Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (St. John iv. 48)
It does seem that most men tend to call upon God when they are in trouble and to leave Him alone when things are going well. Francis Chan has said that The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time. God doesn’t need us, since He is purely and perfectly Himself and in need of absolutely nothing, and yet desires and longs for us incessantly. We, on the other hand, being finite, frail, and fallen, really do need God all of the time but only turn to Him when we are in what we think is a desperate situation. And man’s definition of being in a desperate situation usually refers to bodily disease, threat of financial ruin, or the potential smudging of an already speckled reputation. The problem is that we are so defined by temporal prosperity or adversity that we neglect, ignore, and forsake the desperate spiritual condition that ought always to characterize our earthly pilgrimage.
This is not the case for those whom Jesus leaves behind when He confronts us in this morning’s Gospel lesson. Jesus had just finished spending time with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well and then with a great number of her people in their town. First, the Samaritan woman believed that He was the Messiah because of what He told her – she had said that she had no husband, and Jesus agreed since she had had five husbands, was now cohabiting with a sixth live-in-lover, and thus no longer had her one and only first husband. Second, her own people believed because of what she had told them about Jesus. And, third, because her people desired to see and hear Jesus themselves, after hearing His teaching, they believed His Word. They sought out neither a sign nor a wonder. They felt a need that became a desire, and that desire yielded the miracle of faith. So the Apostles had witnessed the birth of belief in an alien people who were arrested and converted by who Jesus was and what He said about their desperate spiritual condition.
[But] after two days Jesus departed thence, and went into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. (Ibid, 43, 44) Now Jesus returns to His own people well aware that there He will find a faith that honors Him only because of the miracles, signs, and wonders that He had done. What will greet Him at first believes with great joy and enthusiasm in the presence of a miracle, but later wilts, fades, dries up, and dies in the face of earthly adversity because it has no root. This is the kind of juvenile faith that hangs upon God’s immediate, curative response to the disruption of earthly comfort, peace, and ease. This is the faith that does not believe unless and until God ensures the absence of bodily and emotional pain. This is the kind of faith that thinks that no man should ever suffer in any way. It is immature because anyone who has ever accomplished anything knows that for goodness and truth to be found and embraced, a man must suffer and die to their contraries. The aliens and outcasts believed Jesus because of His Word, and were willing to suffer and die in the face of the Truth that Jesus revealed about them. Jesus must return to Cana, where He made water wine, in order to grow and perfect a faith that is much less mature.
Then when Jesus was come into Galilee, the Galilæans received Him, having seen all the things that He did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. (Ibid, 45) Again, Jesus’ own people honor Him because of the miracles He had performed. They are consumed with what He did – how relieves a desperate earthly situation, and not with what His Word said to them about their desperate spiritual condition. We read on: So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judæa into Galilee, he went unto Him, and besought Him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. (Ibid, 46, 47) The Jews are full of the old wine of Jesus’ miracle in Cana of Galilee. Their faith seems to be at the beck and call of desperate earthly situations alone. One of their own, a Jewish noblemen, nicely summarizes their faith: he believes in order to benefit in an earthly way. Jesus responds: Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Ibid, 48) Jesus does not condemn the man’s sadness over the terminal illness of his son, but judges that his desperate situation that cries out for out a miracle is not as serious as the sickness of his soul. The nobleman’s faith desperately and persistently seeks out Jesus for a remedy to his own potential selfish loss rather than for what His Word and teaching can do for his soul.
Yet notice what Jesus does. Go thy way, Jesus commands, thy son liveth. (Ibid, 50) Jesus is going to try and test the man’s faith in relation to His Word after all. The nobleman is left with either trusting in Jesus’ Word or abandoning it altogether. One thing is certain, with regard to his son’s healing, Jesus has had quite enough of the nobleman’s immature faith. The nobleman is now given ample opportunity to prove his faith as it is led through the invisible and distant promise of Jesus’ Word back to the health of his son. The first miracle that Jesus will perform is on the soul of the nobleman. The man must first believe, trust, and follow Jesus’ Word if he is to find what the Word can do in human life.
So slowly but surely the nobleman must discover what faith in Christ’s Word really means. As the nobleman had persisted in his pursuit of a lesser good, so now, whether he liked it or not, he would required to pursue the greater. [But] the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. (Ibid, 50) He leaves with nothing more than belief. So faith and trust in Christ can either grow or die. Notice that he does not rush back to his home. Christ’s promise has arrested the whole of him. He is beginning to see that faith is about so much more than the destiny of his son and a remedy to desperate earthly situation. Archbishop Trench reminds us that His confidence in Christ’s word was so great that he proceeded leisurely homewards. It was not till the next day that he approached his house, though the distance between the two cities was not so great that the journey need have occupied many hours; but ‘he that believeth shall not make haste.’ (Trench, Miracles, p. 93). As St. John Chrysostom says, His narrow and poor faith is being enlarged and deepened, (Ibid) in his leisurely journey home. The man seems wholly consumed and possessed by the command of Jesus. The contemplation of his own desperate spiritual situation nearly halts and devalues the progress of his now secondary and earthly endeavor. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth….(Idem, 51-53)
Jesus’ Word has healed the nobleman’s son instantaneously. But a far more telling miracle is wrought in the soul of the nobleman. Christ’s Word begins to transform the man inwardly and spiritually; it startles and arrests him. He believes that the power in Christ that made water wine has already healed his son. Then this power convicted him of his own sin. Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Ibid, 48) The desperate determination to find physical healing for his son nearly disappears as he persistently pursues the new meaning of faith in Christ’s Word that his sin has engendered. Christ has caught him out in a desperate spiritual situation.
You will notice that the nobleman did not end up seeing any miracle, sign or wonder; he was merely told that the fever began to leave his son at the seventh hour, the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth. (St. John iv. 53) And then we read that he and his whole house believed. (Ibid, 54) With them what we need is the miracle of faith, which though slow in coming on the heels of trust and obedience, will place us in Jesus’ healing hands, hands that demand trust at a distance, so that the power of God may be felt inwardly and spiritually, whose spiritual nearness is a sign and wonder of God’s love for us in His Word. The nobleman, like the Samaritan woman, teaches his people all about what Jesus’ Word has come to mean in his life. The miracle of his son’s healing is the reward of faith that takes Jesus at His Word. Paul Claudel reminds us that wherever Jesus passes, nothing remains the same. The whole structure of our ‘desperate earthly situation’ threatens to collapse. Society has been dealt a blow by Jesus; logic has been dealt a blow; common sense has been dealt a blow. Jesus says, Now I must teach you not to make use of your eyes to see me, nor of your ears to hear me, nor of your legs to reach me: but of your hearts to love me. (I Believe, p. 84) The nobleman comes to love Jesus for the Word that first heals his son in order that he might then confront his own desperate spiritual situation.
Today Jesus commands our obedience, trust, and belief. Let us place our souls in the hands of His Word. This is the miracle we seek, not that He might jump down into our every desperate earthly situation, but rather that He might transform earthly desperation into heavenly hope. Christ intends to grow a faith in us that continues to be perfected by His Grace. What should bother us most is the desperate spiritual situation that threatens our eternal destiny. When, where, why, and how people die earthly deaths are really not that important. What is important is whether faith in God’s Grace is lifting us up into salvation. If it isn’t, then earthly tragedy will pale in comparison to the reward of an unfaithful heart that neglected to attend to its first love. Amen.
The Armour of God:
Wherefore put on the whole armour of God .... and having done all, to stand. (Ephes. vi. 13)
THE Apostle in these words lays down three propositions. Firstly, he exhorts that we arm ourselves with spiritual arms. Take unto you the whole armour of God. Secondly, he shows our need of it. That ye may be able to with- stand. Thirdly, he gives the reason for it. Having done all, to stand.
(1) We ought to take the girdle of knowledge. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth. Gird up thy loins like a man. (Job xl. 7)
To gird means to environ and fortify. So we ought to gird our minds with knowledge. What we need to know is that we are always in danger of being tempted. Thus we need to know the times and conditions that trigger and catalyst temptation’s arrival. We need to know how to subdue, conquer, and overcome temptation through God’s Grace.
