Friday, February 27, 2015

The clamour of self-will

Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so.

From The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis

[Note: for those unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, they're written by a senior devil to a junior one, giving advice on how to tempt and destroy human beings. The 'Enemy' in this case is God himself.]

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Endless praise

Heaven will be full of the ceaseless praises of Jesus. Eternity! thine unnumbered years shall speed their everlasting course, but forever and for ever, "to him be glory." Is he not a "Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek"? "To him be glory." Is he not king for ever?- King of kings and Lord of lords, the everlasting Father? "To him be glory for ever." Never shall his praises cease. That which was bought with blood deserves to last while immortality endures. The glory of the cross must never be eclipsed; the lustre of the grave and of the resurrection must never be dimmed. 
O Jesus! thou shalt be praised for ever. Long as immortal spirits live-long as the Father's throne endures-for ever, for ever, unto thee shall be glory. Believer, you are anticipating the time when you shall join the saints above in ascribing all glory to Jesus; but are you glorifying him now? The apostle's words are, "To him be glory both now and for ever." 
Will you not this day make it your prayer? "Lord, help me to glorify thee; I am poor, help me to glorify thee by contentment; I am sick, help me to give thee honour by patience; I have talents, help me to extol thee by spending them for thee; I have time, Lord, help me to redeem it, that I may serve thee; I have a heart to feel, Lord, let that heart feel no love but thine, and glow with no flame but affection for thee; I have a head to think, Lord, help me to think of thee and for thee; thou hast put me in this world for something, Lord, show me what that is, and help me to work out my life-purpose: I cannot do much, but as the widow put in her two mites, which were all her living, so, Lord, I cast my time and eternity too into thy treasury; I am all thine; take me, and enable me to glorify thee now, in all that I say, in all that I do, and with all that I have."

From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, entry for Feb 15th. 

The idea of Being

It is an oddity that a notice in an Italian street should read not that so and so was born or died in this particular house but that: ‘While walking down this street lost in thought, Antonio Rosmini conceived the “Idea of Being”, which became the foundation of his philosophical system.’

Rosmini himself wrote about it: At the age of 18 I was walking alone wrapt in thought along the street called Terra, which as you know lies between the tower and the bridge over the Leno; and while various thoughts were going through my mind, I noticed that the explanation of a mental concept is to be found in a wider concept, and this wider concept in one of a still wider application; and thus ascending from concept to concept I found that I arrived at the most universal of all ideas, being; and when I tried to take away the idea of being, I found I had nothing left.

I thus became persuaded that the idea of being is the ultimate in every concept, the principle of all thought. The conviction that I had found a truth gave my soul serenity and joy, and I gave praise to the Father of light. 

From pages 43/4 of John Michael Hill's biography of Antonio Rosmini: Persecuted Prophet. 

One small but vital pronoun

I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days. 

The leaving out one word in a will may mar the estate and disappoint all a man's hopes; the want of this one word, my (God) is the wicked man's loss of heaven, and the dagger which will pierce his heart in hell to all eternity. The degree of satisfaction in any good is according to the degree of our union to it, (hence our delight is greater in food than in clothes, and the saint's joy is greater in God in the other world than in this, because the union is nearer;) but where there is no property there is no union, therefore no complacency. 

The pronoun my is as much worth to the soul as the boundless portion. All our comfort is locked up in that private cabinet. Wine in the glass doth not cheer the heart, but taken down into the body. The property of the Psalmist's in God was the mouth whereby he fed on those dainties which did so exceedingly delight him. No love potion was ever so effectual as this pronoun. When God saith to the soul, as Ahab to Benhadad "Behold, I am thine, and all that I have," who can tell how the heart leaps for joy in, and expires almost in desires after him upon such news! Others, like strangers, may behold his honour and excellencies, but this saint only, like the wife, enjoyeth him. 

Luther saith, Much religion lieth in pronouns. All our consolation, indeed, consisteth in this pronoun. It is the cup which holdeth all our cordial waters. I will undertake as bad as the devil is, he shall give the whole world, were it in his power, more freely than ever he offered it to Christ for his worship, for leave from God to pronounce those two words. My God. All the joys of the believer are hung upon this one string; break that asunder, and all is lost. I have sometimes thought how David rolls it as a lump of sugar under his tongue, as one loth to lose its sweetness too soon: "I will love thee, O LORD, my strength, my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower, "Ps 18:1-2. This pronoun is the door at which the King of saints entereth into our hearts, with his whole train of delights and comforts. 

