Christian Life/Personal Holiness: March 2005 Archives

I have searched and searched for God's hand in this affair. Why doesn't He intervene? Why does He allow this to continue? Of course, there are no answers to questions about purpose because His purpose is beyond what we can know.

On a lesser plane though, we each receive the instruction we are inclined by the Holy Spirit to receive, and I thought I would share what I have learned through this whole terrible ordeal.

On Good Friday the words "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," resonated throughout the day and throughout the weekend. We still do not know what we do. We are still ignorant, and we are still crucifying the innocent. The thin veneer of civility that we call civilization can be scratched off with a fingernail. Our risible attempts to prove that we are somehow more "advanced," more "civilized," more "compassionate" than the rabble that had Jesus crucified are belied by all of the events surrounding this innocent woman.

What God said to me is abandon your pretensions of culture, civility, kindness, humanity, all of your pretensions. This is what you are and what you ever have been and without My grace what you ever shall be. Humanity is humanity, fallen away from God, dependent upon human abilities to come to decisions and make judgments.

I am deeply saddened, though truth to tell not shocked, at having the curtain drawn back once again from this illusion. The police guarding Terri Schiavo have stated that they would have fought with agents sent by the Governor rather than allow her to live--what more evidence do we need of Roman Centurions? We could go on making analogies, but to what purpose? The point has been made. We think we are socially, ethically, morally, philosophically, and intellectually advanced. In fact, we are nothing more than we were in the time of Jesus, and perhaps a little less.

The real sorrow of this is that it is such a paltry lesson to learn at the price of a life. And yet, if we are to advance in grace, we must learn and relearn and relearn and relearn.

If something does not change soon, Ms. Schiavo will be with God and we will be diminished both for her loss and for its cause. It is our duty as Christians to remind the whole world of this innocent woman's wrongful death and to seek its remedy both legally and by changing the hard and misshapen hearts of those who make our laws.

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The Rootlessness of Evil


One of the interesting implications of Hannah Arendt's proposal regarding the rootlessness of evil is spelled out later in the same paper I cited yesterday. The good side of rootlessness is that it is not intrinsic. Humanity is fundamentally good and seriously flawed, but the flaw doesn't go to the root of who we are--it is a serious, potentially fatal wound--but it is not a deformation of the essence of what God originally created.

Now the down side. If evil is rootless, it cannot be radically exterminated by any human means. Something with a root can be uprooted, removed, and destroyed. However, evil is more like a fungus--rootless and vastly destructive of self and others. Ask any of a million Florida homeowners who, after the hurricanes last year had to have the mold in their houses destroyed. This is not an easy procedure.

One way to think about evil is that it is like bacteria--we can introduce an antibiotic, but some strains will survive and eventually prosper in the environment. Tolkien described evil as biding its time, shifting its shape and place, and eventually returning in a form more virulent. We compare the Sauron of The Hobbit in his Mirkwood hiding place with the Sauron of Lord of the Rings. The interesting point here is that the lapse in time is not all that great.

Okay, so we've spell out the worst of it. But what we celebrate this week is the true cure. As anyone can tell you, mold has a serious difficult time growing in the incandescent heat of direct sunlight--the hyphae might still exist "underground" but light and heat are better remedies than anything that can be done in the dark. And it is in this week that we celebrate the brightest light, the greatest heat--the Passion of the Son of God, who by His death and resurrection has set us free. Evil exists all around us, and even has hyphae within us--but if we are open to the Light, it will burn out evil. It will destroy our propensity for self-involvement. When we unite ourselves to Jesus Christ, we have the only specific against evil that can be effective. And uniting ourselves to Him means more than lip service, it means taking action. We can talk about the battle between good and evil till the cows come home. The truth of the matter is (as attributed to Edmund Burke in any one of a variety of ways) "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

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Have you ever noticed that when Jesus gives an answer that is evasive, He is directly speaking beyond His time to our own?

I thought of this yesterday listening to the Passion narrative. Jesus tells us that the one who dips into the bowl with Him will be His betrayer. Judas asks directly, "Is it I Lord?" And our Lord's answer is equally direct while being evasive, "It is you who say it."

Who is the person that was better off had he never been born? Who betrayed Christ? We are so used to the narrative that we seldom think of the huge implications of this question. Yes, we all know that Judas betrayed Christ directly. The Gospels are clear on that. What they are equally clear on, but we are less attuned to, is the question of who else may have betrayed Christ. For example, who stayed awake to pray for Him and His deliverance? For that matter how many actually went even so far as the garden? Did not Peter deny Him three times--another betrayal? Who was present at the foot of the Cross? In Mark's gospel none of the apostles were there. In Luke they were at a distance. In John it is the disciple that Jesus loved.

