Tuesday, May 28, 2013


November 2011

This is our first look at Unity Baptist. We listened by podcast.

Mr. McLaren, Unity Baptist Church, August 21st, 2011, Trusting while Trying.

Summary: (The preliminary remarks concern an upcoming festival that this church is either involved in or responsible for.) If this is going to work, there must be trying and trusting. The image for the sermon is the trapeze artist. One is a flyer; the other is a catcher. The flyer must try really hard to get the right momentum and timing, but he must put his arms up, close his eyes, and trust the catcher to catch him. If the flyer tries to catch the catcher, it never works. You have to try and trust. You have done all you can do with a test or buying a house; then you have to trust. God is the only one who can bring it to pass. Psalm 20 gives us an example of trying and trusting. Israel would have made a plan before going to war.  But Psalm 20 was read just before their armies went out to battle. Rather than pull their troops together for a motivational talk, Israel would go to church. When Israel went out trusting in God, Israel always won. This is a good Psalm when we’re planning to do a festival or something like that. (The Psalm is read in responsive reading fashion.) Verse 6 is pretty powerful. ‘Save’ is in the perfect tense, as if it’s already completed. ‘Now I know that the Lord will save’: future tense, but already accomplished. Now I want to share two observations. (A): the name of the game. The name of God is the name of the game. His name brackets the Psalm. Verse 1: ‘May the God of Jacob protect you.’ Then verse 7: ‘We trust in the name of the LORD.’ Why do we bless a name? The name is Jehovah: I am that I am, or I will be what I will be. When we trust in his name, we trust in his character, his commitment to us, and remember his promises kept in the past. We trust in him to be powerful, loving, and just. Also, his name means to accept that he is sovereign, that he is God and we are not. It means that we do not try to manipulate him. We trust in more than our perceptions. We accept whatever he chooses to do. So we pray in Jesus’ name, for the baby we want, for the job, for that healing, or for the mission. We trust in him, in his character, as if it’s already done. (B): the heart of the matter. Verse 4: ‘May he give you the desire of your heart, and may all your plans succeed.’ Would it not be terrifying if that actually came true? What would follow is frustration, chaos, and anger. When we pray, we want our heart’s desire to come true. But we must acknowledge that we don’t always know what is best. Verse 3 does not mean that after you have given your offerings, God is obligated to give you the desires of your heart. What it is saying is that when you’ve recognized that God is God, and made your heart right with him, then you are in God’s will, and he’ll want to bless you. May he give you ‘according’ to your heart. So according to the ‘nature of your heart.’ Are you right with him? Are you obeying him? Whatever we do, we need to try our best and ultimately trust God. We pray that God would answer our prayers according to his name, based on his character and promises. And we can say, ‘Lord, may it be done according to our hearts.’ (He finishes with a brief prayer.) 

Remarks: Mr. McLaren is easy to listen to. The sermon is delivered with sincerity. An outline is followed. Some actual teaching takes place. The sovereignty of God is acknowledged as the overarching factor to be kept in mind while petitioning. The word, in its particular parts, at least, is not irreverently treated when touched upon. And though a movie is mentioned, this is not done in levity.

Typically, a Red Deer sermon deserves more censure than praise. This one is typical, though it is far from the worst one that we’ve heard. We’ll drop our censorious remarks under the following heads: What is taught? And then: How does the superficial teaching come about?

