawkins guesses this was taught him by his parents, as it was associated with happy childhood memories in Likuni, Malawi, pre-school.  While someone else might trace Dawkins’ adult aggression to his early peripatetic years, I really can’t be bothered and wouldn’t read anything into it, despite his own mother being concerned about his insecurity.

What I have wondered is how much our parents’ priorities influence us, what that influence brings, and whether we recognise the extent of that influence and are able to challenge our resulting outlook.  Only the other night we were discussing a comment made that what our kids see as important is not always what we think we are telling them is important – it’s more what they observe us spending most time in.  Mr & Mrs Dawkins must have thought it good for Richard to have some Christian input, and that he should be able to make his own mind up when the time came, and Richard himself mentions the line of clergymen from which he came.

But what came out of ample material furnished by Dawkins was that the quantity and content of that Christian instruction was pitifully poor, and it’s exactly that childish misunderstanding of Christianity that seems to come through in his later anger directed at ‘faith-heads’.  He apparently never went to church in Africa, but he was Christened, he was Confirmed, and was keen to go to Communion.  He was an Anglican.  But does that mean he was a Christian?

The song from Malawi continues:

…Unlike our friends by nature
Who change with changing years
This friend is always worthy
The precious name he bears

By the time he got to 16, Richard had changed – outgrowing a period of what he calls religious fervour that it now embarrasses him to think about.  The hymn music was turned off after a diversion into Elvis and the young Richard refused to kneel in chapel at Oundle.  What was the reaction from those around him?

“Mr Ling also summoned my parents for a heart-to-heart talk, over tea, about my rebellious behaviour in chapel… Mr Ling asked my parents to try to persuade me to change my ways.  My father said (approximately, by my mother’s recollection): “It’s not our business to control him in that sort of way, that kind of thing is your problem, and I’m afraid I must decline your request.’  My parents’ attitude to the whole affair was that it wasn’t important.”

Yes – I thought so.  I got that impression long before page 143.  That’ll explain a blind reaction “They couldn’t all be right, so why believe the one in which, by sheer accident of birth, I happened to be brought up?”  I thought for a bit that this was just a narrative passage without value judgment on that interesting but ultimately easy question, but it seems that was where this Christianity ‘meme’ became so diluted for Richard that he was strong enough to overcome it.  There is another possibility – that it was Richard who was so weak that he fell victim to Darwin’s meme – the ivy that crept over his parents, his schools and the Christianity taught and practiced by the adults around him, until it shut out the light.  His faulty definition of being ‘brought up’ in Christianity has skewed his world view.

Why was Mr Ling apparently more concerned about Richard’s behaviour than his immortal soul?  What on earth do Christian teachers expect when they uncritically teach a theory that Charles Lyell said gets Moses out of science?  In this respect, Richard Dawkins is just a product of his upbringing – his rebellion is logical, sensible even.  We’re living now with the consequences of an Anglicanism that settled into the experiential, so empty as to spawn this quote from Alfred Noyes: ‘If I ever had any doubts about the fundamental realities of religion, they could always be dispelled by one memory – the light upon my father’s face as he came back from early communion.’

God alone knows to whom the millstones should be posted.  Maybe they could have spent just a tiny bit less time numbly repeating ‘we have left undone what we ought to have done’, skipped chapel themselves to spend time chatting through some fundamental realities with a young Richard and his chums.

Oh well, Richard.  So far, if I’d had only your conception and experience of Christ, I might have rejected him as well.  Thankfully I had enough adults around me who challenged prevailing thought to at least query what my biology textbook was telling me.  Now I know why I’ve thrown so many of your books back onto the shelves of Waterstones – a quick flick found the non-sequiturs from the arguments that bored me literally to tears at school.  Here’s an example of one from this book:

“I bamboozled myself into believing that the appearance of design demanded a designer. I blush to admit that I had not at that stage worked out the elementary fallacy of this argument, which is that any god capable of designing the universe would have demanded a fair bit of designing himself”.

I blush to read that last bit.  That’s why it’s God that’s postulated, not Wickramasinghe’s aliens. God is defined (as far as we are able) as a self-existent eternal being.  Why should our understanding of created material, time-bound world preclude the existence of such a being?  Is such an exclusion evidence based? No.  Surely he has read EA Abbot’s Flatland where the two dimensional creatures can’t fully comprehend a three dimensional being? Maybe it came too late for his prejudices, because every book he’s written has come across as two-dimensional, and maybe that truth is now dawning on the wider world.

The bounded thinking persists to the end of the book, when to quote Dawkins, who quotes Bill Hamilton, who quotes the poet AE Housman:

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither; here am I

That knitting there, Richard – it’s a verb.  Those genes do knitting, and they have an innate idea of the finished jumper.  You’re fond of gap-leaping prose and poetry but the wind didn’t give them the idea, and it’s a cop-out to say that they’re immortal.  That Big Bang – Arno Penzias’ vindication of the Pentateuch, gives you a beginning for our universe.  The genes are here now.  You haven’t explained how they got here. Take as much time as you like – making the changes smaller doesn’t help.

Something to pray about?  Wouldn’t it be great if the music enabled him to wind back the years and revisit the places where the poetry was only half understood?  It could be the making of a scientist.