How many other times did these men (representing all others) betray Christ in little and big ways? Perhaps we need to read the statement that Jesus makes to Judas more broadly as being to all the Apostles as representatives of all of humankind. Woe be unto the person who betrays Christ. It is better for that person had he never been born--UNTIL such time as he or she repents of the crime and turns back to Jesus, who will forgive and forgive and forgive. I believe the one unforgivable sin is the belief that there is something so dire that God cannot forgive it, some sin so enormous that Christ's blood cannot cover it--we doubt that the Holy Spirit can move us to repentance. God is not enough. Nonsense--Christ's sacrifice covers all sin. We are given many opportunities to return to Him. But Woe unto the one who does not, it is better for him or her that he or she should never have been born.

Rather than a direct indictment of Judas (which it may also be) we need to read this as said to us here and now under the present circumstances. Woe to the person who betrays Christ without repentance, with hardened heart and countenance. It would be better had they never seen light. But joy unto the person who hears these words and knows himself for one of those betrayers, because his eyes are opened and his opportunity to return to the Father increased immeasurably. The person who thinks that they can sin against God in such a way as to defy forgiveness, need merely look upon the face of the Savior throughout this week and know that His sacrifice covered all forever. Nothing more is needed.

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William Law

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Sorry, now I'm started and I can't resist introducing one of my other favorite protestant mystics.

from Of Justification by Faith and Works
William Law

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN A Methodist and a Churchman.

[Just-1] Methodist. Say what you will, sir, I must still stand to it, that almost all the sermons of your bishops and curates, for these last hundred years, have been full of soul-destroying doctrine. {Mr. Berridge's Letters, page 20.}

[Just-2] Churchman. Pray, what is that doctrine?

[Just-3] Methodist. It is the doctrine of salvation, "partly by faith, and partly by works; or justification by faith and works." {Ibid. page 13.}

[Just-4] Churchman. Salvation by faith and works, is a plain, and very intelligible scripture-truth. But salvation partly by faith and partly by works, is a false and groundless explication of the matter, proceeding either from art, or ignorance. What sounder gospel-truth, than to say, that we are saved by Jesus Christ, God and man? But, what falser account could be given of it, than to say, that if so, then we are saved, partly by Jesus, and partly by Christ; that Jesus does something, and Christ adds the rest. For is not Jesus Christ, as such, the one undivided savior, with one undivided operation? And who can more endeavor to lose the meaning, and pervert the sense of this gospel- truth, than he, who considers Jesus, as separately, and Christ as separately, doing their parts one after the other, the one making up what was wanting in the other, towards the work of our salvation?

[Just-5] Now to separate faith from works, in this manner, the one partly doing this, and the other partly doing that, is in as full contrariety to scripture, to all truth, and the nature of the thing, as to separate Jesus from Christ. For as the one savior is manifested in and by Jesus Christ, one undivided person; so the one salvation is manifested, when faith is in works, and works are in faith, as Jesus is in Christ, and Christ is in Jesus.

See also the extraordinary and beautiful The Spirit of Love,
The Spirit of Prayer, and his masterwork A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

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Jonathan Edwards


I love innocent comments that give me a reason to ride one of my hobby horses. ~M2~ innocently asked if Jonathan Edwards ever wrote about love.

It is my belief that Jonathan Edwards, along with William Law, George Whitefield, George Fox, William Penn, Jeremy Taylor, and a smattering of others, is one of a very elite group of protestant mystics whom God granted the grace to see far and see hard.

As a result Edwards did produce some remarkable works centered on love, affection, and compassion.

His treatise Religious Affections is one example, from which, the following excerpt:

from Religious Affections
Jonathan Edwards

The evidence of this in the Scripture is very abundant. If we judge of the Nature of Christianity, and the proper spirit of the gospel, by the word of God, this spirit is what may, by way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit; and may be looked upon as the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians as Christians. When some of the disciples of Christ said something, through inconsideration and infirmity, that was not agreeable to such a spirit, Christ told them, that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of, Luke 9:55, implying that this spirit that I am speaking of, is the proper spirit of his religion and kingdom. All that are truly godly, and real disciples of Christ, have this spirit in them; and not only so, but they are of this spirit; it is the spirit by which they are so possessed and governed, that it is their true and proper character. This is evident by what the wise man says, Prov. 17:27 (having respect plainly to such a spirit as this): "A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit." And by the particular description Christ gives of the qualities and temper of such as are truly blessed, that shall obtain mercy, and are God's children and heirs: Matt. 5:5, 7, 9, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." And that this spirit is the special character of the elect of God, is manifested by Col. 3:12, 13: "Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another." And the apostle, speaking of that temper and disposition, which he speaks of as the most excellent and essential thing in Christianity, and that without which none are true Christians, and the most glorious profession and gifts are nothing (calling this spirit by the name of charity), he describes it thus, 1 Cor. 13:4, 5: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil."

