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from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and to the Greek. 17 For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: 19 Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:


In Greek

Having handily dispatched verse 16, we're now ready to tackle the remainder of the passage. One is impressed by how much can be garnered from pondering this letter even with a limited knowledge of all of the scholarship that has poured into understanding the letter in its entirety. It is both encouraging and logical that a person today who wishes to read Romans and think about it for a while can understand much of what is said. One need only recall that the letter was originally written to a group of people who had nothing like a profound theology.

Before we launch fully into what follows--thorny and difficult going at best and filled with the potential traps of misinterpretation, it might be good to record one famous theologians thoughts on the Letter to the Romans.

from Preface to Romans
Martin Luther

This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. Therefore I want to carry out my service and, with this preface, provide an introduction to the letter, insofar as God gives me the ability, so that every one can gain the fullest possible understanding of it. Up to now it has been darkened by glosses and by many a useless comment, but it is in itself a bright light, almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture.

[See the translation of the whole here.]

And so, here I am to again darken it with glosses, or perhaps offer a sputtering torch in comparison to the floodlights true theologians cast upon it.

It is good to remember that The Letter to the Romans is one source of the great divide between Catholics and Protestants. It is in this letter that Martin Luther and others find so much evidence so support their sola fides that it becomes for them an article of the faith.

Verse 17 begins the rather difficult discussion of "justification" and in this discussion, some would have us believe that the justification is a matter of faith alone. "For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith. " And indeed, there seems to be a strong element of this--but only when the Letter to the Romans it taken out of the fullness of the context of revelation. For this reason, Martin Luther would have preferred a Bible lacking the Letter of James and the Letter to the Hebrews. These two put the fly in the ointment of sola fides. While it might be possible to come to the "faith alone" conclusion based on Romans, it is not possible to remain with that hypothesis if the rest of God's revelation to us is to be taken seriously. So, let us read what Paul actually says here: the justice of God is revealed in the Gospel of Christ--certainly unobjectionable. It is revealed from "faith unto faith" Another way of saying the same thing: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live. ((RSV)'" The justice of God is revealed through faith for the continuation of faith. Then Paul goes on to quote Habakkuk 2:4. It might be instructive to take a detour to that passage to see what Paul the Rabbi was referring to:

Habukkuk 2: 4-5

4 "See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright--
but the righteous will live by his faith-

5 indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples. (NIV)

[4] Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
[5] Moreover, wine is treacherous;
the arrogant man shall not abide.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations,
and collects as his own all peoples." (RSV)

The one who is puffed up with pride and sure of the sanctity of himself and his actions shall not endure. Paul is not talking here about faith alone, but faith as contrasted with the actions of the arrogant man, whose works are all his own works and who seeks to devour and overcome all. Indeed, the verses in Habukkuk appear to refer to a person in particular, but they could be generalized to be understood as referring to any person who lives without faith. The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes no sense without faith--it reveals from faith to faith and informs faith. Hence, the Gospel itself is not necessarily an argument to those opposed to God in Atheism or other misguided understandings of how the universe functions. The Gospel speaks from faith to faith. However, faith is a gift each person has and which is embodied in the indwelling Holy Spirit who constantly calls upon us to move closer to God. The Gospel of God is recognized within by the Holy Spirit and it calls to all, faith to faith. But faith alone , as James would tell us, is insufficient, because a true faith inspires works. It is important to note that the works don't "earn" our way into heaven, but they can be seen as the heavy-lifting that builds up faith's endurance and strength. That is, when we act on faith in God, we build up our own trust in God's providence and love for us. Works are continuations of faith and strengthen an intellectual faith that could snap or be crushed under the weight of the world. Paul here says nothing of works, and even when he does refer to works, one must keep in mind that the quotation he has used gives the context of his thought. The works of an arrogant man will avail him nothing because they do not stem from faith. While the works of a "good" arrogant man may, for the moment appear to be helpful, they will sour and bring forth a fruit of destruction. Such works are the works of men, but there are works of faith, which are works of God, instituted by God and approved by God as strengthening us and making us fit for the kingdom. Indeed, we can enter the kingdom, flabby, overweight, and spiritually distressed--the spiritual equivalent of a couch potato. For those in such condition, there is a work-out room called Purgatory, which purifies and strengthens because it is not given for the weak to look upon the face of God and live--and sense all in Heaven glory in the gaze of God himself, we must be strengthened to endure it. That happens either here below, or when we have passed into the new life. And miraculously, it is the "works" of others through their prayers for the dead that can help make us ready to enter the kingdom.