Embarrassment & Bullying

It’s heart warming to think that our scientific colossus can share his embarrassments with us – we all have our own.

The acute embarrassment that was brought to my attention was the birthday party at Chafyn Grove.  In short, boys would invite their friends to a table of cake, jellies and other good things.

“I understood the principle, and I understood about supplying the duty master with a list of your friends’ names.  What slipped my attention was the small point that you had to arrange for your mother in advance to send the cake and jelly.  On my birthday – perhaps my ninth – I wrote out the list of my friends and gave it to the duty master, who read it aloud.  My chosen friends walked eagerly into the dining room, surveyed the empty table and … even after all these years embarrassment prevents me from describing the scene any further.  What still baffles me is that it never occurred to me to wonder where the cake was supposed to come from… perhaps I thought it materialised by supernatural magic, like sixpenny bits when you put a tooth under your pillow”.

While I’m sure it’s meant to show that when he was a child he understood like a child, he thought as a child, and when he became a man he put away childish things, to me it makes me squirm for a different reason.  He’s still inviting people into an empty room.  Still thinking that genes materialised by supernatural magic for him and his friends to play with.   Still assuming that no-one need put them there in the first place, in the same form of superstition that thought rubbish created flies, laid to rest by Pasteur after the publication of Origin of Species.

The whole thing reads like a ghastly inversion of the parable of the wedding feast – where Dawkins invites his friends to the gnashing of teeth part, being determined that there has not been, is not, and never will be another person who wants to supply a feast, who made him, who loves him, who died for him.

It’s still possible for him to avoid that eternal embarrassment, against which any mockery from his current set will seem as a fruit fly when he looks back withFly regret.

So I’ll pray he can go back to that early field where Paley dropped his watch, and just think for a second or two that for all the teenage arguments about inference, maybe there was a someone who really did drop a watch. That at least opens the door to the alternative – I dare say he’s welcome to a theory of it being assembled by natural law over 700 billion years, but why be so narrow minded?  The key fact that he didn’t see the watch being placed doesn’t entitle him to mock someone who thinks it was, as if he is more scientific.

On bullying, suffice it to say that at Eagle school “there was a boy called Aunty Peggy who was mercilessly teased, seemingly for no better reason than his nickname… On one occasion we all stood around and watched him in a serious and prolonged fight… The sympathy of the crowd was with the bully, who was good-looking and good at games”  apparently Richard felt bad but was not moved to do anything.  Nietzsche’s superman was going about his business.

Then, at his next school, Chafyn Grove, a brilliant scholar was more seriously bullied.  Richard looks back with regret, and thinks about the Nazi mindset.

At Oundle, this particular vice seemed to be swapped for others, and Oxford was a place for grown-ups.  But on we go to Berkeley, where “we, the younger faculty convened meetings where we tried to bully our colleagues into cancelling their lectures in solidarity with the activists…”

Dawkins makes the link for us back to the earlier pattern of behaviour, and is good enough to express remorse and say “I should have stood up against the bullies.  But I didn’t… Should have known better.”

It’s as if that’s drawn to a close and judged as morally wrong, but here’s the preceding bit where I scribble ‘LOL’in the margin: “I have seen the same thing more recently on the internet in the form of cyber-bullying by radical activists powerful enough to act as a kind of thought police, just as I saw the same thing at school when willing accomplices would rally around a playground bully”

He’s still doing it!  Here’s the playground bully, and visit RDFRS for the thought police.

CureIt’s not just my impression; one man was so turned off by the abuse on Dawkins’ own website when a gentle reasoning David Robertson challenged the thought police that he became a Christian.

So what do we pray here?  Lord, would you please help Richard Dawkins really leave the bullying days behind him, and look at his arguments on their own strengths and weaknesses, whether they dominate others or not?  Free him from a need to belittle others to make himself feel secure, we ask.

Looking at the new site, it seems things may be improving.  Go on Richard – stand up against those bullies.  I won’t get an ‘Atheism is a mental disease’ t-shirt in retaliation because you’re precious to God.  In fact I think religion is a bad thing, but faith in a right object isn’t.  I’m not convinced you’re aware of the difference.

Information & Science

In 1986, there was a debate at the Oxford Union on the motion ‘This house believes that the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution’.  For the motion were Edgar Andrews and AE Wilder-Smith, and against were Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith.

Most of the debate was typical spoddish Oxford types spraffing on, but AE Wilder-Smith made some points which the others couldn’t answer.  The motion was lost, but this autobiography seems to want to lay the bones of the Late Wilder-Smith’s arguments to rest.  To me it just ploughs them all back up to the surface.  Dawkins’ appeal at the time was to the crowd, that if they voted for the motion the university would be mocked, which is interesting.

We have a wonderful introduction to Grandfather Bill Ladner’s work on the Marconi transmissions from Poldhu.  Claude Shannon is mentioned on pages 20, 228, 231.  Surprise value and language is mentioned in Dawkins’ Oxford studies.  But this is typical ‘meme immunisation’ without actually engaging with the underlying argument.  Water must flow uphill to climb Mount Improbable.  Words in a newspaper must be derived from the natural laws governing ink and paper, and if you’re reading this on a screen, the pixels must have purpose and yet have got here by blind natural forces.  Creativity is at once lauded in friends and colleagues, but denied to anyone else.  Apparent purpose must be maintained without there being overall purpose.  To use Dawkins’s own slip in this book, neurons must find their ‘correct’ organs without any concept of ‘correct’.

