Is it just science?

An increasing number of people in the global community rely more on of the advice given by the medical and scientific communities about dealing with COVID-19 than they do in what comes from religious leaders, government officials, and even family and friends. This is not surprising, but it hasn’t always been true.

The 1721 outbreak of small pox in Boston (one of six over many years) was deadly. Before it was over, the disease had infected half the population of the city and killed nearly 850. It was a Puritan minister by the name of Cotton Mather (of the Salem Witch Trials fame) who led the fight for inoculation and was opposed by members of the medical profession and by journalist James Franklin (Ben’s brother), who argued that the procedure was not safe and interfered with the Providence of God. Isn’t that interesting that the media would say that? What they meant was that the disease was sent by God as a judgment on a sinful nation and thus trying to find a cure short-circuited God’s purpose of eliciting repentance and moral reformation.

It wasn’t so much that Mather disagreed with the concept of God’s judgment (after all he was a Puritan), but that he also believed God was merciful in giving gifts to his children so they might also escape from his wrath. He looked upon the advances in science and knowledge as divine gifts. He wrote, “Almighty God, in his great mercy to mankind, has taught us a remedy to be used, when the dangers of the smallpox distress us.”(Christian History, issue 135, p. 34)

Mather was given a slave by this congregation whom Mather named Onesimus and was most likely from Ghana. One day during the epidemic, Onesimus shared with Mather that he had undergone an operation in Africa where he was cut and given the small pox from the pus of an infected person in order to build a resistance against the disease. He also said that people who had this done tended to survive small pox in greater numbers than those who didn’t. It was called inoculation by variolation and was practiced in Africa, China, India, and the Ottoman Empire. The procedure was not unknown in the Western world.* Unfortunately, slavers in North America would look for scars of this procedure on prospective slaves knowing it would be a mark that they were resistant to the small pox.

Mather began to tout this procedure as an antidote to the disease, but the medical profession and newspapers vilified him. Much of the criticism was racially motivated believing that such a procedure was part of an African attempt to destroy the white race. As word spread of the new medicine, the people of Boston were terrified and angry. According to Mather, they “raised an horrid Clamour.” Their rage came from many sources; fear that inoculation might spread smallpox further; knowledge that the bubonic plague was on the rise in France; and a righteous fury that it was immoral to tamper with God’s judgment in this way. There was a racial tone to their response as well, as they rebelled against an idea that was not only foreign, but African (one critic, an eminent doctor, attacked Mather for his “Negroish” thinking). Some of Mather’s opponents compared inoculation to what we would now call terrorism—as if “a man should willfully throw a Bomb into a Town.” Indeed, one local terrorist did exactly that, throwing a bomb through Mather’s window, with a note that read, “COTTON MATHER, You Dog, Dam You; I’l inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you. (www.historyof…smallpox-boston-cotton-mather) Fortunately the bomb did not detonate.

One Boston physician, Zabdiel Boylston, did inoculate his 6 yr old son and 2 household servants. He was threatened with lynching which never materialized. Mather and Boylston supervised the intentional inoculation of hundreds of Bostonians. Only 6 of the 287 people (2%) who developed small pox through inoculation died compared to 844 deaths among the 5700 (15%) who contracted the the natural way.

I think this shows us that belief in science and trust in God are not mutually exclusive. We can be thankful for medical science without worshiping it, viewing it as a gift of God and evidence of his common grace and providential care over all of humanity. At the same time we can also believe that God is sovereign and working out his higher purposes through these pandemics—calling the nations to repentance before the Day of Judgment and purifying his church so as to prepare it for the return of Christ.

*Jonathan Edwards was not only a theologian but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. This newly inaugurated President of Princeton chose to be inoculated by variolation for smallpox as an example to his students. His risk proved fatal. On March 22, 1758, Edwards died from complications related to the inoculation.

For Whom This Bell Tolls…

Engraving from Thomas More's 'Utopia'

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.