I apologize, I have strayed from the point. But I have done so because it is in this letter that some of the more strident and overwhelming of the doctrines of protestantism find their strongest statement. It is only through correcting these by looking at the fullness of scriptural revelation (and I will not pretend to have done so) that we can regain perspective.

I will acknowledge that some of my representations of these arguments for works may be theologically off-balance. I am not a professional theologian, nor a particularly nuanced interpreter of scripture; however, I am not certain that the theologians and the nuancers have helped particularly in our appreciation of what St. Paul writes here.

So let me finish out the verse: "The just will live by faith." Justification--the process of becoming just, is initiated by faith. Through faith we come to know and honor justness and justice. Through faith we continue to walk in justness and justice. But justness and justice require balance--faith supplies the strength, works supply the balance. What is within us is lived out by what we do in the world to transform it into God's world. This must be true or the admonition for us all to preach the Gospel is meaningless. What is preaching the Gospel other than a work of faith? And does this work contribute to justness? Just as the teacher learns more each time he or she teaches a subject, so the preacher faith increases each time he or she relies upon the Holy Spirit to explain the faith to others.

The just will live by faith, but not by faith alone--faith demands an expression, it demands an outpouring, it overflows the person in the form of the greatest of theological virtues--love. And love is not love if it is not expressed--hence, back to works. The expression of love, whatever form it may take, is a work of the Holy Spirit that in turn strengthens faith within us. And so we come back full circle.

One can only derive sola fides through a decontextualization of the Letter to the Romans from the rest of revelation. It certainly was not Paul's intent to do so. He demonstrates this clearly even within this single verse, referring back to the rather obscure prophet Habukkuk, whose book most of us probably haven't even read. But Paul knew it and understood it, and grounded part of his understanding of the Glory of God upon it, delivering it to us for all ages through the aegis and protection of the Holy Spirit. The words of Paul continue to inspire us today as we read them and begin to understand them in the way the Paul meant them to be understood, and in the way that the Holy Catholic Church has understood them for two millennia now.

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TSO made an excellent point about the plethora of great Catholic Classics available for us to read. In large part I agree with him; however, I sometimes find that the Catholic Classics fail me, not because they are not good works, but because so few of them come from a time near enough to address the issues I face every day. Yes, they teach immortal principles and should be read for that reason alone. But sometimes it is good to hear a voice, like that of John Paul II who faces what I face today and who gives me some guidance as to how to deal with. For that reason, I do read a variety of spiritual works from all times, not wishing to succumb to chronological snobbery in either sense.

That said, suffice to say that I abandoned the Monks of New Skete, largely because of the company their publishers decided to have them keep. I hadn't noticed the "publicity" on the jacket and when I finally looked I noticed overwhelming acclaim from Rev. Frank Griswold and Peter Gomes. From what I have seen of other works by these two men, I find myself in disagreement with their approach to the Bible, and in all likelihood much of their approach to spirituality. (As to this latter I cannot definitively say as no single work is likely to have spelled out their complete view of spirituality. But as they tend to take the guidance of scripture somewhat lightly, I have sufficient grounds for discontinuing my reading. ) After the first shock of those recommendations wears off, I will likely return to the book. But because I had Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart at home anyway, I thought I would pick IT up in preference to the Monks of New Skete for the time being.

from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

We must make no mistake about it. In thus sending out his trainees, he [Jesus] set afoot a perpetual world revolution: one that is still in process and will continue until God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. As this revolution culminates, all the forces of evil known to mankind will be defeated and the goodness of God will be known, accepted, and joyously conformed to in every aspect of human life. He has chosen to accomplish this win and, in part, through his students.