It’s not clever, and I’m not the only one to have noticed it when I was small.  Christopher Booker mentions in his review of this book that when the Selfish Gene came out, Dawkins got cross because people choked on his intellectual schizophrenia.  Listening to the 1986 debate, Dawkins again says ‘To say evolution happened by chance is a travesty”, yet he must have chance or natural law is no longer free.  If he has a creative natural law, it has never been proven, is not falsifiable, and is never observably free from the disintegrating laws of thermodynamics.  GK Chesterton said that it doesn’t help to give more time for a miracle to happen if it’s still a miracle. John Lennox has given Hume’s objection to miracles a drubbing.

AE Wilder-Smith’s approach, respected but avoided by Professor Maynard Smith, was that the evolutionary theory reduces to a formula:

 Inorganic matter + Energy + Time = Biogenesis

He then set out the premise of creation, in language that even a Flatlander could understand:

 Inorganic matter + Energy + Time + Information = Biogenesis

And all science can do with the people who breed, and play with existing genetic material that they didn’t make, and zap soup into proteins with electricity in expensive labs, and rescue and care for the results, and programme computers – is pretend they aren’t actually there.  Even better, close the door on thinking about them by saying, like Stephen Hawking, ‘Philosophy is dead’. That famous philosophical statement.

The information has to arise by accident, driven by the gene’s metaphorical soliloquy on survival which we overhear in this book.  But why survive?  Why reproduce?  The ‘why not’ is far stronger physically and chemically.  The encyclopaedic gene is a reversal of natural processes and is required to organize inorganic matter into life.  Dawkins’ computer experiments all come across as desperate attempts to levitate above natural laws by pulling on his own bootlaces.   The maths doesn’t help.  Chemistry doesn’t support it.  Physics is against it.

In Wilder-Smith’s inimitable accent “It’s for the birds”.

So in our closing prayer for Professor Clinton Richard Dawkins, let’s ask God to keep us humble, patient and loving, and bring Richard into the presence of The Word – the information sent from God, before whose risen DNA doubting Thomas knelt and said ‘my Lord and my God!’

Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! how great thou art!

Marshall Meek remembered…


I was checking into the very good John Stevens blog this morning and saw a post I’d missed that mentioned Marshall Meek – delightfully as an example of someone who saw the need to innovate or die in the ship building industry, and to learn from competitors rather than look down on them.

The post (19 October) is worth reading and it links to Marshall’s obituary in the Telegraph.  Being so out of touch, I didn’t know he was so recently with the Lord, but not-so-exclusive-ex-exclusive-brethren even get a mention – which isn’t an everyday occurrence.

I only met Marshall Meek once – 23 years ago, but I remember him as the first person I knew who had a helicopter whisk his daughter away from her wedding – most impressive to a teenager.  So impressive it was that I made calls to Redhill aerodrome to see if I could pull the same stunt on my wedding day years later.


I’m glad I went for something more innovative in the end.

I thought Steve B or Roz would like that.  I overheard it was Marshall that arranged the uplifting exit, but it might have been Arthur, or both.  Apologies for the very hurried sketch.

But enough of that – the main point of John Stevens’ post is a vital one – some things are fundamental and some things have to change.

Telling the difference is hard but not impossible, and we’re required to do so.

4: Righteousness of God – the last part


I through law have died to law.  I was dead and have been made alive.  For someone to continue to speak to my old nature as if it’s alive is no favour to me.  I’d rather people preach to me the Biblical truth that it’s absurd to live in Egypt when I’m cut off from it by the Red Sea.  That I have a new life – not just a botched righteousness transplant into a dead body to bring it frankenstein-like over the threshold of heaven under a slogan of ‘do this and thou shalt live’. 

My answer when I get there is not ‘it was done for me’, nor ‘I did it’, but Christ shed his blood for me.

Last section.

While I was starting to wonder whether I was being a bit ranty or over-egging the public misapprehension of the doctrine of the Bible, another tweet came at me, from another much loved and respected source, so much so that I’ve snipped out the logo..


It’s that quantum of righteousness thing again! Waiting as if in a sacramental barrow at the door to supply our legal lack. The first sentence I wholly agree with – what a wonderful truth. The second sentence is not found in 2 Peter 1:1-4, as you can see just by hovering over the link.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: (NIV)

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (ESV)

to them that have received like precious faith with us through [the] righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: (Darby)

In this passage, the receipt is of faith, not righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is vital – of course it is – without it His sacrifice could not have been for us. We are risen and now in Christ, so seen as He is seen by God. But off what intellectual springboard do we make the jump to it being transferable?

We are NOT right with God on that ground, we are right with God, as Romans 5 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God though out Lord Jesus Christ.”

Still. I reckon I’m one of around 50 people left in the UK who think this is worth noticing. Almost every theologian who tweets at me on Twitter seems to sign up to the view that we need a legal righteousness, and that I need to be reminded of it on a weekly basis.

JND picBack to JN Darby’s article, found here, courtesy of STEM Publishing. Yes, it is he whom I mention just to see how quickly different people’s steel shutters operate. So I rarely mention him these days – I end up having to make the points from first principles in the Bible, which in itself is not as popular as Christians would like to think, but is an excellent exercise. The wonderful thing is that the reader can judge for him or herself from what’s presented here from the Bible.



Easing gently in through from the last post

What scripture does not speak of is a certain quantum of legal righteousness attributed to us, because being under law we have failed in it; because we are not under law. It is an unholy doctrine, because it is not atoning by the Blessed One’s bearing the curse for breaches of law by those who were under it, but allowing failure under it by another’s accomplishing it. It is one thing to make an atonement for sin, and another to have one’s neglected duty accomplished de facto by another. Besides, if done, it is human legal righteousness, by whomsoever done. Hence the apostle says, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is by the law,” supposing it ever so perfect (for it could be and would be no more than man’s); “but the righteousness which is of God” — another kind and sort of righteousness.

But have I not, or at least has not one under law, neglected duty? Yes, alas! but this has been atoned for (why then, in passing, also to be fulfilled by another? and if fulfilled by another, why to be atoned for? The whole system is false in its nature), and I am put into an entirely new position as wholly dead, the whole being and nature in which I was set aside, since Christ died for me as in it: and thus my whole condition and being as before God in the first Adam is set aside. I AM NOT IN THE FLESH (my first Adam-standing to which the law applied); and I have an entirely new status before God in resurrection, in virtue of this work of Christ. The risen Christ is the pattern and character of my acceptance, as He is the cause of it. As He is, so am I in this world; and this is by a real living possession of His nature, while at the same time by faith in Him: so that my acceptance is inseparable from godliness of life, as in one dead to sin and alive to God, and yet rests for righteousness and peace on the perfectness of what is before God for us. Hence it is called justification of life.

Hence also our responsibility is not now the making good the failures of the old or first Adam: I am wholly out of it, and, as in absolute and perfect acceptance in the second before God, I am called to yield myself to God as one that is alive from the dead. The old thing is gone — atoned for (so that God is glorified in His majesty and righteousness), but done away. To that it was that law applied, and hence was weak through the flesh; but my first husband, law (if I had been under its power, as the Jew was, and many a one practically gets), is gone, not through destruction of its authority, but by Christ’s dying under its curse. That authority is thus, on the contrary, fully established by Christ’s having met it in death; but then, thus, by the body of Christ, I am delivered from it, having died in that in which I was held, so that I should serve, not in the oldness of letter, but in newness of spirit. Instead of satisfying the requirements of my old condition under law, I am passed out of it (Christ having borne the merited curse, so as to establish its authority), and passed into another — Christ’s — before God, as one alive to God through Him, God having been perfectly glorified.

This is the doctrine of Romans 5, 6 and 7, founded on chapter 4, and the results fully developed in chapter 8. It will be found that the whole groundwork is laid in the death, not in the life, of Christ on earth. See chapter 5:6-11. All is attributed in the fullest way to death. Death and blood-shedding is the theme; only it is thence concluded in the blessed reasoning of the Holy Ghost (who always reasons, not from what we are to what God must be, but from what God is and has done to what must be for us, as One that reveals in grace must do), that, a fortiori, we shall be saved by His life as now risen — life, not before death, but in resurrection, saved from coming wrath. With all this, at the close of the chapter, law is contrasted, when righteousness is treated of. To this I will recur specifically in a moment.

I pursue the evidence of the truth of our new position in the chapters quoted: chapter 5 has applied resurrection to justification, founded, as we have seen, on death. Chapter 6 applies it to life. If it be the obedience of one that justifies, we can do as we please, says the opposer of grace. Nay, says the apostle, you are justified because you are dead, and have now to walk in newness of life. How can a man dead to sin (and that is the way you have justification and life) live in it? If he do, he is not dead, he is in the first Adam, he has not part in Christ at all; for we are baptized unto His death, and it is in resurrection we have life. In chapter 7 this death is applied to our state under law. Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives; but we are not alive, we are dead. In a word, Christ is alive for me before God, and I am justified, but as having died; and thus it is I have a place in this blessing. Hence I am dead to sin; and, further, I am no longer alive in the nature to which law applied. Therefore, he says, in Romans 7, “When we were in the flesh.” I am married to another, I cannot have two husbands at a time — Christ and law. But it is not by weakening the first: nothing glorified it like Christ’s death under its curse. But, if under it, I have died under it in the body of Christ, and thus I am free. Through law, I am dead to law.

I do not enter into the blessed and beautiful unfolding of this true liberty before God and from sin, and the heavenly security which accompanies it (God, as with Noah, shutting us in); not because it would not be delight to follow it out, but because I must confine myself to my subject. The character of the deliverance may be seen in Romans 8:1-11. There the Spirit is life. Thence, to verse 28, He is the Spirit of God personally considered, the spring of joy, the Comforter in the sorrows that spring from that joy itself in such a world as this. It is God in us. From verse 28 to the end, it is the security and sure glorious results afforded by God’s being for us: hence sanctifying or life is not spoken of here — that is wrought in us.

What is, then, the righteousness of God, and how is it shewn? How do we have part in it? How is righteousness reckoned to us? We are said to be the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5). The apostle speaks of having the righteousness which is of God (Phil. 3). But it is not said, God’s righteousness is imputed to us. Nor is Christ’s righteousness a scriptural expression, though no Christian doubts He was perfectly righteous. Still, the Spirit of God is perfect in wisdom, and it would be wonderful if that which was the necessary ground of our acceptance should not be clearly spoken of in scripture. One passage seems to say so (Rom. 5:18). But the reader may see in the margin of a Bible which has references, that there it is “one righteousness.” There cannot be the least doubt that this is the true rendering. When the apostle would say “by the offence of one,” he uses a different and correct form, a different one from that which he uses for “one offence.” Theology may make it “the righteousness of one,” but not Greek. But the expression “the righteousness of God” is used so very often that it is not necessary to quote the passages. Now, it is not in vain that the Holy Ghost on so important a subject never uses one expression (that is, the righteousness of Christ), and constantly the other (that is, God’s righteousness). We learn the current of the mind of the Spirit thus. Theology uses always that which the Holy Ghost never does; and cannot tell what to make of that which the Holy Ghost always uses. Surely there must be error in the whole way of thinking of theology here.

I am satisfied that the source of it all is their notions about law. Law is for the first Adam, for the unrighteous. The apostle tells us so expressly. Righteousness is in the Second man. Christ was born under law here below, that He might redeem those who were under it out of that condition, bearing the curse they had incurred. We are told that law is the transcript of the divine mind: I deny it wholly and entirely. It is the transcript of what the creature ought to be. Can God, speaking with all reverence, love God with all His heart, or His neighbour as Himself? It is simple nonsense. These teachers of the law know neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. The law is not made for the righteous, but for the unrighteous; and never made anybody in the world righteous. It is righteous, but it was given to sinners when in their sins, and never as a law to anybody else — not speaking here of Christ’s coming under it in grace. It entered, pareiselthe, or came in by the by, between promise and its accomplishment in Christ, that the offence might abound. Christ is the image of the invisible God — the transcript of the divine mind, if you please. The law is an imposed rule. “Thou shalt love”: is that a transcript of the divine mind? It does love sovereignly. Christ was made under law, and of course was perfect under it; but in that character was and abode alone. But He was God manifest in flesh, and thus was the image of the invisible God. He that had seen Him had seen the Father. He was love, and was perfect in holiness — holy enough in His being to love sinners as above sin, and further — what law does not and cannot and ought not to do, knows nothing of in its nature — gave Himself up for sinners, which law knows nothing of (for it will have no sinners at all unless to curse them). Hence, when Christian practice is spoken of, we are to be “imitators of God as dear children” — “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” What has law to do with this? It knows nothing of it. The whole doctrine of Paul, and of the righteousness of God, these law teachers are striving against.

Where, then, and what is the righteousness of God? God’s righteousness is His perfect consistency with His own perfect and blessed nature; and that (hence it is said, “if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God”), as it concerns us now, in His dealings with others. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his eyes behold the upright.” God beholds the upright. God is a righteous judge, and God is provoked every day. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not dwell with thee. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” The first Psalm opens with this great truth. So when He comes He will judge the world in righteousness, and the people with equity. So Psalms 97, 98, 99, and indeed a multitude of others.

It will be said, The righteousness here spoken of, however essential the principle to the being of God, yet is applied to the law. I admit it, and hence the instruction contained in it ends in the government of this world; and until order be brought about by power there, the state of things perplexed those who looked for it, when they saw the prosperity of the wicked. We are called to another position — a heavenly one, and even as Christ did, to “do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently.” This is acceptable with God. But the keeping of the law is never said to be a title to heaven, still less to sit at the right hand of God: Morally — not personally, of course, I need not say, but — as to the quality of our righteousness we have a title to be there. So, on the other hand, we say as to sin, we “have come short of the glory of God,” and “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” And Christ declares, “The glory which thou hast given me I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Righteousness is shewn in the punishment of the wicked, and in the world’s seeing Christ no more. This is the solemn answer to that vain conceit of love which denies righteousness, and makes of love indifference to sin.

But I do not now dwell on this solemn application of righteousness, namely, that vengeance belongeth to God, as not being our proper subject. How as regards us, in the Christian revelation of it, is righteousness set forth? In the resurrection, no doubt, of Christ. But there is yet more. He shall demonstrate righteousness to the world “because I go to my Father.” God has shewn His righteousness in setting Christ as man at His right hand. There, more fully than shall be in His direct government, though of course it is perfect there, the righteousness of God is shewn. Christ had a title to be there, and He is there. Righteousness is in heaven, it is a divine title to glory, and in man. That is what we want — what is ours. But why is Christ’s being there righteousness? He has title as Son. He was there before the world was. But that is not our point here.

Let us see how He speaks of it. First, He says in John 17, “Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” This I leave, because it is His personal title, though a just and blessed claim, and characterizing His position, and thus most interesting to us. But He adds a second ground, “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

And when was this done? John 13:31 tells us, when Judas went out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” He shall not wait till the public government of the world; and His appearing from heaven will glorify Him, according to Psalm 8; but straightway, when He says, “Sit at my right hand till I make thy foes thy footstool” — where He is crowned with glory and honour, when all things are not yet put under Him. But why was it righteousness to do this? Because the Lord had a title to it, to be glorified as Son of man (though He had been in it as Son before the world was); because God Himself in His nature and moral being had been glorified in Him, and He was therefore entitled to be glorified in God. We have seen when this was: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Heavenly glory with God was the righteous consequence. As He says, “If God be glorified in him, God shall glorify him in himself.”

