Why We Love the Amish

By Tim Challies

We’ve got an Amish community not too far from here. It is the place to go when you need to stock up on produce, farm-grown foods, or heirloom-quality furniture. It is also known as the place to go if you really just need to see some Amish people doing what they do. And a lot of people like to do just that—to go and look, to go and gawk.

Even though we’ve got an extensive group nearby, we recently found ourselves in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, North America’s best-known Amish community. (Full disclosure: Our actual travel objective was Harrisburg and the overrated Civil War museum there, but every hotel in the city was completely full.) We did not stop on the road outside Amish farms to watch them do their work, and did not go on a bus tour, but we couldn’t help but see horses and buggies around town, and, of course, plenty of the distinctive Amish clothing.

As we headed north, back toward our home, I started to think about the Amish and why we find them so endlessly fascinating. Though they are small in numbers, everyone knows who they are and everyone knows at least a few of their unique customs; though so much of their religious practice appears insufferable, they are regarded as Christians who love and practice grace. They are the heroes of a million stories, the subject of a thousand documentaries. Why are they so fascinating? I have a few ideas.

The Amish challenge so many of our deeply-held beliefs and assumptions.

The Amish challenge us.

In a world where we are so completely dependent on our high-tech devices, the Amish somehow manage to survive without them, and even appear to thrive without them. Where we are convinced that newer is better and that we are only ever one innovation away from joy, the Amish seem plenty happy to do without. If you spend time around the Amish, or if you begin to learn about their ways, you necessarily find yourself asking questions like: Do I really need my smartphone? Are all of these devices really bringing happiness? What have I lost in all of this innovation? The Amish challenge so many of our deeply-held beliefs and assumptions.

We want to figure out the Amish.

We are fascinated by the Amish because we so badly want to figure them out. Where they proclaim that they have great uniformity in their lives and laws, we see great contradictions. Their faith appears contradictory: They speak about the grace of Christ but live by law; they extend grace to those who harm them, but shun those who leave them; they rejoice in their salvation, but do not share Christ with others. Their laws appear contradictory: The men can have buttons, but the women must use straight pins; connecting to a phone network attaches them to the world, but connecting to a road network does not; they rely on doctors and lawyers, but will not allow their own children to be educated beyond eighth grade. When I see the Amish, with all their strengths and weaknesses, all their grace and legalism, I look for a key that unlocks it all. I look for knowledge that makes it all make sense.

The Amish recall a simpler time.

Where life today is marked by endless complexity, the Amish are known for their quiet simplicity. As they go about their lives, they draw us to a simpler time. In some ways the Amish live in the best of both worlds—the world today and the world of centuries ago. They live their day-to-day lives in that simpler world, that quieter world, that slower world. But, when necessity dictates, and law permits, they take advantage of modern innovations. They use horse-drawn buggies to get to their worship services, but hire drivers to take them to the store. They have no electricity in their homes, but give birth and die while connected to modern medical equipment. Their simplicity attracts us. It draws us.

The Amish recall a purer time.

The Amish call us to a simpler time, but also a purer time. This purity is an illusion, I think, but it still captivates us. Even though we love our modern technologies, we can’t deny that they have changed us. We tend to think that they have polluted us. Marshall McLuhan was right when he said that we create technologies in our own image and, soon enough, they return the favor. We are products of our technologies, dependent upon them, and shaped by them. When we look at the Amish, unshaped by radio and television, cell phones and web pages, we see something that looks pure by contrast.

We admire the Amish.

We admire the Amish for their stubborn refusal to change and to adapt. We are amazed that they continue to live in this high-tech, always-on world in the way they do. Yet they live in it unabashed, unembarrassed by their eccentricities. They don’t allow external pressure to shape their deepest beliefs. With the modern world pressing in around them, they don’t only survive, but thrive. Their communities continue to grow, their land holdings continue to expand, their businesses continue to thrive. We admire them in many ways, but perhaps most deeply simply for being, and remaining, who and what they are.

Surprisingly, They still Exist

So I suppose the most fascinating thing of all about the Amish is that they still exist. When they first came to national attention in the early twentieth century, prognosticators gave them a generation or two before they were gone. They thrived. When they received close study in the middle of the century, sociologists and anthropologists once again decreed that they would soon surrender to the world around them. They grew. And as the technological distance between them and us deepens and widens, they seem to be thriving all the more. Their very existence is a marvel; their practices are a challenge. We love the Amish because, in some ways, we long to be the Amish.

-Tim Challies, http://www.challies.com/articles/why-we-love-the-amish

My God! How Perfect Are Thy Ways!

My God! how perfect are Thy ways!
But mine polluted are;
Sin twines itself about my praise,
And slides into my prayer.

When I would speak what Thou hast done
To save me from my sin;
I cannot make Thy mercies known
But self-applause creeps in.

Divine desire, that holy flame
Thy grace creates in me;
Alas! impatience is its name,
When it returns to Thee.

This heart, a fountain of vile thoughts,
How does it overflow?
While self upon the surface floats
Still bubbling from below.

Let others in the gaudy dress
Of fancied merit shine;
The Lord shall be my righteousness
The Lord for ever mine.

-William Cowper, Ol­ney Hymns (Lon­don: W. Ol­iv­er, 1779), num­ber 67.

Go Light Your World

There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
And there is a spirit who brings a fire
Ignites a candle and makes his home

Carry your candle, and run to the darkness
Seek out the helpless, confused and torn
And hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to
Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister, she’s been robbed and lied to
Still holds a candle without a flame

So carry your candle, and run to the darkness
Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn
And hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

‘Cause we are a family whose hearts are blazing
So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky
Praying to our Father, in the name of Jesus
Make us a beacon in darkest times

Carry your candle, and run to the darkness
Seek out the helpless, deceived and poor
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

-Chris Rice, 

There Is A Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!
’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine.

