Anna Karenina, Observations on chapters 1 & 2 (An adulterer incapable of lying)


, ,

Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina begins with a strangely comic scene. The house has been thrown into confusion, because the wife, Dolly, has discovered that her husband Stiva (Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky) has committed adultery with their former French governess. Dolly has threatened to leave. The entire house is in turmoil and the children are running about wild.

It is the sort of scene which should be painful and sad, but Tolstoy manages to make it seem ridiculous because the emotional weight in the story is on Stiva. We watch the progress of events from over Stiva’s shoulders. Stiva is not the narrator, but Stiva provides the point-of-view. And Stiva, as we will learn, feels no moral compunction over his conduct; only some distress that his wife is so worked-up.

We pick up Stiva three days into the quarrel and find him waking in his study having had a marvelous dream of a splendid evening. He is disappointed to find himself in a problem with his wife, but he is not described as moral broken.

When he thinks over his quarrel, he chides himself — not for adultery — but for a smile which slipped on his face while responding to his wife. Stiva think the trouble was the smile — he did not manage his wife correctly. That he should not have cheated on his wife is not a concern.

In the second chapter, Tolstoy underscores the distance and irony by stating that Stiva was “incapable of lying”.

This is a brilliant statement: I have known businessmen who were scrupulous in their business dealings and who had a mistress who was a secret to his wife. He considered himself perfectly honest and yet the primary relationship in his life was beset with a lie. Here is Stiva, certain he is utterly truthful — and yet he has betrayed his wife.

He then repents of not doing a better job of hiding his affair from his wife. But after all it could not be his fault because he was a desirable 34 year old man and his wife no longer attracted him sexually. How could he blamed for such a circumstance? Why was his wife so unreasonable?

Then as he considers the matter further, he realizes that he was not even the primary actor — how could he help it?

And everyone in his household was on his side — even though it was his fault.

But a ray of hope falls on Stiva when he learns his sister Anna will come visit and she can fix everything.

Tolstoy has never said, Love or hate any of these people. What he does do is draw out the moral compass of the reader. By forcing the scene through Stiva’s perspective, we are kept at bay from Dolly’s emotional world. Caring about adultery — after you’ve had five children — sounds unnecessary, perhaps in bad taste.

But the reader must do something with this conflict between the horror experienced by Dolly and the lightheartedness of Stiva.

If Tolstoy had started with Dolly, it would be easy to see Stiva as villain. But Stiva cannot possibly be a villain and be so happy. And all of the staff is on his side. Stiva is only following his heart, and Dolly is trying to limit his happiness.

The scene is comic because it is from Stiva’s perspective, but that only makes it more troubling if we consider Dolly. Now to feel sympathy for Dolly, we’ll need to know more of her. At present she is only upset and distant. She will have nothing to do with her husband. She is going to leave to her family.

I don’t know how Tolstoy is going to unfold this tension; I have only read two chapters.

Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.4


, , , , , ,

He comes to the next image: the wind blowing upon the garden so that the spice may disburse:

But to what end must these winds blow upon the garden?

‘That the spices thereof may flow out.’

The end of this blowing is, you see, ‘that the spices thereof may flow out.’ Good things in us lie dead and bound up, unless the Spirit let them out. We ebb and flow, open and shut, as the Spirit blows upon us; without blowing, no flowing. There were gracious good things in the church, but they wanted blowing up and further spreading, whence we may observe, that,

On this he makes three observations:

Obs. 1. We need not only grace to put life into us at the first, but likewise grace to quicken and draw forth that grace that we have. This is the difference betwixt man’s blowing and the Spirit’s. Man, when he blows, if grace be not there before, spends all his labour upon a dead coal, which he cannot make take fire. But the Spirit first kindles a holy fire, and then increases the flame. 

This image of a flame of grace in the Christian’s soul is a conceit which Sibbes uses elsewhere in his writing. He writes of our love being “enflamed,” “Come what will, all is welcome, when we are inflamed with the love of Christ; and the more we suffer, the more we find his love.” Of the flame of faith, “Prayer is the messenger, the ambassador of faith, the flame of faith.”

True faith has a divine “spark”: 

Christ will not quench the smoking flax. First, because this spark is from heaven, it is his own, it* is kindled by his own spirit. And secondly, it tendeth to the glory of his powerful grace in his children, that he preserveth light in the midst of darkness,—a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption.