(2) We ought to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Breastplate of righteousness. He put on righteousness as a breastplate. (Is. lix. 17)
If we would wage an effective war on sin, then we must put on the breastplate of righteousness. This means that we must defend ourselves with righteous and holy intentions, thoughts, and deeds. Knowledge of good and evil is not enough. We must cleave to the good and abandon all evil. This is accomplished is we are clothed in the protective armour of righteousness.
(3) We ought to take the shield of faith. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night. (Ps. xci. 4, 5) Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour, whom resist steadfast in the faith. (1 St. Pet. v. 8)
Knowledge and virtue must be founded always on faith. We believe in the invisible power of God to protect and defend us. We must call upon this invisible power to aid us in our war on sin. Faith in God enables us call upon His strength and might to defeat sin.
(4) With the helmet of salvation. And take the helmet of salvation. An helmet of salvation upon His head. (Is. lix. 17) Putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation; for God hath not appointed us to wrath. (1 Thess. v. 8, 9)
The helmut of salvation surrounds the mind with purpose and meaning for our warfare against sin. We fight in order to gain the victory over sin, death, and Satan in our lives. The salvation we seek has been won for us already in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. He invites us into His victory over all that opposes the Providential Good Will of God the Father in Creation.
(5) The sword of the Word of God. The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword. (Heb. iv. 12)
The Sword of God’s Word enables us to command the devil and his temptation to flee and perish. In the Name of Jesus and by the Blood of Jesus we can command sin to decamp, cut, run, and vanish. In the presence of God’s Word the true nature of sin is revealed to us. Seeing it, we can destroy it through the same Word.
The armour of God protects us on the first day, which could be the day of evil or the day of goodness. To overcome the evil of the first day, we must be mindfully thankful for those good things, through which God desires to make the day reflective of His Grace.
(2) The day of temporal prosperity. I am not troubled, fleeing thee… and I have not desired the day of man, as Thou knowest. That which went out of my lips hath been right in Thy sight. (Jer. xvii. 16) The Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble. (Ps. xli. 1)
In the day of prosperity, we must put on the whole armour of God. Should we fail to do this because we think that we are at peace, then the devil shall pervert and contaminate our souls and have the swifter victory over us. We must put on the whole armour of God at all times, in all places, knowing that life on earth is always the plain of spiritual warfare. Temporal prosperity might lead us to trust delusionally in the satisfaction that earthly goods bring to us.
(3) The day of temporal adversity. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (St. Matt. vi. 34)
If we treat each day as one of spiritual battle, we shall be put on the whole the armour of God and be prepared to see temporal adversities as merely the opposite of temporal prosperity. That is to say that we shall see temporal adversity as part and parcel of what should inspire us to cleave more steadfastly to the armour of God and the power of His Grace.
(4) The day of temptation of the devil. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil ? i.e., in the days of temptation. (Ps. xlix. 6)
Every day will be spiritually prosperous only if the armour of God that enables us to have the victory over temporal adversities then provides us with the weapons to fight a spiritual fight for spiritual victory.
(5) The day of judgment. Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near. (Amos vi. 3) It is called the evil day because that is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of waste and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk with blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord : and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. (Zeph. i. 15-18)
Every day must be the day of judgment for us. Each day we must ask the Lord Jesus to judge us in relation to His goodness. We must then ask Him to punish, discipline, and correct us. We must ask Him to realign us to our Heavenly Father’s will through the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that in five ways we ought to stand perfect.
(1) In purity of heart and body. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. vii. 1)
Purity of heart is perfection of intention and motivation. We should intend and desire to please God with all of our lives. But this purity should be brought alive not only in the heart or soul but also in the body. To be pure in heart and body we must supplicate the Grace of God. Through the infusion of God’s Grace we can surrender and submit to His rule and governance in our lives. He alone can generate purity in us.
(2) In the keeping of the commandments of God. If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point is guilty in all. (S. James ii. 8-12)
Perfection becomes a man’s possession in the common drudgery of human life. Where the commandment of God or His will is not obeyed, even if it seems to be a small instance, then a man is wholly imperfect. We must embrace the the Grace of God and apply it to the whole of our lives. The Commandment to love God and our neighbor in God is essential to salvation. Failure to do so reveals that the love of God is not being perfected in us.
(3) In the reformation of the tongue. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and also able to bridle the whole body. (St. James iii. 2)
Bridling the tongue is evidence that the mind is consumed with the cause of all other forms of perfection. Righteousness is generated first in the mind or soul and only thereafter in word and deed.
(4) In love towards God and one's neighbour. Perfect love casteth out fear. (1 St. John iv. 18) But I say unto you, Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (St. Matt. v. 44, 45, 48)
Pure and perfect love is actualized in the life of the man who loves God above all things and his neighbor in and for God.
(5) In the praise of God and in the giving of thanks. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, Thou hast perfected praise. (Ps. viii. 2) To which praise may He lead us Who is blessed for evermore.
Praising God is the highest expression coming from the creature immersed in His effectual love. When we praise God, we submerge ourselves in the love that is beyond all that we can ever deserve or desire. When we praise God we find a love that is able to conquer sin, bring it to death in our lives, and then to raise us up new creatures out of it. When we praise God we find a love that is able then to be so perfected in us that it becomes the trigger and catalyst for other men’s discovery of the love of God. Amen.
One finds it more than a little bit alarming to think that the largest church in Christendom might be about to schism because some of its "elders" are ruled by exceptions rather than by the rules. Any half-wit knows that one cannot run anything on the basis of exceptions. Exceptions are only and ever exceptions because they are rules. And if one wishes to see what happens to churches that are governed by exceptions and not rules just look at Mainline Protestantism in postmodern America. There one finds a history of how what began as exceptions -promoted in the name of mercy, came to define the beliefs of formerly Christian communities. Of course, on closer inspection, one finds that the exceptions were not being treated with mercy at all. True mercy is severe and demanding. True mercy tries to help the sinner out of his sin. The "mercy" that characterized the Mainline Churches' approach to exceptions was really an accommodation of behaviors that were no longer treated as sinful. And against the sins that were now suddenly virtues, they came to believe that only certain other sins exist. The biggest culprit for most of them ended up being Capitalism. This makes sense since the Mainline Churches have been top heavy with "elders" who stopped believing in the dialectic of Grace and Free Will for some time. What one means is that the adult dialogue between God's Grace and the call of free will to embrace it became something that the Mainline Churches could no longer abide. They couldn't abide it since they were consumed with victimization and determinism. So they became addicted to forms of hurt and woundedness, which they thought could be relieved only through enforced guilt, shame, and vengeance. Goodness, generosity, and mercy needed suddenly to be enforced on a sinful majority of oppressive men who were incurably lost and beyond hope. So goodness, generosity, and mercy were no longer virtues to be discovered and encouraged through rational reflection and an act of will. Rather, now they were to forced upon people as the just deserts of an entitled minority!
Of course, enforced virtue is no longer virtue. It is a lot harder to convert a man to goodness, generosity, and mercy than to force him into their effects! Once the effects become something deserved, merited, or earned by reason of abuse at the hand of an oppressive majority, then the virtues and the process of acquiring them are wholly lost. And the most significant loss is found in souls that no longer believe that man must be converted to goodness, generosity, and mercy through creative persuasion, dialectic, and exhortation. In other words, what is lost is the Grace of God and man's needful response to it through faith and the voluntary act. What is gained is anger, fury, rage, resentment, bitterness, despair, unbelief, and vengeance. And this from all sides!