Portions of this Thanksgiving Sermon are lovely:

from "Thanksgiving Sermon"
Jonathan Edwards

1. Proposition. The saints in heaven are employed; they are not idle; they have there much to do: they have a work before them that will fill up eternity.

We are not to suppose, when the saints have finished their course and done the works appointed them here in this world, and are got to their journey’s end, to their Father’s house, that they will have nothing to do. It is true, the saints when they get to heaven, rest from their labours and their works follow them. Heaven is not a place of labour and travail, but a place of rest. Heb. iv. 9. There remaineth a rest for the people of God. And it is a place of the reward of labour. But yet the rest of heaven does not consist in idleness, and a cessation of all action, but only a cessation from all the trouble and toil and tediousness of action. The most perfect rest is consistent with being continually employed. So it is in heaven. Though the saints are exceedingly full of action, yet their activity is perfectly free from all labour, or weariness, or unpleasantness. They shall rest from their work, that is, from all work of labour and self-denial, and grief, care, and watchfulness, but they will not cease from action. The saints in glory are represented as employed in serving God, as well as the saints on earth, though it be without any difficulty or opposition. Rev. xxii. 3. “

To judge by all of his works and his life, he was, like John Wesley, a man after God's own heart and God spoke to him of intimate matters; however, he was woefully misguided in some of his opinions by misunderstandings that accrued as a result of common errors of his time and some Calvinist influences.


Admittedly, the majority of his corpus was dedicated to being "a fisher of man" and reeling in the lost souls of the time--so Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a note struck forcefully and often. Nevertheless, not all of his work is so militant, even though all is strident and forceful. Were I to give a single word to describe Edwards's work, I would say that it is vigorous. There is a tautness to it that sings of Divine Things. Take, for example, "The Church's Marriage to Her Sons and to Her God"--a remarkable sermon that wayward Priests would do well to read again and again. So too with True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord:

from "True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord"
Jonathan Edwards

And therefore there is a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. And this place is that which we call the highest heaven, or the heaven of heavens; a place beyond all the visible heavens. Eph. iv. 9, 10. “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.” This is the same which the apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor. xii. 2. reckoning the aerial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels; they are called “the angels of heaven,” Matt. xxiv. 36. “The angels which are in heaven,” Mark xiii. 32. “The angels of God in heaven,” Matt. xxii. 30. and Mark xii. 25. They are said “always to behold the face of the Father which is in heaven,” Matt. xviii. 10. And they are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence on messages to this world. And thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted, when they die. They are not reserved in some abode distinct from the highest heaven; a place of rest, which they are kept in, until the day of judgment; such as some imagine, which they call the hades of the happy: but they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints’ home, being their Father’s house: they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and this is the other and better country that they are travelling to, Heb. xi. 13-26. This is the city they belong to: Phil. iii. 20. “Our conversation or (as the word properly signifies, citizenship) is in heaven.” Therefore this undoubtedly is the place the apostle has respect to in my text, when he says, “We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ dwells,” which is the proper import of the words of the original. What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of, as their proper home, and their Father’s house, and the city and country to which they properly belong, and whither they are travelling all the while they continue in this world, and the house, city, and country where we know the human nature of Christ is? This is the saints’ rest; here their hearts are while they live; and here their treasure is.

The geography of the afterlife may be truncated, but the image herein is glorious.

Reading The Types of the Messiah is an intricate and satisfying Bible Study all on its own. Truly remarkable is the thought that this is a small fraction of the work on one man. Reading this treatise sends you through a high-speed survey of the entire Old Testament looking for the signs of the Messiah throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I won't cite it here; however, were one to read it slowly with reference to each of the Scriptures quoted, there is no doubt but that one we be far better acquainted with the person of Jesus than before one started.

And let me conclude this whirlwind tour with another beautiful fragment of a sermon. Stop and think what it would be like today to be able to here sermons so well constructed, so carefully considered, so well thought-out. It would be this remarkable quality that would serve to draw people toward Christ--the truth presented in all of its beauty.

from "The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers"

“My peace I give unto you.” Christ by calling it his peace signifies two things,

1. That it was his own, that which he had to give. It was the peculiar benefit that he had to bestow on his children, now he was about to leave the world as to his human presence. Silver and gold he had none; for, while in his estate of humiliation, he was poor. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests; but the Son of man had not where to lay his head: Luke ix. 58. He had no earthly estate to leave to his disciples who were as it were his family: but he had peace to give them.

