Thursday, April 06, 2017

Complaining to God

Nor is Joshua's complaint in [chapter 7] verse 7 out of line. 'Alas, Lord Yahweh, why have you brought this people over the Jordan to give us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!' This complaint is different from Israel's unbelieving complaints during the wilderness wanderings (Num. 14:1-3; Deut. 1:27ff). These are words of despair, not unbelief. Joshua complains to God in prayer; complaining to God is not the same as complaining about God (Israel's wilderness practice).

In his perplexity Joshua makes one basic appeal in his prayer (v. 9). His argument involves the peril of Israel and the honour of Yahweh. Israel's foes, Joshua prays, will cut off 'our name' and then what will you do for 'your great name'? If Israel perishes it will reflect on Yahweh's reputation. So-called refined Christians sometimes cringe at the thought of using such arguments in prayer. It seems so crass, they say. (Or does it merely seem too unsophisticated and childlike?) In any case, Matthew Henry is right: 'We cannot urge a better plea than this, Lord, "what wilt thou do for thy great name?" Let God in all be glorified, and then welcome his whole will.' There are times when the people of God today stand in solidarity with Joshua's Israel; that is, there are periods in which confusion strikes and we haven't any idea what God is about. We have no recourse but Joshua's - anguished prayer to a mystifying God, pleading both our danger and his honour.

From Dale Ralph Evan's 'No Falling Words' - expositions on the Book of Joshua, page 61

General and particular

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."  Isaiah 53:6

Here a confession of sin common to all the elect people of God. They have all fallen, and therefore, in common chorus, they all say, from the first who entered heaven to the last who shall enter there, "All we like sheep have gone astray." The confession, while thus unanimous, is also special and particular: "We have turned every one to his own way." There is a peculiar sinfulness about every one of the individuals; all are sinful, but each one with some special aggravation not found in his fellow.
It is the mark of genuine repentance that while it naturally associates itself with other penitents, it also takes up a position of loneliness. "We have turned every one to his own way," is a confession that each man had sinned against light peculiar to himself, or sinned with an aggravation which he could not perceive in others. This confession is unreserved; there is not a word to detract from its force, nor a syllable by way of excuse.

The confession is a giving up of all pleas of self-righteousness. It is the declaration of men who are consciously guilty - guilty with aggravations, guilty without excuse: they stand with their weapons of rebellion broken in pieces, and cry, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way."

Yet we hear no dolorous wailings attending this confession of sin; for the next sentence makes it almost a song. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." It is the most grievous sentence of the three, but it overflows with comfort. Strange is it that where misery was concentrated mercy reigned; where sorrow reached her climax weary souls find rest. The Saviour bruised is the healing of bruised hearts. See how the lowliest penitence gives place to assured confidence through simply gazing at Christ on the cross!

From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotions - for April the 3rd, Evening.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pride

If you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree.

Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature— while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.

Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. . . . . Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A poor man in your house

Love poverty. Desire neediness. If you have both for your portion, you have an inheritance on high.
Do not despise the voice of the poor man, and do not give him reason to curse you. For if the man whose palate is bitter curses you, the Lord will hear his petitions. If his clothes are filthy, wash them in water, which costs you nothing.
Has a poor man entered your house? God has entered your house. God dwells in your home. The man whom you have thus delivered from his troubles will deliver you from your troubles.
Have you washed the feet of the stranger? You have washed away your sins.
Have you prepared a table before him? Look! God is eating there, and Christ is drinking, and the Holy Spirit resting.
Is the poor man satisfied at your table and refreshed? You have satisfied Christ your Lord. He is ready to reward you. In the presence of angels and men he will proclaim that you fed his hunger. He will give thanks to you that you gave him drink and quenched his thirst.
St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Admonition and Repentance, 12

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Out in the desert

I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, ‘I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!’

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper.

But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.

In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.


C S Lewis in Mere Christianity, chapter 23. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

All in Christ

As the perfect embodiment of the moral law of God, Jesus Christ bids us come to him and find rest (a term loaded with exodus echoes). He also bids us be united to him through faith in the power of the Spirit, so that as he places his yoke (of law) on our shoulders we hear him say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So we are Ephesians 2: 15– 16 Christians: the ceremonial law is fulfilled.
We are Colossians 2: 14– 17 Christians: the civil law distinguishing Jew and Gentile is fulfilled.
And we are Romans 8: 3– 4 Christians: the moral law has also been fulfilled in Christ. But rather than being abrogated, that fulfillment is now repeated in us as we live in the power of the Spirit.
In Christ then, we truly see the telos of the law. And yet as Paul also says, “Do we abrogate the law by teaching faith in Christ? No. We strengthen it. For Christ did not come to abolish it but to fulfill it, so that it might in turn be fulfilled in us.” That is why in Romans 13: 8– 10, Ephesians 6: 1, and in other places the apostle takes for granted the abiding relevance of the law of God for the life of the believer.
The Old Testament saint knew that while condemned by the law he had breached, its ceremonial provisions pointed him to the way of forgiveness. He saw Christ as really (if opaquely) in the ceremonies as he did in the prophecies. He also knew as he watched the sacrifices being offered day after day and year after year that this repetition meant these sacrifices could not fully and finally take away sin— otherwise he would not need to return to the temple precincts. He was able to love the law as his rule of life because he knew that God made provision for its breach, pointed to redemption in its ceremonies, and gave him direction through its commandments.
It should not, therefore, surprise us or grieve us to think that the Christian sees Christ in the law. He or she also sees it as a rule of life; indeed, sees with Calvin that Christ is the life of the law because without Christ there is no life in the   law.
We appreciate the clarity of the law only when we gaze fully into Christ’s face. But when we do gaze there, we see the face of one who said, “Oh how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day” — and we want to be like   him.
This is not— as the antinomian feared— bondage. It is freedom. The Christian rejoices therefore in the law’s depth. He seeks the Spirit’s guidance for its application, because he can say with Paul that in Christ through the gospel he has become an “in-law.”
At the end of the day the antinomian who regards the moral law as no longer binding is forced into an uncomfortable position. He must hold that an Old Testament believer’s passionate devotion to the law (of which devotion, curiously, the majority of Christians feel they fall short) was essentially a form of legalism. But it is Jesus himself who shows an even deeper intensity in the law by expounding its deep meaning and penetration into the heart.
Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from his gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for   us.

Sinclair B Ferguson: The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (pp. 172-173)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Prodigal and grace

The power of this perspective is, of course, already present in our Lord’s parable of the prodigal son. Even if the parable is read as having only one main point in view, that burden is expressed in several dimensions. In terms of our discussion we might call it, from one point of view, “The parable of the Free Grace Savior”; from another, “The parable of the En-Graced Antinomian”; and from yet another (and in context perhaps the most pointed), “The parable of the Dis-Graced Legalist.”

The prodigal contemplates returning home because he knows his needs can be supplied in his father’s home:
But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” 
But while there is the supply of his needs in the home of his father, he is— very naturally— still wrestling with the remnant of the Edenic poison, the God as He-whose-favor-is-to-be-earned lie. What else could the father be to such a sinful   son?
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” 
As he approaches home his once-despised father breaks all social convention (the boy should have been received with a shaming ceremony). Instead he runs to greet him. The prodigal now stammers out his rehearsed words through the hugs and kisses of his father:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. 
But the final rehearsed words, “Treat me as one of your hired servants” are smothered by his father’s embrace! He will not have his son home only on condition that he “does penance” in order to work his way back into his father’s grace. He does not need to “repent enough” to be accepted.

Poignantly there is in the heart of the same father a deep burden for his elder son. He again leaves the house to find him. Luke’s introduction to Jesus’s narrative makes clear that it is this brother, not the prodigal, who forms the climax to the story: “The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.’” That grumbling is echoed in the complaint of the elder son: “He was angry.”

The tenor of the elder brother’s response is well captured in the New International Version:
Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 
To which the father responds in love:
Son, . .  . all that is mine is yours. 
What Jesus unmasks here is a legalistic heart, one that has imbibed the poison of Eden. Such a heart sees the Lord as a slave master and not a gracious Father, as restrictive rather than generous. Everything the Father has is available to him. But the elder son’s heart is closed, and as far as he is concerned nothing is his. He was at home, but he was in a more distant place than his younger brother. He thought he had to earn by right what he could only enjoy by grace.

What is particularly illuminating is that we are given the impression that only in the context of a lavish display of grace did the hidden poison of the elder brother’s legalistic disposition fully manifest itself. Perhaps the same was true of the Pharisees? And was it, correspondingly, the lavishness of grace in the Marrow teaching that also caused so much heart irritation?

This is thought to be Jesus’s best-loved parable, usually because our eyes are on the prodigal and his father. But as with jokes, so with parables: there is a principle in both of “end stress.” The “punch line” comes at the end. That being the case the alarming message here is that the spirit of the elder brother, the legalist, is more likely to be found near the father’s house than in the pig farm— or in concrete terms, in the congregation and among the faithful. And sometimes (only sometimes?), it appears in the pulpit and in the heart of the pastor.

Then it becomes dangerously infectious. But what causes it?

Reflection on the Marrow Controversy and the literature it spawned suggests that a legalistic spirit can usually be traced back to the same basic principles, no matter what mask it might wear.

