Two Great Quotes

We had a funeral service today for a dear member, and two important quotes that were used in the service are worth remembering.

Martin Luther
In Letter no. 1610 to Justus Jonas the Elder (29 June[?] 1530, WA Briefe V, p. 409, ll. 21-23), Luther reminds us of our ability to hold our lives together, in comparison to trusting the Lord with our lives. The well-known quote (as found in the History of the Reformation) goes as follows: “I have had many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have been able to place in God’s hands I still possess.” It is a beautiful reminder of our hands versus the Lord’s. Especially in conjunction with John 10:28 – 29 (“no one can snatch them out of my hand… my Father’s hand”), the consolation of having our most precious gifts – and lives – in God’s hands is a precious truth.

Steve Pershino of Liber Locorum Communium has the original mix of Latin and German: “Ich hab ihr viel in manu mea gehabt, und all verloren, nicht eine behalten.  Quas vero extra manus meas in illum reiicere hactenus potui, adhuc habeo salvas et integras.” Here is the PDF Werke at archive.org.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The amazing survivor of the horrors of Russian communism, Solzhenitsyn is well known for his quote regarding the line between good and evil passing through every heart. I had assumed the quote was from his stirring Harvard commencement address, but it is actually from his magnum opus that he wrote in 19, The Gulag Archipelago. Here is the quote in context:

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil…

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

I like the insight that Annie Homquist drew from this quote:

What strikes me most about these words is that Solzhenitsyn had every right to be a “victim.” In fact, his regular persecution gave him a much bigger claim to victimhood than the “victims” of modern culture have.

Yet Solzhenitsyn refused to claim that victimhood. He refused to blame race, or class, or gender, or political party for the evils in the world that were afflicting him. Instead, he took time to examine his own heart and recognized that he was just as much at fault for the evil problems in the world as were his persecutors.

I wonder how much the noise and confusion in today’s world would be solved if we each did the same as Solzhenitsyn. Instead of pinning the problems and chaos in our world on those of the opposing political party, or those who don’t agree with our opinions on race or gender, and then painting ourselves as the victim, what if we first recognize the part we have played in making the world and ourselves what they are?

Forgotten Lesson of Good and Evil” Fee

So much of our world – and many within the Church – are confused about being a victim, and Solzhenitsyn gives an account that gives moral strength and clarity in confusing times.

Encouragement During Failure

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John Calvin’s magisterial Institutes of the Christian Religion has a marvelously helpful section that is often republished as the Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Here’s a section that was incredibly useful to me a few mornings ago when I read it.

3. Finally, if we do not succeed according to our wishes and hopes, we shall, however, be kept from impatience, and from detesting our condition, whatever it may be; because we shall understand that this would be rebellion against God at whose pleasure riches and poverty, honor and contempt are distributed.

In conclusion, he who retains God’s blessing in the way we have described, will not passionately pursue the things which man in general covets, and will not use base methods from which he expects no advantage.

Moreover, a true Christian will not ascribe any prosperity to his own diligence, industry, or good fortune, but he will acknowledge that God is the author of it.

If he makes but small progress, or even suffers setbacks while others are making headway, he will nevertheless bear his poverty with more calmness and moderation than any worldly man would feel when his success is average and contrary to his expectations.

4. A true Christian possesses a consolation which affords him more sweet satisfaction than the greatest wealth, or power, because he believes that his affairs are so regulated by the Lord as to promote his salvation.

This was in the mind of David who followed God and surrendered himself to his rule, and who declared, “I am as a child weaned of his mother; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Psalm 131:1 and 2.

source

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