There is an especial blessing in that little spark; ‘when wine is found in a cluster, one saith, Destroy it not; for there is a blessing in it,’ Isa. 65:8.

This image of true faith and love being a flame or spark is quite common Sibbes and seems to direct his thinking. His sensitivity to the imagery contrasts with the manner in which much contemporary preaching would function in its desire to be “precise”. However, that precision comes at a cost of truncating the text. Yes there is a danger in run-away “allegorization”, but there is also a danger in turning poetical texts in technical manuals.

Obs. 2. Whence we see further, that it is not enough to be good in ourselves, but our goodness must flow out; that is, grow more strong, useful to continue and stream forth for the good of others. We must labour to be, as was said of John, burning and shining Christians, John 5:35. For Christ is not like a box of ointment shut up and not opened, but like that box of ointment that Mary poured out, which perfumes all the whole house with the sweetness thereof. For the Spirit is herein like wind; it carries the sweet savour of grace to others. 

And finally, God’s goodness continues with us. I like Sibbes’ image here, “to trade”, to continue in business:

Obs. 3. Hence we see, also, that where once God begins, he goes on, and delights to add encouragement to encouragement, to maintain new setters up in religion, and doth not only give them a stock of grace at the beginning, but also helps them to trade. He is not only Alpha, but Omega, unto them, the beginning and the ending, Rev. 1:8. He doth not only plant graces, but also watereth and cherisheth them. Where the Spirit of Christ is, it is an encouraging Spirit; for not only it infuseth grace, but also stirs it up, that we may be ready prepared for every good work, otherwise we cannot do that which we are able to do. The Spirit must bring all into exercise, else the habits of grace will lie asleep. We need a present Spirit to do every good; not only the power to will, but the will itself; and not only the will, but the deed, is from the Spirit, which should stir us up to go to Christ, that he may stir up his own graces in us, that they may flow out.

This encouragement is necessary and useful, because in the midst of ministry, in the midst of merely trying to continue in this world as a follower of Christ, we think ourselves forgotten, we feel that we are on our in a land without water; but there in that seemingly forbidden place there is help. Let the wind blow upon the Garden.

Sibbes does not merely give doctrine information, but for use:

Use. Let us labour, then, in ourselves to be full of goodness, that so we may be fitted to do good to all. As God is good, and does good to all, so must we strive to be as like him as may be; in which case, for others’ sakes, we must pray that God would make the winds to blow out fully upon us, ‘that our spices may flow out’ for their good. For a Christian in his right temper thinks that he hath nothing good to purpose, but that which does good to others.

The Immutable Mercy of Jesus Christ


, , , ,

Thomas Adams sermon from the early 17th century.

The sermon is based upon the text, Hebrews 13:8, Jesus, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.

The most remarkable things about Adams’ sermons lies in the turn of phrase. The substance is excellent, the theology correct. But the real brilliance lies in way he uses words.

In the first section he considers, “The center is Jesus Christ” (to the all of eternity).

The blessed restorer of all, of more than all that Adam lost; for we have gotten more by his regenerating grace than we lost by Adam’s degenerating sin.

When speaking of the matter of the Scripture, Adams gives a description which would put Neo-orthodoxy (which Adams obviously could not know), on its head. There is no Christ above Scripture:

This Jesus Christ is the center this text; and not only this, but of the whole Scripture. The sum of divinity is the Scripture; the sum of the Scripture is the Gospel; the sum of the Gospel is Jesus Christ; in a word, There is nothing contain in the word of God, but God the Word.

Adams has a long section in which he contrasts the unchangeable Jesus Christ with the fleeting, changing world, where even the greatest things will fail us.  In touching on mutability, he considers a topic which was deeply pondered in his age (and a topic which I rarely see considered outside the occasional sermon).

Consider this paragraph about wealth; I can’t imagine it being seriously considered in a business school. (Although as an attorney, I more than once see wealth flee where someone thought it secure):

Wealth is like a bird; it hopes all day form man to man, as that doth from tree to tree; and none can say where it will root or rest at night. It is a like a vagrant fellow, which because he big-boned and able to work, a man takes in a-doors and cherisheth; and perhaps for a while he take pains; but when he spies opportunity, the fugitive servant is gone, and takes away more with him than all service came to. The world  may seem to stand thee in some stead for a season, but at last it irrevocably runs day, and carries with it thy joys, thy goods, as Rachel stole Laban’s idols; thy peace and content of heart goes with it, and thou are left desperate.

