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Smoking Spiritualized: In Two Parts

Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) was a Scottish churchman. You've probably never heard of him, and neither had I, until I met a group of Reformed Baptist pastors who, annually, recited a poem of his as they gathered for the rather secretive "Spurgeon Society" meeting, as they sat around table smoking their pipes and cigars. Baptists? Smoking? Yeah, they were Reformed Baptists. Meaning, they don't willingly harp on legalistic taboos that other Baptists decide to make up to make themselves feel morally superior to others. That's why I joined them. What I saw amazing me.

Erskine was known for one poem in these circles, and when you go to the Wiki, his poetry is there too. Perhaps the most relevant to this post is a lyric that reads, "A rigid matter was the law, demanding brick, denying straw, But when with gospel tongue it sings, it bids me fly and gives me wings." Note the distinction between the law and the gospel. It's a distinction that is tragically missing from most Protestant circles these days, and that's a shame, because it truly is the sum and substance of Holy Scripture.

I say it is relevant to this post because the aforesaid poem was written to sharply and properly distinguish the law and gospel using tobacco as its metaphor. I remember like it was yesterday my friend and fellow pastor Robert Cole, a man whom God took far too young for my liking, a man with one of the greatest scottish accents and senses of humor I've ever known, reading the poem in the old brogue with all the men chanting the final line in unison, "Thus think, and smoke tobacco." I loved it! Which is rather funny, since I can't even smell (never have been able to, since birth), and thus, I really don't even have a clue what the whole tobacco thing, smell wise, is even all about). This post is in your honor, Rob. We'll meet again soon enough. This will be the first of a two-parter, and you'll see why in the next installment. These are the words of Ralph Erskine, whom Tolkien must surely have read in some subliminal and unsuspecting Protestant weaker moment of his:

A Poem by Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

The first Part being an old Meditation upon Smoking Tobacco;

the second, a new Addition to it, or Improvement of it.

Part One: The Law

THIS Indian weed now wither'd quite, Tho' green at noon, cut down at night, Shows thy decay; All flesh is hay. Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe, so lily-like and weak, Does thus thy mortal state bespeak Thou art ev'n such, Gone with a touch.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,

Then thou behold'st the vanity

Of worldly stuff,

Gone with a puff.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,

Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;

For then the fire,

It does require.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;

Then to thyself thou mayest say,

That to the dust

Return thou must.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part Two: The Gospel

WAS this small plant for thee cut down!

So was the Plant of great renown;

Which mercy sends

For nobler ends.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed

From such a naughty foreign weed?

Then what's the power

Of Jesse's flower?

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,

And by the mouth of faith conveys

What virtue flows

From Sharon's rose.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;

Your pains in outward means are so,

Till heav'nly fire

The heart inspire.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense, tow'rs;

So should a praying heart of yours,

With ardent cries,

Surmount the skies.

Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

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I'm a Christian, husband, father, son, brother, in-law, pastor, friend, fifth gen native Coloradan, published author, blogger, podcaster, radio host, CEO, mountain climber, biker, scholar, theologian, thinker, entrepreneur, amateur archeologist, conservative, lover of all things strange and supernatural, conspiracy theorist (yeah, that's not a bad thing), and ...

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