So the Mainline Churches have become institutions of despair, the last refuge for scoundrels who had stopped believing and hoping in a God whose love transforms the universe through severe mercy and the hard work of the Holy Spirit's sanctification. The old time religion is lost on them because they believe neither in free will nor Grace. They are caught in pre-adult world where everything that happens in the world happens to people. Thus people are incurably imprisoned by forces that they cannot escape. So all of the poor, used, abused, violated, hurt, wounded, maimed, mocked, and derided exceptions in society are given a pass. They are given a pass now since their condition was only ever a condition because of the bigotry and prejudice of a majority that had oppressed them from dawn of time. So what has hitherto been treated as a condemnable exception ought to be treated now as more like the rule. In addition, they are given a pass because the "elders" of the churches are too intellectually uncreative and stupid, and spiritually indolent and cowardly to help them. If the "elders" of the churches had ever worked through their own dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness, then they might be able to offer the hope that has been rewarded by trusting in God's Grace. They might then have the intellectual and spiritual ability to share the Divine Assistance as what never accommodates and enables the sinner in his sin but always assists him out of it and into sainthood! This is not to say that true elders do not suffer with sinners. They do, but they do so in the grips of Christ's command to go and sin no more. True Elders are not consumed with the sickness of sin but with the salvation solution and remedy for it! Having been transformed by Severe Mercy, they share its power and strength with others.
Now make no mistake, there are still heroic voices within the Church or Rome calling pilgrims to faith in God's Grace. We must pray that they are we might be one as Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. Still there are those who have been refined in the fire of the Holy Spirit's consuming desire and because of it can rouse men to revival in the midst of this perverse and crooked generation. They are men who are members of the True Church, Christ's Mystical Body, who are not interested in indulging and enabling the sinners' multifarious neuroses but in applying the painful and yet healing balm of Gilead made flesh to the sin-sick soul.
Are you saying that a part of your being is off limits to God's healing power? Doesn't sound like you believe in God. Oh, I see. You are saying that God doesn't care about this part of your being -what you do with your body, to give but one example? So are you saying that what you do with your body is completely unrelated to your mind or soul? God is interested in what you do with your mind and soul apart from your body? This sounds rather strange. How exactly do you do something with your soul that is apart from your body? Isn't you soul embodied? Isn't your soul in your body in such a way that what you do with it is a decision that affects the body? If your soul chooses, for example, to use the body in ways and places that it shouldn't be used, the decision of your soul affects your body. Didn't God make your body and soul together to be used as one entity in His service? Doesn't it seem more likely than not that God cares about what the whole of you does with the whole of you? It seems that God would be a strange God who created your body to contain your soul if the one was not meant to be related to the other. Can we just divorce God from a part of our lives the way we divorce the soul from the body? And while we are at it, wouldn't you think that God even cares about the parts within the parts. So with regard to food, drink, and sex, isn't it more likely than not the case that God wants you to respect and honor each part not only in the service of a higher end -Aristotle calls it eudaemonia or spiritual joy, but actually with regard to the perfection of its particularity? I mean if God made them, He made them all for a singular reason with an integrity that reveals His masterful Mind. Each part has an integrity that combines with other parts for the benefit of the whole. It seems quite rational that God does care about everything we do with every part of us.
Now, this is not to say that we don't have trouble doing with our parts what God desires. God never said it would be easy, and to give Him credit where credit is due, He did take on this task that we find nearly impossible to perform and actually perfect it in the suffering and death of His Son. So in Christ the Son we can find a way back to using our parts in the service of the whole just the way God intends for it to happen. The potential danger is that we shall get hung up on one part...an uncomfortable part...but a necessary part...i.e. that if we would be perfected by God and reconciled to His will, we must die to ourselves and lose our lives in Jesus. The part of God's will that we find most daunting is losing ourselves in Christ in order to find them. This is the part that offends most people. They are offended because they refuse dogmatically to admit that there is anything wrong with them that needs rebirthing and redeeming.
Ancient Man would have found the call to death and rebirth quite appealing and necessary, since Ancient Man knew himself as one in need of salvation. But Contemporary Man seems to find his perfection apart from any use of reason and will, or mind over matter. Contemporary Man seems happy with a life that never transcends childishness. Have you noticed that the latest way to prove that a lifestyle is good is by parading children before the cameras to claim that they have always felt this way? So proof of goodness is found in proximity to the least rational, least moral, and least intellectual phase in life. That they have not reached the age of reason no longer matters. Reason has been relativized and thus has no objective meaning. So pre-adult feeling is the order of the day, and it is meant to bear truth that is defies and denies both the mind and the will. Proof of goodness is found, in other words, in closeness to feeling that is mistaken for genetic predisposition and determinism. We are the way we are because of material Titans whose rule and sway can no longer be conquered by wisdom and truth. The way we act is wholly determined by forces we can never conquer, subdue, or redeem.
This is not the way of Christ. When Christ said that we should become as little children, He meant that we should become powerless dependents upon God for that wisdom, power, and love that He alone can infuse into human life as the means to the creature's maturity. Man is a creature who lives in part and mostly a-part from God. But God is the King who takes broken parts and makes them serviceable once again for the whole.The part of God's truth that is essential for the salvation of the whole man insists that there is much, much more to life than meaningless eating, drinking, sexing, and sporting. This is the part that loves man enough to hate the sin and love the sinner, and thus to lay His life down for the sake of man's growing up. This is the part that loves the Image and Likeness that is shared with man so that he might grow up into its knowledge and love. This is the part that reveals the whole of God's respect for what man can become and never settles for the relative good of a part.
Sinners are not excused and the illness does not come to be idealised. Jesus is a friend of sinners, not their comrade… Certainly, the return of the sinner remains indispensable; however it is not the condition, but rather the consequence of the gracious gift of God" (Jesus aus Nazareth. Ein Leben", Munich 1987, p. 109). Salvation is a consequence of the unearned, undeserved, and wholly unmerited Grace of God the Father in our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. From the side of man, conversion is essential. God and sin no more, the Savior commands. He expects a relationship that is obedient, faithful, that hangs wholly and completely upon His Grace. Jesus nowhere excuses sin. Jesus nowhere belittles sin. Jesus nowhere shellacks over sin so that it might not be so sinful. Sin is sin. We are full of it. We need the Crucified One to bring it to death in our lives. We need the Crucified One to carry us into transformative Resurrection. We need to welcome God's mercy as just punishment for our offenses against Him. This means that we must be prepared to allow His mercy to discipline, correct, and judge at every step of our way back to Him. Merciful Sanctification is excruciatingly painful. Christ's loving healing of our lives will cost nothing short of everything. Presuming upon God's mercy and betting that He will forgive us in the end is footloose and fancy free. Such a notion is to be found nowhere in Holy Scripture. God in Jesus Christ calls us into tough love, severe mercy, and healing that must hurt for the sake of salvation. If it doesn't hurt, we haven't loved Him enough to forsake all. Time for all of us to grow up and follow Jesus to His kingdom.
THE CHRISTIAN'S WALK.
See that ye walk circumspectly. (Ephes. v. 15)
The Apostle in this Epistle admonishes us to circumspection of walking, and he places circumspection itself in three qualities. Firstly, that we should walk discreetly: Not as fools, but as wise. Secondly, with quickness: Be not drunk with wine. Thirdly, humbly: Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. On the first head, the manner of our walking, it is to be noted, that discretion in walking is seen in three ways.
(1) In the election of the things which are to be done. But as wise.
We are to walk in and through the Wisdom of God and not our own. Our own wisdom tends to promote and perfect selfish desires. God’s Wisdom perfects His image and likeness in us and encourages us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
(2) In the comparison of the things which are selected. Redeeming the time.
As we walk, Wisdom directs us to redeem the Time. Redeeming the Time means offering our time up to God so that His Wisdom might mold, fashion, rule, and govern it. Lots of people, again, pursue selfish lusts and do not ask God what He would have them do with His Time. God makes time and intends that we should discover His intention and purpose for it.
(3) In inclining towards the proper end.Understanding what the will of the Lord is.
When we walk, we must open up to God’s Wisdom so that it might begin to consecrate and hallow time, God’s Will is more easily discerned. So God’s truth informs Time and we begin to learn what His Will is. The habit of studying God’s Wisdom and applying it to His Time will enable us to better grasp His Desire. Acclamation to God’s Wisdom in His Time makes His Will more desirable.
II. In the second place, the dispatch in walking consists in two things.
(1) In the fear of hindrances. Be not drunk with wine.