It is even now true, as angelic seraphim proclaimed to Isaiah in his vision, that "the whole earth is full of His glory, the glory of the holy Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:3). But the day is yet to come when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14, emphasis added).

The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character., which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul. External, social arrangements may be useful to this end, but they are not the end, nor are the fundamental part of the means.

What I liked particularly about this description is the revolution of Jesus as a revolution of character which does reflect itself in the transformation of the world, but not a revolution in the world that affects transformation of character. I think it rightly sets the matter in order. First we change, and then through our change we effect change in the world. It is one of the reasons that restrictive laws with regard to very popular things have so little effect--prohibition and anti-pornography legislation come to mind. But the focus on individual transformation in Christ seems exact. What is even better is that Willard suggests, as those of us within any Church community already know, that this transformation does not take place in isolation but in the community of believers. We are affected by what happens around us, good and bad. Witness the calamitous and still reechoing effect of the scandals a year or more ago. We will be living with the pain of that betrayal for some time to come--it inflicted a grievous wound to the Body of Christ.

We understand the communal nature of salvation and of transformation. And again, Willard uses the proper term for this when he speaks of Spiritual Formation, which can only rightly occur within the bounds of a community. (In a sense, this is where the old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child," is fundamentally true. We need a rock-solid foundation in the faith, and part of that comes from seeing different ways of being believers and still functioning in the world. The community of faith offers a great many models for us to observe and to take our lead from. Hence, the Church is especially blessed in her continued recognition of the Communion of the Saints--extending our community of models into eternity.)

I suspect that I will read this book very slowly, and I do hope to share some of the fruits of that reading with you. However, I do expect to read it exceedingly slowly. So expect reports over a fairly long period of time.

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Christ Altogether Lovely XVI

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I'm sure there will be great rejoicing and a great heaving of sighs that we have at last made it to the opposite shore of our great journey. It seemed at times perilous and uncertain that it might happen, but we are finally there. And we end with the last advice Rev. Flavel has for us regarding the application of the points previously taught.

from Christ Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel

5. Never be ashamed to be counted as a Christian: he is altogether lovely; he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; do not let yourself be ashamed of your glory. If you will be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him who is altogether lovely.

6. Be willing to leave every thing that is lovely upon earth, in order that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Lift up your voices with the bride, Rev. 20:20 "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly." It is true, you must pass through the pangs of death into his intimacy and enjoyment; but surely it is worth suffering much more than that to be with this lovely Jesus. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ," 2 Thes. 3:5.

7. Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him. Is loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see no beauty in Christ that causes you to desire him, it is because the god of this world has blinded your minds.

And once again Rev. Flavel hits upon ancient themes of Christian teaching. First, be proud to be Christian, because in Christ is the summum bonum, or perhaps, more appropriately He is the summum bonum (as God is simple and cannot consist of parts but is complete unity, if the summum bonum reside within Him, then indeed it is Him, or so it would seem). By our love of Him, let us guide all of humankind to Him, neither being ashamed of our Christianity, nor halting when there are setbacks (scandals in the Church, etc.)

Be willing to let go of everything on Earth that keeps you from completely embracing His loveliness. Be prepared to leave behind prejudices, preferences, and personality. Be prepared to abandon all preconceptions, all restrictions, all modifications, all of our broken notions of God. Be willing to share of our substantial material goods and our wealth of spiritual goods. And be ready to climb out of this world into His embrace, in the next life, if not in this. But better to prepare oneself to this journey here and now. As R. Garrigou-Lagrange points out many times in Christian Perfection and Contemplation--the so called "Mystical life" is in fact the calling of every Christian. Those who obtain it here have a taste of heaven. Those who do not spend some time working it out in the life to come. We have a choice--the bliss of heaven on Earth or the rags of Earth transformed in Eternity.

Finally, we must let the loveliness of Christ speak for itself. We must be exemplars of that loveliness, and by living it, lead all people to it. Through our love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and true and substantial caring, we should shine out like lamps on a lampstand. We are Christ's body now--His hands, His feet, His capabilities on Earth. We are His instruments, and thus the instruments of salvation to our brothers and sister who still live in darkness. Let us shine light into their lonely and frightening worlds. For once they see light, it is unlikely they will love to remain in the dark.

Thus we complete our cycle with the dear Rev. Flavel. Part of the point is to say simply that much wealth exists in all sorts of sources. We should be willing to mine those veins that yield much worthwhile. Truly there are a great many within the Catholic Church, but sometimes a trumpet from outside is better placed to attract our attention.

So, what to next? The sermons of Johannes Tauler? Van Ruysbroeck's The Sparkling Stone or The Book of Supreme Truth? St. Alphonsus's Uniformity with God's Will or The Necessity and Power of Prayer? I welcome recommendations or requests for any book related to the spiritual life of reasonably short length. I also welcome any conversation that might ensue as we pursue these works. After all, the point is to learn and to practice, we could all do with some reinforcement.

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Christ Altogether Lovely--XV

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Almost there. We're in the final stretches--the place where Flavel gives concrete advice about what to do in order to demonstrate proper love for and devotion to Christ. And surprise! surprise! It sounds just like what every mystic from the time of St. Paul on says!

from Christ, Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel

APPLICATION


1. Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!

2. Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ. Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.

3. Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the vain and empty created thing; while no arguments can draw forth one drop of love from their stubborn and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ! I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the cause of his troubles, said "O! it grieves me that I cannot bring this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently."

4. Represent Christ to the world as he is, by your behaviour towards him. Is he altogether lovely? Let all the world see and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with him; zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing upon his account. Proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the spouse did in these verses. Persuade them how much your beloved is better than any other beloved. Show his glorious excellencies as you speak of him; hold him forth to others, as he is in himself: altogether lovely. See that you "walk worthy of him unto all well pleasing," Col. 1:10. "Show forth the praises of Christ," 1 Pet. 2:19. Let not that "worthy name be blasphemed through you," James 2:7. He is glorious in himself, and he is sure to put glory upon you; take heed that you do not put shame and dishonours upon him; he has committed his honour to you, do not betray that trust.

Nothing new here, just what our stubborn hearts and heads need to hear over and over again before it sinks in. If you love Jesus show it by how you esteem Him above all things. Show it by how you represent Him to the world. And by that how you act toward those who have less than you do, or who through no circumstances of their own are in humbler circumstances than your own. Frequent communion, fervent prayer, frequent confession, charity--all of these things fill hearts and minds around us with thoughts and images of Christ. Be aware of your temperament, treat all with respect, show true love to those that you would rather not.

Detach from the innumerable doo-dads and thingummies that fill a life with debris and focus on what really matters. During this season that may be more important that all the other advice. We all know that gifts and lights and decorations and cookies are not what the Christmas season is all about. And yet, we struggle to place the Person foremost in our hearts in our hurry to see that every material desire of those we love is met to the fullness we are capable of. Let us love the lights, the joys, the delights, and the wonders of Christmas, not for the transient material things they are, but for the reflection they given of the wonder of an Infant born more than 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. Let Him be the source of our hope and delight and our season will have true depth and true light.

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Christ Altogether Lovely XIV

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We're almost at an end. I intend to break the application up into two posts, so after this merely two more and then I may start a discussion of St. Alphonsus's little treatise on prayer or on Uniformity with God's will. We'll see.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

Fourthly, Christ is altogether lovely in the relation of a friend, for in this relation he is pleased to acknowledge his people, Luke 12:4, 5. There are certain things in which one friend manifests his affection and friendship to another, but there is not one like Christ. For,

1. No friend is so open-hearted to his friend as Christ is to his people: he reveals the very counsels and secrets of his heart to them. John 15:15. "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord does; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.

2. No friend in the world is so generous and bountiful to his friend, as Jesus Christ is to believers; he parts with his very blood for them; "Greater love (he says) has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:13. He has exhausted the precious treasures of his invaluable blood to pay our debts. O what a lovely friend is Jesus Christ to believers!

