Thursday, September 29, 2016
A Separate Place (i)
We move amidst a world today
Of unrest, clamor and dismay;
A world steeped high in guilt and sin;
That has no love or peace within;
In which iniquities increase;
That does not know the way of peace.
The only real clue as to the age of this old poem from the attic* is the newspaper that published it had a bi-lingual readership. Everything but the poem and the ads are in Dutch. Maybe 1940s, I'm guessing. Perhaps earlier.
The rhetoric, however, is ageless. Christians have been prophesying end times since Christ himself warned his disciples to keep their eyes on the skies. That's 2000 years.
A world that seeks to overthrow
All God has given his saints to know;
That cunningly with devilish sway
Seeks to entice the church away.
Against the church their boast is hurled
That man shall make a better world.
"Want proof of end times?"--the poet asks. It's God-denying humanism, the heresy that man, not God, can and shall "make a better world." It can't be a century-old. I'm thinking this Mrs. Franken, if I'm right, was born in 1878 and died in 1962.
Be not deceived, O Church, be wise.
The future that before us lies
Shall be still darker than before.
God's word foretells what lies in store.
That times of much distress shall be,
And times of great apostacy.
I'm not sure what grammatical rules Mrs. Franken is following by granting Church upper-case reference, but she probably means to be speaking of "the church universal," a designation that may well have clarified for her what that Church was. Eighty years later, I'm probably not as sure as she is or was.
But she is. And she's also forsworn to believe that in this life the primary battle is the church (Church) vs. the world. Mrs. Franken didn't dream that up. The times are changing. Woe and woe and woe.
I'm guessing the dark spiritual vision that creates the context of the poem may well be what she thought she might see by, well, now--the turn of the 21st century, a world, to her, unimaginable. Our world. Arie Franken, her husband, came to this ground as a babe in arms in a covered wagon. First place was a sod house. By 1962, she'd seen horses disappear and cars and trucks and planes shrink time and space into a moment.
Against these powers of sin arrayed,
Strong we must stand, and unafraid.
Dare to defy this wicked world;
And let truth's banner be unfurled.
Be ever watchful, lest their snares
Be set within us, unawares.
The world's wickedness takes no prisoners. All we can do is stand our ground in vigilance lest it somehow seize us unaware. Life's great pitched battle is between us and them.
If this sermon was penned in the depths of the Depression, Mrs. Franken might well have seen neighbors, in tears, abandoning farms and heading west to find some way to live. Made no sense to keep livestock. Just down the road, farmers threatening judges, the law. Her Dakota cousins claimed creation itself was returning to dust.
Still, the foe she's facing is even more dangerous because it's spiritual.
The Church on earth a pilgrim band
From every clime and tongue and land,
Redeemed by wondrous sovereign grace,
Must occupy a separate place.
Must walk in all the do and say
Upon the straight and narrow way.
That's what she's after here--"a separate place."
*Mrs. Arie Franken, "A Separate People," from The Volksvriend (?), date unknown.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:28 AM