My Enemy Is An Emissary From the Lord

Gilead2
I first read Robinson’s Gilead on the road from California to Iowa as we were moving to serve our congregation in the home state of Robinson’s protagonist Rev. Ames. Finishing the novel in IA – and then getting my hands on the subsequent Home and Glory – was pure joy. The following quote has had a personal impact on me, I think I’ve used it as an illustration from the pulpit, and shared it with friends. We often ask ourselves, “How should I deal with difficult people?” But I think Robinson has it right. The real question, is “What opportunity is before me every moment?” (and I would add, “opportunity to live coram Deo for the purpose of soli Deo gloria). Here’s the quote:

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

Gilead p. 124

I have often been underwhelmed by Robinson’s “Calvinism” as little more than a historical curiosity or aethestic. But notice the strong theological assumptions here. A robust providence is responsible for this encounter, with real, beneficent, sovereignty bringing purpose and meaning. Human responsibility and spiritual obedience empowered by grace are highlighted. And yet, there is a simple (though not simplistic), integral truthfulness of how the voice of Ames conveys these truths.

Like so many of favorite authors – Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard – Robinson is a voice I love to return to over and over again.

Theology as Passion

TheoPassion“Theology carries with it a unique mode of existence. Barth and his followers referred to this as a theologische Existenz (theological mode of existence).

This theological mode of existence involves more than acquiring a substantial amount of knowledge, more than doing theology as creatively as possible. It concerns the cultivation of a certain underlying passion.

This passion is, first, a passion for God and His kingdom. As the word indicates, a true theologian speaks about God. But his or her passion also concerns the people of God and the world of God. This dimension will perhaps not radiate from every page the theologian writes. It is a cultivated passion; that is, it lies in the background and will typically surface in a restrained manner.”

C van der Kooi & G. van den Brink Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction p. 29-30

Holiness In Christ

beeke_livingbygodspromisesA beautiful section from Living By God’s Promises:

That obedience is commanded is clear… On what basis does the apostle give such a command [from Romans 6:12 – 13, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”]?

Surely the apostle does not believe man is able in himself to obey, for he has already given over all men to sin (Rom. 3:9 – 20) and would not contradict that truth here. Neither does he believe that we are able in ourselves to obey, for the very point of Romans 6:1 – 11 is that just as our union with Christ’s death has freed us from sin’s dominion, so our union with Christ’s resurrection has freed us to obey. Therefore, our holiness cannot even be considered outside of Christ, in whom we enjoy it. Holiness, or obedience to God’s imperatives, is not something we enjoy because of Christ, but rather something we enjoy in and from Christ (Rom 6:11 – 12). Our acceptance before God is therefore *in* Him (Eph 1:6) and not *because of* Him. The latter viewpoint suggests that Christ brings us to a place of holiness by which we can stand before God on our own, while the former states that Christ, by redemption, so unites us to Himself as the beloved of God that we stand before God in Him… We obey the imperatives of the gospel because we enjoy the indicatives of the gospel.
p. 130

One small quibble. Why distinguish between in Christ, as if it were opposed to because of Christ? Surely, Beeke et al do not mean to suggest that it is “because of” something else other than Christ. Often, “because of” can suggest the logical or causal ground, and I highly doubt Beeke thinks there can be any other ground than Christ our Lord. Further, I do not think “because of” can mean “[I] can stand before God on [my] own.” I’m perfectly happy with Beeke’s explanation (“The latter viewpoint…”), but I would have never thought to contrast in with because of.

Despite that quibble, there is so much beautiful, life-giving, truth summed up in just a few short verses! What I first learned in Owen, I see with such precise and clear wording here. Far too many Christians today have “found Jesus for forgiveness,” but then labor in their own power & person for obedience. They have not connected Gospel indicatives to the imperatives. I know what joy it has brought to my life, and the transformation He has wrought, to see myself laboring for the Lord in a power that is not my own, but His grace within (I Corinthians 15:10)! And this has come in union – abiding in, dwelling with, meditating on – with the risen Christ.

Athanasius: Christ Drives Out Fear of Death

Sometimes you run out of room or time in your Lord’s Day sermon, and so “Monday Morning Pulpit” is a chance to expand upon or reinforce ideas you didn’t have a chance to finish during the sermon.

On Resurrection Sunday, I preached from Hebrews 2:14 – 15; “that through death Christ might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The following Athanasius quote is MONEY for the sanctification of the fear of death, but I wasn’t able to read the whole quote in the sermon. Enjoy!

“For that death is destroyed, and that the Cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof, or rather an evident warrant, that it is despised by all Christ’s disciples, and that they all take the aggressive against it and no longer fear it; but by the sign of the Cross and by faith in Christ tread it down as dead. For of old, before the divine sojourn of the Saviour took place, even to the saints death was terrible, and all wept for the dead as though they perished. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as no naught, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection. And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead. Continue reading

Society’s Need For Hell

“In the fifth place, that endless punishment is rational is proved by the history of morals. In the records of human civilization and morality, it is found that that age which is most reckless of law and most vicious in practice is the age that has the loosest conception of penalty and is the most inimical to the doctrine of endless retribution. A virtuous and religious generation adopts sound ethics and reverently believes that “the judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen. 18:25); that God will not “call evil good and good evil nor put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5:20); and that it is a deadly error to assert with the sated and worn-out sensualist: “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked” (Eccles. 9:2).

The French people, at the close of the eighteenth century, were a very demoralized and vicious generation, and there was a very general disbelief and denial of the doctrines of divine existence, immortality of the soul, freedom of the will, and future retribution. And upon a smaller scale, the same fact is continually repeating itself. Any little circle of businessmen who are known to deny future rewards and punishments are shunned by those who desire safe investments. Continue reading

Washington: Resolved, Resolute, In Pursuing The Goal

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Washington had finally hit upon a way to win this seemingly unwinnable war – not through military brilliance but by slowly and relentlessly wearing the enemy down. Throughout the month of June, Washington displayed a cool resolve that was in stark contrast to the fiery pugnacity of just a few months before. Not everyone was sure they approved of Washington’s unwillingness to engage the enemy. Some in his own army dismissed what they called Washington’s “Fabian” strategy (in reference to Fabius Maximus, the Roman leader who defeated Hannibal through a war of attrition) as unnecessarily cautious. But Washington remained resolute. “We have some among us, and I dare say generals,” he wrote to Joseph Reed on June 23, “who… think the cause is not to be advanced otherwise than by fighting…But as I have one great end in view, I shall maugre all the strokes of this kind, steadily pursue the means which, in my judgment, leads to the accomplishment of it, not doubting but that the candid part of mankind, if they are convinced of my integrity, will make proper allowances for my inexperience and frailties.
Book cover: “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution”, by Nathaniel Philbrick. (Viking via AP)Valiant Ambition, p. 104

Cultural Faithfulness Through Divine Summons

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We need to be reminded that whenever we cease to offer resistance, to compromise with the world, then we are the victims of the world. The only way for us, is to be summoned again and again, and to summon ourselves again and again!, to the unchanging and unalterable norms of behavior, established by God and therefore regulated of life, in all circumstances and conditions.

John Murray The Lord’s Day – It’s Blessing, Sanctity Sermon on Genesis 2:2

Dissecting Hope

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john_owen2Hope is a glorious grace, whereunto blessed effects are ascribed in the Scripture, and an effectual operation unto the supportment and consolation of believers. By it are we purified, sanctified, saved. And, to sum up the whole of its excellency and efficacy, it is a principal way of the working of Christ as inhabiting in us: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Where Christ evidences his presence with us, he gives us an infallible hope of glory’ he gives us an assured pledge of it, and works our souls into an expectation of it.

Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel of grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment… Gospel hope is a fruit of faith, trust, and confidence; yea, the height of the actings of all grace issues in a well-grounded hope, nor can it rise any higher (Rom. 5:2 – 5).

The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded