Friday, March 31, 2017

The French Revolution - Ian Davidson

Did you know that Thomas Paine was a part of a constitution writing convention of the French Revolution?  Neither did I.  Actually, I really didn't know much about the French Revolution at all.  This book, The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny by Ian Davidson sounded like a good resource for discovering more about this historic event.

This book was quite helpful, taking you through the many events that made up that period in French history, some of these events being: a National Assembly coming into power subordinating the King to a Constitution, France going to war with Austria, the King being condemned to death and executed, various uprisings of the people, the Terror, many public beheadings (apparently so common that they became boring) and the ultimate execution of Robespierre himself. 

I learned that the Revolution did not start with the people wanting the King overthrown (I guess I sort of assumed that they were all for Regicide), the move was made at first to keep the King but subordinate him to a Constitution. He would no longer be the ultimate authority, rather there would be a National Assembly which would have the power to vote on things - I think the King was given some sort of veto power, but that didn't last long.   Even after the  monarchy was completely removed not all Frenchmen wanted the former King executed (the lack of that desire caused trouble for them later on), but they were overruled. 

Robespierre eventually comes into power and the Terror begins, and it truly sounds as though it would have been quite terrifying.  Ultimately it came down to utter lawlessness,  if one was accused of being against the government, you didn't even need proof of guilt.  It was basically a matter of one's being presumed guilty simply because one was accused.  ""the tribunal could only choose between two verdicts, acquittal or death, and that based not on evidence but on the moral conviction of the jurors."  Ironically, Thomas Paine was supposed to be executed (due to various events) but was saved by a mistake.  Davidson does not focus on the Terror part of the history (It only takes up about one chapter), the Terror was simply one part of the whole Revolution…or 'revolutions' of power in France, and it actually didn't last as long as I had presumed.

The history in and of itself is a bit overwhelming as there are so many changes of power, various political inclinations of the characters involved, and many constitutions and other political documents produced, but the author of this history does a pretty good job of talking you through what was happening.  it's still hard for me to keep track of all that happened in retrospect, but that's where the timeline at the beginning of the book comes in handy.  

I want write a few notes here, about the book, first, there is an awkward discussion in one of the notes at the end of the book, that I don't quite see as relevant to the history - or at least is not something that I felt the need to know. And also there are pictures in the middle of the book, two of which (paintings) are not decent (some nudity).  

On another note, there were  several helpful maps included in the book, a timeline and also an interesting list, compiled by Davidson, of people of note in the revolution. His list "suggests" that "anyone who did anything in the Revolution that could come to the attention of later historians had a 43 percent chance of a violent death".  

One of the things that I found striking about the French Revolution, as opposed to the American one, is that it appears that it was quite atheistic in its endeavors.  Robespierre tried to remedy this by coming up with something called the Supreme Being, but even then, Robespierre seemed to consider himself the supreme being rather than any supernatural entity. That seems to be the 'thing' about the French revolutionary leaders: they were themselves the moral reference rather than anything outside of themselves - which is perhaps why events were so mixed up,  because the people, with their varying opinions, were themselves the standard rather than any fixed point.  They really were not governed by any fixed law, rather it was the laws made up by whoever was in power at the time.  The people governed the law rather than vice-versa.

 Davidson is an interesting writer, he keeps the attention quite well and is not afraid to give his own opinions and speculations on the various events of the Revolution. I didn't necessarily agree with all of his opinions of the events he is recounting, but it was interesting to see what he thought.  Before I read this book, I mainly thought of the French Revolution  as a chaotic, murderous, disorganized attempt at mimicking the American one.   In a way that is true (at least in my opinion), but it was more organized than I thought, though there were many conflicts as to how it should be organized (thus multiple constitutions and changes of power), it was, perhaps, a little less murderous than I thought, though it still struck me as rather violent during pretty much every stage, and it wasn't quite as chaotic as I had thought, at the beginning, though it still seemed to get more and more chaotic as the Revolution progressed.

All in all, it was quite the fascinating read. 


Many Thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book!  - My review did not have  to be positive

My Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
****

Here are a couple (there are more of course) of websites where this book may be purchased:  Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Answers to Prayer - George Muller

Answers to Prayer by George Müller is part of the Read & Reflect With the Classics Series (I am reviewing the hardcover version) which provides thought provoking questions and also prayers at the end of each chapter.   Müller's book details various accounts of God's all sufficient grace in the works that God had prepared for him to do.

The way that Mueller approached the ministries that God graciously gave him is very unique compared to most present day Christian ministries (and perhaps most ministries in Müller's day as well).  Ministries today are very focused and reliant upon, money.  They  hold fundraising drives, have commercials on the radio asking for people's support, and some will send tons of letters and emails begging for monetary help. I think of one ministry in particular, which, although its founders believe in God's absolute sovereignty, they contradict their belief by implying that their ministry cannot continue without the help of people, that "your support makes ministry happen". 

Many ministries act as if they are the most important ministry in God's Kingdom and that if you do not give money and they expire, that God's Word will not be given out any more.  Muller did not act like that.  He knew that God did not need human beings in order to get His work done. 

Müller took a more faith-based approach, relying upon God rather than upon people for help.  He would not ask people for help with ministries, he asked God, period.  And God provided.  "Never since the Orphan work has been in existence have I asked one single human being for any help for this work; and yet, unasked for, simply in answer to prayer, from so many parts of the world, as has been stated, the donations have come in, and that very frequently at a time of the greatest need."

He also came to the conclusion that one should not rely on people's promises to give money and that one should not even think about those promises: "Now this morning it came to my mind, that such promises ought to be valued, in a certain sense, as nothing, i.e., that the mind ought never for a moment to be directed to them, but to the living God, and to the living God only.  I saw that such promises ought not to be of the value of one farthing, so far as it regards to thinking about them for help."  This is quite a contrast to ministries who beg for pledges of money, and put large or regular donors names up on plaques.  They make more of the people, more of the tools,  that God uses than the Supplier Himself!  God is the One who supplies all our need, and though he may use people to do it, they are but channels (think "Channels Only").  God doesn't need people, or their money, AT ALL in order to supply our needs!

As Müller puts it, "Earthly friends may lose their ability to help us, however much they desire so to do; but He remains throughout eternity the Infinitely Rich One.  Earthly friends may have their minds after a time diverted to other objects, and, as they cannot help everywhere, much as they may desire it, they may, though reluctantly, have to discontinue to help us; but He is able, in all directions, though the requirements were multiplied a million times, to supply all that can possibly be needed, and does it with delight, where His work is carried on, and where He is confided in.  Earthly friends may be removed by death, and thus we may lose their help, but He lives forever, He cannot die.  In this latter point of view, I have especially, during the past 40 years, in connection with this Institution, seen the blessedness of trusting in the Living God alone.  Not one nor two, nor even five nor ten, but many more, who once helped me much with their means, have been removed by death; but have the operations of the Institution been stopped on that account?  No.  And how came this? Because I trusted in God, and in God alone."

Müller would at times give updates on God's provision for the ministries in times of great need, but this was to encourage Christians in the faith, not to work on their emotions to make them feel compelled to give supplies.  At least one time Muller and his fellow workers put off giving an update because at the time they were, from a human perspective, in desperate straits, and they did not want other people to know it, wanting to rely solely on God for help.

Many ministries want God to give them a yearly supply rather than just their daily bread.  The ministries that God gave Müller charge over lived day by day in reliance upon God's supply, many times literally being given the means for their daily needs DAILY on the day they were needed, rather than in advance.

I really liked this book. The only thing that I didn't quite like were the prayers that were added at the end of each chapter.  I would rather that they have been commentary rather than prewritten ways that we can use to talk to God. Yes, we do not know how to pray as we ought, but neither does the person who wrote those prayers.  Though I don't think that using other people's prayers is necessarily wrong, Christians ought not to rely upon other Christians to write their prayers for them, we have the best Helper of all in the Holy Spirit who is our Interceder in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).    There are good concepts in them though, "You provide what I need, and if I don't have it, I can absolutely trust that I don't need it. "

Before I end, and I really need to end because this is quite long, at the end of the book there is an appendix containing an article by Muller on "The Careful and Consecutive Reading of the Holy Scriptures".  It is an excellent read, and describes Muller's goal in writing this book.  He advocates the consistent daily reading of the Scriptures, over and above any other book.  He describes how he once slacked in that area and how he had gotten into the habit of reading other books, including Christian ones, instead of the Scripture.  "…thus, like many believers, I practically preferred, for the first four years of my divine life, the works of uninspired men to the oracles of the living God."  As he put it, "God himself has condescended to become an author" and this is the "book of books" containing all that we ought to know!  We should not value Christian books (including this one) above the Scriptures, the Scriptures themselves should be our delight. 


Many thanks to the folks at B&H Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

My rating:  5 out of 5 stars
*****

This book may be purchased at (among other websites) the Christian Book Distributors website and Amazon.com