Our Master, Christ, is constant. We are inconstant, irresolute — although we are told not to be double-minded men:

The double-minded man is a stranger in his own house: all his purposes are but guest, his heart is the inn. If they lodge there fore a night, it is all; they are gone in the morning. Many motions come crowding together upon him; and like a great press at a narrow door, whiles strive, none enter.

He then turns to the constancy of Christ in contrast to the variability of men. Here he finds a comfort in the perseverance of the saint — because it rests upon the act of God:

If God preordained a Savior for man, before he had either made man, or man marred himself,  — Paul says to Timothy, ‘He hath saved us according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2 Tim. 1.9 — then surely he meant that nothing should separate us from the eternal love in that Savior. Rom. viii. 39 Whom he chose before they were created, and when they were lost redeemed, he will not forsake being sanctified.

When he speaks of the continued power of death of Christ to save, he writes,

This is sure comfort to us; though he died almost 1629 years ago, his blood is not yet dry. His woulds are as fresh to do us good, as they were to those saints he that beheld them bleeding on the cross. The virtue of his merits is not abated, though many hands of faith have taken large portions out of his treasury. The river of his grace, ‘which makes glad the City of God,’ runs over its banks, though infinite souls have drank hearty draughts, and satisfied their thirst. But because we cannot  apprehend this for ourselves of ourselves, therefore, he hath promised to send us the ‘Spirit of truth, who will dwell with us’ (John xiv. 17) and apply this to us forever.

And here is the plea for repentance:

Time may change thee, though it cannot change him. His is not (but thou art) subject to mutation. This I dare boldly say: he that repent but one day before he dies, shall find Christ the same in mercy and forgiveness. Wickedness itself is glad to hear this; but let the sinner be faithful on his part, as God is merciful on his part; let him be sure that he repent one day before he dies, wherefore he cannot be sure, except he repent every day; for no man knows his last day….

Thou has lost yesterday negligently, thou losest to-day willfully; and therefore mayest lose forever inevitably. It is just with God to punish two-day’s neglect with the loss of the third. The hand of faith may be withered, the spring of repentance dried up, the eye of hope blinded, the foot of charity lame. To-day, then, hear his voice, and make him thine. Yesterday is lost, to-day may be gotten; but that once gone, and thou with it, thou are dead and judged, it will do thee small comfort that, ‘Jesus Christ is the same forever.’

And the conclusion:

Trust then, Christ with thy children; when thy friend shall fail, usury bear no date, oppression be condemned to hell, thyself rotten to the dust, the world itself turned and burned into cinders, still ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for-ever.’ Now then, as ‘grace and peace are from him which is and which was and this is to come;” so glory and honor be to him, which is, and which was, and this is to come; even to Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’

Bible Contradiction? When David fled to Nob, what was the priest’s name?

The Domain for Truth

Note: Before we look at today’s post I want to share an article by apologist J. Warner Wallace who wrote “Rules to Evaluate Alleged Bible Contradictions and Difficulties (Free Bible Insert)” two years ago but I only recent discovered it through Twitter.  I think they are complimentary with our post, “How to Handle Bible Contradictions.”  I appreciate detective Wallace sharing a lot of our posts refuting Bible contradictions.

For today’s post we will tackle the question the Skeptic Annotated Bible asked: When David fled to Nob, what was the priest’s name?

Here are the two answers which the skeptic believes shows a Bible contradiction:


“Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?”” (1 Samuel 21:1)


“And He *said to them, “Have you never…

View original post 1,084 more words

What is hope


, , ,

I previously posted notes for a sermon on hope. The actual sermon as given appears below.  While the theme is the same, the presentation is rather different. I trust it may be of some encouragement to someone:

It was delivered in the Joint Heirs Fellowship Group at Grace Com. Church on March 31, 2019

Nothing is so powerful against the devil


, ,

Nothing is so powerfully effective against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy one’s self with God’s word, to speak about it and meditate42 on it, in the way that Psalm 1[:2] calls those blessed who “meditate on God’s law day and night.” Without doubt, you will offer up no more powerful incense or savor against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing, or think about them. Indeed, this is the true holy water and sign that scares the devil to run away.43

42 Luther’s word translates as “thinking,” without necessarily implying a methodological contemplative prayer-reflection used in monastic life or specific spiritual practices. Here Luther presents an invitation for the ordinary Christian to learn a habit of prayer and in faith engage the word as the compass in one’s life.

