Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Nisi Dominus Frustra

posted by Mark D. Roberts

While in London, my wife and I visited several of the usual tourist sites: Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. For those who haven’t been to London, let me say that the Tower of London isn’t a tower so much as an ancient castle. The Tower tour is both fascinating and humorous, especially if you have a quirky sense of humor.
One of the things that caught my eye while we were touring the Tower wasn’t mentioned by our guide. It was a sign over the door of the apartment of the rector of the Tower church.  Though it’s hard to read in this photo, the sign says: NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA. The Latin reads, literally, “Unless the Lord in vain.” It’s a summary of the first verse of Psalm 107 in the Latin Vulgate. In our translation it reads: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
What a great reminder in the midst of a historic building and a magnet for tourists! “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Unless the Lord is working through me, my writing and my pastoral ministry are in vain. Unless I’m a channel of the Lord’s wisdom and power, my efforts at parenting are empty. Unless I am God’s servant living by His power and for His glory, my life lacks ultimate meaning and purpose.
NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA. Now there’s something worth posting above your door, on on your refrigerator, or whereever you might see it on a regular basis. Life without the Lord is in vain.



  • http://goodwordediting.com Mark Goodyear

    Great observation. The thing is, what does it look like to let the Lord build my house, or my writing, or my family?
    Does that mean I pray regularly and offer my work to him? Does it mean I just remember my work is about God, not myself? Does it mean I have to wear Jesus T-shirts as often as possible?
    Those are rhetorical questions, but you get my meaning. The concept is easy to understand. What is hard for me is knowing how to apply that concept on a daily basis.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Oh, definitely Jesus t-shirts. And ichthus bumper stickers. And big fat Bibles. Yeah!
    Well, maybe it’s more about offering all that I am to God many times each day. And remembering that I’m working for His glory. And asking for the help of the Spirit. And relying upon the wisdom of the Christian community . . . .

  • Alkis Agapidis

    This is my favourite motto!
    You would find the same motto as part of the City of Edinburgh’s Coat of Arms, and since I have discovered this in a hazardous way, as yourself, we can hope the motto lies on other places too, and people get the opportunity to dwell into and contemplate upon its meaning.
    England is for another reason, then, such a beautiful country! In the words of Victor Hugo “England has two books; the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.” (By the way, it is part of Psalm 127 in the Bible, so there is a difference in numbering with the Vulgate).
    It is also said that President John F. Kennedy included in what is known as “the undelivered speech”, i.e. the speech he would have addressed on the day of his assassination, the phrases “…and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
    I find all that most comforting. I live, as you do, in a world and age where people are regarded as omnipotent and yet of one thing alone there is a genuine need for all human beings, and that is the Lord.
    And yet churches, pastors and faithful people alike, we all seem reluctant or too weary to disperse that basic truth, or too busy with everyday matters and material or social considerations. The gap can be, and let us all pray it shall continue to be, filled by “anonymous” Christian resources such as writings above walls, magnets on refrigerators, emblems of cities or speeches of leaders.
    To my mind it is not that the Lord works in all that mysterious ways, it is the fact there is work to be done, it is the reality of “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” and the question begged “who will go for us?”. And since He does continue to work while we forget to, we can at least pray and hope for the vision of a full Heaven and an empty Hell. At least this is what I think.

  • Brad Johnston

    Nisi Dominus Frustra is also the motto of the City of Los Angeles. This is Psalm 127, verses 1 and 2.

  • http://nil Peter & Trish Coleman

    Of interest? “Nisi Dominus Fructa” [psalm 127 in my Jerusalem Bible] was in an obituary in todays [23 Feb 2010]“Dominion Post” honouring a Headmistress of St Oram’s School, Lower Hutt, Wellington New Zealand. It is the school motto. I was interested, as we are told it was the favourite psalm of Marcellin Champagnat [1789-1840] founder of the Marist Brothers[FMS].I was educated by the Marists at their flagship in NZ, Sacred Heart College, Auckland. Greetings fro downunder & kind regards, Peter. Napier NZ

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Merilyn

    It is also written above the entry to the ex-Townsville General Hospital in Eyre St, North Ward, Townsville, Australia. I noticed the words as I was sitting over the road in Mcdonalds drinking coffee on the weekend. The newer part of the old hospital was demolished but the remaining part of the old hospital is National Heritage listed and after several years it is slowly being converted into apartments. Before the newer buildings were demolished, I don’t think it was possible to see those words from across the road. The Latin words still apply whatever the purpose of the building.

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