Jeremiah and three men in a boat: Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne in conversation with an anti-papist doctor and philosopher.

Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne and a few other churchmen of the Church of Scotland went on a mission to the Jews in what was then called “Palestine.” On their journey to the Holy Land they met Jews and Gentiles along the way. Bonar and M’Cheyne recorded their impressions in “Narrative of a mission of inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839.”

Here is a record of their conversation with an anti-papist doctor and (who was also a) philosopher during their boat journey to the Land:

While passing the island of Crete on the way to the port of Alexandria – the city where the 70 Hebrew scholars translated the Hebrew scriptures in Greek (the Septuagint “seventy) – they entered into conversation with a French doctor.

“The doctor declared that religion was dead in France; the follies of Popery had led men of reason to despise all religion, and he believed that there was more morality now than when Popery reigned.”

As “popery” was the only experience that most Frenchmen had of Christianity, they identified the Gospel with Roman Catholicism. What was important, the doctor said, were virtues such as “concern for the public good, faithfulness to the marriage relation, and charity to the poor.”

The idea that man was a sinner and that his primary duty was to the will of God were totally foreign to the doctor. How well he would fit into modern Western society. That, of course, is no surprise because the French Enlightenment is the mainspring of modern secular thinking.

“Philosophy, said the doctor “has taught me all that is needful for man.” Did his new freedom make him happier than his previous life under “popery.” Not at all. He consumed calories, he drank, he slept, he rose, he went to work, he took up space.

How do we respond in thought, feeling, speaking, and doing to this interminable night of weeping? We seek refuge in “the flippancies of a heedless, light-hearted world, whose maxim is, ‘let us eat, drink, and be merry” (“Night of Weeping” by Horatius Bonar, brother of Andrew Bonar, our traveller).

“We said (to the doctor), continues Andrew Bonar and M’Cheyne, that we had found happiness, and pointed out the foundation on which it rested, and urged him to put to the proof God’s promise through his Son, ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest.’ He put us off by saying, ‘he could not pray unless he believed.’ We rejoined, that he refused to turn the mind’s eye toward the object to be believed, and therefore could not rationally expect to embrace the truth. Upon this he argued that a man was no more to blame for his hard
heart, than for a diseased member of his body…”

This appeal to man’s sick nature reminds me of the Jewish-Christian disputes over the meaning of the Hebrew word “anash” in Jeremiah 17:9, which the King James Version translates as:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

עָקֹב הַלֵּב מִכֹּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶֽנּוּ׃

Akov (DECEIVE) haleiv (THE HEART) mikol (OF ALL) ve-anoosh (SICK? WICKED?) mi (WHO) yada-enoo (KNOWS IT)

“Akov” עָקֹב (deceive). Remember Ya’acov -Jacob, which means “deceiver” – and also “heel.” Jacob didn’t only have a heel, he was a heel).

Here is Strong’s Concordance on Anash (Anoosh)

A primitive root; to be frail, feeble, or (figuratively) melancholy:–desperate (-ly wicked), incurable, sick, woeful.

How does the Jewish Mechon-Mamre translate Jeremian 17:9?
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceeding weak–who can know it?”

Strong’s “feeble” fits in with Mechon-Mamre’s “weak.”

So, which is it? “Weak” or “wicked”? If you let context be your guide, “weak” is very weak, because the idea in the verse is that man is deceitful, that is, habitually deceitful; it’s his nature. Now say you translated the verse like this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and sick: who can know it?” (Spiritually sick of course). What is the cause of this sickness? What makes and continues to make him sick? His own deceit, naturally. The normal usage of language requires that someone who is always deceitful must also be radically corrupt, a lost (moral) cause), or as the KJV translates “desperately wicked.”

The unregenerated man(dead in sin, Ephesians 2:1-10) nurses wicked schemes and conceals them in his heart. The Bible shatters our self-image on that score. Yet most believing Jews and Christians think they’re basically good. A recent Gallup Poll in the US showed that the majority of modern Christians believe that people are basically good and that we can become better with a few dollops of God’s grace. The majority Jewish view of “sin” seems even more “dis-grace-ful”, not only because God’s grace appears to be at best absent, at worst, non-existent but also because “sin” is not regarded as an offence against a Holy God that deserves punishment, which the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible “Old Testament” and New testament) makes so clear.

Man’s nature is wicked, but not as much as he could be, thanks to God’s restraining hand. We need only to look at Hitler or in the mirror to realise that there is hardly a human who is utterly wicked. Hitler may indeed have loved his mother and been a good provider for her old age.

We are born in sin, with a sin nature. At the heart of sin is a refusal to obey and worship God; to hate God – the God of the Bible. That is why deep down, no one is good. “And Jesus said to him, “No one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18). Previous to these words, Jesus asked the question: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus, does not mean that he is not good, for He is good: “I and the Father are one.” And not only in intention, silly. (See “Why do you call me good?”).
The human heart is blind to the what the Bible clearly says, and thus it continues – like Saul before he was reborn as Paul – to kick against the pricks.

Acts 9:5-6 – 5And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
“And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?

Bonar and M’Cheyne continue:

“He (the doctor) was a kind, feeling, amiable man-one who seemed truly sincere, yet one who felt like the young ruler, an invincible repugnance to the demands of the gospel. We gave him a French Bible, writing his name upon it, and our heart-felt desires for his salvation. He received it freely, and ‘went away sorrowful’ (Mark 10:22).”

Bonar and M’Cheyne said about the doctor:

“ …he refused to turn the mind’s eye toward the object to be believed, and therefore could not rationally expect to embrace the truth.”

Bonar and M’Cheyne are far more qualified than me to understand that behind the mind’s eye is the mind’s “heart.” Unless the heart is changed, the mind will remain eyeless until its last agonie (“death throes”).


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