George Swinnock, quoted in the notes to Psalm 102, verse 24, in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David. 


Another post that got waylaid in the draft it is, finally.

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.

Brennan Manning

The Ragamuffin Gospel

Running towards the destruction to help out

You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running towards the destruction to help out.... This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it, but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Patton Oswalt
Facebook post responding to Boston bombing

I intended to post this some time back but it got slotted into the drafts and then went out of my mind. Oswalt is right up to a point: there are always great people who will run 'towards the destruction to help out'. And that does show that the heart of God is at work in humanity. However I'm not so sure that he's entirely right about humanity not being inherently evil. Certainly the theology of the church, and of the Jewish people before that, was that the world and its people were awry and that we needed a Saviour to put it right again. Christians believe this was Jesus and that he has saved the world. However the working out of this salvation is still having to be done day by day, bit by bit, and the history of the 20th century alone shows that evil rears its ugly head at the drop of a hat. 

Not possibility, but a done thing

The fifth of six summings-up that P T Forsyth gives in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ (page 150)

What we have in Christ's work is not the mere prerequisite or condition of reconciliation, but the actual and final effecting of it in principle.  He was not making it possible, he was doing it. We are spiritually in a reconciled world, we are not merely in a world in process of empirical reconciliation.  Our experience of religion is experience of a thing done once for all, for ever, and for the world.  That is, it is more than even experience, it is a faith. The same act as put God's forgiveness on a moral foundation also revolutionized humanity. Hence we are not disposed to speak of substitution so much as of representation. But it is representation by one who creates by his act the humanity he represents, and does not merely sponsor it.  The same act as disburdens us of guilt commits us to a new life. Our Saviour in his salvation is not only our comfort but our power; not merely our rescuer but our new life. His work is in the same act reclamation as well as rescue.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Keep assembling!

No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as “what a man does with his solitude.” It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.

From The Weight of Glory by C S Lewis

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ancient cosmology

Into the noise of rancorous debates on the merits of various interpretations of Genesis and Christian views on origins, The Lost World of Genesis One hits the “reset” button, restarting the conversation on the Bible’s own terms. Even if one does not fully agree with all of Walton’s propositions, his reorientation of the basis for interpreting Genesis is refreshing, and essential.
Walton’s first “proposition” is that when we read Genesis 1, we are encountering ancient cosmology, not modern cosmology. The ancient cognitive environment of Genesis is not something we should be wary of or ignore, nor is it a mere accident of history that Genesis was written from this standpoint; it was the free and wise choice of God to reveal his authoritative Word in the manner that he has. As the remainder of Walton’s book makes clear, this recognition has significant consequences for how we understand the Bible’s teaching on creation, ultimately enabling us to see both the Bible and modern science with greater clarity and understanding.
Walton’s primary focus in the Introduction and first three “propositions” is to differentiate the manner of speaking encountered in Genesis 1 (and throughout the ancient Near East) with the way we typically think about the origins of the universe and life today. Specifically, when we think of existence, origins, and creation, we usually think in material terms, thereby framing the topic in a scientific manner. In contrast, Genesis 1 speaks the language of ancient cosmology, where existence is defined in terms of having an ordained function within an ordered cosmos. Genesis 1 is therefore concerned with functional origins, not material origins. Though this way of thinking of origins may seem radically foreign, Walton gives several helpful examples of modern things (such as a theatrical play, a computer, or a curriculum) whose creation we primarily think of in similar functional and non-material terms.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A tiny difference

Amidst the vast scene of the world's problems and tragedies you may feel that your own ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial. What a tiny difference it can make to the world that you should run a youth club, or preach to a few people in a church, or visit families with seemingly small result. But consider: the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter and that the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God. Consider our Lord himself. Amidst a vast world with its vast empires and vast events and tragedies our Lord devoted himself to individual men and women, often giving hours and time to the very few or to the one man or woman.

