Trees, William Carlos William


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Crooked, black tree

on your little grey-black hillock,

ridiculously raised one step toward

the infinite summits of the night:

even you the few grey stars

draw upward into a vague melody

of harsh threads.


Bent as you are from straining

against the bitter horizontals of

a north wind – there below you

how easily the long yellow notes

of poplars flow upward in a descending

scale, each note secure in its own

posture – singularly woven.


all voices are blent willing

against the heaving contra-bass

of the dark but you alone

warp yourself passionately to one side

in your eagerness.

At one level this poem is silly: there is no music actually playing. The trees and flowers and stars are playing no melody. There is no blending of voices. A tree is certainly never passionate nor eager.

There is certainly something striking and picturesque about a tree bent against the wind. It is a common symbol of resolution before contrary forces.

Then what is the point of such a poem? What does Williams do with these words – if anything?

First, the poem permits us to see something of the world. We are so busy with our lives, that we easily fail to take notice or thought of what is before us. We live with pre-digested entertainment, carefully constructed to make sure we know exactly how we are supposed to feel.  We use things for what they can do for us. We become the center of our world.

But this poem does nothing for us: it will not make anyone richer. There is no secret embedded within. But also it is not particularly easy. It is not digested for us: it makes some demands up the reader with his observations.

The poem re-presents a moment of observation: He saw a tree on a hill bent against the wind and standing beneath the stars. The moment must have been lovely.

The measure and harmony between the earth and sky is striking.

In fact, as he looked from the poplars below to the crooked black tree on the hill and up to the stars, he sees a harmony and proportion between the trees and stars and the darkness. All of it comes together into a whole.

Hence, there is a music between the parts. It is not just that the scene is aesthetically pleasing; it is that the scene is harmonious: there is a sympathy from the trees to the stars.

Look at how he notes the trees reach to the sky:


ridiculously raised one step toward

the infinite summits of the night


The phrase “ridiculously raised” is the key: Yes, there is an infinite space from the tree to the stars. The tree cannot possibly hope to reach the stars; it is “ridiculous,” and yet the tree reaches.


The tree on its hill has been shaped from the conflict here on earth:


Bent as you are from straining

against the bitter horizontals of

a north wind


The tree becomes even more comic and endearing. It reaches to the sky while it strains against its own conflict. And then below, there is a place of peace: the yellow poplars. How we know the poplars are yellow in the dark and starlight is not explained. In fact, it is the music, not the trees which are yellow: long yellow notes.


The tree now occupies a place between heaven and earth: the earth comes to the tree; the tree reaches to the sky.


The objects are all singing a counter melody to the darkness; those things that are hang against what is not:


all voices are blent willing

against the heaving contra-bass

of the dark


But the tree occupies a unique space:


            but you alone

warp yourself passionately to one side

in your eagerness.


The tree again is comic: it is passionate and eager; it even warps itself in its straining so.


And so the poem brings us in a moment of Willams’ revery.  We can see a moment through his eyes from 100 years ago and look at this tree.


But is there is something more than just a quirky thought of a long dead physician? There is a way of seeing the world in harmony and sympathy. There is a pattern which runs through creation and engenders an affection for even a crooked black tree.


I remember being in college and trying to gain some important proposition out of a poem. But I now I understand something about poems like this which I did not understand then. Looking at the world as Williams did so long ago; imaging that moment of an evening by the trees, beneath the sky; has its own effect.


We often wonder and worry what effect this or that photograph or word or scene or videogame or movie or what not will do to someone. The world is stuffed full of wickedness and corruption and truly hateful things. And all such things have a corrosive effect upon us all.


But moments of beauty, the delight in the common grace which God has bestowed upon us all from his unending wealth and lavish care, have their own effect. I think we are better for such observations.


C.S. Lewis speaks of his salvation coming in through the idea of joy: why is there joy in a brutal meaningless world? Why is there beauty? How is that explained? Why is there harmony and sympathy through the creation?



