Thursday, February 27, 2014

Doing good

Do good, O LORD, unto those that be good. They consult their own good best, who do most good. I may say these three things of those who do good (and what is serving God but doing of good? or what is doing good but serving God?). First, they shall receive true good. Secondly, they shall forever hold the best good, the chief good; they shall not only spend their days and years in good; but when their days and years are spent, they shall have good, and a greater good than any they had, in spending the days and years of this life. They shall have good in death, they shall come to a fuller enjoyment of God, the chief good, when they have left and let fall the possession of all earthly goods. Thirdly, they that do good shall find all things working together for their good; if they have a loss they shall receive good by it; if they bear a cross, that cross shall bear good to them.—

Joseph Caryl, 1602-1673, quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 125, verse 4.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The end of the world

A lengthy extract from P T Forsyth's The Justification of God, pages 75-7. 
This great, and righteous, and blessed goal then—what is it? We speak of the end of the world. But (it has been said) in any great sense of the word world, it can have no end. Our deeper views of creation, and of the relation of the creature to the Creator, do not allow us to think of the universe as an external and mechanical product of His, which He could destroy and make another. The existence of the universe is too closely bound up with the being of God for that its life is the immanence of the Transcendent. It does not emerge into Eternity, which is not simply a beyond. The infinite is the content of a finite which holds of the Eternal. The world belongs to God in a deeper sense than being His property. The body is not but the property of the soul. The world holds of God. It cannot therefore have an end, as it had no beginning, in the popular sense of the words; it has a consummation. The universe is not a mere phase of the Infinite which passes like a vapour. It is not a mere parenthesis otiose to an eternal context. It is not a mere scaffolding, not a mere collapsible tent. We cannot strictly speak of the end of the world; we can only speak of the end of certain worlds within the world. Stardust is still a constituent of the world. Extinct suns still have a place in systems. And extinct systems may mean a re-adjustment of the balance of power in space, but they need not mean the winding-up oft he universe.
When we do speak of the end of the world, we really mean the end of man. And, if there be a redemption at all, that end is neither in dust nor fire. The end of Humanity can but mean the return of man to God, in free worship, humble service, and intelligent communion. It means the consummation of the souls that began as His natural creatures and end as redeemed sons. For spiritual personality is a growth through the creative discipline of life, and especially through its tragedies. The supreme tragedy becomes, in the Cross of Christ, the vehicle of the eternal Redemption, and the Source of the New Creation. Man’s end is not dissolution but Eternity, an active communion in the Life divine. A communion it is, and no mere immersion. It is ‘not mere fusion in the Divine, which, for a being like man, would be  extinction. And no mere endless existence could be a true end for man. It could be no consummation. Immortality is much more than just going on. Were it not more it would be the burden of Tithonus.  Eternity is not duration. The true end is the completion of that schooling of soul, will, and person which earthly life divinely means, and which for God’s side is constant new creation and its joy. It is perfect and active union with God’s active Will, the barter of its love, and its secure intercommunion. It is the surrender to God, not of our personality,not of our existence as persons, but of our person, of our egoism as persons; for the living God is God of the living not of the dead. It is a kingdom of souls as ends that realise themselves, though only in the gift of the Spirit, which descends upon us rather than mounts through us. We face here a great paradox. By grace it is given souls to have life in themselves. The great end, therefore, is not even an immortality sentimentalised—a metaphysical, rational, and credible immortality sentimentalised; but it is a moral realm of persons made perfect on a universal and eternal scale by the gift of a holy God. It is the self-realisation of the Holy. It is the Divine Commedia on the scale of all existence. To the whole of Humanity, with faith and hope eclipsed by world catastrophe, the infinite and most merciful Majesty yet says, ‘Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ And, ‘Si quis amavit novit quid haec vox clamat.’ *
The chief cause of our being unhinged by catastrophe is twofold. First, that we have drawn our faith from the order of the world instead of its crisis, from the integrity of the moral order rather than from the tragedy of its recovery in the Cross. And, even if we start there, the second error is that we have been more engrossed with the ill we are saved from than with Him who saves us, and the Kingdom for which we are saved. We are more taken up with the wrongs so many men have to bear than with the wrong God has to bear from us all—God who yet atones and redeems in giving us a Kingdom which is always His in reality and ours in reversion. It is not as if God first redeemed, and, having thus prepared the ground, brought in the Kingdom; but He redeemed us by bringing in the Kingdom, and setting it up in eternal righteousness and Eternal Life. The Cross of Christ is not the preliminary of the Kingdom; it is the Kingdom breaking in. It is not the clearing of the site for the heavenly city; it is the city itself
descending out of heaven from God. 
*The Latin phrase Forsyth quotes seems a little obscure. According to the rough online translation it means; If anyone knows the sound of this voice and he loved. Presumably that needs to be translated into actual English as something along the lines of: If anyone knows the sound of this voice, he loves it. I'm open to a better interpretation. Forsyth, as usual, gives no indication where the line comes from, and Google seems to indicate that he's the only person quoting it. Again, it would be interesting to know its origin.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A mighty storm

When winds and seas do rage,
And threaten to undo me,
Thou dost their wrath assuage,
If I but call unto thee.

A mighty storm last night
Did seek my soul to swallow;
But by the peep of light
A gentle calm did follow.

What need I then despair
Though ills stand round about me;
Since mischiefs neither dare
To bark or bite without thee?

 Robert Herrick, 1591-1674.

A poem echoing Psalm 124

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Liberating judgement

We must ask, have we in the church not often been responsible for obscuring this liberating meaning of the message about God's final judgement, because we have preached the word of judgement loudly and urgently to the weak and defenseless, while frequently our preaching has been too soft and half-hearted when directed to the powerful of this earth.

Erich Zenger, in A God of Vengeance? understanding the Psalms of Divine wrath, page 65 (quoted in The Psalter Reclaimed, by Gordon Wenham, page 138)

Telling the truth

Let us be a society that refuses to give easy answers to the difficulty of reality. Let us be a society that does not fear questions to which we do not know the answer. Let us be a society that would listen to the challenge raised by [critical people]. In short, let us be a society whose members strive to tell one another the truth about the difficulties of reality. For I believe if we do so we may discover we have something to say in a world that no longer believes that anyone can speak the truth.

Stanley Hauerwas"Bearing Reality" in Approaching the End

Even He alone

From Charles Spurgeon's notes on Psalm 124: 8, in The Treasury of David.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, our hope for the future, our ground of confidence in all trials present and to come is in the name of the Lord. Jehovah's revealed character is our foundation of confidence, his person is our sure fountain of strength. Who made heaven and earth. Our Creator is our preserver. He is immensely great in his creating work; he has not fashioned a few little things alone, but all heaven and the whole round earth are the works of his hands. When we worship the Creator let us increase our trust in our Comforter. Did he create all that we see, and can he not preserve us from evils which we cannot see? Blessed be his name, he that has fashioned us will watch over us; yea, he has done so, and rendered us help in the moment of jeopardy. He is our help and our shield, even he alone. He will to the end break every snare. He made heaven for us, and he will keep us for heaven; he made the earth, and he will succour us right until the hour comes for our departure. Every work of his hand preaches to us the duty and the delight of reposing upon him only. All nature cries, "Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength." "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Praying for the Church

Our praying for the church gives us a share in all the church's prayers; we have a venture in every ship of prayer that makes a voyage for heaven, if our hearts be willing to pray for the church; and if not, we have no share in it. Let no man flatter himself: they that pray not for the church of God love not the church of God. Let them prosper that love thee; that is, that pray for thee, the one is the counterpart of the other. If we do not love it, we will not pray for it; and if we do not pray for it, we do not love it. Yea, if we pray not for the church, we lose our share in the prayers of the church. You will say that man hath a great estate that hath a part in every ship at sea; and yet to have an adventure in all the prayers that are made to heaven is better than all the world. All the church's prayers are for all the living members of it, viz.—the blessings will be to them, for a man to have a venture in every ship of prayer of all the churches throughout all the world. I would not (for my part) leave my share in it for all the world; and that man hath no share in it that will not afford a prayer for the church.

John Stoughton, 1640, quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 122:6

Friday, February 07, 2014

Man is not God's chief end

The problems of the private life are often so intractable because they are not conceived in any but private relations; which is to judge the house from a sample brick. The manna so hoarded goes wrong. The soul’s lot lies in the eternal and universal counsel of God. And the first question still is man’s chief end, and the collective destiny of every soul there. The eternal does not begin on the other side of time; rather all time and space is the content of eternity. Faith is really faith in that eternal destiny as present, and then in our part and place therein by God’s grace. Immortality means living on in Eternity; it is Eternity living on in us. It is God thinking Himself, living Himself in us. But we are apt to treat God as if He were only a patron saint magnified, whom we expect to attend to our affairs if He is to retain our custom and receive our worship.
There is even what we might call a racial egoism, a self-engrossment of mankind with itself, a naive and tacit assumption that God were no God if He cared for anything more than He did for His creatures. We tend to think of God as if man were His chief end, as if He had no right to a supreme concern for His own holy name, as if His prodigals were more to Him than His only begotten Son in whom He made the worlds and has all His delight. We think and worship as if the only question was whether God loves us, instead of whether His love has absolute power to give itself eternal and righteous effect. Modern science is especially prone to remind us of this egoism latent in Christian faith, and is eager to prune it. Accordingly we are told of the infinities of space and time, amid which our earth and its history swim but as a mote in the air; and we are urged, with such knowledge, to moderate our ideas of a future, and our expectations of divine attention. Now, though science is wrong in asking us to suppress our soul or conscience before world on world of spacial or temporal existence (because the spiritual is not spacial), yet the advice is not without value. There are considerations which should quell a crude, racial egoism, and should lift mankind out of the self-absorption which blights and shrivels the individual. But they are not considerations of the Creation but of its Creator, not of a Universe but of a Sovereign God, who is so much to us because He is more to Himself, and whose love is infinite because it is holy, and must be hallowed, even if He spare not His Son. His Son spared not Himself in the hallowing of that name. It was the first function of His Cross. And so He was Saviour—because He loved God more than man, and glorified His name over all weal of ours. We have no final weal but our share in that worship and glory of the Father by the Son.  
P T Forsyth, in The Justification of God, pages 10-11

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Life in a community

One of the signs of life in a community is the creation of links with others. An inward-looking community will die of suffocation. Living communities are linked to others, making up a huge reservoir of love for the world. And as only the one Spirit inspires and gives life, communities being born or reborn will be alike without ever even knowing each other; the seeds the Spirit sows across the world, like prophetic signs for tomorrow, have a common source. It is a sign of maturity for a community to bind itself in friendship with others; it knows its own identity, so doesn't need to make comparisons. It loves even the differences which distinguish it, because each community has its own gift which must flourish. These communities are complementary; they need each other.

Jean VanierCommunity and Growth

Monday, February 03, 2014


 "For this is the journey that men make: to find themselves.If they fail in this, it doesn't much matter what else they find. Money, position, fame, many loves, revenge are all of little consequence, and when the tickets are collected at the end of the ride, they are tossed into a bin marked FAILURE."

"But if a man happens to find himself -- if he knows what he can be depended upon to do, the limits of his courage, the positions from which he will no longer retreat, the degree to which he can surrender    his inner life to some woman, the secret reservoirs of his determination, the extent of his dedication, the depth of his feeling for beauty, his honest and unpostured goals -- then he has found a mansion which he can inhabit all the days of his life."

James Michener, in the semi-autobiographical novel, The Fires of Spring.