3. No friend sympathizes so tenderly with his friend in affliction, as Jesus Christ does with his friends: "In all our afflictions he is afflicted," Heb. 4:15. He feels all our sorrows, needs and burdens as his own. This is why it is said that the sufferings of believers are called the sufferings of Christ, Col. 1:24.

4. No friend in the world takes that contentment in his friends, as Jesus Christ does in believers. Song of Songs 4:9. "You have ravished my heart, (he says to the spouse) you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck." The Hebrew, here rendered "ravished," signifies to puff up, or to make one proud: how the Lord Jesus is pleased to glory in his people! How he is taken and delighted with those gracious ornaments which himself bestows upon them! There is no friend so lovely as Christ.

5. No friend in the world loves his friend with as impassioned and strong affection as Jesus Christ loves believers. Jacob loved Rachel, and endured for her sake the parching heat of summer and cold of winter; but Christ endured the storms of the wrath of God, the heat of his indignation, for our sakes. David manifested his love to Absalom, in wishing, "O that I had died for you!" Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died, but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes.

6. No friend in the world is so constant and unchangeable in friendship as Christ is. John 13:1, "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." He bears with millions of provocations and wrongs, and yet will not break friendship with his people. Peter denied him, yet he will not disown him; but after his resurrection he says, "Go, tell the disciples, and tell Peter." Let him not think he has forfeited by that sin of his, his interest in me. Though he denied me, I will not disown him, Mark 16:7. 0 how lovely is Christ in the relation of a friend!

I might further show you the loveliness of Christ in his ordinances and in his providences, in his communion with us and communications to us, but there is no end of the account of Christ's loveliness: I will rather choose to press believers to their duties towards this altogether lovely Christ, which I shall briefly conclude in a few words.

Summary--no friend is as open-hearted, generous, sympathetic, impassioned, and constant. No friend is so able to bring contentment, peace and delight to all His friends. No friend loves as this Friend.

Jesus is our friend, our advocate, our constant intecessor, our companion. When we grow unaware of Him, it is not because He fails, but because we are weak and stubborn.

The Friendship of Christ is a prize beyond measure and beyond accounting. And that friendship costs so little. Indeed, even in making friends we gain much. We spurn a spurious "freedom" that enslaves one to the things of this world to achieve a true freedom that allows one to serve as part of God's Kingdom. We abandon the lies that substitute as a life and learn the Eternal Truth. We quit false comforts and seductions, and take instead the true Comfort of the one true Comforter, friend and advocate who prays for us when we do not know how to pray.

Jesus is a friend whose friendship is beyond our reckoning wonderful. His friendship is at once the most important thing and the only thing. Praise Him in His perfection as Friend.

Soon, we'll talk about what this entire long sermon means and how one actually uses anything said to improve one's life in God. That's one of the things I truly love about a well-constructed sermon or homily--one takes away something to act upon.

(And that reminds me of something I was remiss in not saying. I attended only a daily Mass at which Father Jim presided, but he gave a wonderful short homily--not spending the entire time trying to tell me the intricacies of what the particularly Bible passage meant [althought there was some of that], but instead gave me one solid positive thing to act upon. Which I did for about a week, which is why good homilies are important every week. Because, poor mortals that we are, our attention is captured for perhaps a week at a time and then trails off. Anyway, if you're out in the Woodbridge area, you could not do better than to stop in at Our Lady of the Angels. Each priest there is wonderful in his own way, and I was blessed by my attendance.]

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Christ Altogether Lovely XIII

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Now seems to be a good time to continue our reflection on Flavel's remarkable sermon and his vision of Jesus.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely" Rev. John Flavel

Thirdly, Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of an Advocate. 1 John 2:1, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the Propitiation." It is he that pleads the cause of believers in heaven. He appears for them in the presence of God, to prevent any new alienation, and to continue the state of friendship and peace between God and us. In this relation Christ is altogether lovely. For,

1. He makes our cause his own, and acts for us in heaven, as if for himself, Heb. 4:15. He is touched with a most tender understanding of our troubles and dangers, and is not only one with us by way of representation, but also one with us in respect of sympathy and affection.

2. Christ our Advocate tracks our cause and business in heaven, as his great and primary design and business. For this reason in Hebrews 7:25. he is said to "live for ever to make intercession for us." It is as if our concerns were so attended to by him there, that all the glory and honour which is paid him in heaven would not divert him one moment from our business.

3. He pleads the cause of believers by his blood. Unlike other advocates, it is not enough for him to lay out only words, which is a cheaper way of pleading; but he pleads for us by the voice of his own blood, as in Heb. 12:24, where we are said to be come "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." Every wound he received for us on earth is a mouth opened to plead with God on our behalf in heaven. And hence it is, that in Rev. 5:6 he is represented standing before God, as a lamb that had been slain; as it were exhibiting and revealing in heaven those deadly wounds received on earth from the justice of God, on our account. Other advocates spend their breath, Christ spends his blood.

4. He pleads the cause of believers freely. Other advocates plead for reward, and empty the purses, while they plead the causes of their clients.

5. In a word, he obtains for us all the mercies for which he pleads. No cause miscarries in his hand, which he undertakes, Rom. 8:33, 34. 0 what a lovely Advocate is Christ for believers!

For the complete sermon, see here

"No cause miscarries in his hand." What a wonderful and powerful reflection. When we consider that Christ's advocacy is an advocacy not merely of words, not merely of action, but of His own Precious Blood, poured out for us--more than sufficient--utterly efficacious. In this we obtain all that we need but know not to ask for. We obtain the reality of who we are in God. Once lame, we walk. Once blind, we see. Once deaf, we hear. All of our infirmaties are encompassed and abolished by the completeness of His offering for us. He is an advocate whose pleading cannot be resisted. He is a Lord who loves beyond all loving and who gives to the very last measure. He is indeed altogether lovely as advocate, as tender brother, Lord, and friend. Praise Him and welcome Him into your home--this most precious advocate, this most generous Soul, this most loving companion, this very Son of God who is the source of our hope and our salvation.

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Christ Altogether Lovely XI

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We approach the end of the sermon. We will discuss His loveliness in His relations in four parts, and then we will arrive at application. And this is what I love about this kind of sermon--it is rounded out with "So how do I make that useful in my life?" Often the sermons we here, the homilies propounded give a nice glimpse into the world of the Bible, but too often one leaves with no real expectation of acting on what was said because little was provided in the way of guidance. The Puritan sermonizers left little to the imagination when it came to this aspect of preaching. Preaching was to be a practical application of God's prinicples to human life.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Relations.


First, He is a lovely Redeemer, Isa. 61:1. He came to open the prison-doors to them that are bound. Needs must this Redeemer be a lovely one, if we consider the depth of misery from which he redeemed us, even "from the wrath to come," 1 Thess. 1:10. Consider the numbers redeemed, and the means of their redemption. Rev. 5:9, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.'" He redeemed us not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood, by way of price, 1 Pet. 1:18,19. with his out-stretched and glorious arm, by way of power, Col. 1:13. he redeemed us freely, Eph. 1:7, fully Rom. 8:1, at the right time, Gal. 4:4, and out of special and particular love, John 17:9. In a word, he has redeemed us for ever, never more to come into bondage, 1 Pet. 1:5. John 10:28. O how lovely is Jesus Christ in the relation of a Redeemer to God's elect!

He opens the doors of the prison. Where there was darkness, He shines light. Where one could not see, now all is clear. Is there anything more lovely than the smell of fresh air when one has been confined for hours in a stuffy room? How much more so then, when one has been wallowing in the enclosed chamber of one's own sinfulness for a lifetime--what must the breeze of the spirit smell like then. Altogether lovely.

And consider this--He is altogether lovely in that the redemption He offers is for all people for all time. He leaves the ninety-nine and searches out the one lost. He harrowed hell to take back His own, and He constantly works wonders to redeem souls thought lost--consider Matt Talbot, Dorothy Day, (St.?) Charles de Foucauld, St. Augustine, and others who initially lived less than exemplary lives. See how their lives were transformed in His own. Altogether lovely.