Review: Christian Worldview by Herman Bavinck

The Domain for Truth

Herman Bavinck. Christian Worldview.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, October 21, 2019.  144 pp.

Purchase: Westminster Amazon

5 out of 5

This is the much anticipated first time English translation of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s Christian Worldview.  For those who are unfamiliar with Bavinck he was the chief systematic theologian of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and whose contribution to theology has enjoyed greater appreciation today.  This book addresses the constant changing late modern world and also the disharmony that unbiblical worldviews were causing, namely a disharmony between our thinking and feeling, will and acting, religion and culture and science and life.  I found it amazing that the first and second edition of this work was written over a hundred years ago, in 1904 and 1913 respectively.  Yet some of the philosophical issues and competing worldview that Bavinck addressed in this work are still with…

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John Bunyan, A Treatise on the Fear of God.1


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A Treatise On The Fear Of God (summary)

 “Blessed Is Every One That Feareth The Lord.” — Psa. 128: 1

 “Fear God.” — Rev. 14: 7

Introduction: The Direction to Fear God is Found Throughout the Scripture.

A         The Scripture presents us with God the Creator and Sustainer

1          He is incomprehensible power.

2          He has knowledge of all as judge.

B         Thus, he will either be Savior or Judge

1          Thus, “we are in reason and duty bound to give the more earnest heed to the things that shall be spoken, and be the more careful to receive them, and put them in practice”

2          All our concern of him must be with godly fear.

Part One: What Does Fear Mean?

Bunyan proposes two basic propositions.

FIRST. Then by this word fear we are to understand even God himself, who is the object of our fear.
SECOND. By this word fear we are to understand the Word of God, the rule and director of our fear. Now to speak to this word fear, as it is thus taken.

This Word Fear As Taken For God Himself.

I          Of this word “fear,” AS IT RESPECTETH GOD HIMSELF, who is the object of our fear.

A         By this word fear, as I said, we are to understand God himself, who is the object of our fear:

1          Jacob swore by God as “the fear of Isaac” Gen. 31:42 & 53.

2          There are two aspects of God as “fear”

a          God may well be called the fear of his people, not only because they have by his grace made him the object of their fear,

b          but because of the dread and terrible majesty that is in him. “

c          He is a mighty God, a great and terrible, and with God is terrible majesty” (Dan. 7:28, 10:17; Neh. 1: 5, 4:14, 9:32; Job. 37:22). Who knows the power of his anger?

B         There are these things that make God to be the fear of his people.

1          First. His presence is dreadful,

a          When God comes to bring a soul news of mercy and salvation, even that visit, that presence of God, is fearful. E.g., Jacob at Beersheba Gen. 28:10-17; Gen. 32:30.

b          Man crumbles to dust at the presence of God; yea, though he shows himself to us in his robes of salvation. We have read how dreadful and how terrible even the presence of angels have been unto men, and that when they have brought them good tidings from heaven (Jud. 13:22; Mat. 28: 4; Mar. 16: 5, 6). [If Angels are fearful, how much more God.] Dan. 10:16-17

2          And there are three things that in an eminent manner make his presence dreadful to us.

a          The first is God’s own greatness and majesty; the discovery of this, or of himself thus, even as no poor mortals are able to conceive of him, is altogether unsupportable. Rev. 1:17; Job 13:21-22….The presence of a king is dreadful to the subject, yea, though he carries it never so condescendingly; if then there be so much glory and dread in the presence of the king, what fear and dread must there be, think you, in the presence of the eternal God?

b          By the presence of God, when we have it indeed, even our best things, our comeliness, our sanctity and righteousness, all do immediately turn to corruption and polluted rags. The brightness of his glory dims them as the clear light of the shining sun puts out the glory of the fire or candle, and covers them with the shadow of death. Is. 6:1-5

c          They “shall fear the Lord and his goodness” (Hos. 3: 5). The goodness as well as the greatness of God doth beget in the heart of his elect an awful reverence of his majesty. Jer. 5:22, 33:8-9; Job 42:5-6

Excursus:  Alas! there is a company of poor, light, frothy professors in the world, that carry it under that which they call the presence of God, more like to antics, than sober sensible Christians; yea, more like to a fool of a play, than those that have the presence of God. [They would never treat an important human being like that.]