What is taught? Not much is taught. And so the analysis should be one of our shortest. Psalm 20 is used by this pastor to prop up his pep talk. The pep talk is for the purpose of stimulating the congregation to do well at the upcoming festival. A cursory reading of Psalm 20 yields a theme of trusting God, not while trying, like the pastor says, but in time of trouble. The ‘trying’ focus comes in because the pastor would pump his people up for the festival. Trusting in God’s name is to trust in his attributes to perform his promises. The pastor lays that down okay. But when he comes to what he calls ‘the heart of the matter’ (by which he means the granting of our petitions), the subject rises no higher than our earthly wants: the job, the baby, the passed test. Psalm 20 is a prayer in prospect of warfare. Should the obvious application not be, then, our prayer in prospect of spiritual warfare? And what are the eminent petitions to be won against our enemy? Is it not holiness to overcome flesh and sin? Is it not modesty and peace in the face of an extravagant, violent world? Is it not steadfast faith and the whole armor of God to ricochet all the tempting darts of Satan? It is by petitioning for these greater, more important things that we come most unselfishly to Jesus Christ, by whose life, death, and resurrection the Christian’s victory is assured against our greatest foes. Serious Commentaries can see Jesus in this Psalm somewhere; this sermon does not. Serious Commentaries do not apply this Psalm to petitions for earthly desires; this sermon does. What helps us to trust God for the right job or a future baby? Being told to trust him for these things? No, there is a better, more spiritual way. We are better helped when Jesus’ victory is preached to us, through which all things, by faith, are possible. It is by having our eyes elevated above our earthly petitions that we come up to accept, without repining, the outcome whatever it be. The sovereignty of God over our petitions is the proviso we praise the sermon for including. But because the petitions preached on by the pastor are limited to things that will pass away instead of things that carry into eternity, like holiness and love, he who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is not given a place of prominence in this sermon. This sermon is not devilish, but it is somewhat earthly. (See James 3.15.) And because the listeners are urged to participate in this festival in order to have fun and be ‘relational’ with the community, we have reason to assert that it is a little sensual as well. ‘Relating’ to our neighbors usually comes down to participating in small talk about sports and movies, the result of which is a show to the world that Christians are not a different species at all, when, in fact, in the Bible they are called a holy, royal priesthood and other similar, distinguishing names. If this festival was your typical Christian outreach effort, then we know that we’re not exaggerating our pessimism. The current belief is to get your witness in by showing the world that you are no different and no better. The biblical witness, in contrast, will assert and demonstrate that there is a difference. There is a difference of hobbies and habits, lifestyles and interests. Once we were no different, “when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins…did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7.5.) And “now we are delivered from the law…that we should serve in newness of spirit” (verse 6.) Did conversations at the festival get to this uncomfortable level of explicating the dichotomy between the unregenerate and the Christian? If not, then this sermon proved a failure. But maybe the festival was meant just as a means of building bridges, nothing more. Many Christians speak hopefully and affectionately of building bridges. But have any of these festival bridges been crossed, we wonder? The content of Romans 7 would be an uneasy and perhaps dishonest dialogue for the Christian to engage in with the worldling if the motions of sin are indeed still operating in that Christian through the television set and the local theater. How can a Christian appear sincere in his testimony if the motions of sin he should have left behind are his point of contact with the one he is supposedly witnessing to? Maybe the Christian is not giving his assent to the sins and lifestyles that he watches on the screen. That will be his argument. But the watching world does not translate his participation like that. The watching world knows that the Christian watches sin for entertainment, that he watches because he likes it, and that this watching is de facto assent to what he’s looking at.        

How does the superficial teaching come about? It seems clear that the pastor began with an idea for a sermon in support of his festival venture. He wants his congregation to trust while they try in order to the desired result at this festival. Hence his title, ‘Trusting while Trying.’ A sermon is bound to fall apart when we begin with self instead of Scripture. Psalm 20 is not foundational here, but the festival. The Psalm is tacked on as a desperate resort to hold up an idea, an idea that the Psalm is not intended to support. The sermon begins with remarks on a festival, which remarks are then shod with wheels from a carnival illustration, and then the whole idea is supposed to roll when Psalm 20 is plugged into it for generation. This is to treat Scripture very terribly, as the power we want to drive our circus car with. It should remind us of the carnal use of God’s ark, for which the children of Israel were punished. The first point in the sermon is called ‘the name of the game.’ Why? Because of the trapeze artist, of course, not because of what’s in the Psalm. The trapeze artist hangs way up in the sermon where Psalm 20 belongs. He, not the Psalm, is relied on to carry the first point. Psalm 20 is just the trapping brought in to help catch the trapeze artist and the festival. It is not the main thing. Is something wrong when the Scripture text is forced down to an inferior place and made nothing but the pep for a people on their way to a festival? This Psalm is about trusting God in our warfare. It should not be made the handmaiden of our little enterprise. It is there to speak out truth to us, not for us to speak ideas into it. ‘The name of the game’—how does that follow from ‘trusting and trying?’ It does not. How does ‘the heart of the matter’ follow, either from the first point, ‘the name of the game,’ or from ‘trusting while trying,’ which is the title? There is no harmony in any of this. The points do not follow the title; the second point does not follow from the first point. The sermon is a weak fabrication, with a Psalm gratuitously thrown in to give some pep to people the pastor suspects might slouch. The title, the points, and the Psalm, are like disconnected cars designed to pull this festival along. It doesn’t work. It can’t work, for the sacred engine, the Psalm, is not in front and not hooked up to the rest.