2. It was his peace that he gave them; as it was the same kind of peace which he himself enjoyed. The same excellent and divine peace which he ever had in God, and which he was about to receive in his exalted state in a vastly greater perfection and fulness: for the happiness Christ gives to his people, is a participation of his own happiness: agreeable to chapter xv. 11. “These things have I said unto you, that my joy might remain in you.” And in his prayer with his disciples at the conclusion of this discourse, chapter xvii. 13. “And now come I to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” And verse 22. “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them.”. . .


The use that I would make of this doctrine, is to improve it as an inducement unto all to forsake the world, no longer seeking peace and rest in its vanities, and to cleave to Christ and follow him. Happiness and rest are what all men pursue. But the things of the world, wherein most men seek it, can never afford it; they are labouring and spending themselves in vain. But Christ invites you to come to him, and offers you this peace, which he gives his true followers, and that so much excels all that the world can afford, Isa. lv. 2, 3.

You that have hitherto spent your time in the pursuit of satisfaction in the profit or glory of the world, or in the pleasures and vanities of youth, have this day an offer of that excellent and everlasting peace and blessedness, which Christ has purchased with the price of his own blood. As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but will be like the prodigal, that in vain endeavoured to be satisfied with the husks that the swine did eat.

What is particularly nice about Edwards is that each sermon has this "application" section in which the abstracts of the commentary, the ideals that are pointed out, are given focus and purpose. This might well be called the "exhortation to holiness." It is rarely without reference to God's Wrath (a favorite subject) but also His infinited mercy in welcoming sinners home. Edwards is a nice specific to a time in which sin is seen as "not so bad." We tend to have lost a sense of the enormity of the crime we commit, the immensity of the ingratitude we express when we follow our own lead.

I love the work of Jonathan Edwards. The theology may have its problems, but the prose is sinewy and peppered with startling images and wonderful, powerful language, all crafted with an eye to making the Glory of God known to sinners. A Catholic must tiptoe through the TULIP and other things Calvinist, but there is remarkable fruit to be harvested here.

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As I said, if you want sin and hell, (among other things much more pleasant to reflect upon) you cannot do better than the great Puritan preachers. This passage from Jonathan Edwards clearly spells out the logic of the Eternity of Hell.

from Remarks on Important Theological Controversies--Chapter II Jonathan Edwards

§ 11. If the wicked in hell are in a state of trial, under severe chastisement, as means in order to their repentance and obtaining the benefit of God’s favour in eternal rewards, then they are in a state of such freedom as makes them moral agents, and the proper subjects of judgment and retribution. Then those terrible chastisements are made use of as the most powerful means of all, more efficacious than all the means used in this life which prove ineffectual, and which proving insufficient to overcome sinners’ obstinacy, and prevail with ‘their hard hearts, God is compelled to relinquish them all, and have recourse to those torments as the last means, the most effectual and powerful. If the torments of hell are to last ages of ages, then it must be because sinners in hell all this while are obstinate; and though they are free agents as to this matter, yet they wilfully and perversely refuse, even under such great means, to repent, forsake their sins, and turn to God. It must be further supposed, that all tins while they have the offers of immediate mercy and deliverance made to them, if they will comply. Now, if this be the case, and they shall go on in such wickedness, and continue in such extreme obstinacy and pertinaciousness, for so many ages, (as is supposed, by its being thought their torments shall be so long continued,) how desperately will their guilt be increased! How many thousand times more guilty at the end of the term, than at the beginning! And therefore they will be much the more proper objects of divine severity, deserving God’s wrath, and still a thousand times more severe or longer continued chastisements than the past; and therefore it is not reasonable to suppose, that all the damned should be delivered from misery, and received to God’s favour, and made the subjects of eternal salvation and glory at that time, when they are many thousand times more unworthy of it, more deserving of continuance in misery, than when they were first cast into hell. It is not likely that the infinitely wise God should so order the matter. And if their misery should be augmented, and still lengthened out much longer, to atone for their new contracted guilt; they must be supposed to continue impenitent, till that second additional time of torment is ended; at the end of which their guilt will still be risen higher, and vastly increased beyond what it was before. And, at this rate, where can there be any place for an end of their misery?

This addresses the conception of Hell as a purgatorial waystation on the path to salvation. It says nothing whatsoever of other matters formerly discussed, but it is an excellent exercise in logical consequences.

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Seek and Ye Shall Find


However, I don't believe I shall knock. . .