43 In Luther’s medieval world, it was common to use “holy water,” das rechte Weihwasser (Ger.), aqua illa sancificat (Lat.), or “sanctified water/water that sanctifies” in, e.g., exorcisms to drive away evil spirits.

 Kirsi I. Stjerna, “The Large Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther,” in Word and Faith, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, vol. 2, The Annotated Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 292.

Learning to see rightly

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20–23, ESV)

More than the implications of national politics, or the far more subtle pull of tribal allegiance, everyday gospel living is at stake. If you’re a pastor, the allure of speaking into popular topics with your tribe’s language is ever-present. If you’re a church member, then just making it through the week without feeling like you’ve let Jesus down again haunts your dreams. Both of us need to embrace the loving rebuke

Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.3 (The Church is a Garden)


, , ,

The previous post on this sermon may be found here. 

Next Sibbes asks

Quest. But, why is the church compared to a garden?

His general answer draws upon a principle which is at use in Jesus’ parables. When Jesus came to provide an example, an illustration of a proposition, he draws on what is available: a sower, a bird, grass, flowers, fishing. In Luke 12:24, Jesus says, “Consider the ravens”. In Matthew 6:26, they are “birds” to consider. 

And so Sibbes says that God here uses “garden” so that when we are in a garden, we can think about heavenly things. And when we are in a field, the same. When we think of a spouse or sister, a father or son, there are things to draw out our meditation. 

He then gives a series of 8 reasons why ‘garden’ in particular has been chosen:

First, “Because a garden is taken out of the common waste ground, to be appropriated to a more particular use. So the church of Christ is taken out of the wilderness of this waste world, to a particular use.” The true value of the church is that it has been chose by Christ.

Second, a garden depends upon what is planted — otherwise it will only be weeds (and having a garden I will attest to this truth). “So weeds and passions grow too rank naturally, but nothing grows in the church of itself, but as it is set by the hand of Christ, who is the author, dresser, and pruner of his garden.”

Third, a garden is curated: what is present has been chose for use and delight. “So there is no grace in the heart of a Christian, but it is useful, as occasion serves, both to God and man.”

Fourth, many different things will grow in a garden, a variety of flowers and spices. The Spirit of God raises up many different graces in the heart of a Christian. 

Fifth, a garden is a delightful place to be: and the church is a delight to Christ.

Sixth, “as in gardens there had wont to have fountains and streams which run through their gardens, (as paradise had four streams which ran through it); so the church is Christ’s paradise; and his Spirit is a spring in the midst of it, to refresh the souls of his upon all their faintings, and so the soul of a Christian becomes as a watered garden.” 

Seventh, “So also, ‘their fountains were sealed up,’ Cant. 4:12; so the joys of the church and particular Christians are, as it were, sealed, up. A stranger, it is said, ‘shall not meddle with this joy of the church,’ Prov. 14:10.” Sibbes has also provided sermons “A Fountain Sealed” and “The Fountain Opened”

Eighth, a garden takes attention “weeding and dressing.” The Church needs the constant of Christ. 

Knowing these things, we have some direction on how to live. If a garden is kept separated from a common field and is tended by the gardener, our lives should reflect this separation onto the gardener. We should you labor to produce those things which are most delightful to the gardener.

The third application is quite interesting in light of ethnic contention which seems to be part of the Christian church in America, “And then, let us learn hence, not to despise any nation or person, seeing God can take out of the waste wilderness whom he will, and make the desert an Eden.”

Fourth, we should be thankful that Christ has taken an interest in us, to tend us so.

Fifth, “For it is the greatest honour in this world, for God to dignify us with such a condition, as to make us fruitful.” And as we meditate upon the image of being fruitful, we recall the vast use of this image and the application of it throughout Scripture: from Eden to the vine John 15. The field burned in Hebrews 6 and the tree cut down in Matthew 3.

Finally, if the church is the garden of God, we can rest secure knowing that God will care for his garden. Since the grace which grows in us is of God, we can rest knowing that God will tend to his own. This will bring us comfort and hope. 

In the mean time, let us labour to keep our hearts as a garden, that nothing that defileth may enter. In which respects the church is compared to a garden, upon which Christ commands the north and south wind, all the means of grace, to blow.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 10–12.

Housman, When I watch the living meet


, , , , ,

Number XII, A Shopshire Lad

When I watch the living meet,
And the moving pageant file
Warm and breathing through the street
Where I lodge a little while,

If the heats of hate and lust
In the house of flesh are strong,
Let me mind the house of dust
Where my sojourn shall be long.

In the nation that is not
Nothing stands that stood before;
There revenges are forgot,
And the hater hates no more;

Lovers lying two and two
Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
Never turns him to the bride.

Rhyme: The stanzas rhyme A-B/A-B, which is a typical “ballad” form.

Meter: The meter is interesting. Other common ballad structure would be iambic lines of 8-6-8-6 syllables, such as number XVIII

Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave

Or, number II, 8-8-8-8

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough

Each of these forms give a different feel. Number XII uses 7 syllable lines. This forces the first syllable to be accented. The effect is to give the feel a forced march: the step is quite, the pace insistent.

This matches the imagery of the first stanza: There is a march along the street “the moving pageant file”. The poet is watching a parade pass-by: the whole world is marching from this world into the next.

Basic theme: Be mindful of death, because it is coming and will bring all this life to naught.

Perspective: The poet writes in the first person. He realizes himself to be temporarily alive. He thinks of what will happen when he (and everyone else) dies.



When I watch the living meet,
And the moving pageant file
Warm and breathing through the street

A lodger:

Where I lodge a little while,

Heat/inside a hot house:

If the heats of hate and lust
In the house of flesh are strong,


Let me mind the house of dust
Where my sojourn shall be long.

The imagery is interesting, because it picks up on the imagery of the parade and heat. The parade could easily be on a dirt street — the poem was published in 1896. The combination of dirt, heat and parade naturally suggest “dust”. Dust alludes to “dust-to-dust”. Here is the selection from the Book of Common Prayer, which Housman would have heard:

Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the Body by some standing by, the Minister shall say,

Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

In the nation that is not
Nothing stands that stood before;

There revenges are forgot,
And the hater hates no more;

Love, marriage, sleep, death:

Lovers lying two and two
Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
Never turns him to the bride.

The heat, passions and pageantry of life, and even more the brevity of it all, are contrasted with the silence and endlessness of death. He makes the observation that while he lives, he must come to the realization that he will die and all this will be nothing, will be silent, will be unknown to the citizens of that “nation”. Even the most profound of relationships, marriage, will have no effect upon one after death.

What does not happen here is the most interesting: Housman draws no conclusion, he merely observes. He has no answer to death.

There is an implicit argument for stoicism:

If the heats of hate and lust
In the house of flesh are strong,
[The] Let me mind the house of dust
Where my sojourn shall be long.

If I am feeling passion (hate and lust); remember, these passions will soon become nothing. The effect of such a realization would be to deflate the importance of the present passion. If I am filled with hate, right now, remember this “revenge [will be] forgot.” If I am filled with sexual desire (lust), even that — even if there is a marriage — that will have no effect upon in the very near future.

The poem merely counsels, at most, resignation and detachment from the present loves and hates. In this sounds a stoic theme (such this from book 4 of Aurelius’ Meditations):

It is a vulgar, but still a useful help towards contempt of death, to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to life. What more then have they gained than those who have died early? Certainly they lie in their tombs somewhere at last, Cadicianus, Fabius, Julianus, Lepidus, or any one else like them, who have carried out many to be buried, and then were carried out themselves. Altogether the interval is small between birth and death; and consider with how much trouble, and in company with what sort of people and in what a feeble body this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?

It is very difficult for this resignation to bring one to any action. Yes, it may alleviate at times the pain of some current event: who cares, I’ll soon be dead. But that also has a tendency to drain lovely things of their beauty:

Lovers lying two and two
Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
Never turns him to the bride.

This offers a freedom from fear of vengeance,

There revenges are forgot,
And the hater hates no more;

But it also robs us love. It is good to contrast this with Shakespeare’s sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d.).