See how the action of redemption works in your own life when you let it. See how it can free you from present misery and render you capable of service to the Kingdom of God. Through you, God may speak and redeem a great many others. Altogether lovely.

And the redemption was in His blood and His suffering. He didn't wave a magic wand and cause all human suffering to pass away. He suffered, toiled, died, was laid in the tomb, and rose again in glorious splendor. He ascended into heaven in a sign of our own destined ascension. Altogether lovely.

He is indeed altogether lovely in His relations. He has paid the price for us, and we are unfit to wash His feet, and yet He raises us to the dignity of sons and daughters. Altogether lovely.

Flavel's sermon makes me want to sing His praises all day and all my life--and that is truly the Spirit of God speaking through a man of God. Praise God for His goodness and mercy, the redemption He won for us. Praise Him, the One, Altogether Lovely.

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Christ Altogether Lovely X

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I continue now the discussion of "Christ Altogether Lovely." While the doctrine is not thoroughly Catholic, the expression of love for Jesus is profoundly stirring and Flavel points up some things that we too often miss. Find the complete sermon here.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Offices


Secondly, He is altogether lovely in his offices: let us consider for a moment the suitability, fullness, and comforting nature of them.

First, The suitability of the offices of Christ to the miseries of men. We cannot but adore the infinite wisdom of his receiving them. We are, by nature, blind and ignorant, at best but groping in the dim light of nature after God, Acts 17:27. Jesus Christ is a light to lighten the Gentiles, Isa. 49:6. When this great prophet came into the world, then did the day-spring from on high visit us, Luke 1:78. By nature we are alienated from, and at enmity against God; Christ comes into the world to be an atoning sacrifice, making peace by the blood of his cross, Col. 1:20. All the world, by nature, is in bondage and captivity to Satan, a miserable slavery. Christ comes with kingly power, to rescue sinners, as a prey from the mouth of the terrible one.

Secondly, Let the fullness of his offices be also considered, which make him able "to save to the uttermost, all that come to God by him," Heb. 7:25. The three offices, comprising in them all that our souls do need, become an universal relief to all our distresses; and therefore,

Thirdly, Unspeakably comforting must the offices of Christ be to the souls of sinners. If light be pleasant to our eyes, how pleasant is that light of life springing from the Sun of righteousness! Mal. 4:2. If a pardon be sweet to a condemned criminal, how sweet must the sprinkling the blood of Jesus be to the trembling conscience of a law-condemned sinner? If a rescue from a cruel tyrant is sweet to a poor captive, how sweet must it be to the ears of enslaved sinners, to hear the voice of liberty and deliverance proclaimed by Jesus Christ? Out of the several offices of Christ, as out of so many fountains, all the promises of the new covenant flow, as so many soul-refreshing streams of peace and joy. All the promises of illumination, counsel and direction flow out of Christ's prophetic office. All the promises of reconciliation, peace, pardon, and acceptation flow out of his priestly office, with the sweet streams of joy and spiritual comforts which accompany it. All the promises of converting, increasing, defending, directing, and supplying grace, flow out of the kingly office of Christ; indeed, all promises may be reduced to these three offices, so that Jesus Christ must be altogether lovely in his offices.

In all that He was appointed to do for us, there is perfection that transcends the human ability to express. He has perfectly served God's purposes in the redemption He won for us and more perfectly yet served each one of us. I am amazed most particularly by the last paragraph here. Is there a sound sweeter to those burdened than the music that means rest and quiet? Is there a gift greater to those who are in captivity than freedom, and not only freedom, but freedom with dignity and with possibility? We are not set free to struggle yet further for ourselves, as often happens with human captives. Rather we are set free to continue in the perfect freedom of Jesus Christ.

Indeed Christ is altogether lovely in all that He has done for us. In all that He is appointed to do He answers the office to perfection. Another cause for deep praise and tremendous devotion.

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