A Compendium of Resources Related to the Question of Hell

Count on the Puritans: They have the best sermons and the most extensive landscape displays around. But I did get at least one, and probably several equally satisfying answers to my quesitons.

A very protestant site there are articles on antinomianism and legalism, but the chief sources sited, Spurgeon, Owen, Taylor, Calvin, et al. are Anglican or Calvinist; so, beware for some "thar be monsters." (For example the article "Are Roman Catholics Christians" abounds in multiple misunderstandings of Catholic Doctrine, implying that we believe we are somehow saved by works and not by grace--but this is the usual froth of those who examine the surface and practice and don't understanding the underlying principles. It is clear to me that some protestants do--it is not clear to me that they had much to do with this site. Nevertheless some really good and interesting reference materials if taken in proper context.

For those of weaker constitutions, or those prone to wrath or detraction, this site which gives one of Edwards's sermons on the matter might prove sufficient if you had cared about the answer at all. And Edwards is nothing if not wonderful reading. I can scarcely imagine being present at the delivery of one of these magnificently crafted sermons. It was his day's equivalent of the Superbowl, I'm certain.

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A Question About Hell

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For those who understand better what the Church means by her various pronouncements.

In a comment to Alicia:

Now, someday, I will request that the learned focus their attention on the "eternity" of hell and give that some attention. Because that "eternity" seems quite a bit different than the eternity of the reign of God. But I'm very ignorant in these matters. (My chief problem is that if Hell were eternal, then it would have to be coterminous with God Himself who is the only thing that is Eternal. Angels, Demons, people, and places all have a beginning. They are not thus "eternal" in "always" existent.) If we switch to the other definition of eternal--endless in time, aren't we told that there is a point at which time itself ends?

Anathema was pronounced on those who say that the torments of Hell have an end or that Hell is not eternal. Now, perhaps it really is a technical difference in the meaning of eternity and eternal, but if so can someone explain it. I was under the impression that at the end those who are rejected will ultimately succumb to death--in a sense they would be annihilated. If so, then Hell must have an End. If not, then scripture must mean something else by the passages that state this.

Looking for any input that might clarify the question of what Eternal means here. Do we really mean to say that Hell and God existed if that's the right term outside of creation--because that is Eternity or Eternal, or does the Church mean to say that Hell came into being with the fall of the Angels and exists forevermore from that time forward?

I don't suppose it much matters, but it has been a matter of some considerable confusion to me.

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There is a fascinating discussion going on over at Disputations which is well worth the time of anyone interested in the question presented above.

I need to be absolutely truthful. Were there not a specific interdict against it and anathema pronounced upon it, I would probably be a Universalist. At a time before I understood Catholic Doctrine as well as I do now (still not well), I believed that it was possible for God's love to redeem even Satan. I am obedient to the fact that the Church says this is not so. I am obedient because the Church is trustworthy and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Obedience does NOT stop my wayward soul from hoping that it could be true anyway. Hoping, not in the theological sense, but in the sense of some wild resolve. I know that what the Church teaches is the truth. The specifics of the anathema are against the redemption of the fallen angels and those who are already in Hell. However, the Church does leave me an out. I can believe that Hell's only inhabitants are the fallen Angels. I admit that my knowledge of human nature argues against this conclusion, nevertheless, I can hope that it is true, because my knowledge of human nature is far from complete and my knowledge of God's mysteries even more full of gaps.

But I think it only fair to say that at one time I was a Universalist in the condemned sense. I did not know that the Church taught against this. Knowing now that the Church condemns the proposition, (and yet still desiring that it be true), I can be obedient to her teaching because her teaching in these matters is faultless. Nevertheless, the mind does not control the heart, and the misguided heart still wants God to bring all things back to Him. Yes, He is simple and cannot be reconciled to anything that is not--and yet, with God all things are possible. So the heart says. But the head knows that this reunion is out of the question. So head and heart are at war in this matter. I think the most critical matter is that regardless of what I want (for whatever reason), what I want is not what is real. What is real is what the Church teaches and my desires will no more affect this than will my poor reason.

I don't know why I say this except that I felt the need to expand beyond mere "Yes it is, no it isn't" argumentation of the ambiguous "facts" of the matter to say what guides my interpretation of those facts. I admit that I will ever read scripture to say what most closely points in the direction of this conclusion--it is ingrained, part of who I am. However, I will also guard against ever going beyond the strict line of what the Church permits. Regardless of what the wayward heart wants, I must train it to desire what God desires, and much, if not all, of this is revealed through His teaching voice on Earth--the Holy Catholic Church.

(that little pythonesque voice pops up and says, "But it still doesn't stop me from wanting.")

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God's Universal Love


In the course of addressing what I believe to be erroneous assertions made at Disputations regarding the validity of Universalism, I came across this lovely passage.

from William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, pg 65-67

Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God - and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

Of course, I rush to reassert that these words prove nothing at all, but they do state for me one of the chief lynchpins of my hope in salvation for all.

Read the complete excerpt here.

While I acknowledge that I could be wrong in my belief and hope, I trust that God will look kindly upon the direction of the error and will note that I do not rest idle hoping that this will be the case but work, in my own way, toward making the free gift of Jesus Christ know to all.

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John, Cap, 3. Ver 2.
Henry Vaughan

THROUGH that pure virgin shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o'er Thy glorious noon,
That men might look and live, as glow-worms shine,
And face the moon :
Wise Nicodemus saw such light
As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he !
Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long-expected healing wings could see
When Thou didst rise !
And, what can never more be done,
Did at midnight speak with the Sun !

O who will tell me, where
He found Thee at that dead and silent hour ?
What hallow'd solitary ground did bear
So rare a flower ;
Within whose sacred leaves did lie
The fulness of the Deity ?

No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty cherub, nor carv'd stone,
But His own living works did my Lord hold
And lodge alone ;
Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

Dear Night ! this world's defeat ;
The stop to busy fools ; cares check and curb ;
The day of spirits ; my soul's calm retreat
Which none disturb !
Christ's* progress, and His prayer-time ;
The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

God's silent, searching flight ;
When my Lord's head is fill'd with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night ;
His still, soft call ;
His knocking-time ; the soul's dumb watch,
When spirits their fair kindred catch.

Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel's wing or voice
Is seldom rent ;
Then I in Heaven all the long year
Would keep, and never wander here.

But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
To ev'ry mire ;
And by this world's ill-guiding light,
Err more than I can do by night.

There is in God—some say—
A deep, but dazzling darkness ; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that Night ! where I in Him
Might live invisible and dim !

* St. Mark, cap. I, ver. 35. St. Luke, cap. 21, ver. 37.

What I love about this poem is the metaphysical conceit that centers around Nicodemus seeking Jesus by night. It suggests either a zeitgeist or the dissemination of the teachings of St. John of the Cross. What is particularly lovely is the couplet:

"And, what can never more be done,
Did at midnight speak with the Sun !"

Thus Nicodemus was privileged, in a special way, to speak with the Source of Light under the cover of darkness. The brilliance of eternity comes only under the cloak of night, with the deadening of all the sensate world and the concentration on the things of God.

Once again, in an interesting trope, we see the day turned into darkness, and the darkness that blinds the senses and provides us with real and certain knowledge of God, becoming the true purveyor of eternity:

"And by this world's ill-guiding light,
Err more than I can do by night."

And there is the final turn, the last stanza that wraps it all together and makes the conceit meaningful. It has within it an absolutely lovely turn of phrase, "There is in God--some say--/A deep, but dazzling darkness." St. John of the Cross says that true knowledge of God is darkness to the intellect because God cannot be comprehended by the senses nor by the intellect. The divide that separated us from Him in the fall separated us so thoroughly that we cannot by our own lights see Him in His glory--we can only make out the barest outline. But in the darkness of the intellect, the Light of God shines brilliantly and the knowledge of Him is made secure. Thus Vaughn concludes:

"There is in God—some say—
A deep, but dazzling darkness ; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that Night ! where I in Him
Might live invisible and dim !"

That I might live invisible and dim in the light of eternity and not in the false light, which is really darkness, that I draw around myself when I pretend to greater knowledge than I have!

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More on Lent


from "Sermon XXXIX--On Lent, I"
St. Leo the Great

II. Use Lent to Vanquish the Enemy, and Be Thus Preparing for Eastertide.

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, that we may be able to overcome all our enemies, let us seek Divine aid by the observance of the heavenly bidding, knowing that we cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves. For we have many encounters with our own selves: the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh. And in this disagreement, if the desires of the body be stronger, the mind will disgracefully lose its proper dignity, and it will be most disastrous for that to serve which ought to have ruled. But if the mind, being subject to its Ruler, and delighting in gifts from above, shall have trampled under foot the allurements of earthly pleasure, and shall not have allowed sin to reign in its mortal body, reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickednesses will cast down: because man has then only true peace and true freedom when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God. And although this state of preparedness, dearly-beloved, should always be maintained that our ever-watchful foes may be overcome by unceasing diligence, yet now it must be the more anxiously sought for and the more zealously cultivated when the designs of our subtle foes themselves are conducted with keener craft than ever. For knowing that the most hollowed days of Lent are now at hand, in the keeping of which all past slothfulnesses are chastised, all negligences alerted for, they direct all the force of their spite on this one thing, that they who intend to celebrate the Lord's holy Passover may be found unclean in some matter, and that cause of offence may arise where propitiation ought to have been obtained.

