God who rescues, save this child

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:4b–5)

God who rescues, save this child,
Catch him to your royal throne.
From that dragon long reviled,
Catch and keep him for your own.

Adam fell before the serpent,
Still your plan was not undone.
Gospel seed would rise usurpant,
Save, as Seth, this little one.

You saved a savior from the Nile,
In an ark of pitch and straw.
As Moses from the crocodile,
Catch this child from the claw

Always crouched and ever waiting,
Satan seeks to snatch our young.
God of mercy unabating,
Save your daughter, save your son

Infant Jesus heard the weeping
Of sad Rachel’s slaughtered sons.
Still you kept Christ from the reaping,
Likewise, save these little ones

Jairus pleaded for his daughter:
“Come and heal that she might live”
In his mending arms Christ caught her.
Lord, today this healing give.

Whether whole and hale here with us,
Whether with you on your throne,
Saving Lord, this mercy give us:
God who rescues, save your own

© 2019 Josh Bishop

American Logres

After William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” and for F. Scott Hoffman (requiescat in pace)

by Josh Bishop

Christ preached New England’s Pilgrim fields
from pulpit and with musket ball;
the light of Christ from Old North Church
shined clear to Independence Hall.

Christ westward crossed the fruited plain;
Christ bled to free the Southern slaves;
Christ led the million marching men
who dreamed Christ’s dream with MLK.

What now is this Christ-haunted land?
How long will we deny our Lord?
Where are the men who build and fight?
Where is my shovel? Where my sword?

By grace, we’ll build New Christendom:
from sea to shining sea he reigns!
His kingdom come, his will be done
in these United States again.

‘The Lord’s Supper’ by Thomas Watson

Several weeks ago, my wife and I served communion at The Gathering, a Sunday evening service on the campus of Hope College, where I work. Communion is served at The Gathering every week, as it is at a number of other local churches — but weekly communion has never been a part of my church experience.

I suspect that the less frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the broadly Evangelical, nondenominational churches where I’ve worshipped for all of my adult life is largely a function of their understanding that communion is only or primarily a means of remembering Jesus’ crucifixion: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

If communion is what Pastor Uri Brito calls “a matter of subjective mental recollection,” then infrequent communion is just fine. But what if communion is something more than that? I suspect that churches which celebrate the Eucharist weekly do so because they believe that communion actually does something. And if that’s true — if communion actually does something — then what does it do?

To help answer that question, I turned to The Lord’s Supper, a small volume by Puritan Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686), originally published in 1665 as The Holy Eucharist. I don’t intend for this post to be a comprehensive review of the book or a complete summary of Watson’s argument — only to share some excerpts from the book that I appreciated as I read it.

In the first place, Watson argues against the remembrance-only view of communion, writing that a proper view:

“confutes such as look upon the Lord’s Supper only as an empty figure or shadow, resembling Christ’s death, but having no intrinsic efficacy in it. Surely this glorious ordinance is more than an effigy or representation of Christ.… Such as make the sacrament only a representation of Christ do aim short of the mystery, and come short of the comfort.” (18–19).

(He also argues against the “Papist” view of transubstantiation in language that would likely offend my Catholic friends.)

So if communion is more than a remembrance, what is it?

Throughout the book, Watson repeatedly insists that the elements of the Eucharist actually are the body and blood of Jesus. When a Christian partakes of the bread and the wine (or, sigh, the grape juice), he is consuming the body and blood of Jesus Christ — not in a literal, physical sense, but in a very real, spiritual sense:

  • “We hold that Christ’s body is in the sacrament spiritually” (17).
  • “Christ… gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist” (26).
  • “[I]n the blessed Supper, Christ gives himself to believers; and what more can he give?” (26)
  • “Christ offer[s] his body and blood to us in the Supper” (39).
  • We “receive Christ in the sacrament” (40).
  • “In the sacrament, the whole of Christ is served up to us” (49).
  • “We shall have not only a representation, but a participation, of Christ in the sacrament” (59).

Watson writes, “in the right celebration of it, we have sweet communion with Christ” (18–19). In other words, we spiritually commune with Jesus. (This is, of course, what the word “communion” means. Duh.)

We receive the nutritious benefits of the medium-rare ribeye and cheesy potatoes by eating them; in a comparable way, by consuming the elements — which is to say, by consuming the body and blood of Christ — we receive the spiritual benefits of Christ’s crucifixion: “as surely as [we] receive the elements corporeally, so surely [do we] receive him into [our] hearts, spiritually” (7).

“In this gospel ordinance, Christ does not only show forth his beauty, but sends forth his virtue. The sacrament is not only a picture drawn, but a breast drawn; it gives us a taste of Christ as well as a sight” (19). By “a breast drawn,” Watson means that we nurse on Christ as an infant nurses on his mother’s breast: “We need but cry, and he [Jesus] gives the breast” (44). Except, in this case, we nurse not on milk but on blood.

Watson spends much of the short volume outlining the benefits of Christ crucified that we receive in the Lord”s Supper: “All kinds of virtues come from him: mortifying, mollifying, comforting. Oh, then feed on him. This grace of faith is the great grace to be sent to work at the sacrament” (49).

At the beginning of the book, Watson responded to an important objection, asking, “But why was the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper appointed? Is not the Word sufficient to bring us to heaven?” (2). And he answers:

“The word is for the engrafting, the sacrament for the confirming of faith. The Word brings us to Christ, the sacrament builds us up in him. The Word is the font where we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, the sacrament is the table where we are fed and cherished. The Lord condescends to our weakness. Were we made up all of spirit, there would be no need of bread and wine, but we are compounded creatures. Therefore God, to help our faith, does not give us an audible Word, but a visible sign” (2).

Now, I do know that a lot of this is basic — especially to my friends in confessional and sacramental churches. But to those of us who were raised in Evangelical and nondenominational churches, this is a fairly revolutionary, radical view. In some ways, reading this book felt like a halting lurch toward a recovery of an inheritance that has been kept from me: Communion is not only a remembrance; rather, it actually does something.

To bring it back to my brief, initial comments on the frequency of communion: If in the Eucharist we commune with Jesus himself, and are fed his body and blood, and our faith is strengthened, and we receive comfort, and we are built up in him, and we are cherished by him — then it follows that we should eat at this table often: “There is no danger of excess at this Supper… the more we take the bread of Life, the more healthy we are, and the more we come to our spiritual complexion” (44).

At the very least, Watson’s book made me hunger for the Eucharist. I don’t expect that America’s non-confessional churches will move away from a remembrance-only view of communion, but as for me and my house:

“We should pray that God would enrich his ordinance with his presence; that he would make the sacrament effectual for all those holy ends and purposes for which he hath appointed it; that it may be the feast of our graces, and the funeral of our corruptions; that it may be not only a sign to represent, but an instrument to convey, Christ to us, and a seal to assure us of our heavenly jointure [union]” (57).

Christmas Triptych

by Josh Bishop

I.

From in the neighbor’s house, warm lamplight,
overflowing in a homey amber glow,
extends its pleasant beams into the night, 
spilling from a row of green-wreathed windows
to paint a quaint, Kinkadian sight:
The panes cast golden, scalene squares on snow
that falling all day long has gathered white
and freshly billowed on the ground below.

II.

And all at once the midnight sky turns bright
in brilliant, sunless dawn: A hundred score
of close-come stars — no, angels! — recite
their song to shepherds in their fields: Glory
to God! Still, these simple shepherds can’t quite
grasp what all this means — no, not before
they witness Joseph lifting high the light
of the world from a bloody, straw-strewn floor.

III.

We must’ve caught and torn a piece of night
sky when we cut our tree from Prince’s farm.
Look how the strings of incandescent lights
approximate inside our home the charm
of cloudless winter evenings, crisp and bright.
We’ve seen through leafless branches those same stars
while walking on the snowy streets in moonlight,
hand-in-mittened-hand to keep us warm.

Jesus is Lord of Holland

This is a guest column that I wrote for our local newspaper as a means of encouraging the saints in Holland, Michigan, and throughout West Michigan. The paper declined to print it, so I’m putting it here instead.


I’d like to speak for a moment to the conservative Christians in West Michigan, and what I want to say is this: Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for supporting public policies that are in line with your Christian beliefs. Don’t feel bad for wanting West Michigan to be a decent, Christian place and then working through the political process to make that happen. Don’t feel bad for wanting a Christian culture and a Christian public square.

I’m sure you’ve heard the arguments against this view, and they’ve been effective at cowing Christians into quietly accepting an increasingly pagan culture. If you support Christian policies, you’ll be accused of violating the separation of church and state. You’ll be accused of wrongly imposing your morality on others. You’ll be told that because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, Christianity has no place in the political process. None of these things is true.

First, the naysayers don’t really believe any of it. They’re happy to leverage Christianity so long as it helps them get the public policies they want. Immigration reform, refugees, climate change, masks and vaccines, affordable housing, minimum wage — all of these and more are defended and promoted in explicitly Christian terms. And, in many cases, they’re right. But Christian policies related to marriage, family, sexuality, gender, or abortion? Ha! You’ll have them calling you a Christian Nationalist and waving their picket signs quicker than you can finish saying, “What is a woman?”

So no, they don’t really want to keep Christianity out of the public square; they want to keep traditional Christianity out of the public square. They want to keep your Christianity out of the public square. Their progressive version is just fine, thank you very much. You simply need to understand that theirs isn’t a sincere objection — it’s a political tool designed to keep you quiet.

And, second, secular neutrality is a myth. It’s not possible to have a values-free public square. The question is not whether our culture and laws are informed by morality, but which morality informs them. The question is not whether our laws impose morality on others, but which morality our laws impose. The question is not whether we enforce blasphemy laws, but which blasphemy laws we enforce (curse Jesus, and the world will yawn; use the wrong pronouns, and your job may be on the line).

Our culture is becoming less Christian because Christians have been duped. We bought the big lie that if we jettisoned Christianity from the public square, we’d have a neutral, utopian space where every view would be welcome. But that’s not what happened. Christians vacated the public square, and secular progressives quickly claimed the ground we abandoned. As just one example, Pride Month has become a public celebration that puts the religious pageantry of the medieval church to shame — but you’d better keep your Christianity at home where it belongs, you bigot, and lock it up so the kids can’t find it.

In the book of Acts, an angry mob accused the early Christians of “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (17:7). Today, do not be surprised when the angry mob accuses you of acting against the decrees of the people, or of the neutral public square, or of secular liberalism. Perhaps they’re right — but we’re Christians, for Christ’s sake, and there is another king, Jesus. “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14).

One of the central Christian creeds is this: Jesus is Lord. All authority in heaven and earth — all of it — has been given to him (Matthew 28:18), which means that Jesus is Lord of America, and he is Lord of West Michigan. Jesus is Lord of Holland. Live and, yes, vote as if that’s true, because it is true. All you need to do is stop feeling bad about it.

Bell, Book, and Candle

by Josh Bishop

“But these dark powers do not rule the universe: they are in rebellion against Providential order; and by bell, book, and candle, literally or symbolically, we can push them down under.”

Russell Kirk

A faceless hood unfolds from Corbett’s crypt.
A clammy fog fast fills the churchyard lawn.
At witching hour, hours before the dawn,
some specter’s skin-crawl claw creeps in to grip
the throat with fingers like a hangman’s rope.
This ancient power manifest tonight
(malice-made-flesh, perverse incarnate wight)
has come to leach your life and, worse, your hope.
Best pray that Tailor John will too soon chime
his cock-crow toll, his solemn, pealing call;
or incantate the Word — some sacred rhyme
breathed out on quivering, unsure lips is all
you’ll need; or light the feeble, flickering shine
of candle flame to drive away the pall.

H.M.S. Dimnent

Dimnent Memorial Chapel, Hope College – Holland, Michigan

by Josh Bishop

Three stone steps, then through the chapel doors to stairs
ascending down into the hull. There’s ceiling tiles
beneath our feet (black-and-white-checked chess-board squares)
and far above our heads the vaulted roof-ridge keel’s
held high by buttressed ribs. Brilliant stained-glass portholes
cast colored light full bright from some delightful land
on pews where galley bondslaves four times each week row
their oars in common meter to the drums’ command.
On the sternchancel deck, beside the ship’s-wheel pulpit,
the faithful helmsman crouches, steering strong and true
along the Captain’s bearing, guided by the sextant
of the Word. The westward rose-window prow cuts through
the swells to lead our rightwise stone sanctuary
toward the kingdom that has overturned this world.
A watchman chimes eight bells from the crow’s-nest belfry;
the lamps are lit, main and mizzen sails unfurled;
the crew belowdecks gathers at the board to eat
a double portion, strong wine and hardtack rations.
Weigh anchor! We’ve long leagues left in this topsy sea —
keel-up, mast-down — and still the Captain cries, “Sail on.”

Backpacking Somewhere Near Red Bridge

by Josh Bishop

In a coppice of aspen, their trunks silver-white, 
bright beams of splendent sunlight like spearshafts in flight
pierce down through a ceiling of branches. The leaves 
as a yellow-green snow falling soft in the breeze
drift to earth, and they flash as they turn in the sun.
I swear — swear to God! — that the leaves of Lothlorien
pale when compared to this common, anonymous
wood; the Fields of Elysium, set next to this, 
cannot be nearer to heaven; if Avalon
ever had gardens, their beauty’d be counted as none
by any who’ve had the grand fortune to stand in
this spinney. No wonder the ancient pagans 
built altars to worship the gods in these spaces
where numina stoop to ordain common places.

Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

Here are a few ways I’ve been thinking about my celebratory response to Dobbs:

First, the Lord has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5), which is to say he has prepared this table publicly. It’s a feast of rich food, fatty meat, and fine wine (Isaiah 25:6), and he has commanded us to feast with joy (Nehemiah 8:10). So if God has commanded me to publicly feast with joy, it will not do to simply wrap a dinner roll in a napkin, slip it into my purse, and sneak away from the table to chew it in the corner at home. Feast! Laugh! Invite your neighbors to pull up a chair — the food is plentiful, the bread and wine are on the house (Isaiah 55:1), and there’s plenty of room for more. Let us eat and celebrate, for death has turned to life (Luke 15:23–24)!

Second, public celebrations tell the watching world not only what the law of God is (don’t kill babies, duh) but that the law of God is good. His law is good (Psalm 19:7)! His justice is good (Psalm 98:9). His Word is good (Psalm 119:103). His work in this world is good (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18, &c.). We delight in his laws (Psalm 119:16). When we see the righteous judgment of God fulfilled on this earth, it is a very good thing indeed! And when we rejoice and celebrate in public, we are giving a public testimony to God’s goodness.

Third, rejoicing at the end of wickedness is a biblical model. When the Egyptians were thrown into the sea, Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites danced on the shores of the mass grave (Exodus 15:1–21). When David killed Goliath and cut off the giant’s head with his own monstrous sword, the people sang and danced in the streets (1 Samuel 18:6). When God gave the Ammonites into Jephtha’s hand, his daughter met him with tambourines and dancing (Judges 11:34). “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous” (Proverbs 21:15).

Fourth, we too often forget that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Do you want to be strong, church? Do you want to be strong, Christian? Then be joyful! Delight in the Lord and in his rule! When you see the work of God in this world — when our prayers that God’s kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) are in some measure answered — then rejoice, and be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10).

Fifth, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” In other words, our joy is not complete until it becomes praise; unexpressed praise is unfulfilled joy. If you’ll pardon the metaphor, enjoyment without praise is a joy that’s aborted before it reaches full term. Does the end of Roe bring you joy? It should. And if it does, then publicly praise the God who ended it.

Sixth, there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4). This is a time to laugh and dance. The great dragon Roe has been slain by the Lord Jesus Christ! There will be time for mourning and for tears, but if this is not the greatest cause for celebration in my lifetime, I don’t know what is. Read the times, and respond appropriately (1 Chronicles 12:32).

And finally, yes, we need to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Christians everywhere will continue providing support, comfort, and care to women who find themselves in unwanted pregnancies and difficult circumstances. Do I care about the struggling single mother who doesn’t know how she’s going to support her baby? Absolutely, I do. You should, too (James 1:27). Do I care that she may not be able to legally kill her own child? No, I don’t. Not even a little bit.

Not incidentally, Romans 12:15 (“weep with those who weep”) also commands us to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” I am rejoicing, so please, join me! “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me!” (Philippians 2:18). God would have it so.

The Bells of Christendom

The bells of Christendom, now long gone,
once rang throughout the West.
Laudo Deum verum, they tolled,
and all who heard were blessed.
They knelled sad news of every death
and lauded every birth
and marked at quarter hours each day
the turning of the earth.

But all the bells of Christendom
are fallen mute and dumb:
Where are the Sabbath summons, now?
The public calls to come
and worship Christ the risen king?
Where, now, their glad refrain?
Where Benedictus Dominus?
Where Oremus proclaim?

The dormant bells of Christendom
wait silent for that day
when the church, like bantys at the dawn,
cock-crows all men awake.
But who will steal to soundless steeples?
Who pull the bellman’s rope?
Where are the men to set the world
a-ring with sounding hope?

Let’s toll one bell for Christendom — 
ring one, at least, again!
Then Tailor Paul will clap his tongue,
and with his full amen
lay low the powers of the air.
He’ll drive the storms away.
He’ll gong the gospel — Christ is won! —
and keep the fiend at bay.

Do you hear the bells of Christendom?
Listen to their knell!
Though still an echo on the wind,
they sound a rising swell
’til, from steeples and from belfries,
their peals will fill the sky.
Yes, we’ll hear the bells of Christendom
resound before we die.

© 2022 Josh Bishop