I have written this brief I intro to the meditation below to give a little background to his devotional. John Donne (1572-1631) wrote this work, which is divided into 23 chapters—each chapter a reflection representing a day in his bout with a serious illness (1623), possibly Typhus. On day 17, he wrote a Meditation XVII which has become one of his most famous writings because of two memorable phrases: “for whom the bell tolls,” and “no man is an island.” One day Donne heard a funeral bell ringing from a church and began to muse on his own sickness and mortality. He believed that everyone’s suffering is shared by all and should be instructional in helping each person face his own affliction. He believed that death is a “translation” from one realm of existence to a heavenly one. In death, a chapter is not torn from the book of humanity, but is “translated” into a new and better language. He believed that the funeral bell tolling one’s death, at the same time, should call us to worship and to matters of ultimate importance. Just as the bell that calls members of a religious order to prayer is rung by those who rise earliest, so the funeral bell rings for those who are able to hear it’s deeper meaning. He also believed that our connection to one another is like the soil that makes up a continent. When some of the soil erodes and washes away making the continent smaller, so the death of each person diminishes all of humanity. The wisdom gained from the sufferings and death of others is like a treasure for those who recognize it and will help make us more fit to live out the years that God gives to us. How appropriate these words are in the age of COVID-19: that we are closely connected to one another; that every person’s death is not a statistic but something which really does diminish us; that even in the face of suffering and death, we are called to find value in affliction and to make sure we find our recourse (source of help) in God, “who is our only security.” 



Now this bell tolling softly for another,
says to me, Thou must die.

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him.  And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.  The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all.  When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member.  And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. 

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which, piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.  If we understand aright the dignity of this bell, that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.  The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.  Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises?  But who takes off his eye from a comet, when that breaks out? who bends not his ear to any bell, which upon any occasion rings?  But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? 

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors.  Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it.  No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.  If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels.  Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.  Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security. 

Donne, John. The Works of John Donne. vol III.
Henry Alford, ed.
London: John W. Parker, 1839. 574-5.

Plagues and Epidemics in History

It is often helpful to place what we experience in the present within the context of the past in order to provide a perspective for the future.

Our present COVID-19 moment demands such a perspective and Christian History Magazine will help provide it. I have every hard copy of the magazine since its inception and have found it to be one of the most helpful and informative resources in all my years of ministry. Each quarterly issue is completely dedicated to a particular theme: the last two were on the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the Church’s relationship to Science and Technology throughout history. Every once in awhile there will be a bonus issue published, such as the one I’ve included for your perusal, Plaques and Epidemics: Christian Responses Past and Present. I encourage you subscribe. There is no set price, but subscriptions are on a donation basis.

If you click on the link below to the present issue and look on pages 22 and 23,  you will find a summary of all the major plagues and epidemics recorded in history. You can compare these with our present global crisis which has infected, to date, 17.3 million and claimed the lives of 674K (154K in the US). This will be helpful in keeping our present troubles in proper perspective.

Also, let me suggest that you read pages 24-29 to gain even more perspective: encouragement by the Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the ministry of Margaret Blaurer (1493-1541). Especially note the words to the “plague hymn” of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1583) on page 29, Now, Christ Prevail.

May the Lord give you wisdom, insight, and encouragement as you read this material and think deeply about its application to you and your ministry to others. Blessings!

The God-chaser

The Bible introduces King David as a “man after God’s own heart.” We know the guy was far from perfect so what was the element that defined him in contrast to his predecessor, Saul, or his son-successor, Solomon? Someone described David as a God-chaser. I like that. I think such a description singularly defines a person after God’s own heart—someone who relentlessly pursues God in spite of being deeply flawed and broken.

While Saul was busy building a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12) and Solomon was focused on loving “many foreign women” and accommodating their gods (1 Kings 11:1-6), David was chasing after God. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1, 2) “O God, you are my God; early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land.” (Psalm 63:11) “My soul languishes for your salvation; I wait for your word.” Psalm 119:81. “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul longs for You…” (Psalm 143:6)

David was hungry and thirsty for God; he sought after God; he had a passion for spiritual things. Though he was a sinner he was also a man of repentance who saw his sin as potentially separating from the God who was his very life. “Have mercy upon me, O God…blot out my transgressions…against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…I was brought forth in iniquity…create within my a new heart…cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:1-11)

Yes, David was a God-chaser and rightly called a “man after God’s own heart,” because he had a deep desire for God and doing the will of God. He was a shadow of another who would come to be known as the “son of David.” The Messiah, Jesus Christ, took what David imperfectly demonstrated and manifested those qualities to perfection. He relentlessly pursued God, his Father; his food was to do the will of the One who sent him; his entire purpose in life was to glorify his Father in heaven. Interestingly, we usually define the passion of Christ as his suffering and death, but his real passion was desiring to do the will of God more than he wanted to escape his pain.

I want to be like Jesus, but David shows me that it is possible to be a God-chaser inspite of my sin. David gives me hope that, though deeply flawed, I can be a man after God’s own heart!

Marriage then and now…

I updated this blog that I sent out last year. The 48 things I love about Gloria remain the same. I added one more (in bold print) in honor of our 49th.


Marriage then . . . June 26, 1971, a date that will live in infamy -wait, that was Pearl Harbor. Let me start over: a date that will live forever in memory. A day when a 22-yr old woman (a beauty) and a 24-yr old guy (add any adjective or noun that is appropriate) said their vows to each other. Those vows did not announce how much they were in love on that day, but the vows were commitments made that they would, by God’s Immeasurable Grace, love each other “until they laid each other in the arms of God.”

Marriage now…June 26, 2019           

49 Things I Love About My Wife, GLORIA

G   od-lover, great (wonderful) grandma, giver, glad to help others, grateful when people help her, good cook, genuine servant, gold and diamonds are not important, glued to her marriage “until death do us part”

L oves her husband and kids and is loved by them, longs for meaningful conversation, loves to explore and take back roads, loses things but they usually turn up (just found car keys in coat pocket after 3 yrs), likes to stay up late but not get up early, lavish prayers said daily on behalf of her kids and grandkids, loyal to her marriage vows especially the “in sickness and in health” part

O pines (expresses an opinion) often, outdoor girl, oversees our plants and flowers, overlooks her husband’s faults, opens her home to the stranger and refugee, open-handed to those in need, oppressed by the computer, observes carefully whatsapp messages from kids about the grandkids, overwhelmed by the thought of selling our house and moving (but we did it, and made the move from West Chicago to Lancaster, Pa in early January)

R ank means nothing, raspberry lover (especially black raspberry pie), reads good books (especially about missions and biography), redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, regularly reflects on God’s Word, rather not do housework, really rather be hiking or kayaking, regrets living so far away from her new grandson in Switzerland, reads idiots guide to understand financial stuff, reaches out to people in need with offers to help in any way she can—she is a Christ-like servant

I nterested in just about everything having to do with her kids and grandkids, intelligent, incurious about sports (except baseball), inflexible in her convictions, initiates conversations with strangers and prayer with her husband

A   lways faithful, always supportive of her husband, asks a few questions once in awhile, an accomplished pianist and marimbist, appreciates working together on anything, always likes apple butter, an amazing ESL teacher, age has enhanced her beauty, a woman who fears the Lord

CHECK OUT 5 new episodes of the classic story Pilgrim’s Progress part 2 – click on the menu portion of any blog…

Happy Juneteenth to All Americans!

Today is Junetheenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, and yet, many white Americans are completely oblivious to its significance. Such a small thing (lack of knowledge) indicates a continuing large racial divide in our country. Certainly Black Lives Matter protests are continuing for a reason, and part of that reason is to educate white America to a part of its history completely ignored.

June 19, 1865 marks the day when Union Army General Gordon Granger delivered the news in Galveston, TX, that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free. This was 2 1/2 yrs. after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, 1863. Granger’s formal announcement read:

In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the U.S. (refers to Lincoln though he had already been assassinated), all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

While the controversial 13th Amendment abolishing slavery had already been ratified, it did not end slavery. And while this Juneteenth announcement was made freeing all slaves, it is more accurate to say that it was the day the slaves were told they were free—not the day they were freed. That would take many more painful decades of discrimination and persecution. When slave owners first heard this announcement, most did not tell their slaves until after the harvest was finished. And for the slaves who tried to act on their newly announced liberation, many were caught and hanged by their white owners.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an African-American (bi-racial) of significant stature in American history. He was a lawyer, novelist, poet, and songwriter. He was to literature what W.E.B. Du Bois was to education and intellectual pursuits, and Booker T. Washington was to science and technology. Johnson was the first African-American consul to Venezuela and then to Nicaragua. He was also the first African-American president of the NAACP. He wrote a very interesting book in 1912 called “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.” He also wrote a poem in 1900 that was set to music by his younger brother, John, in 1905, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has come to be referred to as The Black National Anthem. Someone has said that this anthem about the abolition of slavery could be describing the freedom of the Black body, as well as of the White Soul. Here are the lyrics:

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
‘Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land

If you want to listen to it sung (beautifully, I might add) use this link: