Essay / Theology

The Voice of the Raven

Just after three pm on February 3, 1691, a little boy was whittling on a piece of wood outside his house, when a raven landed on the steeple of the nearby church and said to him, “Look into Colossians 3:15.”

The raven said this three times.

So the boy, obedient lad that he was, went inside and told his grandparents to look up that passage. What they found there was the message of gospel peace: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

Vox Corvi
That’s the story according to Alexander Clogie (1614-1698), who retells it in his book Vox corvi, or, The voice of a raven that thrice spoke these words distinctly, Look into Colossians the 3d and 15th.. Clogie goes on with an even more extended sub-title, which lets the reader know that in his booklet, one will find “the text it self look’d into and opened in a sermon preached at Wigmore in the county of Hereford.”

But wait, that’s not all! “To which is added serious addresses to the people of this kingdome, shewing the use we ought to make of this voice from heaven.”

I have a weakness for weird books, especially old ones. So I was really hoping for a hilarious dose of oddness from Clogie’s Corvi. Instead, I had to admit that The Voice of the Raven is a good exposition of the biblical theology of peace. The fact that a talking raven told a little boy to look up Colossians 3:15 is, admittedly, unusual. I’m not even sure I believe it. But once Clogie sets his mind to delivering “serious addresses to the people of this kingdome,” he does a great job of it.

In fact, Clogie kind of caught me in the act of looking for something exotic, and then switched up and gave me the word of God instead. I started reading his book because it had a talking bird, but instead I got a talking apostle.

Here is Clogie’s preface:

Christian Reader.

This following Discourse is presented to thy Perusal, under a double Recommendation; not only as containing so Evangelical a Blessing, (as the Peace of God in the Text) offer’d to thee; our heartiest endeavours for the obtaining whereof is so much our highest Christian Importance and Duty; but likewise more particularly the Occasion that gave the Reverend Preacher the choice of this Text; which first in the plain matter of Fact take as follows.

On the 3d of February, 1691, about Three in the Afternoon, this Reverend Divine, a Person of the venerable Age of Eighty Years, and Forty of those a Laborious Teacher of God’s Word, in the Parish of Wigmore, in the County of Hereford, being in the Hall of his own House, being with the Pious Matron, his Wife, some Neighbours and Relations, to gether with two small Grand-Children of his, in all to the number of Eight Persons; Thomas Kinnersley, one of the said Grand-Children, of but Ten Years of Age, starting up from the Fire-side, went out of the Hall-Door, and sate himself down upon a Block, by a Wood-pile before the Door, employing himself in no other Childish Exercise than cutting of a Stick; when in less than half a quarter of an Hour, he returned into the Hall in great Amazement, his Countenance pale, and affrighted, and said to his Grand father and Grand mother, Look in the Third of the Colossians, and the Fifteenth, with infinite Passion and Earnestnesse, repeating the Words no less than three times; which Deportment and Speech much surprizing the whole Company, they asked him what he meant by those words; who answered with great Ardency of Spirit, That a Raven had spoken them Three times from the Peak of the Steeple and that it look’d towards W. W.’s House, and shook its Head and Wings thitherward, directing its Looks and Motions still towards that House. All which words he heard the Raven distinctly utter three times, and then saw it mount and fly out of sight. His Grand father hereupon, taking the Bible, and turning to the said Text, found these words,

And let the Peace of God rule in your Hearts; to the which you are also called in one Body; and be ye thankful.

Upon reading whereof, the Child was fully satisfied and his Countenance perfectly composed agen.

Why should we pay attention to Colossians 3:15? Because a bird said so? Well, that’s not a bad reason to look up the passage. But if we listen to the voice of the raven, we’ll pay attention to Colossians 3:15 because the apostle, inspired by God, says to let the peace of God rule in our hearts.

Clogie plays on this idea of a message “commissioned from above” which utters “such a Heavenly Admonition.”

‘Tis on this Account (Christian Reader) that this following Discourse is presented to thy Hand, and under such Credentials, ’tis hoped (with the Grace of God) that the seasonable Precepts contained therein may be of Efficacy and Force, to work a lively sense in thy Heart, of that just and high value we ought to set upon the Peace of God, here offered by the Apostle to thy most earnest seeking and desire; And withal, through this Voice of a Raven, thus Commission’d from above, in the utterance of such a Heavenly Admonition, seemed to direct his stupendous Language, to a particular private Family, (which Private Family, through God’s great Goodness and Mercy, have since received the wonderful effects of the said Heavenly Admonition, being all reconciled and united in a most perfect Love and Amity, undoubtedly the purport of that Language, so marvellous in our Ears, had a further and larger Extent, as being indeed a general Awakening Alarm to all Mankind, Union and Concord, being the fairest and largest Branches of that greatest of our Divine Apostolical Instructions, Charity. Most certainly this wondrous Warning piece, though more immediately pointing to a single Family, was intended for an Universal Call, and Thou and We, and all the Professors of Christianity are thus called by a gracious God (from the highest to the lowest, from the Cottage to the Throne), to Unity and Love, as the effectual means of attaining the Peace of God, which is the Fundamental and Basis of our Happiness, both in this World, and the World to come, the Blessing both of Heaven and Earth.

Clogie makes good on his promise to scan all the way from one family in his neighborhood all the way out to the cosmic scope of peace. In his sermon, he catalogs the things that lead to strife –“Pride is a great Makebate,” he observes, in the best use of the word “Makebate” I’ve seen for at least… um, forever. And from that one family’s need to find peace, he stretches his mind to think through the meaning of peace in its ultimate depths. The peace of God, Clogie declares, can only proceed from the God of peace (Rom. 15; Phil. 4:9). And God is the God of peace “not only essentially, but also personally.” That is, not only is the divine essence peace, but “God in the unity of Essence, and Trinity of Persons, is the God of peace; there is a most blessed and eternal peace between them.”

Clogie concludes his meditation on peace not with the CAW of a raven, but with a harmonious trinitarian note. He combs through Scripture to find the ways in which the Father is the source of peace, the Son is the bringer of peace, and the Spirit is the perfecter of peace. Then he takes the final step: “I will conclude this Point after the phrase of the Athanasian Creed; The Father is the God of peace, the Son is the God of peace, and the Holy Ghost is the God of peace; and yet they are not three Gods of peace, but one God of peace. ”

(This is a lightly-revised re-post of a 2007 blog entry. I’m doing a series of Colossians-related re-posts this week because my church is preaching through Colossians, and I’m trying to get back in the habit of daily blogging.)

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