We are to walk with urgency. If we are drunk with wine, we handicap our minds and retard their progress towards our intended end. Our end is salvation. If any earthy addiction to a false god consumes us, we cannot walk with the alacrity and dispatch that God plans for us. We should identify all false gods that impede our journey to the Kingdom.
(2) In the indwelling of that which is better. But be ye filled with the Spirit.
We are to walk with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. He will enable us to walk with perseverance and diligence after our intended end. He will reveal to us triggers and catalysts that lead to demonic distractions. He will reveal ways out of their enticements.
III. In the third place, that the humility of spiritual walking consists in two things.
(1) In relation to God. Giving thanks unto God.
When we walk, we must be giving God the thanks and praise. Our walk is being redeemed by the Holy Spirit, and so we should be thankful that we are being redeemed and sanctified. If we are not, then we are in trouble with God. Our walk is meant to be one of thanksgiving and praise. God enables us to walk in the right way to His Kingdom. Without Him, we cannot walk at all.
(2) In relation to one's neighbour. Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. You see by this how we ought to walk circumspectly. The Apostle exhorts us in these words that we should walk cautiously in this way for three reasons.
(1) Because we walk in the midst of snares: Thou art going in the midst of snares, and walking upon the arms of them that are grieved. (Ecclus. ix. 20)
When we walk, we must be aware of the dangers that other people pose for us. We should not judge the person but the sin through which they knowingly or unknowingly try to deceive, entrap, and catch us.
(2) Because we walk in the midst of robbers: As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent. (Hosea vi. 9) His troops come together, and raise up their way against me. (Job xix. 12)
All sorts and conditions of men can try to steal the Divine Image and Likeness from our lives. They long to murder and kill the soul’s faith in God, love of God, and hope in God. They long to sever us from God by reason of their imbecility and irrationality.
(3) Because we walk in the midst of pits: And the vale of Siddim was full of slime pits. (Gen. xiv. 10) Fear, and the pit, and the snare are upon thee, oh inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit. (Isa. xxiv. 17, 18)
We are surrounded by pitfalls and ditches that could very well lead us into Hell. As we walk the walk of Jesus Christ, are we aware of those pitfalls that might have already started to swallow us up? Are we conscientiously cautious and circumspect to the dangers that surround us? Are we already in grave danger? If anything has impeded the free flow of God’s generosity into and out of us, we are already well on the way to Hell. Let us realize that we live in dark and dangerous times. Let us walk in the Light of Christ that He might reveal to us the dangers that confront us via temptation and sin.
II. On the second head, the conditions of our walking, it is to be noted. In the first place, that we walk in the midst of three snares. These are snares of the spirit.
(1) The iniquity of the proud. The proud have hid a snare for me they have set gins for me. (Ps. cxlv)
The proud spirits seek to convince us that we are humble enough, meek enough, and lowly enough. We are not.
(2) The lust of the avaricious: But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Tim. vi. 9)
Spirits of greed and avarice want to enslave us to their ways. They want to convince us that we love enough, are generous enough, have given enough. We have not.
(3) The perversity of false accusers: And hast preserved my body from destruction, from the snare of an unjust tongue, and from the lips of them that forge lies. (Ecclus. i. 3)
Spirits of lying, false witness, gossip, and slander convince us that we are honest enough, true enough, and candid enough. We are not.
In the second place, that similarly we walk in the midst of three kind of robbers. These are robbers of the soul.
(1) The Devil: The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. (St. John x. 10)
The Devil and his friends want to rob us of our Divinely Desired Destiny. The Devil wants to kill and destroy our desire to be saved by God through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. The Devil convinces us that we are not worshiping Him. We are.
(2) The flatterer: The thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without. (Hos. vii. 1)
Flattery is a mortal sin. The Devil flatters us with exaggerated praise and honor. He would have us think that at least we are doing such and such and that we are not being unfaithful to God. We are.
(3) Vain glory: S. Gregory says that as a certain robber it joins itself
to the human traveller in the way; that it seeks those who are incautious, and spoils them, especially seeking to despoil those who bear treasure publicly in the way. And, again, that the appetite for human praise is a certain robber, which gladly unites to those who are walking in the right way, that their eyes being pried away they may be slain by the sword which hangs from their path. St. John Chrysostom observes that vain-glory is the one thief, which robs us of our treasure laid up in heaven. The Devil steals souls; the flatterers steal
purity of conscience; vain-glory steals the reward of eternal glory.
The Devil steals our souls away from God. Flatterers steal purity of conscience, which would show us how far we are from God’s goodness and holiness. Vain glory steals from us the reward of glorious salvation. All three lie to us and tell us that we are not far from the Kingdom. We are.
(3.) In the third place, that we similarly walk in the midst of three pits. These are pits for the body.
(1) Woman, or luxury. The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein. (Prov. xxii. 14) The abhorred of the Lord is the son of wrath. He who embraces the words or kisses of a strange woman knocks as at the door of an abyss, and unless he draws back his feet, restraining his members, he will fall into that penal pit into which none except the son of wrath falls down.
Lust of the flesh threatens to impede the progress of the Christian pilgrim. Wrath, anger, fury, rage, resentment, and bitterness give birth to lust of the flesh. The soul collapses into the flesh because it despairs of the spirit.
(2) Gluttony and drunkenness: Who falls into pits. (Prov. xxxiii) Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go to seek mixed wine. (Prov. xxxiii)
The soul that has despaired of the spirit’s walk towards God sinks into food and drink. What soothes and satisfies in small ways at first becomes a false god. The soul sinks into the body and the body craves more food or drink. The amounts increase the more the false god is worshiped and adored. What began as a harmless need or desire becomes an addiction.
(3) The grief of the hypocrites and evil-doers: There shall the great owl make her nest. (Isa. xxxiv. 15) The owl signifies the double dealers,
who hide intentions under the thorns of duplicity. The foxes have holes… (St. Matt. viii. 20) On account of the danger of snares, we ought ever to walk cautiously before the Lord, that He Himself may draw our feet out of the trap. St. Augustine says: I resist the seducers that my feet may not be entangled by which I walk in Thy way, and I
will lift up to Thee the invisible eyes that Thou mayest draw my feet out of the snare. Whence dost Thou draw them, for if they seek Thee, Thou ceasest not to lift them up. But I, therefore, run where the snares are scattered abroad. On account of the danger of robbers we ought to walk cautiously, armed for walking with all spiritual arms. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. (Ephes. vi. 13) On account of the dangers of pit-falls, we ought to walk cautiously, We must be walking with gravity and by the light of grace: Let us walk honestly as in the day. (Rom. xiii. 30)
We must see that Vain Glory can and will be our downfall if we do not fall to our knees and bewail our sinfulness. What is being recommended here is not desperate and hopeless groveling. Rather what is being encouraged is a healthy sense of our powerlessness. Such will lead to humility. And that will enable the Holy Spirit to transform our lives in an ongoing fashion.
[Addr-29] Now this middle Way has neither Scripture nor sense in it; for an occasional Influence or Concurrence is as absurd, as an occasional God, and necessarily Supposes such a God. For an occasional influence of the Spirit upon us supposes an occasional Absence of the Spirit from us.
Christianity is not an occasional religion. It calls forth every fiber of human nature to fight the good fight of faith. ‘Occasional Christians’ are no Christians at all. It is tantamount to saying that a man might be an ‘occasional man’. It is absurd because through Christ alone man is reconciled to God the Father and to his fellow man. In other words, through Christ alone can man become a true man or the man that God intended for him to be. The man who occasionally accepts the influences of the Holy Spirit in similar fashion occasionally rejects them. In such a condition, man is double minded and thus caught in the very problem that Christ has come to overturn and redress. Man was created by God for Himself. If this is not the incentive and motivation for all of man’s thoughts, words, and works, man is occasionally related to God.
For there could be no such Thing, unless God was sometimes with us, and sometimes not, sometimes doing us good, as the inward God of our Life, and sometimes doing us no good at all, but leaving us to be good from ourselves. — Occasional Influence necessarily implies all this blasphemous Absurdity.