But how was this? Surely it was a glorious thing for a Son of man to maintain — not merely maintain, but make good — the glory of God. Doubtless, He must have been much more to have enabled him to do it. Still, as He tells us Himself, it was as such He did it. Blessed and infinite grace for us that it is so! The more we weigh what the cross was, the more shall we see how God was righteous in raising and setting Christ at His right hand. Sin was come in, disorder in the universe, the government of God unintelligible, angels occupied in conflict in God’s creation, witnesses of the success of evil. Had God judged in righteousness, and destroyed all the wicked, there was no love. Did He spare them, there was no righteousness. It would have been merely undoing the evil if all were restored, or sanctioning it if they had been glorified. Where was His truth which had pronounced death on the offender? where His majesty which had been trodden under foot? The whole character of God was in question by sin. The Lord offers Himself for His Father’s glory, according to the counsels of God. His truth is made good. The wages of sin is death. The cross is an absolute proof of it. It was the paid wages of sin by the Son of God Himself. None escaped but by His dying for them, and He the Son of God.

The majesty of God was vindicated as nothing else would have done it. Christ spends Himself, and submits to wrath to make it good. God’s righteousness was glorified in the full judgment of sin. Yet His love to the sinner was displayed as nought else could have displayed it. What a scene for the moral universe! Nothing next or like it is there in all created history. Things that are have been created, and may be destroyed; but this abides, making good what God is for all eternity. Such was the cross. There the Son of man was glorified, and God was glorified in it. Hence He glorified Christ in Himself — placed Him at His right hand. This was righteousness. No glory amongst men would have been an adequate recompense for glorifying Himself. The true reward for glorifying God was God’s glory. Into that the Lord entered, where He was before the world was made.

This is what displays divine righteousness — the setting the Son of man at God’s right hand. As I have said, it was God’s own righteousness; but as this must meet a title to what is given to make it righteousness, it was such because Christ had done what gave Him the title to be there. But this was done for us, for all that have the faith of Christ — this glorifying God about sin. It was about our sin He did it. Therefore the value of the work is reckoned to us. God righteously receives us into His glory as He has received Christ: for He has received Him in virtue of the work done for us — us therefore in Him. We are made the righteousness of God in Him, for in blessing us in this heavenly and glorious way, in justifying us, He only gives its due effect to Christ’s claims upon Him. Towards us it is pure grace, but it is equally the righteousness of God. Thus it appears that all the value of Christ’s work is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness. He has been made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

Has His living obedience to God nothing to do with this? I do not say this. First of all, “he knew no sin” was absolutely necessary to His being made sin; but the truth is, His obedience is looked at as one whole moral condition or perfection in which He was agreeable to God. He was the obedient one, as Adam was the disobedient. And though His obedience in life was not for sin, it was part of the sweet savour which went up to God, and in which we are accepted. It was finally tried at the cross, and found perfect. This was the perfect man, and in circumstances alone in this nature but perfectly agreeable to God. Once He had undertaken obedience; it was His own duty; but that He accomplished, and glorified God in it, at all cost; but He was alone, and stood alone, that He might take man’s sinful condition on Himself, and therein glorify God. He did not, as towards God, make good God’s character in it, but a divine perfect man’s. He did display God’s character when alive — He was it. But that was addressed to man, not a satisfaction to God for man. He took up man’s cause as born of a woman. He took up the remnant of Israel’s, as born under the law. He was made sin to reconcile the one, and bore the curse of the law to redeem the other from it, and will never bring the lawless under it. As a living man, sinners had no part in or with Him — He abode alone. As a dying man He met their case. There they could come by faith. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” That was when He said, “The hour is come that the Son of man must be glorified: except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

It is an entire setting aside the old man, his whole condition and existence before God, by which we get our place before God: not a keeping the law for the old man. Then you must keep him alive. God forbid! I live by the second Adam only, with whom I have been crucified: nevertheless live not I, but Christ in me. But then, in the new man I am not under law, so there is no question of fulfilling it for me, because I am already accepted and have life. There can be no Do this and live. I am, as even Luther expresses it, Christ before God. If righteousness come by law, then Christ is dead in vain. But if Christ has fulfilled the law for me, it does come by law, and Christ is dead in vain. Law applies to flesh, is weak through it, sets up, if it could, the righteousness of the first man. But I am not in the flesh at all — I am in Christ.

But Romans 5 requires some of its details to be referred to. The subject the apostle takes up is, as we have seen, death, in order to have a wholly new place and standing in resurrection. But this goes beyond the limits of law; for man sinned and died when he had none. Death reigned from Adam to Moses over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the image who is to come. Theologians have puzzled themselves with this, ignorant that it is simply a quotation from Hosea 6:7. They (Israel), like Adam (men), have transgressed the covenant. Adam was under a law, not indeed to do this and live, as Mr. Molyneux so unhappily says, but to do this and die when alive; Israel was under law of Do this and live, when he was dead; as indeed the words rightly weighed implied. But between Adam and Moses there was no law — none of either kind, but they sinned and died.

Hence we must go up to the great heads of the two systems — the first and second Adam: not to mend the first by the second, but through death substitute one for the other. I do not speak of the persons to whom it is applied, but the abstract nature of the act. Adam sins, is disobedient, cast out of an earthly paradise, and is the head of a lost, condemned, sinful race. The second Adam obeys, glorifies God in righteousness, is received into heaven, and is the head of a new justified race. In either case, the act causative of the whole condition was accomplished, before the consequences were entailed on those that came under it. It is not a course of action on the ground of the first man, which, accomplished by the second, forms our righteousness as belonging to the first. We pronounce whole and entire condemnation on ourselves, as belonging to the first — children of wrath, Jew or Gentile. Death closes on that in Christ; and, after redemption, we begin before God in Christ, and are accepted in Christ, and Christ in us is our life. We do not go back to seek a legal righteousness in flesh, the other Adam-side of redemption; we may know ourselves only as lost, dead in sin there. It is too late to get a righteousness for our first Adam state: I have fled to Christ because I was already lost by it. By the disobedience of one many were made sinners, by the obedience of One — looked at as one moral whole, perfect in death, His character contrasted with that of Adam’s without any thought of law — many are made righteous In death He bore the curse of the law for those under it; but this was not keeping it in life. He was obedient all His life, learnt what it was by suffering. He was obedient in death, in bowing to suffering, when it was His Father’s will, where law had no place, though He bore the curse of that too. What law commanded to endure God’s wrath when a person was sinless? He learned obedience by the things that He suffered.

Not only so, but this obedience is expressly contrasted with law, in order to meet the sin of those also who are not under law. This is the great point argued in the chapter. Personal headship is insisted on in Adam and Christ, and on this ground we stand, the law having come in between, occasionally, though to meet important ends. Adam died by disobedience, and Christ as obedience. The law came in by the by, says the apostle (pareiselthe), that the offence might abound. That is, he states the obedience as an absolute perfect quality of the Christ, available for sons of Adam, while the law had merely a special place, which did not come into this question of obedience. It brought out sin in the way of multiplying transgressions, but where (not transgressions, the apostle takes care not to say that; for so the grace would not have applied to those not under law, the very point he was insisting on being that it did apply to them; but where) sin abounded, there did grace much more abound. There was one offence, paraptoma, towards all for condemnation; one dikaioma, act of accomplished righteousness, towards all to justification of life. It is abstract as possible, but, as the following verse shews, to the exclusion of law — that is brought in with nomos pareiselthe, an accessory which had a peculiar effect, and which did not come under his general argument, yea, to exclude which was the effect of his reasoning, in order to let in the Gentiles.

If the one offence swept wide beyond Jews, the one act of righteousness must do so too. The law came in by the by, to do its own work, to produce transgressions (not sin); but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. The purport of the reasoning of the apostle is to get out of the scene of law as to disobedience, obedience, and righteousness — not to bring it in. If it comes in, it is with a special object, by the by, which does not concern the Gentiles, and for the Jew served for increased guilt; but of which Christ has borne the curse for those who believe. I am not under the law but under grace, if I am a believer. I am not in the flesh if I am in Christ: when I was, I was under law, or lawless. In Christ I have entered, be I Jew or Gentile, on a new ground, where I am alike dead to sin and law, and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, made the righteousness of God in Him.

It is a very striking fact that Luther should have excluded from the New Testament that on which the apostle everywhere insists as the foundation of his doctrine, the revelation of Christianity (that is, the righteousness of God). Nor does Calvin get a step farther: “I understand,” he says, “by the righteousness of God, that which can be approved before the tribunal of God; as, on the contrary, men are accustomed to the righteousness of men, what is held and esteemed righteousness in the opinion of men” (Rom. 1; so 2 Cor. 5). But his whole statement is very poor. To come short of the glory of God means, he says, in the same way, what we can glory of before God. In Romans 10 he makes the righteousness of God that which God gives, and their own that which is sought from man.

I hope that provides a bit of food for thought – it certainly did for me.  I find that it has encouraged me to trust the full power of God’s word, and I find it amazing that God’s plan  brings glory to himself, and is entirely consistent with his character, his love and his righteousness.  

Thou gav’st us Father in thy love, to Christ to bring us home to thee.  Suited to thine own thoughts above, as Sons like Him, with Him to be.

Mr Bacon’s Easter Story?

Waitrose have got a bit of a cheek, haven’t they?

Waitrose Easter

They sent this to me after a while of being a member of their loyalty scheme (which is great, I might add).

I opened it, and was put right off a perfectly good company.  Why?  They had my name on the front, Easter was the theme, and inside there was just food on sale.  If any moneychanger’s table needed kicking over, surely this is ripe candidate, where the events of Jesus Christ’s arrest, mockery, trial, death by crucifixion, side being pierced, the veil of the Temple being rent, Christ’s burial, the weeping of Mary, the resurrection, events that drove Christianity through successive bloody persecutions and on through the past 2,000 years are reduced to Lamb and Anchovy, Zesty White Wine and a delicious pud?

That’s not my Easter Story!  Don’t put my name on that please, O Waitrose Marketing Department!  Don’t worry about me kicking over any of your tables during my lunch hour – the only man who had a right to do something like that is synonymous with the word ‘Easter’.  Isn’t it just a very slight miscalculation if you use the mental image of that man being nailed to a cross to sell lamb and wine?  I got strong Monty Python-like impressions of you standing next to the events saying “Get your passover kit here!”  “Albatross, get your albatross!”

Well – their odd marketing has worked to some good. I felt Mr Bacon here had better put his Easter Story out there.  Not as tidy as the John Lewis Partnership’s, but maybe a bit more thoughtful.  It’s a mind map of events, covering some of the points in a connected way, because those historic events were indeed connected.  Nothing can improve on the words of the Bible, but I thought I should explore it for his sake, who went through it all for me.

Click on the pic below, and it should take you to the map I’m working on.  It will be updated in future as there is endless depth to add, but it did help to think through that ‘stolen pagan festival’ thing for starters.

Easter Mind Map

Happy Easter, Waitrose!  No hard feelings, on account of what Easter’s really about.

The Righteousness of God


Apologies for the poor picture quality, that was done on the 7:56 to London Victoria, and it’s from memory.

The memory is from nearly 20 years ago, lying on the top bunk of another train – the sleeper from Nairobi to Mombasa, and after I did it I went online to see how accurate my memory was. Not bad, the windows were similar but opened down, the beds would have stuck out past the window, and I probably wasn’t wearing trainers come to think of it.

That was the moment when the truth about righteousness in the Bible clicked into clear focus – to an extent where I almost gasped at how God had planned and executed my salvation.  Like the memory of the scene, my memory and grasp of that truth has become flaky and like the sketch I struggle to communicate it, but I know the clarity is still there to be had, it’s undisturbed by all that’s been said since and I want it back.  Something of the feeling I retain is summed up in the hymn:


Oh mind divine! so must it be

That glory all belongs to God

Oh love divine! that did decree

We should be part, through Jesus’ blood


In the picture above I had already been on holiday for a week, wasn’t stressed, had nothing disrupting my train of thought, and was reading a piece with this post’s title by someone whose name I’m not going to tell you until later, in case I am deafened by the sound of the steel roller-shutters of your prejudices heading for the bare toes of my online presence.  If you thought that was a long sentence, it was nothing on this chap’s English prose.  My wife tells me that my communication has suffered from having picked up his (often parenthetical) style.

However, even with all the books that have been published since, some of the sermons I’ve sat through, the controversies that amnesiacs keep recycling, and the draughts of hot air off the internet, I haven’t come across anything better than what this article managed to set out in just 27 pages.  The problem is, it doesn’t look like anyone has read those 27 pages.  I know they seem dry, but for those of my family and friends who know who wrote them, have you read them?  I’ve met plenty of people ready to criticise and even jeer at that author for his views, but have so far only met critics that haven’t read what he said.  I’m pretty safe if you try Googling the title – you won’t find my source, but you might get this:

Google Righteousness

Many very well read people have tried to set out what they think the Bible is saying on the point, but when a friend pointed me to this article outlining a controversy between NT Wright and John Piper and when I saw a YouTube clip of John Piper having a go, and got tweets from respected sources telling me that people’s faith could be undermined, I thought the time had come to try and communicate some Biblical points that have helped me, and might be humbly offered to help others too.  If people aren’t going to read the original, why not outline what it says as positive truth rather than bicker about what others are saying?  If it’s so good, why not try to make it more accessible?

The question is, can I?  For all the people whose full time job it is to teach these things, I’m not hugely impressed with the outcome.  In some places the comparison chart in the article can be ‘ticked’ on both sides, but neither is a very good summary, some points are wrong, they trip up on semantics and even together they may miss the whole picture.  I respect the learning of both – one was a professor at Wycliffe Hall, and the other’s books are read worldwide and they could both teach me much.  There are other greats such as Luther and Calvin to whom we owe a huge amount and whose comments are fiercely defended.  However, one only has to read him to realise that Luther wasn’t quite on the button all the time, and the same can be said for some of Calvin’s conclusions – leaving outlooks that still hang around unjudged to this day.  I am painfully aware I’m only a Surveyor trying to translate for a dead man while on the train to and from work, so my limitations are great.

Great also is my time poverty. I no longer have large chunks of relaxed time like I had on that holiday in Kenya.  I only woke up a short time ago and in a short time I shall be at my desk at work.  That’s swiftly followed by the reverse – I only left work a short time ago, and in a short time I shall be asleep. Just this post took me a couple of days to put together.

I’ll have to work with what I’ve got, and remember the overall picture that I was only born a short time ago, and in a short while (if the Lord doesn’t return before), I shall be asleep.

So get on with it, Bacon.  I’ll leave us with Albert Midlane’s hymn which will do us for now – best sung to ‘Deep Harmony in my opinion.  That link has sound.


1 THE perfect righteousness of God
Is witnessed in the Saviour’s blood;
‘Tis in the cross of Christ we trace
His righteousness, yet wondrous grace.

2 God could not pass the sinner by,
Justice demands that he should die;
But in the cross of Christ we see
How God can save, yet righteous be.

3 The judgment fell on Jesus’ head,
‘Twas in His blood sin’s debt was paid;
Stern Justice can demand no more,
And Mercy can dispense her store.

4 The sinner who believes is free,
Can say, “The Saviour died for me:”
Can point to the atoning blood,
And say, “This made my peace with God.”

More to come.


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