From Ferguson, Sinclair B.. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, chapter 5

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Worry

A great many people (not you) do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don’t think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds’ song and the frosty sunrise.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

Monday, December 05, 2016

Discovering creativity

And she added: ‘Of one thing you can be sure: if you are a creator in any particular medium, you will end by discovering the fact. Nothing can prevent the genuine creator from creating, or from creating in his own proper medium.’ She expressed the hope that if he decided to specialise in mathematics or science he would also keep up with the humanities: ‘Scientists in these days tend to work in isolation from the general body of thought ... I believe there will be a reaction, in the next few generations, to a synthesis of science and philosophy, which will help to correct the present disjunction of the two activities.’

From Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, by Barbara Reynolds - in a letter written to her son. 

Simple Gospel?

"So few parsons are really trained in the use of words ... The result is that when the trained writer restates an old dogma in a new form of words, the reader mistakes it for a bright new idea of the writer’s own. I spend half my time and a lot of stamps telling people that I have not been giving them a fancy doctrine of my own ... Typical of this is a woman who writes to say: ‘I can’t agree with you that Christ is the same person as God the Creator’. One can only say: ‘It isn’t a question of agreeing with me. I have expressed no opinion. That is the opinion of the official Church, which you will find plainly stated in the Nicene Creed, whether or not you and I agree with it.’"

She considered the teaching and preaching of the Church inadequate. The result was that people were bewildered and ‘in a nightmare of muddle out of which [they] have to be hauled by passing detective novelists in a hurry and with no proper tackle’. Preachers will not define terms or say what the doctrine is. 

In September she was invited to attend a meeting of clerics and laity at the B.B.C., ‘who were trying to work out plans for some sort of "call to religion" with musical and dramatic accompaniments’. She was not enamoured of what she called ‘propaganda art-forms’ and considered that it would be better to begin by making a work of art for its own sake and let the moral emerge from it, not the other way round. She came away from the meeting very depressed. To Canon Cockin, a member of the committee, she wrote, ‘It sent me out in a mood for a stiff gin-and-tonic and the robust company of my heathen friends.’ She wrote at length about it to Father Kelly: 

"The wretched pacifist question boiled up at once, and these people always contrive to put one into an awkward position, as though one was completely corrupted by Caesar, while they sit loftily on the Mount with Christ and Mr Gandhi. And the clergy, who were not pacifist, but showed a great reluctance to fight the issue, all seemed disposed to believe that it was the chief business of the Church to advocate socialism and economic reform. It’s so easy to say ‘Let’s have the simple Gospel and consider what Christ would have done.’ But what is the ‘simple Gospel? And whatever Christ ‘would have done’, there’s one thing He would have resolutely refused to do, viz. to sit on committees and argue about politics ... Perhaps the people who sit on B.B.C. committees are the wrong kind of clergymen. They don’t seem to be able to keep the Law and the Gospel distinct in their minds. 

"They all made me feel very gloomy, including the Socialist parsons, who all seem to think that the difficulties of labour will be smoothed away by getting wages right, never mind what happens to the work. I tried to suggest to them (along the lines of the little section on Work in ‘Creed or Chaos?’) that it was necessary, along with the wages question, to get a right attitude to the work. They thought this very novel and constructive ... which shows how hopelessly we have all got wound up into the ‘economic theory’ of society." 

They babbled, she went on, about European Federation, which in her opinion is no more likely to work than the League of Nations or the temporal sovereignty of Rome. The one Federation that does work — i.e. the British Commonwealth — they have no use for.’ [Interesting in the light of the recent Brexit vote...!]

From Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul,  by Barbara Reynolds

Saturday, December 03, 2016

High in the Night Sky

One of the great sins, according to the Scriptures, is the sin of complaining. We tend to overlook this this, thinking that complaining is just an ordinary, garden-variety sin. Everybody complains, right?

But in Scripture it is one of the big ones. The children of Israel in the wilderness incurred the anger of God more than once through their murmuring and complaining (e.g. Ex. 16:2). God had given them amazing provisions in that wilderness, and yet they were blind to it all—their glass was perpetually half empty, not full and overflowing as it had been when they were slaves in Egypt.  The contrast between an unbelieving people and believers is strikingly seen in just this.

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14–15).
It doesn’t much matter what you are murmuring about. The content of the dispute is entirely ignored by the apostle. The merits of your particular case are passed by entirely.

He doesn’t say no murmuring or disputing unless your boss doesn’t understand you, or unless your wife is not being difficult. He doesn’t say that murmuring is only allowed when nameless others are not letting you have your way. He doesn’t say that murmuring is a good way of letting other people know you have high standards and that other people are aggrieving you because of them.

No, you shine as lights in the world when you do all things without murmuring or disputing. The Israelites murmured about their food and drink, but there are a host of things you can complain about if you want to blend right in with our crooked and perverse nation. There is the weather, the traffic, the housekeeping, the cooking, the music, the pay, the recognition, and the weather again.

This is not a complicated issue. Grumbling is the black night sky. Contentment is a shining star, high in the night sky.


From Douglas Wilson's blog, Blog&Mablog, 26th Nov, 2016: High in the Night Sky






Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The unity of Christians

TO FATHER PETER MILWARD, SJ: On the evil of Christian disunity; and on prayer and cooperation in works of charity as the means of reunion.

6 May 1963

Dear Padre,

You ask me in effect why I am not a Roman Catholic. If it comes to that, why am I not—and why are you not—a Presbyterian, a Quaker, a Mohammedan, a Hindu, or a Confucianist? After how prolonged and sympathetic study and on what grounds have we rejected these religions? I think those who press a man to desert the religion in which he has been bred and in which he believes he has found the means of Grace ought to produce positive reasons for the change—not demand from him reasons against all other religions. It would have to be all, wouldn’t it?

Our Lord prayed that we all might be one ‘as He and His Father are one’ [John 17:21]. But He and His Father are not one in virtue of both accepting a (third) monarchical sovereign.

That unity of rule, or even of credenda [things to be believed], does not necessarily produce unity of charity is apparent from the history of every Church, every religious order, and every parish.

Schism is a very great evil. But if reunion is ever to come, it will in my opinion come from increasing charity. And this, under pressure from the increasing strength and hostility of unbelief, is perhaps beginning: we no longer, thank God, speak of one another as we did over 100 years ago. A single act of even such limited co-operation as is now possible does more towards ultimate reunion than any amount of discussion.

The historical causes of the ‘Reformation’ that actually occurred were (1.) The cruelties and commercialism of the Papacy (2.) The lust and greed of Henry VIII. (3.) The exploitation of both by politicians. (4.) The fatal insouciance of the mere rabble on both sides. The spiritual drive behind the Reformation that ought to have occurred was a deep re-experience of the Pauline experience.

Memo: a great many of my closest friends are your co- religionists, some of them priests. If I am to embark on a disputation—which could not be a short one, I would much sooner do it with them than by correspondence.

We can do much more to heal the schism by our prayers than by a controversy. It is a daily subject of mine.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A little slumber

The worst of sluggards only ask for a little slumber; they would be indignant if they were accused of thorough idleness. A little folding of the hands to sleep is all they crave, and they have a crowd of reasons to show that this indulgence is a very proper one. Yet by these littles the day ebbs out, and the time for labour is all gone, and the field is grown over with thorns.

It is by little procrastinations that men ruin their souls. They have no intention to delay for years--a few months will bring the more convenient season--to-morrow if you will, they will attend to serious things; but the present hour is so occupied and altogether so unsuitable, that they beg to be excused. Like sands from an hour-glass, time passes, life is wasted by driblets, and seasons of grace lost by little slumbers. Oh, to be wise, to catch the flying hour, to use the moments on the wing!

May the Lord teach us this sacred wisdom, for otherwise a poverty of the worst sort awaits us, eternal poverty which shall want even a drop of water, and beg for it in vain. Like a traveller steadily pursuing his journey, poverty overtakes the slothful, and ruin overthrows the undecided: each hour brings the dreaded pursuer nearer; he pauses not by the way, for he is on his master's business and must not tarry. As an armed man enters with authority and power, so shall want come to the idle, and death to the impenitent, and there will be no escape.

O that men were wise be-times, and would seek diligently unto the Lord Jesus, or ere the solemn day shall dawn when it will be too late to plough and to sow, too late to repent and believe. In harvest, it is vain to lament that the seed time was neglected. As yet, faith and holy decision are timely. May we obtain them this night.


From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional, for the 24th November. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Waiting time

I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions. . . . . It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.

But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.

When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Friday, November 11, 2016

The right reader for the right book

I have had ‘Miss Bodle’s colleague’ in my daily prayers for a long time now: is that the same young man you mention in your letter of July 3rd, or do I now say ‘colleagues’? Yes: don’t bother him with my books if an aunt (it somehow would be an aunt—though I must add that most of my aunts were delightful) has been ramming them down his throat.

You know, The Pilgrim’s Progress is not, I find (to my surprise) everyone’s book. I know several people who are both Christians and lovers of literature who can’t bear it. I doubt if they were made to read it as children. Indeed, I rather wonder whether that ‘being made to read it’ has spoiled so many books as is supposed. I suspect that all the people who tell me they were ‘put off’ Scott by having Ivanhoe as a holiday task are people who would never have liked Scott anyway.

I don’t believe anything will keep the right reader and the right book apart. But our literary loves are as diverse as our human! You couldn’t make me like Henry James or dislike Jane Austen whatever you did. By the bye did Chesterton’s Everlasting Man (I’m sure I advised you to read it) succeed or fail with you?


From The Collected Letters of C S Lewis, Vol III