Michael Ramsey

Death and Being

Now it is with this intense passion for being, that the idea of death clashes. Let us search why it is we shrink from death. This reason brethren, we shall find, that it presents to us the idea of not being. Talk as we will of immortality, there is an obstinate feeling that we cannot master, that we end in death; and that may be felt together with the firmest belief of a resurrection. Brethren, our faith tells us one thing, and our sensations tell us another. When we die, we are surrendering in truth all that with which we have associated existence. All that we know of life is connected with a shape, a form, a body of materialism; and now that that is palpably melting away into nothingness, the boldest heart may be excused a shudder, when there is forced upon it, in spite of itself, the idea of ceasing forever.

Frederick W Robertson in his sermon on Victory over Death, in Sermons Preached at Brighton, Third Series. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It takes time...

[Thomas] Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer.  He said, "How does an apple ripen?  It just sits in the sun."  A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts.  Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God's time.   We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in God's hidden action within us. 

James Finley

God's opinion

The story is recounted of Benjamin Jowett, when he was Master of Balliol College in Oxford.  Apparently someone asked him at dinner, "Dr. Jowett, we would like to know what your opinion of God is," to which he is said to have replied, "I should think it a great impertinence were I to express my opinion about God.  The only constant anxiety of my life is to know what is God's opinion of me."  

Quoted by Christopher Ash in Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2014), p.374.]

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Prayers and answers

What multitudes of prayers we have put up from the first moment when we learned to pray. Our first prayer was a prayer for ourselves; we asked that God would have mercy upon us, and blot out our sin. He heard us. But when he had blotted out our sins like a cloud, then we had more prayers for ourselves. We have had to pray for sanctifying grace, for constraining and restraining grace; we have been led to crave for a fresh assurance of faith, for the comfortable application of the promise, for deliverance in the hour of temptation, for help in the time of duty, and for succour in the day of trial.

We have been compelled to go to God for our souls, as constant beggars asking for everything. Bear witness, children of God, you have never been able to get anything for your souls elsewhere. All the bread your soul has eaten has come down from heaven, and all the water of which it has drank has flowed from the living rock - Christ Jesus the Lord. Your soul has never grown rich in itself; it has always been a pensioner upon the daily bounty of God; and hence your prayers have ascended to heaven for a range of spiritual mercies all but infinite. Your wants were innumerable, and therefore the supplies have been infinitely great, and your prayers have been as varied as the mercies have been countless.

Then have you not cause to say, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplication"? For as your prayers have been many, so also have been God's answers to them. He has heard you in the day of trouble, has strengthened you, and helped you, even when you dishonoured him by trembling and doubting at the mercy-seat. Remember this, and let it fill your heart with gratitude to God, who has thus graciously heard your poor weak prayers. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."

Charles Spurgeon preaching on Ephesians 6:18 from Devotional Classics for February the 6th. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Spirituality in the everyday

We have a choice to move from seeing ourselves stuck with one another to cultivating and celebrating our communion with each other. We have obligations to each other and to the planet. And there is no greater perversion of religion than the false piety of insisting on the separation of the political from the spiritual. Since the principle is “being is communion,” how we arrange our common life is central to a healthy spirituality. Politics is simply the means we use to organize our shared lives. It is how we express responsible solidarity.

Alan Jones 

The retrospective nature of good and evil

Extract from a letter to Bede Griffithswith whom Lewis shares an insight from The Great Divorce (Chapter 9), which he was writing at the time: 

25 May 1944
Thanks for your letter. I too was delighted with our meeting. About the past, and nothing being lost, the point is that ‘He who loses his life shall save it' is totally true, true on every level. Everything we crucify will rise again: nothing we try to hold onto will be left us.

I wrote the other day ‘Good and evil when they attain their full stature are retrospective. That is why, at the end of all things, the damned will say we were always in Hell, and the blessed we have never lived anywhere but in heaven.’ Do you agree?

You’re right about C.W. He has an undisciplined mind and sometimes admits into his theology ideas whose proper place is in his romances. What keeps him right is his love of which (and I have now known him long) he radiates more than any man I know. . . . Continue to pray for me as I do for you.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II
Compiled in Yours, Jack

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We shall not weary...

We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

Extract from Richard John Neuhaus speaking at the National Right to Life Committee, July 5, 2008. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Chesterton struggles with the freethinkers

I read the scientific and sceptical literature of my time--all of it, at least, that I could find written in English and lying about; . . . .  I never read a line of Christian apologetics. I read as little as I can of them now. . . . Our grandmothers were quite right when they said that Tom Paine and the freethinkers unsettled the mind.  They do.  They unsettled mine horribly.  The rationalist made me question whether reason was of any use whatever; and when I had finished reading Herbert Spencer I had got as far as doubting (for the first time) whether evolution had occurred at all.  As I laid down the last of Colonel Ingersoll's atheistic lectures the dreadful thought  broke across my mind, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."  I was in a dreadful way.

....I felt that a strong case against Christianity lay in the charge that there is something timid, monkish, and unmanly about all that is called "Christian," especially in its attitude towards resistance and fighting.  The great sceptics of the nineteenth century were largely virile. . . . In comparison, it did seem tenable that there was something weak and over patient about Christian counsels.  The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep.  I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I would have gone on believing it.  I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned upside down.  Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much.  Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars.  Christianity had deluged the world with blood.  I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian because he was never angry.  And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun.  The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. 

...But then I found an astonishing thing.  I found that the very people who said that mankind was one church from Plato to Emerson were the very people who said that morality had changed altogether, and that what was right in one age was wrong in another.  If I asked, say, for an altar, I was told that we needed none, for men our brothers gave us clear oracles and one creed in their universal customs and ideals. But if I mildly pointed out that one of men's universal customs was to have an altar, then my agnostic teachers turned clear round and told me that men had always been in darkness and the superstition of savages.  I found that it was their daily taunt against Christianity that it was the light of one people and had left all others to die in the dark.  But I also found that it was their special boast for themselves that science and progress were the discovery of one people [Western Europeans], and had left all others to die in the dark.  Their chief insult to Christianity was actually their chief compliment to themselves, and there seemed to be a strange unfairness about all their relative insistence on the two things. . . .

This began to be alarming. It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. 

G. K. Chesterton, "The Paradoxes of Christianity,"  Collected Works, Volume I. Quotes from pages 288-292 ff

Saturday, February 07, 2015

One in grace

The world cannot be a problem to anyone who sees that ultimately Christ, the world, his brother and his own inmost ground are made one and the same in grace and redemptive love. If all the current talk about the world helps people to discover this, then it is fine. But if it produces nothing but a whole new divisive gamut of obligatory positions and "contemporary answers" we might as well forget it. The world itself is no problem, but we are a problem to ourselves because we are alienated from ourselves, and this alienation is due precisely to an inveterate habit of division by which we break reality into pieces and then wonder why, after we have manipulated the pieces until they fall apart, we find ourselves out of touch with life, with reality, with the world and most of all with ourselves.

Thomas Merton
“Is the World a Problem?” in Commonweal (1966) 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The toleration of evil

From James Burton Coffman's commentary on chapter 16 of Revelation, after he has pointed out how much Western society - in particular his own American culture - has become so debased.  

We do not offer this interpretation as meaning that "the end of time is upon us" or that the final judicial hardening of the race of mankind has already occurred. Nor, are the things we have pointed out intended as an affirmation [of the last days], for it is not true, that all art, music, literature, publications, entertainment, etc., are evil. Thanks to the God of heaven through Christ, there are still many wonderful, beautiful, and uplifting things available in every one of these fields; and it could be that the complete fulfillment of this prophecy lies yet a great distance into the future, or that the things we have understood as pertaining to the whole world could be merely the astounding perversions that mark the decline of our own isolated culture in America. Therefore, we make no claim whatever that this bowl of wrath, or any of the others, is totally fulfilled by the aberrations noted.

However, our interpretation is that the bowls of wrath mean exactly the type of moral and spiritual pollution of the total human environment that we have attempted to point out. It is not merely that lust, vulgarity, pornography, violence, perversion, and obscenity are present in our culture. They have always been present in greater or lesser extent in every culture. What is alarming today is the toleration, acceptance, and justification of such things, even to the extent of their being advocated and encouraged by and political institutions; and that is what signals a frightening new aspect of such wickedness today. It could be later than we think.