11.24.2014

The God of All Knowledge

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 15

Knowledge is more than just propositions.  Knowing God is most important for us.
All our knowledge is learning about God and His world, thinking His thoughts after Him.

God knows all His creation in an owning and covenantal way, as our Lord (Amos 3:2; Isa. 40:12-14). He knows our sins, thoughts, desires.

Calvinists say God foreknows and foreordains everything.
Arminians say God foreknows all but does not foreordain things.
Socinians say God does not foreknow the future, since He doesn't foreordain it.
The open theists of today are in the Socinian category.

Prophecy in Scripture shows that God knows the future.
Many prophecies involve human decisions, which God also must know.

For a human choice to be free, it need not be unpredictable.

Scriptures that seem to show God as ignorant are His judgment beginning (Gen 3:9; 11:5; 18:21), or anthropomorphic appearance, or His testing of us (Gen 22:12; Deut 13:3).  When He remembers, He keeps promises.  It isn't that He calls to mind things He forgot.

God knows not only what is actually true, but also what is possible.  Some argue for a middle knowledge that allows God to know possible free human choices.  He creates a world such that people necessarily make the free choices God ordains.   This is incoherent.  Choices cannot be both free and determined by the world God makes.  No, there is no difference between God knowing all possible worlds, and God knowing the possible choices people could make.

Wisdom is also an attribute of God.  Proverbs 8:22 says God got wisdom when He started to create.  It refers to righteousness, the skill of godly living, the way of salvation.  Christ is the wisdom of God, and He calls out an invitation like wisdom does (Prov 9:1-4; Matt 11:28-30).

God has thoughts and a will that are rational and logical, though He is not bound by fallible human systems of logic.  Several doctrines in Scripture don't seem reconcilable to logic (problem of evil, Trinity), but we should keep trying instead of declaring them beyond us.  Many "problem texts" can be resolved through further study of Scripture.

11.22.2014

Time for Clergy to Boycott the Courthouse?

So, some conservative Catholics who I generally respect are advocating pastors no longer act as agents of the state in signing marriage licenses.  Why?  The state they say has so re-defined marriage out of biblical norms that performing marriages would bear an unclear witness to biblical truth.

This is a misguided over-reaction to a real cultural shift occurring.

I am not tainted or being unclear in my testimony to Christ to marry a man and woman and sign a marriage license as a state witness.  If I am forced to not "discriminate" and to marry a same-sex couple, I AM marring my witness.

Marriage does not belong to the church, as Rome believes.  Neither does it "belong" to the state, as most evangelicals seem to think.  Then again, this doesn't mean the church and state are mere agents at a requested wedding.  Both church and state can and should refuse to marry (or divorce), if either is applied for on unbiblical grounds.

There is GREAT confusion on this point, judging by comments I read on Facebook.  "The state should never have been involved in marriage in the first place."  Wrong!  That's an easy out taking the libertarian road.  (Hint: we don't want to be fully libertarian, which would mean the state being neutral on or fine with abortion and other moral wrongs.)

The state must be involved in marriage for legal and property reasons.  There is no need for two separate ceremonies, unless the church's criteria and the state's criteria are contradictory.  Even with a total cultural win for same-sex marriage (which we don't quite have yet), those criteria are not contradictory.  They just aren't the same, anymore.  There may come a day when the state will require all those authorized to perform marriages as its agent not to discriminate and perform a same-sex marriage if requested.  THEN I will stop acting as an agent of the state in performing marriages.

This marriage pledge sets too high a bar of purity to be engaged with the state.  It's another indicator that the church is not coping well with moving into cultural exile in the West - a time more like the first century church than the 17th century.

Gene Veith has a decent and short response, here.

11.19.2014

Strolling the Links

Wives at home
This broadens the perspective on women who aren’t employed for pay outside the home.


Want to watch a bowling ball and feather fall at the same speed?
There's a lot of dramatic build-up.  To save time, the two tests are at 1:25 and 2:50.


This touches a nerve for me: insecure moms are relying too much on internet data for parenting, medical and nutritional counsel.  We have cut ourselves off from true community in Christ (read, the Church) and it’s all we have left – a very poor substitute.

11.18.2014

Review: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection


The Expulsive Power of a New Affection
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Excellent.

The only effective way to fight sin and love of the world is with a greater love for a greater object: God Himself. Bare self-denial will not do it, since the heart naturally desires. As nature abhors a vacuum, the heart abhors nothing to desire and will grab lesser things if not enamored with the best things.

The older writing style - long sentences and less-known words - will keep many from reading it, sadly, I fear. Yet its shorter length (sermon) may help. I'm pretty sure this is online for free.



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11.15.2014

Review: The Lightning Thief


The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



Not very good.

This series is quite popular, but the first book was not very edifying. Positively, it gets you to hate evil, whether you find it in gods or mortals. The bad guys are really bad. You learn about the Greek gods in an entertaining way. It throws in lots of info about Greek mythology, actually bringing the whole story into modern day New York.

It brings the worldview, too. Gods are just stronger and bigger flawed humans. They fight each other so nothing is for sure in life, with their arbitrary plans always changing. Humans are pawns of the gods.

It's one thing to study this worldview, but another to assume its truth personally while identifying with the main character living it. Maybe helpful in an Ecclesiastes kind of way: experience how chaotic and uncertain life must feel for atheists or polytheistic pagans. No sure anchor.

Nah. Lots of better reading out there.



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11.12.2014

The Problem of Evil

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 14

If God is all powerful, He can prevent evil.
If God is good, He wants to prevent evil.
Since evil exists, God is either not all powerful or not good.

This is the problem of evil.

The Bible gives a direct answer to why there is natural evil in the world (earthquakes, floods, etc.) in Romans 8:19-22:  it is because of the entrance of sin.  Moral evil came first, and natural evil is one result of it (Gen 3:17-19).  "God has ordained that the universe resist its human ruler until that ruler stops resisting God."

Since God is sovereign, we can't say He is too weak to prevent evil.  We also know He doesn't take pleasure in evil and that His ways are just.

There are 3 ways to answer the problem:
1. The nature of evil
2. How evil is "good."
3. God's responsibility for evil

1. The nature of evil
One theory is that evil is the lack or privation of being good.  Created-good beings tend toward evil and non-being, and our created-good will falls into evil.  But why can't God prevent such tendency if He is good?  Is there a tendency toward imperfection in the "nature" of created things?  Not necessarily.  And why must we say evil is lack of good and nothing on its own?  Good came before evil, but we don't need to say that evil is nonbeing.  The Bible doesn't use these philosophical categories about sin.  Most important, this doesn't get rid of the problem.  A doughnut maker is still responsible for the hole in the doughnut; God decided what to leave out of His creation, if evil is something "left out."

2. Evil contributes to a greater good.
Look at the bigger picture.  Surgery brings pain, but heals in the long run.  God has a greater purpose in permitting evil than preventing it.  Various greater purposes are suggested: order (God can't suspend gravity for everyone who falls down stairs, we wouldn't know what to expect); maturity (we need discipline and hard knocks to grow up); free will (God wants to let us be free to choose good or evil); revealing more good (compassion and patience would not exist without evil).  God made an orderly world at the beginning with no evil, so that isn't needed.  We'll deal with free will later.  The second option of maturity and God's purpose is the best solution.  "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" Genesis 50:20.  "All things work together for good for those who love God" Romans 8:28.  The greater good is not our comfort or pleasure, but God's glory.  The cross is the greatest example of God bringing good out of evil.  So this answer is legit.  One lingering question though: how is this not an "end justifies the means" argument?  How is it right for God to use morally questionable ways to get to a good purpose?  Frame's answer to this is unsatisfactory, simply asserting that it may not be questionable when God does it.  I land on 2 Corinthians 4:17: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

3. God's Agency and evil
In some sense God brings evil things to pass, but is not the author of it.  He ordains it but doesn't cause it.  The Reformed confessions all affirm this distinction.  Calling God the more remote cause while Satan, thieves and wind are closer causes of Job's woes may help a little, but you can't totally absolve God of responsibility by this.  Saying God permits evil doesn't help much, because "God's permission is an efficacious permission."  It indicates God ordains sin reluctantly while also hating it.  But permission is a kind of ordination.  A better answer may lie in seeing God as author of a play.  Shakespeare has MacBeth kill Duncan, but Shakespeare should not be punished for murder.  "God is not subject to the ignorant evaluations of his creatures" as we see at the end of Job.  When Romans 9:19-21 comes to the problem of evil, the answer is that God is above us, not at all that He allows us free will.

So God brings a greater good out of allowing evil for now, and He ordains it as an author is not morally responsible for the sin of his character.  We cannot accuse God as He is the potter, the Creator, and we are the clay, His creatures.

God Is Righteous and Holy

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 13

Righteous
God is the "perfect internal standard of right and wrong."  The moral law is based on His being; not above Him or changeable by Him, but an expression of Him.  So we are to be holy because He is (Lev. 19:2).  We imitate Christ (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:10).

Righteousness is a forensic word, with a context of law and courtroom.  There are penalties for breaking God's law.

The Bible also speaks of His righteousness as actively bringing salvation to people.  Psalm 9:7-9; Isa. 46:12-13.  He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).  He vindicates the righteous against His enemies (Ps 34:15-22; 72:1-4).  This isn't traditional Liberation Theology, where God always delivers or is on the side of the economically poor.  He gives justice to His people (Luke 18:7).

By the sacrifice of the Righteous One, we become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).


Jealousy
Zeal to guard exclusiveness of a relationship.  Scripture always speaks positively of jealousy, and Ex 20:5 is clear that God is jealous.  His zeal is for His name to be hallowed and honored.  Jealousy is an expression of love, not its opposite.  If you shrug at your spouse's infidelity you do not love him/her.


Hatred
We should love people instead of hate them, but God calls us to hate evil.
God directs hate at sinners sometimes, not just their sin (Psalm 139:21-22; 119:113).
Hatred doesn't always involve hostility, disgust, or seeking the worst for someone.  It can be merely relative priorities (Gen 29:31; Matt 10:37), or opposing one's plans or intentions.  In this sense you can both love and hate the same person.  This is important, or we could not say "God is love" and also affirm that God hates at all.  But "God is the supreme hater of wickedness."
We should pray imprecatory Psalms against God's enemies, calling God to judge them, while also desiring their conversion.  Those God hates at one point in time may be converted later on - we were all under His wrath once (Eph 2:3) but He saved us.  God hated Esau from his birth (Rom 9:11), but this regards historical election.  Paul is using that to explain eternal election, but Esau himself was not necessarily eternal damned.

Wrath
Though Scripture often warns us against being angry as a sin (Matt 5:21; Gal 5:20), there is also a righteous anger Jesus displayed (John 2:14-17) and that God has in response to sin (Jer 6:11).  The Bible often refers to wrath with no connection to God (Num 1:53; Rom 2:8), but it's implied.  Even the Lamb executes His wrath (Rev 6:16-17), God threatens wrath against Moses (Ex 4:24) and Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:24).  HE is a a consuming fire, and it's fearful to fall into His hands.  We tend to diminish the intensity and frequency of references to this in Scripture.  This may be okay, as Scripture itself does so with brief descriptions of "wrath."
God is slow to anger (Ps 103:8) and flows righteously from His jealousy.  It is "but for a moment" for His people (Ps 30:4-5), but enduring for the unrepentant (Matt:8:12; 25:30).


Holiness
God is different from us.  Moses stood on holy ground at the burning bush because God was there.  The temple and tabernacle show varying degrees of holy places, not a holy/common dichotomy or a sacred/secular distinction.  Holiness means God's otherness brings us to wonder, awe and fear of Him.  It also reminds us we are undone before Him as sinners.  Both God and sinners draw back from each other because of the ethical difference.  (Think of Peter telling Jesus to "Depart from me.")  But God also draws us to Himself, making us holy and calling us to be holy as He is.  He gives Israel a festal and temple system to enter His holiness, as He gives us Christ to do the same more fully.  Frame says God's holiness moves Him to mercy, appealing to Hosea 11:9 and Ps 22:1-5.  It seems to me that other attributes of God move Him to draw us to Himself more.

11.11.2014

Between Exile and Reconstruction

There are basically two camps among reformed theologians regarding eschatology and cultural engagement.  The amillennials like Carl Trueman and Kevin DeYoung and the postmillennials like Gary DeMar and Peter Leithart.

It's a difference in emphasis between victory and faithfulness.

If as a post-millennial you think that a more pessimistic person will be less faithful, then you are putting too much stock in man.  It’s a form of "name it and claim it" to say, “You’ve got to believe we CAN win in order to go out and actually fulfill the Great Commission.”  That’s just not true.  Tolkien was far closer to the truth.  We do NOT know if the Gospel will advance with success in our lifetime, in our country, but we can be faithful pessimists.  (I don’t say we must be pessimists; neither do I believe God forbids it in the short term.)

If as an a-millennial you think others make God's promises too earthly-minded, then you are overly spiritualizing your worldview.  It's a form of Gnosticism, of denigrating the body and earth that God made us with, to imply that God finally just take us away from all this yucky physical stuff that tempts us.  As if there's no mental sins.  Jesus teaches us to pray for His Kingdom to come to earth, not go to heaven.

What brought all this on was an intriguing set of essays by Leithart and Trueman in First Things a few months back.  Leithart asserts that the best of Protestantism is in the future, not the past.  Overcoming division and error should be our vision and is our destiny in Christ.  This is true.

Trueman asserts on the next page that the church should get ready for cultural exile - to be the minority in a society that doesn't take God into account in its lifestyle or policies.  "Today's world is becoming a colder, harder place."  This is also true.

This is a fight we don’t need to have.  Let’s do all we can to advance the gospel in every nation.  We will disagree over how much success we will have, and what we should do, perhaps.  Let each be convinced in his own mind on this, each member contributing differently to the body of Christ.  Triumph is in our future, but so is lament.  Let us fight faithfully and look to Christ for the victory.

11.10.2014

Two Kingdoms or One?

Just finished listening to an interview with David VanDrunen, a "Radical Two Kingdoms" guy.

Synopsis of the debate
Luther is the touchstone for Two Kingdoms thought.  The civil state should not meddle with church affairs nor should the church meddle in civil affairs.  The church should not require members to hold specific political views, for instance.  Against this is the view that Christ has one kingdom, and wants His Church to bring the Word of God to bear in the public square as much as anywhere else.  Public policy should be shaped by Scripture, not just natural law.

New thought
This is similar to the separation of church and state discussion in the first amendment.  We want to keep the state from interfering with the free exercise of religion, but a misunderstood strict separation has led to exactly that interference.  Similarly, if you strictly define and separate the two theological kingdoms of church and state, you wind up with a church not able to speak God's Word to the magistrate.   R2K guys discourage pastors from protesting at abortion clinics, as an example.  Why?  To not give the impression that church members MUST do this or face ire or slight from the church.  But this is a baseless fear.  Few in the church have a guilty conscience because of what their pastor does or doesn't do, to begin with.  And the power of example for cultural engagement is more important than a concern for the perception of what you "have to do at this church."  What about pastors writing letters to the editor of local newspapers?  This strict separation silences the church's voice right where it might be most effective.

Where to land
There's a middle way between this strict separation of the R2K view and the Christian Reconstruction view that says every civil government must adopt the Old Testament penal code.  I'm for Kuyper's sphere sovereignty, and the church advocating in the political sphere for the general equity of God's moral law.

On Rushdoony - Again

I think I published this piece here a couple years ago, but thought it could do with seeing it again.

If you don't know who R.J. Rushdoony is, feel free to move along...


Review of Institutes of Biblical Law

I was quite taken aback to begin reading the introduction to the Institutes of Biblical Law and find Calvin’s view of the law dubbed “heretical nonsense” (9). Rushdoony pulls no punches.

Surveying the 10 commandments for 650 pages, and then turning to the use of the law throughout Scripture for another 200, Rushdoony is an insightful cultural critic and decent exegete, but his theological view of the law within the entire scope of Scripture is off kilter.

There is a wealth of information on the Ten Commandments, applied throughout Scripture and today. He helpfully explains the principle behind obscure and bizarre (sounding to moderns) laws. The danger of doing this so well and specifically is inferring too much from the law, and Rushdoony falls into this plenty often, I think. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” This leads to transvestites, but starts with confusing gender roles. So, men shouldn’t do “woman’s work” (437), he says. It’s good to apply every Word of God specifically, and in every legitimate way possible, but we may not infer too much from a text. Scripture must interpret Scripture. In this example, we note the Proverbs 31 woman makes forays into “man’s work,” but it isn’t her primary activity. A man can help his wife with the dishes without violating Scripture!

Theologically, everything leads back to the paramount law for Rushdoony, whether it is grace, communion, baptism, etc. An example: “The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the renewal of the covenant so that the sacrament itself re-establishes the law" (7). That's just a strange way to put things. Love and covenant relationship is the point, more than the law. The sacraments re-affirm the ongoing relationship IN SPITE of our law breaking. They are sacraments of the covenant of grace. This phrase gives me a queer feeling that for Rushdoony the law is the end all and be all of religion. This often feels like Judaizing, and contrary to Paul’s letters and the book of Hebrews, to which he seldom refers. It feels like it, but it is not. His view of grace cancelling the punishments of the law appears to be orthodox elsewhere, though he places much more emphasis on the use of the law in society. He hammers away at Romans 8:4, that the righteous requirement of the law is meant to be fulfilled in us, and this is needed in our day. He just does it in a way that makes you think the law is the end-all and be-all of Christianity, which it isn’t.

He denies any place for common grace: that the unregenerate can come to some wisdom in governing men and nations. A society is either founded on the Law-Word of God and faithful, or it is looking to the wisdom of man and it is apostate. This is certainly clear, but too either-or. What if states are free to apply the “general equity” of God’s law, as Westminster and Calvin taught? He is quick to throw out the charge of antinomianism, and the church HAS fallen into sin by claiming to be under grace. But Rushdoony charges the mainstream Reformed position, that the state is not held to enforce the whole of Biblical law, as antinomian.

Rushdoony is very influential in my circles. He gives you a clear place to stand (or a way to fight) in a morally degenerating culture: with the law. As the church finds herself increasingly in a “bread and circuses” culture, she is more susceptible to over-responding into the Donatist and ascetic heresies. I’m not calling Rushdoony a Donatist or heretic. But he does make some grandiose claims for how the law can preserve and save a society. I would like to interact positively with his views, especially asking which laws are binding on individuals and on the state today (without facing the charge of antinomianism for even asking the question), while toning down the “silver bullet” expectations that just going back to the law will solve our problems. The law is a real piece of the solution, as is the Church, and especially the Spirit working repentance and grace in the heart.

There is too much for a short review. Insightful exegesis is mixed with off balance theology. This continues in the appendices by Gary North. John Frame sums it up best: “Yes, we must not substitute love for law; but we had better not substitute law for love either. Yes, love may be defined in terms of law; but the requirement of the law is also summarized and defined in the love-commandment…. A bit more “sympathy” with people and a bit less preoccupation with legal rights would greatly improve his treatment of these matters…. Rushdoony has been so preoccupied with the question of the authority of the law that he has missed some very weighty elements of biblical teaching…. he tends to set himself off so sharply from other Reformed thinkers that he is not in a very good position to benefit from their counsel. Nor are they in a good position to benefit from his.”


See here for my previous thoughts on Rushdoony

See here for John Frame’s excellent and more indepth review of this book.

11.09.2014

Review: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix


A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Insightful about leadership.

This is not a Christian book. It is heavily evolutionary and psychological, but still abounds in wisdom.

Thesis: “The thinking processes that produce a failure of nerve and a quick-fix mentality in contemporary America are the result of a decline in maturity in an anxiously regressed society.”

Leadership is as much emotional as cognitive. It’s keeping your head when others are losing theirs, in Kipling’s phrase. Anxious people naturally sabotage and attack mature leaders, wanting others to join in their anxiety. The solution is for the leader (parent, pastor or president) not to try to FIX the anxious, but to remain calm and mature themselves; not to join the hysteria, but not to detach from it or react against it, either.

Barriers to leadership include (1) being captured by conventional thinking, like cartographers before Columbus, (2) social anxiety shown in blaming, herding, reacting, and craving a quick fix, (3) obsession with data that prevents decisiveness, (4) empathizing with anxious or dysfunctional followers more than taking responsibility as a leader (understanding your people to the detriment of understanding your role as leader), (5) narcissistic or autocratic selfishness instead of a self-integrity that maintains one’s mature sense of self among anxious others (not rejecting or functioning for them).

Leadership is about emotional process as much as about ideas. Some of this is very controversial. Leaders need to focus on themselves (anxiety, responsibilities) more than on their followers! Empathy is often a power tool of the dysfunctional and irresponsible. The unmotivated don’t change by hand-holding and giving them insight. Some of this is very common sense: keep calm and be mature (his word is self-differentiated). A leader has to know where his being and responsibility stops and the group’s begins. You can’t function for the group, but neither can you disconnect from the group. Staying mature yourself and connected to the anxious group will change the group, more than trying harder to empathize, give insight, or just work harder. It's not so much about saying the right thing, but being the right person with others.

I'd recommend this for any leader: parents and pastors and workplace supervisors especially.



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11.08.2014

Review: Murder on the Orient Express


Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Decent.

My first Agatha Christie. First murder mystery ever, besides Sherlock Holmes, really.

I don't know if it's fair to compare with Doyle, but the main character detective seemed to lack personality, relative to Sherlock. This is deep detail, who-done-it mystery. The level of detail, then back to the big picture was an interesting move. Don't lose the forest for the trees is part of the message. Who moved where in the car, and when? This needs thinking through, but what's really going on?

There's an interesting ethical dilemma at the end. Vigilante justice is assumed to be permissible, at least in this case. A dangerous precedent, if it is one.

This was a diverting branch-off into something I don't usually read, but I'll stick to theology and kids' books, more, I think.



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Review: The Chocolate Touch


The Chocolate Touch
The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Quaint kids' story about the consequences of greed, and the need to think of others.

Good for young readers just starting in chapter books.



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11.07.2014

Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Fun.

I picked it up at the library just before Halloween for fun.
Ghost stories just meant to spook.
I read Sleepy Hollow, Devil and Tom Walker, and Adventure of My Uncle.

Set in New England, these stories are more down-to-earth than they're known for. Sleepy Hollow has a farm feast and rival courtship going on that leads to the headless horseman's ride.

But there's a basically Christian worldview behind it all, especially in "Tom Walker." Greed will get you nowhere. "Never was sinner taken more unawares."



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11.05.2014

The Day King James Was Spared

Remember, remember! 
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James's sake!
If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!