What may be most helpful, and most a cause for thought and repentence, is the idea that if we cannot order ourselves and we cannot conquer self, we cannot hope to withstand any great trial. Lent asks for little sacrifices that in the age of indulgence seem monumental. It seems that most people cannot wait for Lent to end so that they may resume their former ways. But I have to admit to being a little sad at the ending of Lent because during this time we are all trying and working hard toward the goal. Afterwards, it seems, the tide of energy and intent is dissipated; every step toward holiness is dogged by the mire around my feet. In Lent, I am borne forward by the efforts of all of those trying to will one thing. Afterwards, in the "joyous" time of Easter, I find all of my efforts ineffectual, I slump back into my former mode--perhaps a little improved, but not sufficiently to be doing God's will as my heart inclines me. So, I hold fast to the fact that there remain two full weeks in the Holy Season (as of today) to improve my ability to resist self and go with God. Perhaps for part of that time, I will pray rather for the success of others and thus open my heart more fully to what God has in store. Keep moving forward! In this holy year of the Eucharist, God has great treasures in store for those who endure and deny self.

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from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

Genuine transformation of the whole person into the goodness and power seen in Jesus and his "Abba" Father--the only transformation adequate to the human self--remains the necessary goal of human life. But it lies beyond the reach of programs of inner transformation that draw merely on the human spirit--even when the human spirit is itself treated as ultimately divine.

The reality of all this is currently veiled from view by the very low level of spiritual life seen in Christianity as now placed before the general public. That low level explains why there are at present so many psychologies and spiritualities contesting the field--often led or dominated by ex-Christians who have abandoned recognized forms of Christianity as hopeless or even harmful.

Recently, however, a widespread and intense interest in spiritual formation, under that very name, has arisen among many groups of Christians and their leaders. Why is that? It is mainly due to a realization--confirmed now by many thorough and careful studies, as well as overwhelming anecdotal evidence--that, in its current and recent public forms, Christianity has not been imparting effectual answers to the vital questions of human existence. At least not to wide ranges of self-identifying Christians, and obviously not to nonChristians. And spiritual formation has now presented itself as a hopeful possibility for responding to the crying, unmet need of the human soul. The hope springs once again for a response to the need that is both deeply rooted in Christian traditions and powerfully relevant to circumstances of contemporary life.

Recently Tom (of Disputations) remarked on the difficult transformation facing third Order Dominicans as they moved from being prayer groups to becoming formed and really part of the Order. The same is true for the Carmelites, and perhaps for many secular Orders. Attention has been focused upon spiritual formation of candidates for reception and profession into these orders. And while spiritual formation includes prayer, it also goes beyond vocal prayer to encourage the candidate to transform his or her inner life.

Catholicism may be one of the few places where there is an identifiably Christian spirituality still present and, in some places, vibrant. A tour through any local evangelical Christian bookstore will show the truth of Mr. Willard’s thesis above. Almost to a one the books on the shelves are religious varieties of "self-help books." Being a better husband, serving better, being a better father, mother, teen. And almost none of the advice that is given within these books really focused on following God's will. There is a lot of talk about prayer and awareness and petitions and action and any number of other topics related to getting closer to God, but very little substantive advice about how to do so. And this has been the trend for a long time. Everyone flocks to the Rick Warrens of the world because there is at least the hint of approaching God and surrendering to His divine will. But even there, the surrender is subdued to any number of other actions we must take. For a faith that professes "Sola Fides" there sure seems to be a lot of helter-skelter running about in Protestant Christianity. And I don't fault the Protestants of today as such--when you have been cut off from the streams of tradition that feed a vibrant spirituality you are going to end up with a very works-centered "spirituality." Warren's spirituality seem to be expressed by the number of people who he knocks upside the head with the Gospel story (though admittedly, he is much more gentle than that.) When you refuse the living water of sacred tradition, you will be stuck with the still water of what people can contrive to be spirituality.

The joy of being Catholic is that while there are still a large number within our own faith stricken by the paralysis that afflicts some of the Protestant Churches, there are nevertheless rich streams of devotional and divine literature that feed a healthy spirituality. (And so too even in the Protestant faith, if only they would look closer to the roots rather than to the tips of the branches--Quakers, Shakers, and Anglican divines have tremendous things to say to those who are not chronological chauvinists.) But God has especially blessed the Catholic Church by preserving her ancient traditions and encouraging newer, wonderful writers who lay bare those traditions and build upon them. While we have any number of ancient Saints whose writings support the foundations of the Church and the base of Catholic Spirituality, so too we have many modern writers who translate those documents into living realities for us today. St. Thér&egave;se moved St. John of the Cross from sixteenth century Spain into the 20th century. Thomas Merton explores Cistercian Spirituality for Modern readers. Vanier, Vann, Goodier, Healy, Merton, Day, Nouwen, and many, many others add immeasurably to the wealth of the Catholic Church and her deep spirituality. The list of writers could go on and on--Balthasar, Rahner, Knox, Claudel, etc. What we learn from them is nothing new, but it puts a modern face on what is ancient beyond time.

Catholic Spirituality is alive and well. What is a shame is that so few turn to face it and take any notice of it. Too often we are dragged off-course into the most recent irritations and outright scandals we face.

One of the great things that Ross King's book on Michelangelo did was to reveal the fact that there really hasn't been a "golden age" for the Church. They are all equally Golden and equally lead. In every age there are those who pay attention and follow the eternal and those who follow the promptings of their own minds. We are embroiled in the crisis of the day--as well we should be—that we fail to see some of the wonderful things that are taking place around us, even in the small world of St. Blogs. We must be ever mindful of how blessed we are. On NPR (of all places) the other day they had a short spot featuring the usual "Demise of the Pope" stuff popular in current media. One of the speakers there said that Pope John Paul has provided us with food for thought for many, many years to come--even if there were nothing else to consider during the entire time of his pontificate. And of course there is. Every soul that pays attention and responds to God leaves a mark on the world. Sometimes that mark is in the form of literature, sometimes in the form of action. Either way the marks can be read, interpreted, and followed into the House of the Lord.

So despite the alarums and excursions of the present day, the spirituality of the Holy Catholic Church is intact. It is there for anyone who really wishes to lead a life of holiness. The bottom line--there is no excuse. It is only our own laziness that stands between each of us and the sanctity and spiritual heights God wishes us to attain. He wishes this for us not for our own good, but for the good of all, because if each attain his or her appointed place, the world becomes more Christlike and the Body becomes a living, breathing, resurrected Christ transforming the world into His image.

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A long time ago, I don't remember when or where, I signed up for CQOD--Christian Quotation of the Day--to be sent to me daily. This is today's quotation:

Use yourself then by degrees thus to worship Him, to beg
His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time, in the
midst of your business, even every moment if you can. Do not
always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or
particular forms of devotion; but act with a general
confidence in God, with love and humility.
... Brother Lawrence (c.1605-1691)

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from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being--in our spirit, will, or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality. From there we make our choices, beak forth into action, try to change our world. We live from our depth--most of which we do not understand.

"Do you mean," some will say, "that the individual and collective disasters that fill the human scene are not imposed upon us from without? That they do not just happen to us?"

Yes. That is what I mean. In today's world, famine, war, and epidemic are almost totally the outcome of human choices, which are expressions of the human spirit. Though vairous qualifications and explanations are appropriate, that is in general true.

. . . Accordingly, the greatest need you and I have--the greatest need of collective humanity-- is renovation of our heart That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.

Indeed, the only hope of humanity lies in the fact that, as our spiritual dimension has been formed, so it also can be transfomred. Now and through the ages this has been acknowledged by everyone who has thought deeply about our condition--from Moses, Solomon, Socrates, and Spnoza, to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Oprah, and current feminists and enivronmentalists. We, very rightly, continually preach this possilbity and necessity from our pulpits. Disagreement have only to do with what in our spirit needs to be changed and how that change can be brought about.

The key to transformation, as I am sure I will discover as I continue to read this wonderful book, is conformity to the image of myself that God has in mind. That is conformity to the daily crosses that shape and mold me to better fit into the places God wants me to occupy. Thus to effect transformation, renovation, if you will, I must not merely pick up my cross and carry it; rather, I must embrace it as God's will for me at the moment. I must hold it close to me and cherish it as God's gift to me, as that which will transform me and make we whole and complete in the body. The Cross is not something to be merely tolerated, it is something that we must desire. I begin to understand all the saints who prayed for things you and I would not think of praying for--greater humiliation, greater suffering, greater trial. They had learned to see that through these things not only do they share in the suffering of Christ, but they become transformed into His living image in the world. Right now, I am too timid to pray for such great hardships, but I do think I have worked my way up to really praying (and meaning) "thy will be done." Whatever I suffer now (in the realm of grace) I do not suffer later. The more I am transformed now, the less painful the later transformation will have to be. "Let it be done unto me according to thy will," knowing, all the while, that His will can only be good for me, no matter what it contains.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from March 2005.

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