Conclusion: When the pastor alludes to Israel using Psalm 20 in their worship before going to war, he emphasizes this good practice of theirs by contrasting it with what they did not do: pull the troops together for a motivational talk. That’s very interesting, for instead of preaching the Psalm as a text of worship for holy warfare, the pastor makes it serve his motivational speech for the festival affair! The truth of how to properly handle this text is right in the research he did, and yet he goes on to do the very thing that he says Israel knew better than to rely on! This treatment of Psalm 20 is textual malpractice. When it becomes understood how reverently the content of God’s word is supposed to be touched, handled, and delivered, the inevitable question that gets begged from this pastor’s treatment of the sacred word is his calling. To question a ministerial calling (just to raise the inkling of a doubt about it!) is unacceptable these days. But if you do not doubt a man’s calling who handles the word of God in this way, then there is something wrong, not only with him, but with you too. The question should naturally pose itself to your mind if or once you realize that the text of God’s word is not being allowed to teach, but instead made to serve as an addendum in support of a pastor’s pet project. The question that should drift through your mind when you see this done (if you have eyes, the mental vision, to see it) is this: Does God call men to fill pulpits who treat his word in this way? Is that a shepherd who coaxes his sheep to jump a fence to who knows where when he should be occupied in feeding them? We’re not saying the man is not called to minister. We say that his treatment of the word naturally raises a doubt in the mind of an attentive listener. It’s not something that can be helped. And it’s not something that has to be kept secret. If all pastors were made to consider their callings once in awhile, sermons would be better, and better results would surely follow. It is no surprise that from treating the word of God in his pragmatic manner, no conviction of anything is brought to our heart by the address. This talk is thin, but it’s not sharp like the word that slices through joints and marrow. It is because the idea of man is wielded here, not the substance of the word. If the word were wielded, sin and guilt would fly out from the cut, and the people would be made to feel, react, and repair to Jesus Christ for salvation or consolation. This sermon carries no disturbance to anyone; and therefore little comfort will be sought on account of it. It is a routine, terrestrial performance that, unless renovated to its core, no amount of trusting and trying can fix.    

Mr. McLaren, because we have had no occasion to communicate with you, let the following copy of our analysis be our first encounter. Maybe you have sometimes wondered what that would look like if some persons took one of your sermons, without partisan favor influencing their effort, and subjected it to Scripture scrutiny. This analysis can be much more useful to you than the pats on the back that you receive on Sunday, if you take it to heart in prayer. If you would like to talk about our findings, or if you would like to receive our upcoming second analysis of your work, we welcome you to contact us. If you choose to ignore us, we will not hound you. At some future date, the analyses of your sermons, God permitting, will be featured on our blogsite. In the meantime, you may scour this blog to read similar analyses of sermons preached by many of your colleagues. We have been so pleased to find ourselves reaping the increase of spiritual discernment through the obedience of such texts as 1 John 4.1 and 1 Thessalonians 5.21! We should not be surprised that obedience yields at least a little insight. Praise God with us, for this idea that dropped down from heaven, to do this Bible-Based Sermon-Group! May the scrutiny of your own sermons, and that of your colleagues too, yield the same blessings to your soul! Things can get better when we face our faults full on and endeavor to improve, even though the passage to success may be hurtful, hard, and grim. We believe in the reverent treatment of God’s holy word!

Blessings, M. H. Gaboury.


(Because of the wretched state of Red Deer’s pulpit space, it is now, as predicted by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3, the time to ‘pluck up that which is planted…a time to break down…a time to weep…a time to cast away stones’ and even ‘a time to refrain from embracing.’ And it is certainly more ‘a time to speak’ than ‘a time to keep silence.’ Be that as it may, the wrecking ball of negative criticism should be followed by the laying down of truth. To this end, we introduce the sermon sketch as an intermittent blog feature. As the term ‘sketch’ implies, this kind of post, in distinction from the usually lengthy analysis, will be pithy. The source for each sketch will be indicated at the bottom of each post.)

Presumptuous Sins

“Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19.13.)

Introduction. All sins are great sins. But it is wrong to suppose that because all sins will condemn us, that therefore one sin is not greater than another. Now the presumptuous sins of our text are just the chief of all sins. It is remarkable, that though an atonement was provided under the Jewish law for every kind of sin, there was this one exception: “But the soul that sinneth presumptuously shall have no atonement.” Now, under the Christian age, in the sacrifice of our blessed Lord, there is a great and precious atonement for presumptuous sins. Yet, presumptuous sinners, dying without pardon, must expect to receive a double portion of the wrath of God.

(1) What is a Presumptuous Sin? First, when a man knows better, and sins anyway, that is presumptuous sinning. That is so, even if conscience be the only light he sins in spite of. But, O! how presumptuous to sin in spite of greater light! What if a mother with tearful eye has warned me first? Or a father with a steady look? And what of friends and religious education? And if you have heard of a sudden death, or have been very sick, then you have sinned against the voice of God, broken promises, and sinned presumptuously. Second, a man may sin in a moment of hot haste; but a deliberate sin, a planned sin, is a sin of high presumption. And so is any sin that is deliberately done habitually. Third, the sin I speak of is like the one by the man in Numbers who designed to gather sticks on the Sabbath, just to show his disrespect for God’s  command. Many of you sin just like this today. It is a master-piece of wickedness. There are few that repent of it. Fourth, daring to think we are strong enough to go so far into sin and no farther, like when one goes into a casino—there is a kind of suicide in a sin like that. Or maybe you say, “In a little time I will get serious for religion.” You presume to live until that time?

