Essay / Misc.

Definition Part 3: Disjectamembra

See the other posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

George Muller (1805-1898) was a 19th-century pastor famous for trusting God to meet his daily needs, even when his daily needs grew to include caring for thousand of orphans. His life story has been told many times, but the classic version, approved by his family, was written by A. T. Pierson (1837-1911), himself an important figure and the subject of a recent biography.

Pierson’s biography of Muller doesn’t just report the dramatic events and miraculous occurrences in Muller’s life —though there were plenty of both, and they do show up in the book. But Pierson has an eye for real life, and for the daily grind that forms the horizon against which such dramatic events occur. So he gathers a host of details, reporting all the little events and influences that formed the life of Muller. Along the way, Pierson interjects this little meditation on how the bits and pieces of biographical detail go together. His springboard is our eponymous little Horatian phrase, and from there the meditation takes flight:

Our life-occurrences are not disjecta membra— scattered, disconnected, and accidental fragments. In God’s book all these events were written beforehand, when as yet there was nothing in existence but the plan in God’s mind— to be fashioned in continuance in actual history— as is perhaps suggested in Psalm 139:16 (margin).

We see stones and timbers brought to a building site— the stones from different quarries and the timbers from various shops— and different workmen have been busy upon them at times and places which forbade all conscious contact or cooperation. The conditions oppose all preconcerted action, and yet, without chipping or cutting, stone fits stone, and timber fits timber— tenons and mortises, and proportions and dimensions, all corresponding so that when the building is complete it is as perfectly proportioned and as accurately fitted as though it had been all prepared in one workshop and put together in advance as a test. In such circumstances no sane man would doubt that one presiding mind— one architect and master builder — had planned that structure, however many were the quarries and workshops and labourers.

Scraps, fragments, and the hidden wholeness granted by “one presiding mind” behind the life of faith. Studying Muller, Pierson couldn’t help seeing a kind of intelligent design lurking in the apparently “scattered, disconnected, and accidental fragments.” Without imposing a false system or eclipsing his observation of detail, Pierson grasped the secret: “Our life-occurrences are not disjecta membra.”

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