[Such people would object] But would you not have us rejoice at the sight and sense of the forgiveness of our sins?

Answer:  Yes; but yet I would have you, and indeed you shall, when God shall tell you that your sins are pardoned indeed, “rejoice with trembling” (Psa. 2:11; Dt. 28:58)

2          Second. As the presence, so the name of God, is dreadful and fearful:

a          [A name refers to what a thing is]

b          And therefore it is that the name of God is the object of our fear, because by his name his nature is expressed: “Holy and reverend is his name” (Psa. 111: 9); Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 86:11.

i           Indeed, the name of God is a fearful name, and should always be reverenced by his people: Ps. 102:15.

ii         Yea, when Christ comes to judge the world, he will give reward to his servants the prophets, and to his saints, “and to them that fear his name, small and great” (Rev. 11:18). Now, I say, since the name of God is that by which his nature is expressed, and since he naturally is so glorious and incomprehensible, his name must needs be the object of our fear, and we ought always to have a reverent awe of God upon our hearts at what time soever we think of, or hear his name, but most of all, [in worship and prayer]

3          Third. As the presence and name of God are dreadful and fearful in the church, so is his worship and service.

a          I say his worship, or the works of service to which we are by him enjoined while we are in this world, are dreadful and fearful things. Ps. 2:11, 5:7; Ex. 15:11; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12.

i That which makes the worship of God so fearful a thing, is, for that it is the worship of GOD: all manner of service carries more or less dread and fear along with it, according as the quality or condition of the person is to whom the worship and service is done.

ii          Besides, this glorious Majesty is himself present to behold his worshippers in their worshipping him.

iii         Above all things, God is jealous of his worship and service.

iv         The judgments that sometimes God hath executed upon men for their want of godly fear, while they have been in his worship and service, put fear and dread upon his holy appointments.  

I          Nadab and Abihu were burned to death with fire from heaven, because they attempted to offer false fire upon God’s altar, and the reason rendered why they were so served, was, because God will be sanctified in them that come nigh him (Lev. 10: 1-3).

II         Eli’s sons, for want of this fear, when they ministered in the holy worship of God, were both slain in one day by the sword of the uncircumcised Philistines (see 1 Samuel 2).

III       Uzzah was smitten, and died before the Lord, for but an unadvised touching of the ark, when the men forsook it (1Ch. 13: 9, 10).

IV        Ananias and Sapphira his wife, for telling a lie in the church, when they were before God, were both stricken dead upon the place before them all, because they wanted the fear and dread of God’s majesty, name, and service, when they came before him (Acts 5).

V         This therefore should teach us to conclude, that, next to God’s nature and name, his service, his instituted worship, is the most dreadful thing under heaven. His name is upon his ordinances, his eye is upon the worshippers, and his wrath and judgment upon those that worship not in his fear. For this cause some of those at Corinth were by God himself cut off, and to others he has given the back, and will again be with them no more

Excursus: Three sorts of people rebuked.

  1. Such as regard not to worship God at all; be sure they have no reverence of his service, nor fear of his majesty before their eyes.
  2. This rebukes such as count it enough to present their body in the place where God is worshipped, not minding with what heart, or with what spirit they come thither.
  3. This also rebukes those that care not, so they worship, how they worship; how, where, or after what manner they worship God. Those, I mean, whose fear towards God “is taught by the precept of men.” They are hypocrites; their worship also is vain, and a stink in the nostrils of God.


Thus I conclude this first thing, namely, that God is called our dread and fear.


Augustus Franck, Nicodemus; Or, a Treatise on the Fear of Man, Chapter III



In chapter 3, Franck gives 75 observations on the effect of fear of man. Below, I have tried to organize and summarize his argument.


Of the signs and effects which discover the fear of man

1 “A fearful man knows to do good, but doth it not, for fear of incurring the hatred and enmity of others.” His who desire is to not be separated from the common opinion or the crowd. He will always be a “coward.”

a He will be reluctant to be “convinced of the truth,” for fear of consequences.

b If convinced,

i He will keep quiet among those who don’t approve.

ii He will only speak among those who do approve. He makes sure not to be seen which such people, when others who may disapprove are bout.

iii He will always be primarily concerned with those around him.

c In conflict, the fearful man will always seek to use arguments which will be acceptable to those who already disavow the Word of God. He will not trust the Word of God to be sufficient to defend him (and itself).

2 This fearfulness will make him reluctant to learn, because he doesn’t want to even consider things which might cause him trouble.

3 This fear also makes him restrain his judgments and match the culture: even when the culture is wrong. This leads him to be in places and positions which are not fitting.

a If he does address a wrong, he will only do so among those who cannot respond to him.

b It will also lead him to gossip and speaking behind another’s back.

c He trusts more in political power than in the power of God.

d He won’t address problems with other ministers who hold to popular if untruthful positions.

4 He will also seek to limit others to that which is safe.

5 If you put this man in a pulpit, he will be “like a fox” and always be looking for some sort of “escape” so that he cannot be caught in an unpleasant place.

a “Being got into the pulpit, he reproves and exclaims boldly; but he denies that in so doing he meant any particular person.”

b “He saith always with the slothful, “There is a lion in the way;” for he fears, should he alter anything of long received customs, he might bring himself into trouble.”

c So he is always hedging his position with this and that opinion. He must also avoid to clear an application, for fear it might give offense to someone.

d Being fearful, he can never set anything aright, because he has already compromised in so many places.

6 His fearfulness of words leads to fear in actions. He will not do things which might cause a stir – unless he has enough social backing to make it safe. He will complain or excuse that this is “not the right time.”

7 He uses a false concern for “peace” or “prudence” as an excuse to avoid the truth and its effects. This also makes him a false or inconstant friend.

8 “He is afraid of burning his fingers, and therefore rather employeth another to do it for him: he makes the arrows, but others must shoot them.”

9 “He is very apt to believe any false reports against the faithful children of God; and because his heart is tossed with fear, he is very forward in warning them to take heed to themselves, and by his imprudence damps and stifles the cheerfulness of their holy faith.”

Augustus Franck, Nicodemus; Or a Treatise on the Fear of Man, Chapters 1 & 2



(Summary of the first two chapters)

CHAPTER ONE: What the fear of man is, and the several kinds of it

  1. Definition:
  2. Negatively: What it is not (for purposes of this treatise)
  3. “That natural bashfulness, whereby a man is apt to be dashed out of countenance in the doing or speaking any thing before those with whom he is not acquainted.”
  4. “That natural wariness, whereby a man, seeing one stronger than himself, or whom he believes to be an overmatch for him, is not forward to strive with him.”
  5. He is not referring to our common concerns with what another may do to or with us: “nor indeed any thing else, which in human affairs is called fear of man.”
  6. Positively
  7. This fear shows itself “in things relating to God.”
  8. Respecting unbelievers: “a notorious vice and abominable fruit of unbelief in the unregenerate”.
  9. It shows itself in: being kept from God in conversion and the subsequent work of God.
  10. They thus “conform[] to this world” – with all that entails in denying Christ.
  11. In the regenerate “who strive against it, and by faith, which is the victory that overcometh the world, at last entirely triumph over it.”
  13. In both regenerate and unregenerate, it “admits of certain degrees”.
  14. “God often makes his own servants and dearest children (as in other cases, so especially in this) sensible that they are but men.”
  15. Examples, Gen. 3:7-11; 1 Cor. 2:3
  16. God will also provide comfort to those who are his. Acts 18:9-10.
  17. Fear of man in the regenerate will be in conflict with the operation of faith. Accordingly, the regenerate must be sanctified even in this area.


  1. “The outward distinction of men makes no difference in the thing itself; for even kings, princes, and great men of the world, are no less subject to the enslaving fear of man, than those of a far lower and meaner condition.”


  1. The greater have more to lose.


  1. It is worse for a teacher to be afflicted with fear of man, because the teacher may then fail in his duty.




In a word, this fear of man, wheresoever it is found, is in itself a most heinous vice, and a kind of idolatry, arising from the spawn of an unbelieving heart, whereby we lay aside the fear of God from before our eyes, and think, speak, or do any evil, or leave thinking, speaking, or doing that which is good, for any consideration or regard of men; it being our duty simply to follow the word of God, and to eye the same as our rule and directory in all that we do or leave undone.


Chapter II: Of the sources and causes of the fear of man

The causes thereof are either internal or external.

  1. The internal are chiefly these:


  1. Unbelief, which is the spring and root of all vices.
  2. The love of the world, and of the things of the world, namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
  3. The want of true self-denial, which is always joined with the love of the world; or, when we fear lest men should prejudice us in our reputation, estates, ease, or in our bodies and life itself, if we should simply follow the guidance of the word of God.
  4. Fleshly wisdom derived from corrupt reason, which uses to measure divine things by its own standard.
  5. The false imagination we have of ourselves, and the prejudice settled in the mind, and making men believe they may be acceptable to God, though they should yield in several cases merely out of regard to man, without any leave from God’s word to do so.
  6. False humility, which is swayed more by human authority than by the word of God; and prompts us to refer all things to the judgments of others, who, as we pretend, understand them better than ourselves.
  7. The great deceitfulness of our own hearts, which can put so fair a colour upon all manner of sins, that we persuade ourselves we act very prudently, whilst we are influenced all this while by nothing but unbelief and fear of man.
  8. The desire or hope to be advanced to some place of honour in the world.
  9. The want of experience in the ways of God, which makes us hesitate in difficult cases, and indisposes the soul to rely wholly upon God, fearing lest he should let us fail or miscarry in them. This proceeds from our not having sufficiently learned how dear they are to God, who entirely trust in him; and what powerful assistance he affords them, to accomplish his own work in them.
  10. Fear of presumption, lest we should seem to tempt God in casting ourselves wholly upon him.
  11. Secret pride, which prompts us eagerly to desire a happy end, and visible success in all our undertakings; whereas indeed we should rest satisfied with an inward success and victory; that is, in having kept a good conscience towards God.
  12. Natural shyness, for it cannot be denied that some are more inclined to fearfulness than others. And from this natural weakness springs bashfulness, whereby many are hindered from performing that with cheerfulness, which a well-grounded faith requires of them.
  13. Neglect of prayer, which not only prevents us from obtaining a full conquest over the fear of man, but drives us down further into the stream of hypocrisy.


  1. The external causes are these following:


  1. The tyranny of many in power, who take upon them to bind and fetter the consciences both of teachers and hearers, being only concerned to preserve thereby public peace and tranquillity.
  2. The forwardness of our universities in their dubbing of heretics: for they no sooner perceive any breakings forth of the spirit of true Christianity, but they are sure to cast a slur upon it, by giving it an ill name, and all this under a cloak of their great zeal for their highly valued orthodoxy.
  3. The conduct of those that enter into holy orders whilst they are unholy themselves, and, after a loose education in the universities, engage now in the sacred function, for no other end than only mere temporal support
  4. The high regard and esteem we have for men. This blinds many to such a degree, that they cannot imagine that such great men, so eminent for wisdom and learning, should be so grossly mistaken and drawn aside.
  5. The specious and plausible reasonings of such as follow their corrupt reason more than the word of God.
  6. The frequent examples of such as are bound down by the fear of man as well as themselves.
  7. Worldly riches, that cast frequent and manifold hinderances in our way, and prevent us from pressing forwards incessantly in the simplicity of faith.
  8. Wife and children, who by their importunate way of arguing, and their unbelieving tattle and clamour, do weary out and overcome many.
  9. The honour and esteem we have already gained in the world. This makes us very loath to make others think, that hitherto we have deceived the world, and been in an error ourselves. To which may be added, that when a man is placed in some high post, he finds it a hard lesson to give it up, and suffer reproach with the people of God.
  10. The threats of others, especially of those in power.
  11. The fair promises of the world, which offers great things, if we will but declare that odd is even.
  12. Great and honourable acquaintance and friends, who, under the pretence of hearty love and kindness, are always cautioning us not to venture too far.
  13. Too great and too intimate a familiarity with the children of this world. Hereby many deliver up their spiritual weapons, and so disable themselves from reproving what is amiss in others with courage and presence of mind.
  14. The neglect of frequent conversation with true believers, who walk in the power of faith, and rather choosing those for our companions who are themselves enslaved by the fear of man.

Augustus Franck, Nicodemus; or, A Treatise Against the Fear of Man (Dedication)


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This treatise was written by Franck in 1701. I am working with an English translation dated 1831. I will seek to provide a condensed version of the whole, to permit one to follow the general course of the argument. Franck was a German pietist, 1663-1727.

An interesting aspect of Franck’s life, which is germane to the argument he makes in the dedication:

The following year he took the master’s degree, which carried the right to give philological and exegetical lectures on the Bible. He and Paul Anton were encouraged by Carpzov, another theology professor, to start a Collegium Philobiblicum for young masters and to fill one of the gaps in a university theological curriculum that was confined to dogmatic and polemical theology. This proved popular, but caused a personal crisis for Francke which came to a head in 1687. Teaching theology seemed to create a conflict between seeking professional distinction and seeking to serve others. To promote the former his uncle restored his Schabbel stipendium on the condition that Francke took instruction in biblical exegesis from Superintendent Sandhagen in Lüneburg. Here he underwent a vivid conversion experience. It began with anxiety as to whether the Christian claims for the authority of the Bible were any more reasonable than those of Jews for the Talmud and of Turks for the Koran. In a way that became normative for evangelicals, these doubts were resolved with the aid of Luther’s Preface to the Romans, with its doctrine that faith was a transforming work of God in humans; certainty was derived from an immediacy of experience which required no further evidence. Yet Francke’s problem of intellectual uncertainty was not Luther’s problem of forgiveness of sin, and while conversion resolved his dilemma of whether to serve others or scholarly reputation, it cut him off from the characteristic concerns of the Enlightenment. Francke’s experience also led him to an elaborately structured view of conversion in which the penitential struggle (Busskampf) was central.

 W. R. Ward, “Francke, August Hermann,” ed. Timothy Larsen et al., Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 238.

A note on pietism:

A movement in the Lutheran church in the 17th century, reacting against dead orthodoxy and aiming at a revival of piety and vital godliness. P. J. Spener, its chief mover, emphasized informal prayer meetings and Bible study. Pietism did not itself become an organized movement, but it had a profound influence on the early Moravians, and through them, on the awakening of missionary vision. It also greatly affected John Wesley, and through him, the English-speaking countries of the world. Indeed, it still influences much of modern-day evangelicalism. Its emphasis is a healthy one, so long as it is within the framework of the great objective truths of the gospel. If that proviso is neglected, it leads to a very basic denial of the faith—witness the fact that Halle University, founded on the principles of pietism, became a centre of such emphasis on individual experience that it produced the pure subjectiveness of Schleiermacher’s consciousness theology.*

Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 331.


To all Ministers and Teachers in Churches and Schools throughout Germany—Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, in the fellowship and communion of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved Brethren,

More especially hath my heart been touched to the quick, when from innumerable instances I have been convinced, that the fear of man is become the epidemical disease of our teachers. For when I reflected on one hand, with what spirit, with what joy, with what undaunted courage and boldness, the servants of God, in the Old and New Testament, set aside all regard and fear of man, delivering, as the Lord’s ambassadors, their message plainly, and without mincing the matter, though it exposed them to the apparent hazard of their lives; and, on the other, how gently and how softly we go about it now-a-days; and how little we manifest the truth to the conscience of every one: when I moreover considered how much they suffered with Christ their Lord, for the sake of their testimony; and how the most of us take care to preach so smoothly, as not to incur the least shadow of their sufferings; all this made the difference between us and them appear so exceedingly great to me, that I could not but be amazed and astonished at it.

He puts the cause for the fear of man among teachers of the Gospel to an over-concern for temporal comfort and status. He does not argue that the Gospel requires us to be ascetics and deny all temporal comfort. However, temporal comfort should not be our primary concern. If such does become our primary concern, we error:

But if, on the contrary, we seek ourselves, being influenced, in what we do, by temporal concerns; then, as far as I understand, we depart from that glorious pattern Christ our Lord and Master hath set before us: neither is there any thing, to my apprehension, that doth more effectually deprive us of God’s blessing in our calling, than this doth. For sure it is, that the greater concern we have for our own profit, ease, and honour, the less we shall have for promoting the real good of our neighbour. And as long as our minds are not wholly conformable to the mind of our great Shepherd, whose servants we are, it is impossible he should be well pleased with us.

It is this concern with the temporal which leads to the fear of man:

This I take to be the true cause why we are so strongly possessed with the fear of man; for did we desire nothing in the world, we should not fear it.

As a matter of persuasion, Franck then draws out this decision in light of eternity. How will it appear to you on Judgment Day to have shaved the Gospel to fit the expectations of  others so that you could live a slightly more comfortable existence?

How can we then entertain the least thought of appearing before Him in that day with joy, when our hearts will upbraid us, that whilst we were here, we took more pains to improve our land, than the souls committed to our care? to increase our flock, and sum up our yearly revenues, than to lay up in store a good foundation against the time to come? that we were either careless in our preaching, without the least tincture of godly zeal and earnestness, as if it were no more than some other common trade; or else intending by it, rather to set forth our own arts and learning, than to recommend the simple truth of Jesus Christ, without any gloss or trimming, to the consciences of men? Alas! it is but too apparent, that the generality of men, both in cities and villages, are sunk into the blackest vices, and all manner of the most abominable corruptions.

August. Herm. Franck.

At Glaucha, near Halle.

October 26, 1701.

George Swinnock on the importance of knowing God


The holiness and happiness of the rational creature consisteth in these two: his holiness, in conformity to God; his happiness, in communion with him. And these two have a dependence on each other. They only who are like him, can enjoy him. ‘If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and the truth is not in us,’ 1 John 1:6. Holiness, or the image of God, is not only an indispensable condition, without which no man shall enjoy God, Heb. 12:14; John 3:3; but withal an absolutely necessary disposition, without which no man can enjoy God, Col. 1:12; 2 Cor. 5. And as conformity disposeth for communion, so communion increaseth conformity; vision causeth assimilation in nature, Gen. 31:38, 39; grace, 2 Cor. 3:18; and glory, 1 John 3:2.

Though the motions of the understanding and will are in some respect circular, yet the understanding is the first mover and the leading faculty, and so the knowledge of the blessed God is both antecedent to, and productive of, this image.


Our hatred of sin and contempt of the world proceed from our acquaintance with God. He only hath hateful thoughts of sin, and self-loathing apprehensions because of it, who hath seen the great and glorious, the good and gracious God, whose authority is contemned, whose law is violated, whose name is dishonoured, whose image is defaced, and whose love is abused by it, Job 42:6; Isa. 6:5. He only lives above this present evil world, and all the riches and honours and pleasures thereof, who can look beyond it to the infinite God, and those unsearchable riches and weights of glory, and rivers of pleasures that are in and with him.

From the Introduction to The Incomparableness of God

Irregular and illegal

Written of Whitefield as he began to preach in the fields (quoted in the Divine Dramatist):

Anglican Weekly Miscellany. On May 5 [1739], the paper reported the ominous news of an “extraordinary Itinerant, who lately made a Progress into the Western Parts of England, and some parts of Wales, where, from Tomb-stones, and Market crosses, on Commons and mountains, he preached to vast numbers of ignorant People, and, since his Return, in a wide Place near a Building which would suit him better. This is a method quite as new with us, as it is irregular and illegal.”

I wonder if they understood the irony:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.


Notes Shakespeare Sonnet 11


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Sonnet 11:

[1]       As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

[2]       In one of thine, from that which thou departest;

[3]       And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

[4]       Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.

[5]       Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;

[6]       Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.

[7]       If all were minded so, the times should cease,

[8]       And threescore year would make the world away.

[9]       Let those whom nature hath not made for store,

[10]     Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish;

[11]     Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,

[12]     Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.

[13]     She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby

[14]     Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.


Again, the poem contends for the object of the poem to marry and have children. The variant in this instance is that “nature” has given him something which has a duty to reproduce. It is a good to you and a proper response to what you have received. The poem works by means of balance and order.

First Stanza
[1]       As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

[2]       In one of thine, from that which thou departest;

[3]       And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

[4]       Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.

Even though Shakespeare writes well before Isaac Newton announcement of an “equal and opposite reaction”, he uses that idea of a balance in nature itself. The speed by which you should see to your reproduction is marked by the speed by which you are dying. You should be bringing a child into this world from which you are “departing.” Then as you are leaving youth, you can look back to your child who will be in youth while you are departing youth; he will then be in life, when you depart life. Thus this is a balance in speed and position.

Second Stanza:

[5]       Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;

[6]       Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.

[7]       If all were minded so, the times should cease,

[8]       And threescore year would make the world away.

This stanza is evenly balanced between two pairs of line. First is the distinction between wisdom and folly; between increase and decay: to bear a child is wisdom, beauty and increase. To refuse this is “cold decay”.  If you will think of where he lives and the quality of insulation and clothing, you can understand why cold is a serious negative for Shakespeare. He lived during the “Little Ice Age” (look it up).

Shakespeare then notes the result of such an idea: If everyone thought as you did, then a short number of years, there would be no people left. Anti-natalism and the idea that human beings were someone unnatural and a blight upon the earth was obviously not a thought of Shakespeare.

Third Stanza:

[9]       Let those whom nature hath not made for store,

[10]     Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish;

[11]     Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,

[12]     Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.

Perhaps there are people whom it would be best if they did not reproduce: “harsh, featureless, rude” should not have children. We will meet these monsters in Shakespeare’s plays.

But as for you: Nature has given to you the best, which entails in you a duty to reproduce that gift. You have a duty to “cherish” that “bounty” which was given to you.


[13]     She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby

[14]     Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

“She” is nature: the seal she carved is the beauty of the poem’s object. A seal was used to produce a print: think a seal pressed into wax. The wax reproduces the seal. He was given the seal to print copies of that seal, not to permit that copy to cease with him.

The duty of marrying and having a child is a duty to nature. When a woman is pregnant or when we see a couple pushing their baby in a stroller, there is a sort of affinity which is different than when we are one alone. I noticed it often in my wife’s pregnancy, the way people who speak, the people who wished to see the baby. There is something lovely and joyous in that. It is that affinity which Shakespeare is seeking to awaken in his friend.




General and Undue Influence

Here is a section from an appellate brief we filed today in a probate action. A key provision n the case concerns the distinctions between “undue influence” and “general influence”; it is a point which courts often confuse. There is an understanding, caused by untold examples, that legal writing should be hideous in its structure. However, poor writing makes it difficult to persuade, because poor writing is difficult to understand. I hope that I avoided that fate in this instance:

         The trial court’s analysis thus errs as a matter of law on this point by utilizing the incorrect legal standard for distinguishing between undue influence and general influence.

The distinction between undue and general influence is the difference between control and counsel, between imperative and imploring: Undue influence is fraud or force, it is coercion which destroys the independent action of another human being and forces the creation of a document that the testator would not otherwise sign: “The true test of undue influence is that it overcomes the will without convincing the judgment.” (Estate of Donovan (1903) 140 Cal. 390, 394.) General influence differs from undue influence, because general influence affects the trustor’s affections, which may then result in action. If a child threatens a parent into signing a will, that is undue influence. If a child coaxes a parent into making a will, that is general influence.