(2) Why is the Presumptuous Sin so Enormous? Simply because it is a sin against knowing better. It is the difference between unknowingly being involved in a bad thing, and fighting for the bad cause—or between stealing out of hunger, and stealing to mock the law—or between insulting a man carelessly, and setting out carefully to insult him. O! you that have sinned presumptuously—and who among us has not done so?—bow your heads in silence, confess your guilt, and then open your mouths, and cry, “Lord have mercy upon me, a presumptuous sinner.”

(3) The Appropriateness of this Prayer. “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.” Did David, the “man after God’s own heart” need to pray that? Yes, “Curb thy servant with thine overpowering grace.” The best of men may sin presumptuously. The highest saints may sin the lowest sins, unless kept by divine grace. You old experienced Christians, do not boast, you may trip yet, unless you pray the prayer. Hazael recoiled in horror at the prophecy that he would slay his master. But what did he do? The very next day he went and choked him to death! Think it not enough to hate sin, you may yet fall into it! Job might have said, “I will never curse the day of my birth.” But he lived to do it. If the best need this prayer, what about us?

Selection from Conclusion. “God’s Spirit has found some of you out… I thought when I was describing presumptuous sin that I saw here and there an eye that was suffused with tears…here and there a head that was bowed down…You have greatly sinned, and if God should blast you into perdition now, he would be just…Go home and confess…with cries and sighs…remember…a man who was a God. That man suffered for presumptuous sin.”  

{This sermon by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is sketched by M. H. Gaboury.}

Thursday, May 16, 2013


(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)


Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting our Affections upon Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 173 pp.

Up until 2013, these sermons from 1969 were not available except to those who had bought recordings of them in the day. Thanks to John Schultz, they are now available to all. In the first sermon, Lloyd-Jones maintains that the acid test of a Christian’s profession of faith is how he faces imminent death or reacts to tragedy. He preached that sermon in Pensacola while Hurricane Camille was threatening. The hurricane leaned west and landed in Mississippi

These sermons are textual rather than expository. This was not Lloyd-Jones’ usual practice. Maybe it is on account of this uncharacteristic method that more quotes and anecdotes occur in these sermons than usually. To be refreshed so often by these helps is a pleasant surprise.    

All of the sermons in this series deserve to be published. Five out of the nine are as good as anything else that I’ve read from this great Bible teacher. In The Acid Test, we are bade to consider what ‘the test of tests’ may be of our Christian profession. Orthodoxy is necessary, but one might be orthodox and yet spiritually dead. Morality is essential, but many men and women who are not Christians are highly moral. Experience is essential, but many cultists have great experiences too. “How do you feel when you are face-to-face with the ultimate, the end” (p. 16.) This is the acid test. If you have not faced death or never had to deal with great loss, you do not know if you’d pass the acid test. But you can test yourself like so: “Do you want more entertainment and less preaching?” (p. 59.) Assuming that your pastor is really preaching: whether you desire further instruction or not about ‘the message of the cross’ (p. 60) may be a useful sign. In What is the Church? Lloyd-Jones is more fiery than anywhere else that I’ve encountered him. This modern travesty of uniting in fellowship without first agreeing doctrinally really irked the man because the resulting ‘carnal fellowship’ (p. 56) destroys ‘the life and well-being of the church’ (p. 57.) In this sermon, the creeds are easily proven necessary, and the ecumenical push is forcefully pushed back. The pillars of Christian doctrine are not vague and indefinite (p. 61.) The need of doctrine is a prominent proposition in this man’s writings. “You cannot get away from doctrine. If you do not know the truth about the Lord, you are not a Christian, my friend” (p. 118.) In Evangelism: a very Modern Problem, he deals with modern innovations one after the other and shows how unbiblical they are. For instance, the modern argument is that if we put the Bible into simple non-theological language, the message will be believed. “Well, they did not understand the terms in Thessalonica either” (p. 108.) But many there became such followers that the word spread out from them far and wide through very difficult terrain, like wildfire (pp. 108-111.) In the next sermon, Lloyd-Jones shows, from the life of Moses, what the steps to revival are. Highway to Revival is useful, not only for showing this, but for proving how accurate the Mosaic account must be, since all revivals subsequent to this one in Exodus evince the same pattern: people stand in the gap to intercede, they separate themselves in some way from the rest of the assembly, they insist on the presence of God (even after angelic assistance is promised), and they don’t even stop at that, but push on for a personal taste of God’s glory. This sermon is the most encouraging of the nine. It contains a good summary of revival history too. And there is a conspicuous detail that emerges from the account of Moses being blessed with a show of God’s glory: Before God gives it, he asserts his will respecting sovereignty and election. That is very interesting in light of the present feeble state of our churches, for these doctrines, maybe more than any others, are neglected or even hated by pastors and churchgoers generally. The Narrow Way, the last sermon out of the best five, is profound preaching on the necessity of narrowness, on the glory of it, and on the glory it leads to. If you are ashamed of being called narrow-minded, consider that the narrowness that you are so ashamed of is what Jesus Christ “exults in and puts on the flag of his kingdom: the ‘strait gate,’ ‘the narrow way’” (p. 148.) Lloyd-Jones uses, to good effect, a fable from Aesop to demonstrate the peril of being broadminded (p. 146.) But the greatest part of the sermon, the most helpful part, and the greatest part of this great book, is when he takes us point by point, from the birth in Bethlehem to all the further narrowing that led to the narrow way on the cross. Narrowing leads to death and glory. The broad way leads to destruction. It is best to be narrow like the Master.

There is almost nothing to fault in these sermons. Higher Criticism did not begin in the 1930’s (p. 80), but in the late 1700’s. If that’s about all one can find fault with, then has the preacher not proven himself worthy? Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a great worthy in an age when worthies were singularly scarce. No writings from the latter half of the 20th century deserve to be read more than his. This man was the best in his field in his day. And what field of study is more important than the knowledge of God applied to the problems that modernity is throwing our way?

How relevant is Lloyd-Jones’ material from the 1960’s? Just consider the national or international days of prayer that people get all worked up about as if those efforts will do any good. Consider those events in light of the disparity of belief among the supplicants who participate. You cannot really pray “without the doctrines of the incarnation, the life of perfect obedience, the atoning substitution, the sacrificial death, the literal resurrection, the ascension, the heavenly session” (p. 169.) What good is unbiblical unity then? What good is ecumenical prayer then? What good is interfaith worship? Unity at the expense of doctrine is a partnership that God will never respond to favorably. 

The Christian faith is supposed to look down upon the world from which a ‘whole view of life’ may be observed (p. 23.) That is what these sermons do. They give us a bird’s eye view of ‘the petty problems of life’ that shouldn’t be allowed to conquer. How do great afflictions work in your favor? “They drive you to this glory” (p. 26.) I have read about a dozen volumes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ writings. Not one of those volumes is less than excellent. But Setting our Affections upon Glory has more help in it for bewildered Christians than any of these others. The title, whether chosen by the author or the editor, is the perfect moniker for these nine sermons, for the setting of our affections upon glory is the main remedy prescribed by the doctor ‘when sorrows like sea billows roll’ (Mr. Spafford, p. 21.)

Content: A (Essential sermons for confused Christians.)
    Style:  A (Fully developed propositions easily understood.)
   Tone:  A (The voice of one who knows his subject intimately.)

Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                         B: an average book: let it go.
                         C: read only if you have to. 

Monday, May 13, 2013


(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)


Sarah J. Richardson, Life in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal, ed. Edward P. Hood (1857; LibriVox recording, read by Brendan Stallard, 2011.)

This story began to surface when an escaped nun attempted to explain to her Protestant hosts the reason for her constant nervousness. At the behest of these persons that she told the story of her sufferings to, this former nun dictated the account here told, and it was published in 1857. Only after she married would the Subject of this narrative consent to share the story at large, so much did she fear her ‘relentless persecutors’: the Roman Catholic priests.

In Montreal during this period, “no one can assist a runaway nun with impunity if caught in the act.” Only on her third attempt did this nun, after fifteen years or so of confinement, privations, abuse, and torture, make a lasting escape. Sarah J. Richardson (her married name) was never a nun by choice. She was made one by force. The priests who bought her named her Sister Agnes.

This woman’s story unfolds like so. Wanting to give his six year old girl a better life, an ignorant, drunkard father puts her in the ‘care’ of priests in return for $100.00. Thus, at that tender age does the girl’s ‘history of punishments’ begin. At the White Nunnery, little girls are very strictly treated. As the captive soon found out, forgetting to close a door softly enough can get you a cat-of-nine-tails upon the head and shoulders. The girls are never permitted to speak to one another, may not turn in their beds during the nite, and get fifteen minutes of recreation per day. The terrors they are subjected to cause some of them to have fits and to become sick, which their scanty diet helps to remedy but little. They are not permitted to receive visitors, have to fast every third day, and are made to endure ‘nothing but toil and self-denial.’ Believing as they are told, that the priests know all their thoughts, they quickly learn to confess, obey, and fear. “Can the world of woe itself furnish deceit of a darker dye?”

At age ten, the Subject is sent to the Grey Nunnery at Montreal, which is the place, or prison, most of the narrative is occupied to describe. Once at this nunnery, she is brought into a room where a coffin is waiting. The presence of the coffin seems to signify that the priests will now kill her, a thought that makes her feel that she might die of fear before they do it. It turns out that she is made to lie down in that coffin during a ceremony meant to illustrate her death to the world. Imagine being in that coffin, reader, at the age of ten with Roman priests muttering over you in the Latin tongue. Sounds like a scene from The Exorcist or something. In this nunnery, the girls must do hard labor, with but little food for support and strength, all the while fearing the priests as much as they fear the devil himself. And no wonder. After spilling a little water, for example, the Subject is locked in a scary room for twenty-four hours in a standing posture, notwithstanding her confession of sorrow. From this grim vantage point, she can hear the shrieking of others because of their own punishments, and some of them praying for death instead of life.

In the context of her first, arduous escape into the world, the Subject asks, “Is it strange that I felt that life was hardly worth preserving?” When she is betrayed into the hands of the priests, she questions ‘the justice of the Power that rules the world.’ Then she sinks even lower, and begins to doubt the existence of that Power. “Why were my prayers and tears disregarded?” she moans. “What have I done to deserve a life of misery?” she asks. Upon her return, she is told to choose one punishment out of the following three: consignment to the ‘fasting room’ where decomposing corpses are; consignment to the ‘lime room’ with its noxious vapors and bottomless pit; or consignment to the ‘cell’ where devices of terror and torture-traps are kept. She ends up in the third room. Once locked in there to consider what her fate might be, in comes a priest masquerading as the devil in order to terrify her. This episode occasions one of the most valuable revelations to the girl. The devil has the key to the room, she reasons, which can only mean that he and the priests are in league together. An acceptable deduction for the girl to make! (She knows that the devil and the priest are the same person.) After five days and nites without food and water, the girl, now, not surprisingly, is nearly dead. The bitter part of death being now past, continued life disappoints her extremely. A Mother Superior (herself under fear) revivifies her with bread and wine concealed for the purpose. “The nun who was found guilty of showing mercy to a fellow sufferer was sure to find none for herself.” We are urged to conceive at this point, “the state of that community where humanity is a crime, where mercy is considered a weakness of which one should be ashamed.” Imagine wanting to extend mercy, but having to restrain yourself for fear of being found out, sent away, and replaced by someone cruel. What a terrible tyranny to live under! And just like what happens in gulags (they still exist), the prisoners learn to turn on each other to score points with superiors. 

The abominations related in this narrative are so numerous as to be nearly numberless. For what a priest interprets as a cross look, a crown of thorns is pressed upon the girl’s head. She must wear it for six hours, during which time she is made to work while the blood drips down. That’s just one horror story picked out of my notes at random. During her second escape, seeking refuge from house to house (seven to nine miles apart), she is, one can easily believe, ‘cold, hungry, almost sick, and entirely friendless.’ The storm raining down upon her head sounds like ‘the last convulsive sound of a broken heart.’ The prospect of freedom nerves her onward, however, and she, ‘a friendless wanderer,’ makes it to Vermont where she finally finds kindness and affection in a Brainard home before she is caught the second time. The punishments for that escape, including over a week of starvation, nearly kill her. She is promised, in addition, a whole year of daily punishments for this last revolt. 

Some time before these punishments are accomplished, I think, she escapes the final time, makes it all the way to Massachusetts thanks to connexions made by Protestant Orangemen, and hides out there long enough to begin a new life and even marry. Thus, the ‘dull, dreary, and monotonous life’ that is ‘varied only by pain and privations’ is at an end, though the young woman continues through the whole of the rest of her days in a worrisome, agitated state. She remains always on the lookout, in fear of the Roman Catholic priests whose hearts ‘feel no sympathy for human woe’ and their ‘system of bigotry, cruelty, and hatred, which they call religion.’

Such is my summary that fails to do justice to the terrifying account that I have just listened to. Life in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal is disturbing to listen to but riveting all the way. And so it will be gotten through in short order by those who begin to listen to it, I think. The voice of Brendan Stallard, moreover, is suitably somber and soft-spoken. The evils that this woman was made to suffer are so vividly told that the book left me wiped out at the end, though I was hoping for more information about her post-convent life. I have read many of Poe’s horror stories, like The Pit and the Pendulum and The Premature Burial. Even stories like those are less horrific than ‘the fearful outrage…upon humanity’ related by this woman. Imagine, even the most talented writer of horror could not dream up anything to equal the actual horrors of Roman Catholic contrivance. This may beg the question to some, ‘Is the story true?’ In spite of all the digging that I did, I could find no decisive answer. Some persons in the story are named, but not fully. And the central character in the affair is something of a mystery herself. But most persons, including the Subject, had to be left unnamed in order to dodge the wrath of Rome. This seems like justification enough for these omissions. What might bestow credibility to the woman’s testimony are answers to questions like these: Did a nun, in that day or in some other, have to lie down in a coffin for consecration to her office? Do the coffins of nuns follow them to their postings? Was this nunnery ever guarded by men with guns? Answers to the negative would be discrediting to some degree. Answers to the positive would not prove enough. Around the year 2000, some journalists attempted a reception into a Roman Catholic institution in Quebec. I recall seeing that on television. While I can’t remember the means by which this place was guarded, it was an impenetrable fortress for sure, and those persistent journalists were kept out of there. This contemporary incident lends credit to the 19th century narrative. The author makes it clear that it was not unusual, in that day, for a nun to be seen walking unassisted along the street. It was the normalcy of this that facilitated one of her escapes. This nuance is also to the narrative’s credit, for all nuns being as closely guarded as the Subject was just won’t stand up to a scrutiny of history.

What about some of the things that she claims to have witnessed or suffered in this nunnery? Did she really see a woman being tortured on the medieval-style rack, for instance? This claim sounds fantastic, true. But that Roman priests used such a torture device is a fact of history. Why not in 19th century Canada? Is the raping of boys not a form of torture? Who will dare to answer no to this question? Roman Catholic priests are still torturing, then, maybe in your own city, town, village, or hamlet. If victims were not regularly coming forward with evidence of having been raped by priests in the 20th century, it might be plausible that a more decent, civilized priesthood existed in the 19th century than the vile one portrayed by the Subject. The sins and crimes among priests today furnish ample reason to believe that there is much truth, maybe whole truth, in this woman’s harrowing story. Furthermore, in light of the Roman Catholic pedophilia cover-up, what this woman says about the duplicity of priests is entirely believable. They will say or do almost anything, will they not, to discredit testimonies to their evil deeds? May the rumor that this story is a piece of fiction not be a lie concocted by the Roman Catholic Establishment?
A duplicitous person is one who practices deception by pretending to feel or act one way while feeling or doing the opposite. Members of the Roman Catholic clergy pretend to be torn up about pedophilia in their ranks, and they pretend that everything is being done to stop the abuse. They shuffle their guilty associates around the world when they should be turning them over and confessing all that they know. This is proof that their sympathy for victims is a sham. They are, just as they were in Sarah J. Richardson’s day, ‘vile, unscrupulous, hypocritical pretenders.’ And the Pope obviously wants it that way, for he makes no effort to bring justice to his pedophile brethren and their enablers. The Pope is the chief enabler, for he will not discipline his priests. The Subject’s assessment is sound: A kind heart in a priest, for the Roman Catholic Church, is a cardinal sin. Some nuns, too, are more cross than kind. The book is right about that, just as my own sisters allege. They had nuns for teachers in the 1960’s. But nuns are wicked mostly because this conduct runs downhill from the priests.

What about the story’s literary style? What can this tell us? It is difficult to believe that this young, uneducated woman, so soon after her final escape, would have been capable of speaking like so: “Can the world of woe itself furnish deceit of a darker dye?” This is poetic prose of a high order. This woman might have been particularly gifted. This is possible. But suppose that she was not. It would have been acceptable and normal for the editor she dictated her story to, to suggest, with her consent, apt expressions with which to add color and emotion to plain facts. Puritan pastors, for instance, embellished in that way, the ‘Captivity Narratives’ that they helped their suffering brethren to compose. ‘Ghost writers’ provide the same service today, which does not lessen the truthfulness of a memoir. 

Suppose that Life in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal is nothing more than an invention posing as a chronicle. Yet the Roman Catholic Priesthood has been guilty, at some time in its history, even in our own day, of sins and crimes at least as vicious as those charged against it here. I’m not saying that this is a work of fiction. In consideration of what we already know about the Roman Church, it is believable enough. Because of the research into Roman Catholicism that I have already done, my belief in this story exceeds my doubt. The ‘Convent Horror Story,’ like the ‘Puritan Captivity Narrative,’ is, indeed, a genre of literature. But then so are ‘Letters’ and ‘Remains.’ The fact that this story is categorized under a certain genre does not mean that its contents are untrue. There are enough stories of convent horror to constitute a genre. Maybe this is so, not because of a dishonest, concerted aim to disgrace the Roman Catholic Church, but because the Roman Catholic Priesthood is guilty of the atrocities alleged against it. Maybe the complainants, in publishing their testimonies, had one chief goal in mind: to spare unsuspecting people from similar treatment. What about the ‘pedophile priest’ scandal of our own day? Could a genre be created out of that, do you think? Does the genre not exist already? It does, and some of the stories are so well uncovered and documented that only the most Popish of idolaters dare deny their legitimacy. Will those stories be believed a century or two from now? Or will they be doubted while the priests are occupied with new perversions?

The Subject relates the appalling abuse that the priests put upon her in very great detail. Can we believe her claim, that as bad as all of that was, yet there were some evil deeds that modesty forbade her to testify of? Well, imagine a Roman priest raping an altar boy, and then ask yourself this question: What will a perverted priest not do? And consider, too, that a religious woman in the 19th century is not likely to put into print an entirely ‘tell-all’ book.

If justice counted for something in this country, we would not forgive evils like pedophilia just because they are done under cover of religion. We would pursue justice in the religious quarter with more zeal than we do anywhere else because religion claims to be more upright and honorable than the rest of the world. Be not deceived into supposing that convents and the like are not dens of iniquity still. If priests are perpetrating pedophilia in more open places than convents, what, think you, must be happening behind the fences and doors of Romish institutions that no outsider may look into?  

Content: A (Upsetting, engaging religious narrative.)
    Style: A (Active and vivid.)
    Tone: A (Somber and sympathetic.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                      B: an average book: let it go.
                      C: read only if you have to.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


(Because of the wretched state of Red Deer’s pulpit space, it is now, as predicted by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3, the time to ‘pluck up that which is planted…a time to break down…a time to weep…a time to cast away stones’ and even ‘a time to refrain from embracing.’ And it is certainly more ‘a time to speak’ than ‘a time to keep silence.’ Be that as it may, the wrecking ball of negative criticism should be followed by the laying down of truth. To this end, we introduce the sermon sketch as an intermittent blog feature. As the term ‘sketch’ implies, this kind of post, in distinction from the usually lengthy analysis, will be pithy. The source for each sketch will be indicated at the bottom of each post.)


“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11.6.)

Introduction. The Old Assembly’s Catechism is correct in saying that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. It is equally truthful to say that man’s end is to please God, for in doing so he will also please himself. He that pleases God is, by divine grace, journeying to the ultimate reward. He who is ill-pleasing to God must be banished from God’s presence. Do what you may, be as lovely and of good repute as can be, yet you will not be pleasing to God without faith. This is an old law. Cain and Abel brought their best offerings to God. Only Abel’s was accepted, being seasoned with faith. This rule will hold until the last man ascends to heaven.

(1) An Exposition. What is faith? The old Puritan writers, by far the most sensible, tell us that faith consists of three things: knowledge, assent, and affiance. The first thing in faith is knowledge. A man cannot believe what he does not know. Some have heard the minister cry, ‘Believe! believe! believe!’ And they have got it into their heads that they are believers. There must be some degree of knowledge before there can be faith. By searching and reading comes knowledge, and by knowledge comes faith, and through faith comes salvation. But a man may know a thing and not have faith. Therefore assent is necessary. We must agree with what we know. Whosoever would be saved must know the Scriptures, and give his full assent to them. But a man may have all this, and yet not possess true faith. The chief part of faith is affiance to the truth: taking hold of it and resting on it for salvation. I shall not be saved and delivered from wrath by knowing Christ is a Saviour and that his atonement is sufficient. I shall be saved by making his atonement my refuge. With faith men are saved; without it men are damned.

(2) An Argument. Why is it impossible to please God without faith? There is not one case in Scripture of a man pleasing God without faith. Judas repented, and then hanged himself. Saul confessed his sins, and yet went on as before. Like those who cast their crowns at God’s feet, we must bow in order to be saved. And faith is necessary because works can’t save. The key of works is broken, for you have broken the commandments. Christ alone can open heaven for you. If you think to enter heaven by your good works, they will be kindled into a flame wherein you must suffer for ever. Take heed of your good works; get them after faith. To be saved and to please God, there must be union with Christ. Christ is on the shore, so to speak, holding the rope of faith, and when we lay hold on that, he pulls us to shore. Grappling on your works with hooks of steel will avail you nothing. Without faith it is impossible to please God because it is impossible to preserve holiness without faith. Many Christians are tremendously religious in pious parlors and chapels. But if they are exposed to ridicule, it is all over with religion until the next fine day. That kind of religion is worse than irreligion. There is no shame in being a follower of Jesus. The only thing to be ashamed of is hypocrisy. Be true to your profession.

(3) A Question. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart? If so, you may hope to be saved. He that has faith has renounced his own righteousness. True faith begets love to Christ. True faith begets good works. No one can have faith unless he also has holiness.

Selection from Conclusion. “Cast yourselves upon his love and blood, his doing and his dying, his miseries and his merits; and if you do this you shall never fall, but you shall be saved now, and saved in that great day, when not to be saved will be horrible indeed.”

{This sermon by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is sketched by M. H. Gaboury.}