-William Cowper, in Con­yer’s Col­lect­ion of Psalms and Hymns, 1772.

What is true about us? Discovering True Self-knowledge

By the fall and revolt of Adam the whole human race was delivered to the curse, and degenerated from its original condition; (the doctrine of original sin).

1. Our Creation by God

…knowledge of ourselves lies first in considering what we were given at creation and how generously God continues his favor toward us, in order to know how great our natural excellence would be if only it had remained unblemished; yet at the same time to bear in mind that there is in us nothing of our own, but that we hold on [patient endurance] whatever God has bestowed upon us.

Hence we are ever dependent on him.

2. Our Perversion by the Fall

Secondly, to call to mind our miserable condition after Adam’s fall; the awareness of which, when all our boasting and self-assurance are laid low, should truly humble us and overwhelm us with shame.

In the beginning God fashioned us after His image [Gen. 1:27] that He might arouse our minds both to zeal for virtue and to meditation upon eternal life.

Thus, in order that the great nobility of our race (which distinguishes us from brute beasts) may not be buried beneath our own dullness of wit, it behooves us to recognize that we have been endowed with reason and understanding so that, by leading a holy and upright life, we may press on to the appointed goal of blessed immortality.

But that primal worthiness cannot come to mind without the sorry spectacle of our foulness and dishonor presenting itself by way of contrast, since in the person of the first man we have fallen from our original condition.

From this source arise abhorrence and displeasure with ourselves, as well as true humility; and thence is kindled a new zeal to seek God, in whom each of us may recover those good things which we have utterly and completely lost.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.1.1

Device Against Poor and Ignorant Souls

Satan’s Devices to Destroy and Ensnare All Sorts and Ranks of Men in the World. –Part 4 of 4

IV. Device Against Poor and Ignorant Souls

By causing them to affect ignorance and to neglect and despise the means of knowledge:

For remedies, consider that

A. An ignorant hearts is an evil heart
B. Ignorance is the deformity of the soul
C. Ignorance makes men objects of God’s hatred and wrath
D. Ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652.

Device Against the Saints

Satan’s Devices to Destroy and Ensnare All Sorts and Ranks of Men in the World. –Part 3 of 4

III. Device Against the Saints

By dividing them and causing them to ‘bite and devour one another’:

For remedies, consider that

A. It is better to dwell on saints’ graces rather than on their weaknesses and infirmities
B. Love and union best promote safety and security
C. God commands and requires the saints to love one another
D. It is better to eye the things in which saints agree rather than those things wherein they differ
E. God is the God of peace, Christ the prince of peace, and the Spirit the Spirit of peace
F. It is needful for the saints to make more care and conscience of maintaining their peace with God
G. It is needful to dwell much upon the relationship and union of the people of God
H. Discord is productive of miseries
I. It is good and honorable to be the first in seeking peace and reconcilement
J. Saints should agree well together, making the Word the only touchstone and judge of their words and actions
K. Saints should be much in self-judging
L. Saints should labor to be clothed with humility

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652.

Device Against the Learned and the Wise

Satan’s Devices to Destroy and Ensnare All Sorts and Ranks of Men in the World. –Part 2 of 4

II. Device Against the Learned and the Wise

By moving them to pride themselves on their parts and abilities, and to despise men of greater grace but inferior abilities:

For remedies, consider that

A. Men have nothing but what they have received, gifts as well as saving grace coming alike from Christ
B. Men’s trusting to their parts and abilities has been their utter ruin
C. You do not transcend others more in parts and abilities than you do in grace and holiness
D. Men who pride themselves on their gifts and set themselves against the saints will find that God blasts and withers their gifts

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652.

Devices Against the Great and Honorable of the Earth

Satan’s Devices to Destroy and Ensnare All Sorts and Ranks of Men in the World. –Part 1 of 4

I. Devices Against the Great and Honorable of the Earth

1. By causing them to seek greatness, position, riches, and security:

For remedies, consider that

A. Self-seeking sets men upon sins against the Law, the Gospel, and Nature itself
B. Self-seeking exceedingly abases a man
C. The Word pronounces curses and woes against self-seekers
D. Self-seekers are self-losers and self-destroyers
E. Saints have denied self and set public good above personal advantage
F. Self hinders the sight of divine things: hence prophets and apostles, when seeking visions, were carried out of themselves

2. By causing them to act against the people of the Most High:

For remedies, consider that

A. All who have acted against the saints have been ruined by the God of the saints
B. The Scriptures show that God gives victory to His people against their enemies
C. To fight against the people of God is to fight against God Himself
D. Men of the world owe their preservation from instant ruin, under God, to the saints

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652.

Too Many, Lord, Abuse Thy Grace,

Too many, Lord, abuse Thy grace,
In this licentious day;
And while they boast they see Thy face,
They turn their own away.

Thy Book displays a gracious light
That can the blind restore;
But these are dazzled by the sight,
And blinded still the more.

The pardon, such presume upon,
They do not beg, but steal;
And when they plead it at Thy throne,
Oh! where’s the Spirit’s seal?

Was it for this, ye lawless tribe,
The dear Redeemer bled?
Is this the grace the saints imbibe
From Christ the living Head?

Ah, Lord, we know Thy chosen few
Are fed with heavenly fare;
But these, the wretched husks they chew
Proclaim them what they are.

The liberty our hearts implore
Is not to live in sin;
But still to wait at wisdom’s door,
Till mercy calls us in.

-William Cowper, Ol­ney Hymns (Lon­don: W. Ol­iv­er, 1779).