The Christian always recognizes God’s presence and strives to discern His will. God is omnipresent. But God is also omnibenevolent. There never is a time when God’s being is not one with His will for us. His nature is to desire our redemption and progressive well-becoming in Jesus Christ. Should we accept God’s will sometimes and at other times reject it would be tantamount to saying that God’s will is sometimes useful but at other times meddlesome. Such is acme of blasphemous absurdity. A part time God is as damnable as a part time Christian. The former will be found to be a projection of man’s reason onto the Godhead, and thus no God at all.
Again, this middle way of an occasional Influence and Assistance necessarily supposes, that there is something of man's own that is good, or the Holy Spirit of God neither would, nor could assist or cooperate with it. But if there was any Thing good in Man for God to assist and cooperate with, besides the SEED of his own Divine Nature, or his own WORD of Life striving to bruise the Serpent's Nature within us, it could not be true, that there is only one that is good, and that is God. And were there any Goodness in Creatures, either in Heaven, or on Earth, but the one Goodness of the Divine Nature, living, working, manifesting itself in them, as its created Instruments, then good Creatures, both in Heaven and on Earth, would have something else to adore, besides, or along with God.
It should be clear that God alone is good. Any goodness that is found in the creation is His Goodness or the Goodness of the Divine Nature working upon and manifesting Itself through them. Every creature is good in so far as it derives its goodness from God. So to say that the creature is good without God is the height of absurdity since the creature derives its goodness from its Maker and Redeemer. Now goodness is chiefly concerned with the creature’s final cause or the purpose for which it exists. A creature then imitates God in so far as it participates in God’s goodness to realize its end or telos. Now all creatures by realizing their ends adore or worship God. God alone is adored because His goodness alone brings the creature to perfection of its nature.
For Goodness, be it where it will, is adorable for itself, and because it is Goodness; if therefore any Degree of it belonged to the Creature, it ought to have a share of that same Adoration that is paid to the Creator.— Therefore, if to believe that Nothing godly can be alive in us, but what has all its Life from the Spirit of God living and breathing in us, if to look Solely to it, and depend wholly upon it, both for the Beginning, and Growth of every Thought and Desire that can be holy and good in us, be proud rank Enthusiasm, then it must be the same Enthusiasm to own but one God.
That the creature persists in life is a sign that it participates in God’s goodness. That the rational creature sees that it depends solely on God for its being leads it then to rely upon it likewise for its wellbeing. For the merely existing rational being to be made better, he must rely upon God alone. God’s Goodness makes a creature better or makes it capable of realizing its end. To rely upon ourselves or someone or something other than God for our betterment is the height of absurdity and imbecility.
For he that owns more goodness than one, owns more Gods than one. And he that believes he can have any good in him, but the one Goodness of God, manifesting itself in him, and through him, owns more goodness than one. But if it be true, that God and Goodness cannot be divided, then it must be a Truth for ever and ever, that so much of Good, so much of God, must be in the Creature.
God has never intended anything other than that His Word and Spirit might be alive in the rational creature. To say this means that God intended for His Word to be made flesh and to dwell in us from the beginning of the creation. God and His Goodness are one nature and reality. God intends to be alive in us through His Word and by His Spirit. His Word is His intention and His Spirit is the power that actualizes it in human life. His Word is His Will and the Spirit ensures it rule and governance in human life.
[Addr-30] And here lies the true unchangeable Distinction between God, and Nature, and the Natural Creature. Nature and Creature are only for the outward manifestation of the inward invisible unapproachable Powers of God; they can rise no higher, nor be anything else in themselves, but as Temples, Habitations, or Instruments, in which the Supernatural God can, and does manifest himself in various Degrees, bringing forth Creatures to be good with his own Goodness, to love and adore him with his own Spirit of Love, for ever singing Praises to the Divine Nature by That which they partake of it.
God indwells all creatures by making His Word flesh in them. From inanimate, through vegetative, to sensitive, and finally in rational creatures, God’s Word is made flesh as His Spirit animates and perfects the creature. Through His own Goodness creatures are made good or realize their ends. In so far as they realize their ends, they love and adore Him with His own Spirit of Love. Now human beings are called to take this Word in their flesh into the realm of spiritual perfection and sanctification. Man can be perfected in the Word and by the Spirit only in so far as he wills to embrace the Grace of God.
This is the Religion of Divine Inspiration, which being interpreted, is Immanuel or God within us. Every Thing short of this, is short of that Religion which worships God in Spirit and in Truth. And every religious Trust or Confidence in any Thing, but the Divine Operation within us, is but a sort of Image-Worship, which though it may deny the Form, yet retains the Power thereof in the Heart. And he that places any religious Safety in theological Decisions, Scholastic Points, in particular Doctrines and Opinions, that must be held about the scripture Words of Faith, Justification, Sanctification, Election, and Reprobation, so far departs from the true Worship of the Living God within him, and Sets up an Idol of Notions to be worshipped, if not instead of, yet along with him.
Theological definitions are given to us to help us better cherish and treasure the operation of the Word made flesh within us. If they should be hoisted above the work of God’s Word in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, they smack of that idolatry that would place knowledge above virtue. To know something about God is one thing, but to apply the truth known to human life via an act of will is quite another. Idolatry is a great danger to philosophers and theologians; for they imagine that their knowledge will save them. Quite the contrary, their submission to the Divine Truth by way of virtuous and godly living alone will reconcile them to God.
And I believe it may be taken for a certain Truth, that every Society of Christians, whose Religion stands upon this Ground, however ardent, laborious, and good their zeal may seem to be in such Matters, yet in spite of all, sooner or later, it will be found that Nature is at the Bottom, and that a selfish, earthly, overbearing Pride in their own Definitions and Doctrines of Words, will by Degrees creep up to the same Height, and become that same fleshly Wisdom, doing those very same Things, which they exclaim against in Popes, Cardinals, and Jesuits. Nor can it possibly be otherwise. For a letter-learned zeal has but one Nature wherever it is, it can only do that for Christians, which it did for Jews. As it anciently brought forth Scribes, Pharisees, Hypocrites, and Crucifiers of Christ, as it afterwards brought forth Heresies, Schisms, Popes, papal Decrees, Images, Anathemas, Transubstantiations, so in Protestant countries it will be doing the same Thing, only with other materials; Images of wood and Clay, will only be given up for Images of Doctrines; Grace and Works, imputed sin, and imputed Righteousness, Election and Reprobation, will have their Synods of Dort, as truly evangelical, as any Council of Trent.
The idolatry of theology is a very great danger indeed. It has led some otherwise earnest Christians to become the most vicious and unkind of men. It has moved great doctors of the churches to such a degree of judgmental condescension that the Grace of God has been erased clean from the memories of souls that once sought salvation. Theology is meant to open the mind to wonder and the will to submission. Theology is given that men might adore and worship God to the point of earnest surrender to His will in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Theology that does not lead to a radical in-othering, where man dies and God comes alive, is no theology worth having. Hell is full of theologians and doctors whose subtle wit and refined reason have been wasted on division rather than unity, on reason rather than faith, and on nature rather than Grace. Theology should teach us about the unearned, undeserfved, and unmerited Grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Theology should remind us too that to have this Grace we must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves through a goodness that is not our own.
Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: But rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephes. iv. 27, 28)
THE Apostle lays down three propositions in this Epistle. Firstly, he exhorts the faithful lest they should give place to the devil in their heart. Neither give place to the devil. Secondly, he bids them avoid those things which prepare a place for him: Let him that stole steal no more. Thirdly, he admonishes them that they ought to do that which may put the devil to flight: But rather let him labour….
The Apostle exhorts us to shun the devil and his designs. He urges us to use ourselves and all other things in due measure according to God’s intention. Giving to all their due means respecting and honoring the purpose for which the creature was made. We should not take from God or others what is not ours by nature. We should labor also to embrace virtue that in so doing vice might be put to death.
The deadly poison of the devil is deception. He deceives us into thinking that we can be as God, knowing good and evil in such a way that goodness alone has substance and evil is nothing. Yet it is only God who can relate to good and evil in this way. For our part we must allow God’s Grace to conquer evil and establish goodness in our lives.
(2) Because he is a lion seeking to devour souls. Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet. v. 8)
We do well to remember that the devil will assail and assault us not only with all of his sagacity but also with all of his strength. He will pounce upon us again and again until we begin to give way and cave to the pressure of his ways. We must resist him with the power and might of God’s Holy Spirit. We must not only renounce him intellectually but crush and grind him to powder effectively through the indwelling of same Spirit.
(3) Because he is envious, bringing envy into his dwelling-place. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world, and they that do hold of his side do find it. (Wis. ii. 24)
The devil will try to weaken us through the sin of envy. He envies our advancement in Christ’s Gospel. He will try to convert us to his envy and jealousy but reminding us that other men are more advanced, more successful, and further along the road of sanctification. He will try to convince us to become territorial and to become fearful of others who try to help and assist us. He will always attempt to perfect our isolationism and establish our territorialism.
(4) Because he is an accuser, ever accusing those who receive him. The accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accuseth them before our God day and night. (Rev. xii. 10)
The devil will try to weaken us by accusing us of having made less far less progress than we should have at any given point in time. He accuses us of being indebted to him for this knowledge. Thus he undermines the progress that the Grace of God has made in our lives already. He encourages us to quit the sanctification process and rely upon his more reasonable expectations.
(5) Because he is a thief stealing the gifts of grace from those in whom he dwells. Then cometh the devil and taketh the word out of their heart lest they should believe and be saved. (St. Luke viii. 12)
The progress we have made is thus seen as gone. He takes away the gift of Grace from our hearts. We think that because we have not been perfected sooner Grace has given up on us and there is no hope for our healing. He convinces us that God should work on our time clock and not that we should work in the frame of His eternity.
(6) Because he is a homicide, entangling those who receive him
in perpetual death. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. (St. John viii. 44)
So he brings to death the work of God’s Grace in our hearts. He longs to kill the labor of God’s wisdom, power, and love in us. He longs to make us dead to God and alive to lesser goods and far more easily obtained expressions of happiness.
(7) Because he who gives place to the devil, will share a place with him in hell. Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (St. Matt. xxv. 44) It is manifest, therefore, that in many ways they are very foolish who give place to the devil in their souls, for they receive a serpent, a lion, a thief, and a murderer.
If we allow the devil to have his way with us, we shall end up in Hell for all of eternity. We do well to remember that it is not through big sins that we are damned. Little sins can do the trick also. What we must locate then is any sin that stands between us and God’s transformation of our lives.
To be sanctified, we must be content with what we have, respect others, and serve God. Stealing is taking what is not ours by nature or agreement. We steal from God when we judge good and evil for ourselves. We steal from men when we violently deprive them of some part of themselves.
(2) From every evil word: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.
Words reveal our relationship to God and God in others. If our words are not expressions that reveal God’s power in our lives and our desire for his power in others’ lives, then we are wasting our time. Words must reveal God’s goodness alone.
(3) From sadness and bitterness. Let all bitterness be put away from you.
Bitterness and resentment reveal a discontented and unsatisfied heart. So we must put this away and make room for the goodness that God desires to generate in us and in all other men.
(4) Flee from wrath. And wrath.
Wrath and anger reveal not hope but despair over ourselves and others. Wrath does not work the goodness of God since it tends to judge and condemn rather than earnestly pray and hope for transformation. For St. Thomas wrath is probably related more to an instinctive frustration and violent irritation and impatience.
(5) From anger. And anger.
Anger seems to be potentially more noble. Anger for St. Thomas is probably closer to justice, and thus St. Thomas says that sometimes there is righteous anger or indignation because we want another to be made better. Now this may be noble, and yet at the end of the day, this too must be surrendered and replaced with prayerful hope for another’s sanctification
(6) From clamour. And clamour.
Clamour is disruptive and confusing noise. It is a grumbling that distracts and dislodges others from their pursuit of the good. It serves no useful purpose since it is an unarticulated expression of dissatisfaction and powerlessness.
(7) From blasphemy or evil speaking. And evil speaking. S. Augustine says that blasphemy consists in those things which are falsely spoken of God, and therefore blasphemy is worse than to sin by swearing falsely, because that in swearing falsely witnesses are brought forward, but in blasphemy false things are spoken of God Himself.
For this reason evil speaking or blasphemy is joined with all malice.
‘Now God, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i), is the very essence of true goodness. Hence whatever befits God, pertains to His goodness, and whatever does not befit Him, is far removed from perfection of goodness, which is His Essence. Consequently whoever either denies anything befitting God, or affirms anything unbefitting Him, disparages the Divine goodness.' (S.T. ii, ii, xiii, 1) When we say false things about God, accuse God of imperfection, curse God because He has not helped us the way we want to be helped and as fast as we want to see it happen, we have blasphemed. Evil talking about God or God’s image and likeness in another is all of a piece. We must refrain from all evil talk because we must honor and worship God in Himself and pray for the same God to come alive in others.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the Apostle likewise exhorts us in this Epistle to seven virtues, by which the devil is driven from the soul.
(1) To renovation of mind. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. We ought to be renewed in five ways. Firstly, as an eagle, laying down the beak of an evil tongue. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth. My youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Ps. ciii. 5) Secondly, as a stag casting away the horns of pride, As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks. (Psalm xlii. 1) Gloss. The hart is burdened with beautiful hair and horns : it attracts or draws up the serpent by its nostrils; which being swallowed, the poison inflames it, whence it most ardently desires the water, on drinking which it sheds its horns and hair. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. (Isa. Iv. 1) Thirdly, as a hawk accepting the plumage of virtue through the grace, of the Holy Spirit. Does the hawk fly by thy wisdom and stretch her wings to the south? (Job xxxix) Fourthly, as a serpent casting off the skin of the old conversation. Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man. (Col. iii. 9, 10) Fifthly, by taking away the lust of evil love. But he knoweth the way that I take : when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job xxiii. 10)
We must desire virtue as what we need most to be saved. We must desire to see truth and to appropriate it in our lives. Ridding our lives of evil, we must then long more earnestly for the good that will heal us. The ways of Satan has made us weak and vulnerable. Only the ways of God can strengthen us as we become habituated to virtue. The beauty of holiness will be ours if we are intent upon observing what God is doing for us even now. So we must cast off evil and put on the newness of God’s virtue. We must work out false loves and ask the Lord to enable us to love Him above all things.
(2) He exhorts us to honest labour. But rather let him labour.
Sanctification in virtue demands that we labor honestly, accepting the wages of the new life that God brings to us.
(3) To the enlargement of charity. That he may have to give.
In process of labor, we must give as God gives freely to us.
(4) He bids those things be spoken which tend to the edification of faith. That it may minister grace unto the hearers.
What we give must be the gifts of Grace which we possess by faith. So we share with others our faith in God’s Grace.
(5) To the showing of kindness. And be ye kind one to another.
Of course, it goes without saying that we must not only share spiritual treasure but also earthly treasure, so that our neighbor may be on equal footing with us in the pursuit of salvation.
(6) To tender-heartedness. Tender-hearted.
Tender-heartedness means that we are mercifully inclined towards all others. We thus desire first and foremost their salvation.
(7) To the mutual forgiveness of injuries. Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Forgiveness is the beginning and end of our relations with all others, since God for Christ’s sake forgives us always as we grow in perfection.
[Addr-24] Now when Christ had told them of the Necessity of an higher State than that they were in, and the Necessity of such a comforting illuminating Guide, as they could not have till his outward Teaching in human Language was changed into the Inspiration, and Operation of his Spirit in their Souls, He commands them, not to begin to bear Witness of him to the World, from what they did and could in an human Way know of him, his Birth his Life, Doctrines, Death, Sufferings, Resurrection, &c., but to tarry at Jerusalem, till they were endued with Power from on high; saying unto them, Ye shall receive Power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you. And then shall ye bear witness unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and unto the utmost Part of the Earth.
All sorts of imposters, thieves, and robbers try to steal the truth of God the Word by grandstanding with speaking, preaching, and teaching. That they are fraudulent hypocrites is revealed when they are called to stand on the truth, forth the truth, and in the truth. Then they tend to sidestep the issues, engage in doublespeak, and attempt to be all things to all men. The disease is found mostly in Bishops and other high-end clerics, and in not a few Christians. Under the cover of compassion, pity, mercy, and forgiveness they claim that they are refraining from judging others. Of course they are too dimwitted to realize that Christians always judge the sin and not the sinner. The Christian is called to let ‘his yea be yea and his nay, nay.’ The Christian who loves the sinner hates his sin, and thus he mourns over the sinful state that men embrace and prays for his fellow men’s conversion. Those who fail to do this are more interested in their own self-image and the approval of the heathen than in the damnation of the nations! They run from the truth because they are cowards who don’t care. For if they cared truly for their fellow men’s eternal salvation, they would do all in their power to pray without ceasing for the conversion of men and women who live in perverse darkness. Any Spirit-driven Christian who sees his brother or sister living in sin, betraying God, and living insouciantly must pray without ceasing for conversion and return to God.
But we cannot do this unless and until God’s Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our souls. We should not be surprised to see Bishops –even Popes, who cannot confront sin head on and assess it honestly. They are not filled with the Holy Spirit. Were they filled with Him, they would not give off so much as the slightest appearance of condoning or enabling sin and evil in this world! So we should pray for these poor quacks that look like Christians on the outside but inwardly they are ravening wolves. For our part, we must be determined to embrace the Holy Spirit in our own lives. For long before we explain and elucidate the Gospel to others, we had better be alive to it in our hearts and souls. Thus we must open ourselves to the ‘comforting illuminating guidance of the Holy Ghost.’ Long before they went out to covert the nations, the Apostles spent time opening their lives to the spiritual penetration and conquest of God’s Holy Spirit. They knew that the Holy Spirit would find in them much to be destroyed and crucified, much to be adjusted and corrected, and much to be redeemed and perfected if they were to become living members of Christ’s Earthly Human Body, the Church. It does not suffice for true Disciples of Christ to know about His external, visible, and historical existence. Such is as good as dead to those who would are intended to discover His true purpose and intention for all men. For a man to be a Christian, he must be one with Christ. To be one with Christ means that the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son informs and defines a man so that he becomes a true partaker and participant in Christ’s life for the Father’s service. More to the point, the Apostles were ‘endued with power from on High, Rebirthed from Above’ that they might be born again and then adopted into the life that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share. Men can bear witness only to what moves and defines them inwardly and spiritually. The Apostles were moved and defined by the Holy Spirit’s capture of their hearts and souls. And so, proving Aristotle’s dictum that ‘knowledge is not virtue’ they reveal to us that knowledge of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness must be willed or actualized in human life through the voluntary act. The truth, beauty, and goodness of God made flesh is Jesus Christ. For men to be swept up into its all-efficacious loving intention for all men, men must will to become one with it.
[Addr-25] Here are two most important and fundamental Truths fully demonstrated, First, that the Truth and Perfection of the Gospel State could not take place, till Christ was glorified, and his Kingdom among Men made wholly and solely a continual immediate Ministration of the Spirit: Every Thing before this was but subservient for a Time, and preparatory to this last Dispensation, which could not have been the last, had it not carried Man above Types, Figures and Shadows, into the real Possession and Enjoyment of that which is the Spirit and Truth of a Divine Life. For the End is not come till it has found the Beginning; that is, the last dispensation of God to fallen Man cannot be come, till putting an end to the "Bondage of weak and beggarly Elements," Gal. iv.9, it brings Man to that dwelling in God, and God in him, which he had at the Beginning.
Now it is impossible that we should begin to be made better until our Human Nature had reached its first phase of perfection in the Glorified Christ. Fallen Human Nature was doomed to alienation from God. Human Nature in receipt of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ can now begin the journey back to God, first in time and space temporarily and imperfectly, and second in eternity finally and purely. Christ’s Kingdom among Men cannot be made except the same Spirit that defined his reconciliation of Human Nature to the Father become a common pattern and source for all men’s participation in the same Kingdom. So first we are reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. Next we take our appointed places in His Body through the Holy Spirit. First the Kingdom is established by the Son and next it is established through the Holy Spirit. So prior to man’s ultimate and final salvation, he must be freed from ‘bondage to the weak and beggarly Elements’ of this world. (Gal. iv. 9) Thus the Holy Spirit must so work on a man that he begins to dwell in God and God in him, a state which he had originally before he fell from God’s Grace. Only with this beginning of the Holy Spirit’s good work in the soul, as a man begins to become a very member incorporate in Christ’s Mystical Body, can a man begin to be freed from his sinful humanity and put on the garment of the salvation. To be freed from the creation as a false god is essential to man’s salvation. (This includes being freed from a wrong-headed idolatry of Christ’s perceived Human Nature.)
[Addr-26] Secondly, that as the Apostles could not, so no man, from their Time to the End of the World, can have any true and real Knowledge of the Spiritual Blessings of Christ's Redemption, or have a Divine Call, Capacity, or Fitness to preach, and bear Witness of them to the World, but solely by that Same Divine Spirit opening all the Mysteries of a Redeeming Christ in their inward Parts, as it did in the Apostles, Evangelists, and first Ministers of the Gospel.
To share the truth and power of the Gospel with others, a man must be held captive by it inwardly and spiritually in the Holy Spirit. Having said that, if more Christians were to embrace this intended labor of God in the vineyard of their souls, they would be far less susceptible to deception and fraud in the clergy. What passes these days for holiness is nothing of the sort. Those who blow a horn to announce their virtues are at the furthest most remove from any possession of the good. True virtue is hard to find. And for its own good, more often than not, it finds it necessary to remain quiet, concealed, and hidden lest it share too swiftly and rashly what it does not yet accurately or faithfully possess.
Lord we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure
Hearts and minds to follow thee. (Collect Trinity XVIII)
In the Gospel for Trinity XVII you and I were advised by our Master to take the lowest seats in the community of men, spiritual spaces of little interest to people of the world, and a disposition or character of lowliness and humility in an effort to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. What our Lord meant to teach us was that our place in relation to Him, expressed through the image of the Wedding Feast, is always His to give. And, more than this, that He gives not to those who work and think that they have earned it, but rather to those who think themselves unworthy of it. God alone is above all; God alone provides; God alone can move man out of the lowliness of alienation and division from things Divine and up into the presence of His Eternal Love. So man must humble himself and know that he can never deserve, merit, or earn anything but just punishment for his offences against the most High God. So we were encouraged to wait upon the Divine condescension of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, experiencing one element in the story of God’s love for us.
This week we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the continuation of God’s story, the story of Incarnational love in the world that He has made and longs to redeem and save. What this means, as we have said, is that just as God’s story was told long ago in the earthly life of Jesus Christ –the Incarnation of the Father’s Word, Meaning, Truth, Intention, and Purpose, so too might the story continue to be read in the hearts and minds of you and me. What this means is that through the Holy Spirit you and I are meant to become Sons and Daughters of God the Father –His children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus –members of His Mystical Body, and those who live to communicate and tell the story of God’s redemptive work in the world. And so today we pray that we might be granted Grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow…the only God. (Idem)
But what are these temptations coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil and how are we meant to respond to them? First, there is the temptation to be drawn away from the soul’s good and into the world. The world tempts us with the possibilities of becoming a part of another story. And that story is one of man’s journey into a far country at a substantial remove from the rule and governance, protection and defense, and love and inspiration of God. The world is what is closest to our senses, and thus what provides a natural home from which to write the story of our lives. St. Thomas says that the world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. (T.A.:The Creed, What is Faith?) She promises us the stars and rewards us with the moon. She gives and takes away surreptitiously, treacherously, and abruptly. And yet think about how many men are addicted to her fickle and coquettish manner! She provides an ongoing stream of information about nothing. She invents other gods to distract our minds from reason and prudential verification. She fills our senses with images and sounds that desensitize our hearts from the love of the good. She bombards our lives with corruption and evil to such an extent that they become the norm and habit of our lives. And all the while she remains unaccountable, innocent, free, and transcendent. She tells us that nature, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology alone account for truth. She convinces us that meaning is relative, reason is wrong, and free will is a lie. We believe her because it is always more convenient for slothful minds to blame someone or something rather than to take responsibility for the real cause of their actions. So we are tempted to worship the world as a false god.
In addition there are the temptations closer to our private lives. We pray that we may resist the temptations of the flesh. And here, of course, we mean not only the alluring objects of carnal concupiscence, but also anyone or anything which tempts the ego to pursue a good independent of the will of God and his purpose for human life. And so we find ourselves tempted not only by sexual desire divorced from God’s creative purposes, but into gluttony and drunkenness, and also greed and avarice. We live in a world of unimaginable creaturely comfort that is only ever a fingertip away from our mind’s seduction by the forces of evil.
Finally there is the temptation to be as God. We pray to resist the temptations of the devil, which is to say that we must resist the temptation to determine what is good and what is evil on our own. This is the sin of the ancient Greek sophists, and of the cultural relativists in our own day. It is a recipe, in the end, for true spiritual anarchy and the end of civilization. For it leads, as Thomas Hobbes said long ago, to a state of war where everyman is at war with every other man. Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. (Leviathan) It is a state that admits of no lasting principles and mores and then is surprised and unhinged when all hell breaks loose. The peddlers at the booth of Vanity Fair have told us that life has no meaning. So when they try to rouse us to shock, outrage, and disappointment at supposed injustices in human life, it is impossible to take seriously their imbecilic relativism, moved as it is by nothing! This temptation is the root of all sin and in the end it spells disaster for the human race. Its story is one of ultimate ruination and despair.
But today we are presented with the positive power that leads away from this madness and irrationality. God has written His story into the life of Jesus Christ and longs to write the same story into our hearts and souls. In Jesus Christ, God has taken on our condition and reconciled our nature to Himself. In Jesus Christ, He longs to share His life with us. He longs that His story should never end. He longs that we all should become respective chapters in the new Book of Life, which He has become. This book of life, this Divine story written into human nature by Jesus Christ, is meant to be read still in the lives of the redeemed and saved.
In today’s Gospel we read of a lawyer who tempts Jesus. The lawyer is bright and thinks that he possesses the answer to his own question. He asks, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (St. Matthew xxii. 36) Jesus answers him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself. (Ibid 37, 38) Jesus seems to give two answers. But in reality He gives one. The point is that God has never ceased to tell one story of His love for all mankind. This is the one love that is doubly expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we find the story of a love for God that is so complete that it simultaneously translates into love for neighbor. Christ loves God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. The story of this love is then translated into the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. Christ dies to Himself first spiritually and then physically. All that is alive in Him is God’s love, which will make His death the first step into new life for all others. All that is alive to Him are those neighbors whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to sin, death, and Satan, and He welcomes all men to share in His loving Death. Loving God with all of His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Such uninterrupted love for God will then rise up into glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and then descend mercifully in Pentecostal care. In Christ we can find a story of love that begins and ends with God. In Christ we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving all men in God and God in all men
Today we long to embrace the reality of double love made one in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Von Balthasar describes how the Holy Spirit works in us:
The Holy Spirit is signified by in Latin by the little word in (Credo in Spiritum) that is, I give myself over, in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit…Into an incomprehensible Some-One, who is someone other than the Father and the Son, and whose characteristic task will be to work in a divinely free way from within the humanly free Spirit, revealing to our limited minds the depths of [God’s love] that only He has explored…To him, the most delicate, vulnerable, and precious one in God, we must open ourselves up, without defensiveness, without thinking that we know better, without hardening ourselves, so that we may undergo initiation by Him into the Mystery that God is love. (Credo, p. 76)
In the Holy Spirit, we can become the first recipients of God’s operative love. Through Him, God will make us into the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the story that reveals His love for man. If we are honest he will make us into the spiritual story of conflict, climax, and resolution in relation to His love. In us others will read about man’s division from God through false loves and then his reconciliation through Jesus Christ. For it to work, we must concentrate conscientiously upon God’s love in His Son, remembering the words of St. John: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Amen.
True and False Riches:
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ ; that in everything ye are enriched by Him. (1 Cor. i. 4,5)
In that the Apostle gives thanks that -they were enriched by Him, he indicates that there are certain riches which are to be desired; and in that Christ truly threatened the rich, he shows that there are certain riches which are to beavoided. Whence we learn that there are temporal riches, spiritual riches, and eternal riches. Of temporal riches: If riches increase, set not your heart upon them. (Ps. lxii. 10) Of spiritual riches: Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, and....Wealth and riches shall be in his house. (Ps. cxii. 1-3) Of eternal riches: Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness. (Prov. viii. 18) Riches are with me, i.e., the better things; And glory, i.e., ineffable; durable riches, i.e., such as are exalted; and righteousness, i.e., such as are according to merit
It is to be noted, that temporal riches are to be despised chiefly for four reasons.
(1) On account of their uselessness: He that loveth abundance shall not be satisfied with increase. (Eccl. v. 10) Increase here is opposed to the fruit of eternal life. Riches profit not in the day of wrath. (Prov. xi. 4) That is, temporal riches do not avail for the salvation of man in the day of judgment; But righteousness delivereth from death, i.e. the good works of righteousness deliver from eternal death. Set not thy heart upon goods; and say not, I have enough for my life. . . . For they shall not profit thee in the day of calamity,. (Ecclus. v. 1-8) We brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (1 S. Tim. vi. 7)
Temporal riches are useless. The more a man has of them the more he needs and desires. Earthly riches tend only to generate the demand for more of them. A cycle of addiction is thus commenced in the soul of the man who needs them. He becomes greedy, avaricious. He accumulates more in the addictive cycle and yet shares less and less of them with others. Their accumulation is an infinite repetition of finite amounts. As far as earthly means of imitating the Divine Nature goes, such is a rather base and banal way to go about it. Other forms of imitating the Divine are to be preferred if a man hopes to come close to the Kingdom of God. The addiction to earthly riches will speak only of man’s idolatry on Judgment Day. The profit that was sought after and increased incrementally will be of no use or value in the Judgment.
(2) On account of the necessity of leaving them. They have slept their sleep; and none of the men of might have found their hands. (Ps. lxxvi. 5) He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly, (Job xx. 15)
Riches can speak to no good intention or motivation in man’s favor at the Judgment. When men awaken to the Judgment the riches and treasures of the earth will be left behind. Whatever benefit they might have afforded a man in this life, will be gone. Their meaning and purpose will be revealed to be idolatrous and idiolatrous. They cannot nourish a man’s soul, and thus they shall be ‘vomited up again’ at the Judgment. Only the Divine Virtue can nourish, strengthen, and perfect a man’s true nature. Only God’s goodness can better a man by actualizing His Image and Likeness in human life.
(3) Because they lead those wrongly possessing them to perpetual poverty. The rich man shall lie down, but he shall not be gathered: he openeth his eyes, and he is not. (Job xxvii. 19)
The man who worshiped them will be left destitute, poor, powerless, and without any hint of spiritual integrity. Earthly riches do not make a man spiritually rich in wisdom, power, or love. Earthly riches only stand to distract a man from the pursuit of His chief end and good. Thus a man is made spiritually poor by the profit of earthly treasure.
(4) Because the contempt of them leads to eternal life. And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (St. Matt. xix. 29)
Contempt for the riches of this world leads to eternal life. Contempt means that they are treated for what they are –earthy things that carry no spiritual significance. Things that carry no spiritual significance are to be disdained and relegated to the dustbin of time. Man's true treasure is found above in God the Holy Trinity. The treasure that we should seek is found in Him, through Him, and by Him. The Father's Treasure is given to us as life in the Son, and we are secured and centered in such truth, beauty, and goodness by the motions of our Lord the Holy Ghost. Let us embrace this treasure. Let us be profited by it. Let us bring the virtues of this treasury to other men in our thoughts, words, works, and prayers.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons