But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to
faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(Gal. iii. 22)
In our Scriptural readings this morning God is moving us to discover knowledge and virtue. First we are brought to certain knowledge of our human nature, and then we are invited to acknowledge its limitations. In the transition from the one to the other, I pray that we shall discover the Divine virtues that will sanctify and save our sin-sick souls. This virtue will find its deepest expression in both the love of God and the love of neighbor.
But first let us study knowledge. In today’s Old Testament Lesson we learn about our human condition from Joshua, the Son of Sirach, who lived some two hundred years before the birth of Christ. From him we learn that man’s life is created by God, that it is limited to the time between birth and death, that all of creation is subject to God’s rule and governance, and that man has received the use of the five operations of the Lord, and in the sixth place he [has been given] understanding, and in the seventh speech, [the interpretation] of the cogitations thereof. Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave he them to understand. (Ecclus. xvii. 5,6) Man is given five senses, a sixth operation – understanding, and then a seventh –speech, which is the interpretation and then articulation of knowledge. As a result, man can come to thank his Maker for the magnificent operation of his God-given senses and abilities. And yet the gifts come to us with a danger: Beware of all unrighteousness. (Ibid, 14)
Contrary to post-modern man’s protestations against its potential corruption, spiritual consciousness comes with the knowledge and temptation to evil. Ancient man knew this well enough. Its power was once woven into human consciousness through Greek Tragedy and in the spiritual experience of the ancient Jews. The author of the Psalms captures its nature most acutely. All nations compassed me round about… They kept me in on every side; they kept me in, I say, on every side… They came about me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns… I was pushed hard so that I was falling…. (Ps. cxviii. 10-13) The Psalmist tells us that the man who comes to know and obey God will be attacked. It doesn’t much matter if the enemy is someone on the outside or something within. What he knows is that the effort to be found faithful is plagued with fallen temptation. The Psalmist is overwhelmed because he discovers himself to be powerless in the face of spiritual malevolence. The perfection of his sixth sense –understanding moves him to his seventh sense –speech, in order to open up to God’s deliverance.
I called upon the LORD in trouble; and the LORD heard me at large. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear what man doeth unto me. The LORD taketh my part with them that help me; therefore shall I see my desire upon mine enemies. It is better to trust in the LORD, than to put any confidence in man.
(Ps. cxviii. 5-8)
Healthy spiritual trust in God’s healing power alone heals the soul. To will the good we must implore God’s strength and might in order to overcome the evil that attacks us. The LORD is my strength, and my song; and is become my salvation. (Ibid, 14)
When, with the Psalmist, man studies the Divine Law, he discovers not only what is true about God but also about himself. He finds that God’s Law is one thing and his own inability to will it is another. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness [and salvation] would have come through the law. (Gal. iii. 21) In other words, if man’s knowledge of the Law had sufficed, it would have saved him. But the Law is a summary statement of the problem and not the solution. The Psalmist’s knowledge translates into his own self-conscious powerlessness as he reaches out into the future yearning for the Grace of God to save and deliver him.
Our Gospel lesson for today both sheds light on the problem and illustrates the solution. In it we read that, …a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Jesus, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Ibid, 25) Jesus must be thinking what he says later: Woe unto… ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (St. Luke xi. 46) Lawyers often think that the Law only ever applies to others, and thus never apply it to themselves. Jesus asks today’s lawyer: What is written in the Law? How readest thou? (Ibid, 26) The lawyer answers: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Ibid, 27) Jesus responds, Thou hast answered right: This do, and thou shalt live. (Ibid, 29) He as much as says: You have a correct understanding of the Law. If you can put it into practice, do it!
But that the lawyer cannot do it is revealed in what we read next. Willing to justify himself, he said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (Ibid, 30) Origen of Alexandria tells us that the lawyer wishes to justify himself because no one is his neighbor. (Sermon cccxxxiii) No one is his neighbor because he has never needed the friendship and assistance of God, who desires to be his true neighbour. Jesus tries to open the eyes of the lawyer to his own sorry sinful state in the Parable that follows. He says: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (St. Luke x. 30) As a Jew, the lawyer should have had an acute sense of his own fallenness. If he had, he would have begun to see himself in this certain man who had traveled with Adam far away from the Paradise of union with God into the Fallen Creation –from Jerusalem to Jericho. He would have sensed too that the devil had robbed him of his created integrity, wounding him and leaving him half dead. Agony and anguish would have followed when he would come to learn that the Jewish Law and the Prophets could not sanctify and save him. By chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side…Likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. (Ibid, 31) Origen of Alexandria says that the priest stands for the Law, and the Levite for the prophets. (Idem) The Law sees sin but cannot look into it. Prophesy looks into the sinful condition but can only point men to future deliverance from the hands of God. Neither the Law nor the Prophets can ever do more than diagnose man’s fallen condition or pray for a solution. The Lawyer should have seen himself as caught in an Old Testament problem. Who is my neighbor? He could not imagine a neighbour to love because neither the Law nor Prophets had brought him God’s love.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Idem, 34) Jesus tries to show the Jewish lawyer that One will come who will be neighbour to him, and who will fill him with a love that he can share with others. He uses the image of the Good Samaritan. To the Jew a Samaritan is an alien, outsider, and certainly never likely to be a good neighbour. If the lawyer had been conscious of his own sin, he would have seen that Jesus was offering an image of the love of God in the Good Samaritan. How else could a Samaritan possess such love and share it with a Jew? It would only be by God’s Grace that a Samaritan could be moved by love and filled with goodness sufficient to heal a fallen Jew. The point is that if the lawyer had used his seventh sense –the ability to interpret knowledge, he would have come to see that God’s Grace alone can fulfill the demands of the Jewish Law –the love of God and neighbour, and fulfill its prophesy with the healing love of the Good Samaritan.
So who is my neighbor, the lawyer had asked? The example of the Good Samaritan shows that it is the One, Jesus Christ, who loves God with all [his] heart, mind, soul, and strength. He alone loves [His] neighbor as [Himself]. (Idem, 27) Jesus is our Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and pity made flesh, who comes to find us in the ditch of life, wounded, hurt, robbed of our identities, and left half dead. Jesus is full of God’s eternal desire to heal, redeem, and sanctify us. Unlike the lawyer who finds virtue only in obedience to the Law, we must find virtue in surrender to Christ’s healing love. And on the morrow when the Good Samaritan departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (Ibid, 35) The innkeepers in this morning’s Parable are the ministers of Christ’s Church because they have received and now must dispense God’s Grace. With the Good Samaritan’s love that has healed them, now they can heal others. With the Divine love that is making them whole, they will make others whole also. This kind of love alone can heal and reconcile man with God and is the foundation of God’s Church.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to the lawyer and us that we should imitate the Good Samaritan by showing mercy and become neighbours to those who are fallen. Go and do thou likewise. (Idem, 36, 37) So we must remember the words of St. Paul: But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Idem) The Jewish Law and the Prophets only reinforce the knowledge of our sinful condition. What we need is deliverance from the condition! That comes first by faith in Jesus Christ and then by surrender to the Divine Ministrations of His Grace. Then we shall become conscious of being filled with a love so undeserved and unmerited that we cannot help but share it with all others…aliens, outsiders, Samaritans…even with lawyers! Amen.
To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. (Gal. iii. 16.)
IN these words it is shown that heavenly promises are made to those who seek with all their powers to be like Abraham.
Belief in God is the first step to be taken in Abraham’s journey after the fulfillment of God’s promises. Without belief in Him, God is treated as a non-entity or non-being. A non-being is unlikely to have any effect upon man’s life. So faith or belief in God leads to the overarching predominance of His existence in man’s life. A man who believes desires to please God above all things because He desires to be rewarded with the fulfillment of His promises. He desires to please God above all else because God’s being or existing causes all created being to be.
(2) In perfect obedience. And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. (Gen. xxii. 17) And now, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul? (Deut. x. 12)
Obedience to God is the required next if a man is to follow Abraham into the fulfillment of God’s promises. Obedience comes when a man fears to disregard, disobey, or displease his Maker. Obedience is actualized when God’s way rules and governs human life. When God is ruling and governing a man, his love for God grows as he discovers the goodness that ensues. With this love he intends to please God with all of his heart and soul since he finds that God’s promises are then already being fulfilled.
(3) In disregard of country.
Now if a man would follow the Lord God, he must be willing to leave behind his earthly home, the comfort of its ways, and all attachments to it. To have his eye on the promises of God, it was necessary for Abraham to be called forward into the fulfillment of God’s designs and intentions. This is impossible if a man is tied to temporal places by inheritance, or to a earthly future that is natural. To be liberated from above, Abraham must cut his earthly ties to things below and cleave to spiritual and transcendent truth.
(4) In contempt of pedigree. The Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, and to the land that I will shew thee. (Gen. xii. 1, 2)
If a man would be moving towards the fulfillment of God’s promises, like Abraham he must leave behind all human relations that are perfected by blood tie. The spiritual man is not bound to the obligations of nature’s kin. The spiritual man must leave behind father, mother, sisters, brothers, and all ties of kith and kin for the sake of the Lord’s will and purpose.
(5) In hospitality and compassion. My Lord, if now I have found favour in
thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant : let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on. (Gen. xviii. 3-5) Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb. xiii. 2)
The man who would follow Abraham into the place where God’s promises are fulfilled must be open to strangers, aliens, outsiders, and all other men. Abraham’s homeland and family stood in the way of his spiritual journey. Now that he has left them behind, he must be open to those sent to him by God. God sends angels to men in human clothing in order to convert and illuminate them. Like Abraham we must treat all strangers, aliens, and outsiders as long-awaited and earnestly-expected old friends whose visit only stands to bring us closer to God.
(6) In humility. I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes (Gen. xviii. 27), which are the words of Abraham to the Lord. Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. (Matt. xi. 29)
We cannot find the fulfillment of God’s promises unless we know ourselves to be unworthy of them. If we had been worthy of them, they would have been produced naturally in our lives. But instead we stand as those in need of them because what we can produce cannot even begin to approach them in excellency of wisdom, power, or love. What God promises ‘far exceeds either what we desire or deserve’. Thus in humility we come to the Lord for what He alone can create, sustain, and perfect.
(7) In fear of God. Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me. (Gen. xxii. 12) And now, what doth the 'Lord thy God require of thee? (Deut. x. 12)In these words we are exhorted to imitate Abraham. If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. (S. John xiii. 39.)
When we fear the Lord, we are intent upon surrendering to the operation of His will in our thoughts, words, and works. Abraham feared God to the point of sacrificing his son. Abraham’s faith was fearful of displeasing God in any way. To find God’s promises fulfilled in human life, it is necessary to fear God above all else. When we do this, we follow Abraham’s faith that issues forth into holy and righteous living.
When we are full of Abraham’s faith and the virtues that issue forth from it through God’s Grace, we are blessed. To be blessed means that God approves of our relationship with Him. To be blessed is to be counted and declared righteous by God. A blessing comes from what God has made and created. When God’s Grace remakes and redeems us, we are blessed and destined to receive the fulfillment of His promises.
(2) That He would exalt him.
When we have faith in God, obey God, leave behind country and kin, are hospitable, humble, and fear God, God will lift us up above all earthly things and carry us forward into His Kingdom.
(3) That He would humble his enemies.
When we surrender to the Lord God, our enemies shall be slowly but surely subdued and conquered. God is quick to help the faithful against their enemies. Their enemies may be spiritual, temporal, or both. In either case, God will bring the devices and desires of our enemies to nought, since if they oppose our faithfulness to God, they attempt to oppose God Himself. And such is futile and vain.
(4) That He would honour him among all nations. First, He says, I will bless thee. Second, He says, And make thy name great; Third, He says, I will curse him that curseth thee; Fourth, He says, And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Gen. xii. 2, 3)
God honors those who honor Him. He blesses those who bless Him. He makes their names great since they think nothing of their own greatness but only of that glory and fame that begins and ends with God. God curses those who curse the man of God. The man of God blesses God. Those who curse him, curse God and thus call down God’s love upon themselves in the form of a curse. In Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed since His faith is the father of a new race of men. Abraham’s faith in God’s Grace gives birth to a spiritual progeny and heavenly inheritance.
(5) That God would protect him in all things.
God protects those who entrust their whole lives to Him. Like Abraham, we must entrust our bodies, souls, and spirits to our Heavenly Father so that we might be surrounded and enveloped by His loving protection. God may not shield us from all of the temptations of the devil, but He will give us a way of escape when they threaten us with their malicious intentions.
(6) That He Himself would be to him as a reward. First, The word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield; Second, And thy exceeding great reward. (Gen. xv. 1)
Abraham’s fear of the Lord moves the Lord to shield him. God is Abraham’s reward. If we follow Abraham, our reward shall be nothing less than the knowledge and love of God. This is called the Beatific Vision. This is the Vision of God and the love that is produced out of it. When we come into the Presence of God in the end times, we shall see God and from Him receive perfect love that no man shall ever take away from us.
(7) That God would give to him a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord said unto Abram, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. (Gen. xiii. 15-17)
Abraham has no idea that God is making a spiritual promise and not an earthly one. Man needs images in order to think out and understand spiritual truth. So God leads Abraham’s earthly vision into the imagination of an infinite space that moves north, south, east, and west. But what Abraham imagines is an infinite kingdom that shall be His in the end times. Of course infinite space is one thing, while eternity without space is another. But we cannot think the latter, and so God reveals our reward through the former.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the Lord gives seven good things to those who imitate Abraham.
(1)He blesses them. Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. (Eph. i. 3)
If we imitate Abraham, we too shall be blessed from Heavenly places with the spiritual blessings of God’s Grace. Of course we are closer to the fulfillment of God’s promises because of the Salvific Life of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Because Christ has overcome sin, death, and Satan, He invites us to be justified with God in Him and sanctified through His Holy Spirit.
(2) He glorifies them. Whom He justified them also He glorified. (Rom. viii. 30)
Christ is our Justification. His Justifying Righteousness is perfect, is alien, and is wholly passive. It is perfect in Christ alone. It is alien since it cannot be generated by man and thus does not reside in the sinful soul but is imputed to it. It is passive because it comes by faith. ‘In the imputed righteousness of Christ, the soul finds its unity and stability altogether outside of itself, ‘in heaven’ with Christ.’ (Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy: Kirby, p. 50) His Sanctifying Righteousness is inherent but not perfect. It is imperfect, habitual, and infused. This is active righteousness. It is imperfect because it mixes with the fallen nature of man. It is habitual because it is the custom of the earnest Christian. It is infused since it comes through the Holy Ghost’s residence in our souls. This is ‘Christ in us’ through the operation of His Spirit. (Idem, Kirby) There is also a Glorifying Righteousness of men in the world to come. The righteousness that is to come is the fulfillment of God’s promises in us. This righteousness will be perfect and inherent.
(3) He humbles their enemies. I should soon have turned my hand against their adversaries. (Psalm lxxxi. 14)
If we put our lives under the rule and governance of God, God will turn against our adversaries. They may torture and tempt us, but if we cleave to Him, their efforts shall be brought to none effect. They will have no influence, power, or sway over us. Increasingly as the Sanctifying Grace of the Holy Spirit transforms us, our enemies shall fall down dead before the Lord.
(4) He protects them. Because He hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high because he hath known My name. (Psalm xci. 14)
The same Grace shall lift us higher and higher as our spiritual house becomes stronger and stronger. We shall be lifted above our enemies’ malicious and cruel intimidations because we have set our ‘affections on things above and not things of the earth.’ (Col. iii. 2)
(5) He honours them. How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God. (Psalm cxxxix. 17)
As with Abraham, we shall be honored when we honor God above all things in our lives. Because we consider the thoughts of God to be of greatest worth, God shall honor us.
(6) God Himself gives Himself to them for a reward. He who will be all in all, He who will be salvation, life, honour, glory, peace, joy, and all good things.
If we follow Abraham we shall find that God is our salvation and deliverance from this naughty and wicked world. We shall find true life and being, honor, privilege, and joy, peace, glory, and all good things.
(7) He gives to them the land flowing with milk and honey, that is the kingdom of heaven, the joy of the humanity and divinity making joyful. Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.(St. Matt. xxv. 34)
To which kingdom may we be brought.
In His Kingdom, God shall delight in us and we in Him. The Divine Master shall shower us with His Divine glory. We shall return nothing short of pure love, praise, adoration, and worship from our humanity that is perfected and made one with God. Let us pray that we might be brought to this Kingdom. Amen.
William Law: Adresses XII & XIII
[Addr-12] All true Religion is, or brings forth, an essential Union and Communion of the Spirit of the Creature with the Spirit of the Creator: God in it, and it in God, one Life, one Light, one Love.
All life or being begins to be in so far as God’s Being is lent to it in time and space, partially, incompletely, and potentially as what is capable of being perfected imperfectly. Life or being, Light or meaning, and Love or desire are present to every creature in so far as its respective nature is capable of imitating God.
The Spirit of God first gives, or sows the Seed of Divine Union in the Soul of every Man; and Religion is That by which it is quickened, raised, and brought forth to a Fullness and Growth of a Life in God.— Take a Similitude of this, as follows.— The Beginning, or Seed of animal Breath, must first be born in the Creature from the Spirit of this World, and then Respiration, so long as it lasts, keeps up an essential Union of the animal Life with the Breath or Spirit of this World. In like manner, Divine Faith, Hope, Love, and Resignation to God, are in the religious Life its acts of Respiration, which, so long as they are true, unite God and the Creature in the same living and essential manner, as animal Respiration unites the Breath of the Animal with the Breath of this World.
Man’s return to God comes by way of Religion. Now, to be sure, there are all sorts of imperfect and underdeveloped kinds of religion. Some kinds reveal a relation to the Divine that is childish, as with the example of those who are moved from truths expressed in mythology and fables. Those who are moved by mythology and fables are the worshipers of immature and underdeveloped sensations, feelings, perceptions, and opinions. Religion in this case does not grow beyond the deification of feeling and impulse. The soul in such a case dogmatically and tyrannically asserts truth without any intention or motivation to prove it rationally. More intellectually advanced religion can be found in the efforts of the Greeks. From the Pre-Socratics, through Plato and Aristotle, to Plotinus can be found the discovery of the One Transcendent God. Their efforts were spent in discovering more about this God’s nature. The Jews came to know the same knowledge through faith in God’s Grace. And yet both groups, in the end, judged that God had not been reconciling the world to Himself through the God-Man, Jesus Christ. They fell back into their own imperfect perfection. In the end, the formulations of their reason in Roman and Jewish Law expelled God wholly and completely from His own creation. The Christian Religion alone sees God perfectly redeeming and saving all of creation. In it man finds union with God through the God-Man and His ever-present unfolding Willful Grace in time and space. In it created nature is redeemed as man turns back to God through Jesus Christ. Thus creation is converted through man’s return to God through the Mind of Christ and as a member of the Body He left behind in time and space. The Body is the Church and its members endure death and then new life by participating in the Life, Light, and Love of the God-Man. His Spirit animates the members of His Body to find reconciliation with God. In Him everything, both light and darkness, day and night, good and evil can be serviceable for the salvation journey. With the Mind of Christ illuminating the minds of His Body’s members creation and all in it is returned to God. ‘And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen. i. 31) Man has breath from the Holy Spirit; but this generates mere being or living. Respiration for man is the actualization of faith, hope, love, and resignation to God’s will. Man believes in God, hopes through Him, and loves all others in Him. He resigns to God’s will since anything other than that would spell ruin and damnation. So in Jesus Christ all of creation seen in God and willed for God’s glory.
[Addr-13] Now as no Animal could begin to respire, or unite with the Breath of this World, but because it has its Beginning to breathe begotten in it from the Air of this World, so it is equally certain, that no Creature, Angel or Man, could begin to be religious, or breathe forth the Divine Affections of Faith, Love, and Desire towards God, but because a Living Seed of these Divine Affections was by the Spirit of God first begotten in it.— And as a Tree or Plant can only grow and fructify by the same Power that first gave Birth to the Seed, so Faith, and Hope, and Love towards God, can only grow and fructify by the same Power, that begot the first Seed of them in the Soul. Therefore Divine immediate Inspiration and Divine Religion are inseparable in the Nature of the Thing. [Addr-14] Take away Inspiration, or suppose it to cease, and then no Religious acts or Affections can give forth any Thing that is godly or Divine. For the Creature can offer, or return Nothing to God, but That which it has first received from him; therefore, if it is to offer and send up to God Affections and Aspirations that are Divine and godly, it must of all necessity have the Divine and godly Nature living and breathing in it.— Can any Thing reflect Light, before it has received it? Or any other Light, than that which it has received? Can any Creature breathe forth earthly, or diabolical Affections, before it is possessed of an earthly, or diabolical Nature? Yet this is as possible, as for any Creature to have Divine Affections rising up and dwelling in it, either before, or any further, than as it has or partakes of the Divine Nature dwelling and operating in it.
What is clear is that man cannot offer up Affections and Aspirations to God until he has asked the Holy Spirit to come alive in him. Countless numbers of men assume spiritual potentiality who have not surrendered to the Lord in fear, obedience, and in-othering. There can be not true Godliness unless and until God has caused it to come alive in the soul that longs after it. And thus we must acknowledge the Divine Causation of our salvation and get ourselves into it through utter surrender. We cannot embrace God’s life until we intend to live in it. We cannot reflect His Light and Truth until we have been been illuminated by it and thus moved to further surrender. We cannot love God and share His love with others until we have been forgiven and made new by it. We will what we know. We know only what Christ reveals to us as His love. All of this is to say that we must assent consciously to the Life, Light, and Love of God if we claim to be Religious. Now Religion is only of use to us if we see, know, and acknowledge if and when we have been moved and defined by earthly and diabolical affections also. Thus we must admit and confess that we have chosen to be moved by people, places, and situations outside of God’s quickening, enlightening, and loving of them. Thus we must repent constantly of any thoughts, words, and works that have not been returned to God. Our Religion is of use only when all that we are, we know, and we love are measured in the Life, Light, and Love of our Heavenly Father.
True and False Confidence
Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God….(2 Cor. iii. 4.)
THE Apostle treats of three things in these words. Firstly, he treats of the faith of the Saints, Such trust have we. Secondly, he shews on whose account there is this trust. Through Christ. Thirdly, he shews in whom the Saints have trust, To God-ward. Notice that this trust is twofold, both good and evil.
The good trust is of the Saints or of the good men; but the evil trust is the confidence of bad men or of sinners.
Good men are made good by the Grace of God alone. Bad men are made bad or sinful by its absence.
I. But the trust of the good, as gathered from the text, consists in seven things.
(6) In the blood of Christ. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way. (Hebr. x. 19)
Now in addition to fear of the Lord, prayer, consecration of our bodies, souls, and spirits to God, almsgiving, and keeping the Law, we must surrender to the Lamb of God, God’s only Son made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Propitiation for our sins, if we would perfect our trust and confidence in God. Jesus Christ has broken down the wall or partition that separates and alienates us from the presence of our Heavenly Father through ‘His one oblation of Himself once offered as a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ Through the shedding of His blood, once for all on Calvary Hill, we are welcomed into the death of sin, death, and Satan in our lives. And yet this offering and gift of God in His only Son is not automatically or magically applied to the lives of all men. Not all men will be saved. Only those who enter into the effects and merits of His death will be saved. Only by entering into His death and welcoming His death into our lives can we be saved. Only when His death becomes our own can our trust and confidence in the Father be perfected truly. This means that as He died unto sin once, so through the effectual operation of His Holy Spirit, we should be dead to sin also and alive unto righteousness through His Resurrected and Ascended Being.
II. In like manner the trust of the wicked consists in seven things, which are to be gathered from the text.
William Law: Adresses X & XI
[Addr-10] The Matter therefore plainly comes to this, Nothing can do, or be, the Good of Religion to the intelligent Creature, but the Power and Presence of God really and essentially living and working in it. But if this be the unchangeable nature of that Goodness and Blessedness which is to be had from our Religion, then of all Necessity, the Creature must have all its Religious Goodness as wholly and solely from God's immediate Operation, as it had its first Goodness at its Creation.
All creatures derive their being or existing from God. In so far as they reproduce they imitate physically and tangibly the Eternal Nature of the Divine Being. By reproducing their own kind they imitate Eternal Being in a repetition of moments that reduplicate the species. Rational creatures ought always to intend to imitate the Divine Being in this way in the State of Holy Matrimony –that being between a male and female alone, of course, since only they can become the One Flesh that procreates and replicates humanity. Those who procreate in the Holy Estate of Matrimony reproduce the Goodness of creation and thus imitate the Lord.
But beyond this, the rational creature also imitates the Divine Being through the mind’s discoveries of ways to enhance the health and well-being of the body for the sake of the peace of the soul. So through the discovery of various sciences man discovers ways to lengthen his life span so that he might have ample time to feel after God and find him. Of course, that most post-modern men don’t does nothing to overturn the true reasons for the mind’s ability to make scientific discoveries. Science exists for the sake of salvation, and thus Reason exists for the sake of faith. Faith and Revelation lead a man to his proper end, i.e. the Beatific Vision, but only if and when reason has been purified and equipped to serve belief in the Triune God. So all sciences must be the handmaidens of revelation or Sacred Doctrine, as both St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas remind us.
So ultimately Revelation brings a man to his spiritual senses so that he may discover that he is made to know and love God. Revelation thus brings a man to see that he cannot know and love God until he obeys Him. To obey God means to be ruled and governed by the Being that informs all becoming-being. For the rational creature to obey God, he must surrender and submit to God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom alone rules and governs all being and thus all well-being. Well-being for man is found through submission to God’s will. Thus a second kind of Goodness is found in humble obedience and surrender to God. The ‘unchangeable nature of that Goodness and Blessedness which is to be had from the Christian religion’ is found from God alone. To be sure, there are lesser forms of natural goodness that a man might find, but these must all be considered sinful until they are purified and aligned with the will of God the Trinity. So true Goodness and Blessedness are generated only when the ‘power and presence of God are really and essentially living and working in the human soul.’ This comes, as we all know, only when the human being makes an act of will and surrenders to God’s Grace.
Now most creatures obey God through laws imposed upon their natures. This is true for rational creatures or human beings also. This is God’s joke for the atheist: i.e. Whether the atheist likes it or not, God informs, defines, quickens, and sustains his being! Now, of course, God does not define his well-being until he opens his soul and body to God’s will. But just as God sustains the being of the rational creature, so too does he desire to generate his well-being also. And just as the immediate presence of God to the creature sustains its being for as long as it lives in time and space, so the immediate presence of God desires to conceive, birth, grow, and perfect the human’s well-being also by living and working in him.
And it is the same impossibility for the Creature to help itself to that which is good and blessed in Religion, by any Contrivance, Reasonings, or Workings of its own Natural Powers, as to create itself. For the Creature, after its Creation, can no more take any Thing to itself that belongs to God, than it could take it, before it was created. And if Truth forces us to hold, that the Natural Powers of the Creature could only come from the one Power of God, the same Truth should surely more force us to confess, that That which comforts, that which enlightens, that which blesses, which gives Peace, Joy, Goodness, and Rest to its natural Powers, can be had in no other way, nor by any other Thing, but from God's immediate holy Operation found in it.
Ultimately man might be able to aid and abet his continuance in time and space. But ultimately because God has created him, God sustains him for as long as He so pleases. This a man must acknowledge always, since it is a first step in making him right with his Maker. But man never takes his being from God so that it becomes his own or subject to his own power. ‘All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it:surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.’ (Is. xl. 6-8) Man has his being on loan from God. Man derives his well being also from God. All comfort, illumination, and blessedness come from God’s Being also since these are virtues that originate with God and are shared with man in order to save him.
[Addr-11] Now the Reason why no Work of Religion, but that which is begun, continued, and carried on by the Living Operation of God in the creature, can have any Truth, Goodness, or Divine Blessing in it, is because nothing can in Truth seek God, but that which comes from God.
God cannot be found unless he is sought. God cannot be sought unless He is present to the heart and mind of man in some way. Now the One to be sought after and found may be at first be unclear and unknown. But if God had not implanted in man the desire or intention to seek Him, man would never have begun the quest after Him. The evidence that God has implanted this desire in man is found in man’s innate and natural desire to know and to find happiness. True enough, these are but traces and vestiges of a more focused and concentrated quest, but they are the beginning stages of man’s quest to find the God who is always present to him. That there is a knowledge and happiness that transcend his being is a sure sign to man that what he seeks begins and ends in a Being beyond him! Had God not made man to find Him, man might conclude in despair that there is no God to be found. But thankfully, God is present to his Saints, be they ever so few and even attacked by the wicked dogmatic imposition of Unbelief!
Nothing can in Truth find God as its Good, but that which has the Nature of God living in it; like can only rejoice in Like; and therefore no religious Service of the Creature can have any Truth, Goodness, or Blessing in it, but that which is done in the Creature, in, and through, and by a Principle and Power of the Divine Nature begotten and breathing forth in it all holy Tempers, Affections, and Adorations.
God is never far away from the rational creature though the rational creature may have made himself into a hardened clod and dense dolt. God is always present to His creature and forever intends to be found. Man is made as the ‘capax dei’, the one who has the capacity for receiving the rule and governance of God in his life, as the Church Fathers remind us. The vestiges of God’s being, knowing, and loving are found in every man. A man comes to know himself and if he is courageous, he searches after God until he finds Him. Having found him, more often than not, he is in the presence of the Divine Radical Other. But he finds no way to embrace and hold, in any lasting way, the God who is present to him. And thus, if he hopes beyond his own limited reason and human nature, he longs for God’s response to his separation from Him. If he searches with all humble desire and passion, he will find God reconciling his human nature to Himself in Jesus Christ. If he then submits and surrenders to Jesus’ all salvific Life, Light, and Love made flesh, he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit and thus consumed with the tempers, affections, and adorations that unite him to God in indissolvable intimacy. Jesus Christ is the principle and power of the Divine nature perfectly begotten and breathing forth His life into those who receive Him. In Jesus Christ man finds the origin and end of his being in God’s Well-Being and Blessedness.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (St. Luke xviii. 14)
Trinity tide invites us on to the road that leads to salvation for those who embrace God’s power as He reveals it chiefly in shewing mercy and pity upon those who running the way of His Commandments hope to obtain His gracious promises and to be made partakers of His heavenly treasure. (Collect Trinity XI) No human being is denied this offer of redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God, the Father of lights, the Creator and Mover of all things. Every human being can come to see and know either the way that leads to death and destruction or the way that leads to life and reconciliation. The road or way that a man takes is, of course, his spiritual path. His spiritual path is determined by the character and nature of his prayer life. In this morning’s Gospel Parable our Lord illustrates two kinds of prayer life and where each of them leads. Perhaps our careful study of both will move us to embrace the one and eschew the other with more determined earnestness.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican. (St. Luke xviii. 10) The first man who went up to pray was a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jewish Church in his day, no doubt a theological expert in how the Jewish Law brought man closer to God. The other man who went up to pray was a Publican – also a Jew, but one who was despised and alienated by his own people as a traitor because he collected taxes for the heathen Roman overlords. So on the face of it, we should expect to find from the prayer of the Pharisee a useful illustration of man’s habitual spiritual dependence upon God, and from the Publican’s perhaps some pathetic late hour, last-ditch effort to supplicate God’s mercy.
Yet notice what we read: The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus.... (Ibid, 11; Archbishop Trench’s translation) We have no sooner opened our spiritual ears to the substance of the Pharisee’s instructive prayer, than he has isolated and insulated himself from us! Putting a distance between himself and all unclean worshipers, (Parables, p. 381) he does not seem much interested in welcoming us into a common spiritual exercise. Rather, he intends to be seen, noticed, and recorded. Jesus tells us what the Pharisee intends to broadcast. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (Ibid, 11) Speaking thus with himself, the Pharisee thanks God for rescuing him from the habitual notorious sins of enforced gain, robbery, and adultery. And yet his first spiritual error is to conflate sin with sinners. For while he is surely right to thank God for deliverance from vice and into virtue, he is not right to contrast himself with or elevate himself above other sinners. He has started off on the wrong foot altogether by thanking God for a religious success that owes its merit only to spiritual failure of others. His superiority finds its consummate crowning in comparison to the poor, but useful, publican who stands nearby. He insists, in other words, that he is so very, very good because other men are so very, very bad! His sin is first found, then, in a self-conscious righteousness that is defined wholly in relation to other men’s sins.
But second, to enhance his sinful spiritual superiority, he tells us who he is and what he does: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I podssess. (Ibid, 12) He is at least as good as he is because what he does is not as bad as what other men do. So, it would seem, he needs to be no better. To be religious, as Cardinal Newman points out, was for him to keep peace towards others, to take his share in the burdens of the poor, to abstain from gross vice, and to set a good example. His alms and fastings were done not in penance, but because the world asked for them; penance would have implied consciousness of sin; whereas it was only the Publicans, and such as they, who had anything to be forgiven. (10th Sunday after Pentecost, 1856) So he thanks God for his well-behaved, decorous, consistent, and respectable life. (Ibid) He is grateful to God for himself, and crowns his pride and arrogance in gratitude for being spared the condition of this [pitiful] Publican. (Ibid, 11) And in the end, he has no pity but only condescending contempt for one whose humble repentance should have moved him to the same.
And yet, still, over there, we find the Publican, standing, afar off, [who] would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid, 13) Here we come upon a man who, alienated and shunned by his own people for his compromised loyalty and divided fidelity, is standing afar off. (Ibid) This self-conscious sinner’s own sin prevents him from drawing nearer to the wall of prayer, since that place must be held for men spiritually superior to himself. So he stands at a distance, taking the lowest seat, painfully aware that he is not worthy even of this. His poverty of spirit renders him fearful of moving closer to the Wall of Prayer before he has obtained remission of his sins. He reminds us of Mephibosheth, the disabled son of Jonathan, who responds to King David’s mercy with the words of the unworthy: What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am? (2 Sam. 8) He beats his breast, revealing finally that he can no longer endure the distance he has travelled away from his Maker. With neither self-pity nor self-excuse, quietly and conscientiously, he prays, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid) This man knows who he is and what he has become in relation to God and not in comparison to all other men. He knows, too, that the all-seeing God knows the secrets of [his] heart. (Ps. xliv. 21) And so, as St. Theophylact has written, he comes as close as he is able to the table of God’s mercy, knowing that he [could] not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven (Ibid, 13), regarding them as unworthy of the celestial vision: because they had preferred to look upon and seek out only earthly riches. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, p. 358)
Unlike the Pharisee, who thinks that he has no sins to confess, the Publican repents before the heart-searching God. He does not walk now by his own light, but by the Light that only God can give. God’s light reveals to him what he has been, and now what he can become. Unlike the Pharisee he is not his own teacher, as Cardinal Newman writes, pacing round and round in the small circle of his own thoughts and judgments, careless to know what God says to him, fearless of being condemned by Him, standing approved in his own sight. (Ibid) Rather he has heard the words of the Lord, addressed to him about himself: Be still and know that I am God.(Psalm 46.10) He has seen himself in the light of God’s truth and mercy. He knows himself to be spiritually last and least, and that God alone can overcome his spiritual wretchedness with the power of His pity and mercy. (Idem) And so God is showing him the way forward. He seeks pardon for wrong done, and power to do better. And thus he beats his breast to drive out the presence of darkness within to make ample room for the power of God’s all-liberating light.
The Publican and his prayer, veiled and concealed to the Pharisee in his pride, illustrate for us that spiritual character that must inform and define our relation to God. The Publican does not postpone the inevitable encounter with God. Rather he sees himself, with all men, as standing before God every day of his life, always a sinner in danger of being eternally damned. He knows that the power that he needs most is chiefly declared in [God’s] pity and mercy. He can identify with all men, because, as Cardinal Newman reminds us, created natures, high and low, are all on a level and one in the sight and comparison of the Creator, and so all of them have one speech, and one only, whether it be the thief on the cross, Magdalen at the feast, of St. Paul before martyrdom. One and all have nothing but what comes from Him, and are as nothing before Him, who is all in all. (Ibid) The Publican’s is the true prayer of all men. From his heart we find the truth of our own. In his words we find that prayer that must always travel from our lips back to God.
Dear friends, today let us look into our hearts and see if in them we find any traces or habits of being self-consciously righteous. Do we rest contented in being freed from certain sins and thus so unlike other notorious livers –extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, or publicans? Do we think that we are in possession of enough righteousness because we pay our tithes, attend the Church’s services, do this and do that, give enough of this and certainly almost too much of that? Do we settle for a form of holiness and righteousness, which we think qualifies us for sure and certain salvation? Have we stopped growing spiritually because we think that what we have, is our very own prized-possession that we have earned and are entitled to keep? Father Simon Tugwell reminds us that this all adds up to a complacency that is found when a man is pleased with himself. (Beatitudes: Darton, Longman & Todd, p. 3) My brothers and sisters, today let us admit and confess that God alone is our help and our salvation. He is like no other; He reproveth, and nurtureth, and teacheth and bringeth again, as a Shepherd his flock. He hath mercy on them that receive discipline, and that diligently seek after His judgments. (Ecclus. xviii. 13, 14) What we should be conscious of most is God’s power…as that undeserved and unmerited pity and mercy that longs to forever change us, make us new, sanctify, and perfect us. Perfection for the Christian means the forever striving ahead, and not any conviction of achievement. (Tugwell, p. 5) So with the the Publican, today let us have the honesty and courage to plead and to pray, God be merciful to me a sinner. And let us remember, again with Father Tugwell, that we are all equally [sinful] and thus equally privileged but unentitled beggars before the door of God’s mercy. Amen.
William Law: Address IX
[Addr-9] But now, if all that is Divine, great, glorious, and happy, in the Spirits, Tempers, Operations, and Enjoyments of the Creature, is only so much of the Greatness, Glory, Majesty, and Blessedness of God, dwelling in it, and giving forth various Births of his own triune Life, Light, and Love, in and through the manifold Forms and capacities of the Creature to receive them, then we may infallibly see the true Ground and Nature of all true Religion, and when and how we may be said to fulfill all our Religious Duty to God.
We do well to remember that all Goodness comes from God. We have said that all being and all well-being is generated in creation by God alone. And thus we must confess that any goodness that emerges from us had to enter into us from without. We are not able to do any good thing without God, and thus the goodness that begins to grow in us we have because God has loaned it to us. Goodness is a gift or talent that God gives to us so that we may make it grow out of us and into the hearts of others. God gives to us his virtues for three reasons: first, in order to enable us to cleave to Him; second, that we may be in love and charity with our neighbour; third, that we may grow in sanctification. So, to the first point, we long to praise and adore Him for His ‘Greatness, Glory, Majesty, and Blessedness’. It is helpful if we iterate each day some specific instances of His Divine Majesty that have been shared with the world in the economy of man’s creation and redemption. So we praise Him for multifarious instances of His Life, Light, and Love. His Life enables us to persist. His Light illuminates us to His Perfection and deeper ways for our repentance. His Love sustains us in the vision of His Presence and the supplication of His mercy. To the second point, if for no other reason, love of neighbor clears the space of our hearts for the deeper reform that God intends in our lives. Failure to pray for others, to forgive all, hope for all men’s salvation, and to love all in God and God in all leads to Hell. Many a well-intentioned Christian on the outside has failed to prove his faith in God on the inside because he is moved and defined by other men and their real or imagined sins against him! So love of neighbor is a commandment that is disobeyed or disregarded only to the peril of a man’s soul and the ruination of his eternal destiny. On the other hand, once a man jumps this hurdle and learns to love all and to pray for all, he is ready to undergo the deep spiritual transformation that the Holy Ghost has in store for him. If we hope to return to the ground of our souls and its condition, we must leave all else behind in order to see ourselves in relation to the Ground and Nature of our being.
For the Creature's true Religion, is its rendering to God all that is God's, it is its true continual Acknowledging all that which it is, and has, and enjoys, in and from God. This is the one true Religion of all intelligent Creatures, whether in Heaven, or on Earth; for as they all have but one and the same Relation to God, so though ever so different in their several Births, States or Offices, they all have but one and the same true Religion, or right Behavior towards God.
So if we would be sanctified and saved, we must return to the source and origin of all being and goodness. We must have a more constant converse and communication with our Maker than we have with our fellows. We must be coming into His presence at set times for the Daily Office, and at times scattered through the day when some Divine inspiration lifts our heart back to God for strength to help in time of need or temptation, in petitionary prayer for a friend, enemy, or stranger, in thanksgiving for the sheer gift of being able to think and to work, or in recognition that God is calling us to Himself simply that we might remember that He is near. No matter what the reason, we ought at all times to be returning to the Lord as the origin and cause of all that right, true, and good for us and for all others.
Now the one Relation, which is the Ground of all true Religion, and is one and the same between God and all intelligent Creatures, is this, it is a total unalterable Dependence upon God, an immediate continual receiving of every Kind, and Degree of Goodness, Blessing and Happiness, that ever was, or can be found in them, from God alone. The highest Angel has nothing of its own that it can offer unto God, no more Light, Love, Purity, Perfection, and glorious Hallelujahs, that spring from itself, or its own Powers, than the poorest Creature upon Earth. Could the Angel see a Spark of Wisdom, Goodness, or Excellence, as coming from, or belonging to itself, its Place in Heaven would be lost, as sure as Lucifer lost his.
We do well to remember that if for one split second a good angel took his eyes off of the source and origin of the being and goodness that he enjoyed, he would be catapulted into Hell! The angels are thus not given the benefit of time, space, and a body through which to work out their obedience to God. They are pure spirits who live in the immediacy of God alone. Because they are all-spirit, they have immediate knowledge of God and God alone and thus if they stray, they are doomed. But we men have so many ways in which to find and discover our dependence upon our maker. The creation around us is a multiplicity and variety of signs and wonders that will, if we allow them, lead us back to the Mind and Heart of the Maker. Even our own bodies should remind us of so great a God whose pure desire and joy is to quicken us so that we may come into communion with Him. If we would but think of the intricate design and the multifarious laws and rules that govern our bodies, we would be silenced in the presence of so great and terrible a Maker. Who would not stop his mouth, still his heart, and silence his mind in the presence of such a merciful and loving God as our God. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord,” we would cry with the Chief of the Apostles. And then, to remember that what we find in our bodies is perceived by our souls, souls made to see, perceive, and behold such wonders, why then, who would not fall down before the Divine Majesty with such a sense of awesome wonder and trembling fear?
But they are ever-abiding Flames of Pure Love, always ascending up to and uniting with God, for this Reason, because the Wisdom, the Power, the Glory, the Majesty, the Love, and Goodness of God alone, is all that they see, and feel, and know, either within or without themselves. —Songs of Praise to their heavenly Father are their ravishing Delight, because they see, and know, and feel, that it is the Breath and Spirit of their Heavenly Father that sings and rejoices in them. Their Adoration in Spirit and in Truth never ceases, because they never cease to acknowledge the ALL of God; —the ALL of God in the whole Creation. This is the one Religion of Heaven, and nothing else is the Truth of Religion on Earth.
Here is the adoration of the good angels who know only God and His Goodness. And yet, why cannot we mortal men find time to delight in our God for the very same reason. That we have bodies and live immersed in the multiplicity and variety of God’s dispersed goodness is no excuse to abandon adoration. We have, it might be said, more reason to magnify the Lord, to exult in Him doubly. For we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and know the creation and then its Creator. We see the work and then the Worker. We use all of our senses and then our minds. Our minds discover the effects and then the Cause. Our hearts are shaken when we find His care, concern, due diligence, and love. And more than this, we remember too, that He does not rest satisfied with nature and its laws. He longs to elicit a response from us. He calls us forth from us an act of will. He longs that we may not only find His rule and governance of all things naturally, but that we too might be ruled and governed by Him, by His Word made flesh in one and then many, in Christ and in us, then and now, before and after. His is the Word that rules and governs. His is the Word that lives and dies. His is the Word that rises and ascends. His is the Word that comes to us again. Oh, dear friends, what a call and vocation. Let us with the angels freely adore only Him. Breath and Spirit validating His Word.
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day,
the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from
(St. Luke 19. 41, 42)
In reading the lines which I have just rehearsed, most Biblical commentators have interpreted them to be Jesus’ literal prediction and foreknowledge of a future event. So they conclude that Jesus is weeping over an immanent and ominous destruction of Jerusalem, which would come to pass in the year 70 A.D. when the Emperor Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus and his trusted second-in-command Tiberius Julius Alexander would sack the city and destroy the Second Temple. Titus reportedly refused to accept the garland of victory saying, there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God. Josephus the Jewish historian says that over one million people were killed and the Roman victory resulted in Diaspora or Exile of the Jewish people, an exodus which was not reversed until the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1949.
But the meaning of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel runs far deeper for the Church whose ancient Fathers chose them for this Sunday. To them the spiritual meaning is always preferred to the literal, since that is what touches the soul and changes heart of man in every generation. However, far from denying and discarding the literal and historical truth of the verses, they insisted rather that what Jesus said and did, in time and space, forms a reality in which we can find ourselves. In reading of a literal and historical event we can learn what Jesus has in it to teach us. And so with the words that we read today, we find the Fathers of the Church reminding us that though Jesus was speaking about the Jewish people and their impending doom, He is speaking to us also, warning us of the evil that will envelope and overturn a faithless and worldly generation.
And so Origen of Alexandria, commenting upon these first few verses, says that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said “blessed are the meek”, He confirms this where He says “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And just as He said “blessed are ye that weep”, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341) St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes this, For Christ who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears however are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come.(Ibid) And so three of the Fathers remind us that Christ uses His human nature to reveal and express God’s opposition to evil in Christ’s tears of sorrow to show us that God desires our salvation. Jesus’ tears are shed also so that we too might learn to weep over our own sins. With Jesus we should be found weeping over the contradiction between what the Lord wants for us and what we habitually prefer. In sum, the Fathers call us to weep and mourn because we have preferred our own stagnant and sterile spirituality, being, as we are, more interested in the earthly and worldly good than in the salvation that God brings to us in the visitation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus wept over a faithless and obstinate Jerusalem. Jesus consecrates the gifts of tears in the service of the salvation that He brings. Blessed are they that mourn (St. Matthew 5. 4), He says in another place. And we ask ourselves, what is this all about? Of course, remembering that Jesus is God and Man, we might have trouble disentangling meaning from mystery. If He is indeed God, we know that God does not cry, shed tears, mourn, or express any kind of regret. God in Himself is perfectly the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb’s xiii. 8) Given such, He is pure love, joy, wisdom, beauty and power. Technically speaking, because He neither changes nor alters, He does not react to man’s sinful and contradictory behavior with any of the emotions that characterize human nature.
And yet, mysteriously emanating from the Divine nature, there issues forth to man that perfect love, wisdom, and power whose operation and activity are given to transform the creature. Love interprets and expresses itself through the humanity of Jesus Christ as care, concern, desire, compassion and mercy. From the heart of Jesus Christ tears reveal that the Love of God in time and space is not emotionally apathetic, but passionately zealous and determined that His human creation should be saved. When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (Ezekiel 18. 27) Love in the flesh, through the humanity of Jesus Christ, sees and responds to man’s alienation from God and desires to rectify and correct it. With the prophet Ezekiel, man knows and embraces God’s love for him as the Divine desire for his ultimate transformation and salvation. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36: 26, 27) Love reveals itself through Jesus Christ’s tears as a response to men’s willful alienation from God the Father. Through Jesus’ weeping, Love responds to and comments upon man’s rebellious indifference. On the one hand, man’s pride resentfully kills the Love of God in the flesh. An obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin (Ecclus. iii. 27) On the other hand man’s carelessness ignores and evades stubbornly Love’s visitation. A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. (Ibid, 26) Man was made to humbly hear and receive God’s Word in his own flesh. The greater thou art, the more [thou shouldest] humble thyself, and thou shalt find favour before the Lord. (Ibid, 18) The tears of Jesus reveal God’s desire and hope for our salvation in the face of our refusal to seek after it and find it. For He knows perfectly well what we were made to be, and yet what we, to our eternal peril, neglect and ignore. Blessed is he who mourns. (St. Matthew v. 4)
The message for today is that we should learn to weep over our sin so that we can return to God. As we look back on the literal and historical facts of the life of Love in the flesh, there is this challenge. With the Church Fathers let us respond to Jesus’ tears and weeping over us with those of our own. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let us then pray for tears and mourn over our sins. Let express profound heartfelt regret and sorrow over our obstinate refusal to hear the Word of God in our flesh. Let us shed tears over our willful indifference towards the spiritual transformation that Christ longs to bring into our lives. Let us mourn over the sins we discover in our souls. And from there, let us proceed to righteous indignation – imitating the holy anger that Jesus expresses over the false commerce in the Temple that we read about this morning’s Gospel. God made us to grow and share spiritual gifts, as we read in this morning’s Epistle. And we cannot grow and share spiritual gifts until we have identified and banished the demonic vices and bad habits that inhabit our own inner lives. We cannot hope to be spiritually changed and transformed if we are still carried away by [the] dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 2) that St. Paul warns against in this morning’s Epistle. So we pray: O my God, cast the unclean spirit out of thy temple; and if he will not go out but by prayer and fasting, let me add such abstinence to my prayers, as my help to starve the fleshly lusts that war against my soul…Holy Lord chase away the birds of prey that would devour thy sacrifice in me; and drive out the unclean beasts that would trample down the plantation of thy Grace in my soul. (B.Jenks: Prayers…p. 224)
Jesus is Love in the flesh. He cares for us. Will we accept this Love today? Will we allow this love to redeem us? Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem because in it He saw the ruination of the human soul, the family, and society. But out of His tears He revealed to us God’s determination to wipe out sin from the creation that was made to be good. Perhaps Jerusalem and her soul must be ruined before she can be rebuilt. Jerusalem is fallen. We are fallen. But, as St. Gregory says, God visits the wicked soul at all times, through his teaching, and He sometimes visits it by means of chastisements, and sometimes through a miracle, that it may learn the truths it did not understand…and moved by sorrow return to Him; or may, overcome by His Kindness, become ashamed of the evil it has done. (Sunday Sermons, iv. 344) Lt us thank God for this and rejoice! O Clap your hands together, all ye peoples: * O sing unto God with the voice of melody. For the Lord is high, and to be feared; * he is the great King upon all the earth. (Ps. xlvii. 1,2), the Psalmist exclaims today. Let us mourn, so that we may rejoice. We mourn, we repent, we turn to God, and he changes us, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…. (1 Cor. xv. 52) Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ mourns within us that we may repent. Christ rejoices within us that we may rise up and embrace the gifts of His Holy Spirit. My friends, Christ is with us and for us. Let us let Him have His way within us today that we may rebuild the Jerusalem of our souls, and thereby reveal the city of God’s salvation to others. Amen.
The Misfortunes and Punishments of the Wicked
From the Gospel: St. Luke xix. 41-46d
Thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. (St. Luke xix. 43)
THE Lord in these words predicts the adversity which was about to destroy the vain prosperity of this world, about which three things are to be noted.
(1)The universality of the adversity itself: They shall compass thee round.
The ancient city of Jerusalem is a symbol for the earthly city that is made to be redeemed. Originally it was established to be an example and pattern to every ‘city of man’ that is made by Lord to be the entry way and stepping-stone into His Kingdom, the City of God. But the earthly city of Jerusalem forsook this its great calling and vocation. Literally in A.D. 70 Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus would compass Jerusalem round about and destroy the Second Temple. Thus the Diaspora of Jews would commence. Literally and spiritually speaking, the children of God are surrounded now on every side by the evil that they have been worshiping for some time. Those who worship false gods, mammon, the things of this world, even religion and spirituality for their own selfish ends, will be surrounded by the enemy and will be destroyed. God merely gives to us what we want. If we are unfaithful, disobedient, and recalcitrant, we shall be surrounded by His absence. Our willful rejection of His salvific nearness means that the Devil and his friends will begin the process of our damnation.
(2) The multiplicity of the punishment which there will be in it. And they will keep thee in on every side. The multitude is the cause of the keeping in.
When we abandon and forsake God and His will, various demons and false idols rush in to fill up the spaces, which we have emptied. We cannot escape because we have turned our backs on God and His messengers. We are not forced to do this. We make a decision or an act of will in favor of ourselves, and then we open ourselves up to what best advances and enhances a form of happiness and joy that is bereft of God’s will. ‘We are looking for love in all the wrong places.’ So because we medicate against facing our sorry selves and God, we find ourselves in the good company of a multiplicity of gods whose gravity and weight drag us down into our bodies through the soul and away from the spirit. The multiplicity or multitude is an allegorical image for the diversity of sins, and the rational logic that moves us progressively downward from one into the other. Just as God has given to the human mind the rational capacity to move from one virtue to another, so he allows also the rational capacity to move from one vice to the other. Man seldom stops at one, since, though he has abandoned God, he nevertheless is never severed from his inmost incessant desire and passion for happiness and joy. Man has a natural desire for knowledge and for happiness. This passion is not eliminated because man is fallen. Fallen man merely pursues knowledge and happiness selfishly, and because he can never be satisfied with what the demons or false gods offer, he moves from one sin to another.
(3) The eternity of the same adversity. They shall lay thee even with the ground. That is, they will destroy wholly, so that no one will be able to be liberated.
In the end there is the threat here of a final judgment, at which time those who have indulged the spiritual sins of the earthly Jerusalem shall be past all hope. This is a warning for those who are called to repent and return to the Lord while there is still time remaining to them in their earthly lives. So though the Jerusalems of fallen man may be destroyed, in their exile they may still turn back to the Lord. If they do not repent, they shall be beyond spiritual help. If they remain in their spiritual Jerusalem and continue to worship the false gods, they shall not be saved. What Christ seems to encourage here then is for them to flee the Jerusalem of rebellion against and disobedience to God and to find room and space for confession and contrition. Anyone who lives in and for an earthly city and its gods will be laid to the ground and destroyed if he does not rise up and seek those things which are above, in the City of God, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of the Father. (Col. iii. 1)
When man worships the creation rather than the Creator, he is swallowed up, enveloped, determined, and moved by false gods. The earth or nature then defines a man, and man is rewarded only with temporary, impermanent, and fleeting goods with their respective promises and satisfaction. If the image be allowed, here we find the earth’s spiritual vengeance on the man who worships her and not the God whom she worships. In some allegorical sense then the earth or nature wreaks retribution and revenge on a fellow creature who has taken himself out of God’s good rule and governance, order and arrangement, and intended harmony for the cosmos. So the earth shall cover and bury the sinful man.
(2) From water, which shall suffocate them. The water of the sea shall rage against them, and the rivers shall run together in a terrible manner. (Wisdom v. 23)
The water shall drown and suffocate the sinner. He will not be able to breathe because he shall be immersed in what he worshiped. He shall not be able to come to the surface because he has chosen to be defined and moved by the waters of the flood, the waters that completely form and mold sinful man, and waters that cover the whole earth in a flood of God’s justice and judgment.
(3) From the air which will lighten against them. Then shafts of lightning shall go directly from the clouds as from a bow well bent ; they shall be shot out, and shall fly to the mark. (Wisdom v. 22)
The same man will be hit by lightening and shall be destroyed for refusing to live in the light of Christ. The lightening shall be aimed at the sinner because he refused to obey God. And thus a continual sense of being hit by the lightening shall characterize the sinner’s life in Hell. The sinner has chosen to live without God’s life, light, and love. The sinner has chosen to live in an ongoing death, darkness, and despair. But he will be reminded of the goodness that he has rejected, being startled and struck continuously by a the spiritual hit of lightening from God to remind Him of his lost love and true happiness.
(4) From fire, which shall consume them. A fire goeth before him and burneth his enemies round about. (Ps. xcvii. 3)
God’s mercy is experienced as justice for those who reject Him. The fire burns His enemies round about. The fire is that unconsumed and perpetual burning that the sinner feels as He endures God’s mercy negatively. God’s mercy allows him to reap his own reward. His reward is the unending pain of separation and division from mercy as forgiveness, sanctification, and salvation.
(5) From the sun, moon, and stars, which shall hide themselves from him. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. (Joel iii. 15) So shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven. (St. Matthew xxiv. 29)
The unrepentant sinner shall live in spiritual darkness. The greater light that ruled the day and the lesser light that ruled the night, created lights given to men to feel after God and find Him, are now withdrawn. Now too the spiritual lights to which they pointed are gone. Man can no longer search out God in spiritual day or in spiritual night. He cannot find God in time of joy or in time of sadness. He cannot search out or find God naturally or spiritually. He is rendered blind to the light and darkness that could have saved him. He sees only that he has no light by which to return to his Maker.
(6) From the saints, who will condemn them. Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (St. Matthew xix. 28)
The Saints can no longer have any commerce with sinners. They judge the wicked simply by having become what God has made them. Their judgment is the summary of God’s justice, which decrees that a man is where he is because he has been rewarded with all that he has wanted. ‘Now Lazarus is comforted but Dives is tormented; And beside all this, between Heaven and Hell there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from Heaven to Hell cannot; neither can they pass to Heaven, that would come from Hell. (St. Luke xvi. 25, 26)
(7) From the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will judge them. Then shall the King say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed. (St. Matthew xxv 35, 41)
Self-willed alienation is separation and division from God’s Word, God’s everlastingly begotten and only begotten Wisdom, Power, and Love for man. Sinners shall be judged by God’s expressed Wish, Desire, and Intention for His people, made flesh in Jesus Christ. Sinners will be condemned by the Word made Flesh that is the only way, truth, and life under heaven, through Whom a man might be reconciled to God.
(8)From the angels, who will carry them into Hell. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels . . . and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. (S. Matt. xiii. 41, 42)
The Angels assist in Christ’s judgment. Christ entered Hell once, to lift the Saints into Heaven. The Angels now assist Christ in escorting His enemies into Hell.
2. On the second head, the eternity of the adversity it is a momentary thing which delights: it is an eternal thing which crucifies.
For those who reject God’s good will, the eternity of adversity delights momentarily in time and space. All false gods bring impermanent and temporary pleasure. The delight is not lasting, and thus it is pursued in a multiplicity and variety of ways throughout the course of earthly existence. What was pleasurable in this life turns into an eternal thing that crucifies a man forever. The eternity of adversity’s delight becomes unending crucifixion to true delight.
My friends, today let us acknowledge that we have lived in the earthly Jerusalem worshiping false gods for long enough. Let us humbly return to the Lord, ‘setting our affections on things above and not the things of the earth. For we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.’ (Col. iii. 2-4) So let us repent us of all our sins. Let us desire the healing forgiveness and mercy of our Saviour. Let us leave the earthly Jerusalem behind and begin to live above ourselves in the Heavenly Jerusalem, God’s City, whence emerges only sanctification and deliverance from all earthly and spiritual enemies of the Lord.
In His outward appearance He was like us; for in His boundless
Love he took it upon Himself to become a creature, yet without
Changing (his Divinity), and He became the image, type, and symbol
Of Himself: He has revealed Himself symbolically out of His inner being;
Through Himself who is visible He has drawn the whole creation
To Himself who is invisible and totally hidden.
(PG, 91: St. Maximus the Confessor)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. The word comes to us from the Latin derivative transfigurare meaning to change form, appearance, shape, or nature. The word used in the Greek translations of the Bible is metamorfwsis, and it means the same. The word is used by Ovid in his Metamophoses, a tale of transformations from the dawn of creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. St. Matthew uses the term to describe Christ’s Transfiguration while St. Luke says that the appearance of Christ’s face was altered and His clothing was made dazzling white. (St. Luke ix. 28) The point is that Christ was changed or altered enough so that what Saints Peter, James, and John saw was the same man in a remarkable different manner.
The Feast of the Transfiguration always falls within Trinity tide, that season which continuously emphasizes that God is visiting and redeeming His people and is raising up a mighty salvation for us in the House of His servant David. (St. Luke i. 68, 69) Trinity tide is all about the vision of God and our desire to will the good that we see and know in Him. Today we are invited to see and know in a deeper and more remarkable way.
Jesus came down from heaven. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of an earthly and human mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was in possession of a fully functioning body, soul, and spirit. He was completely human. This is recorded in Scriptures and we believe it to be true. In his outward appearance he was like us. He desired to one with us and to share our human nature in order to love us back into loving God the Father. As the Father’s everlasting Truth and Desire, He has never ceased to long for our union with the Father through His love. He gives Himself to us always. He is the everlasting Word, Commandment, and the Law that desires to become flesh in us so that we may fulfill the Father’s will. He is made flesh in order to redeem our fallen human nature. Externally and visibly He has revealed to us the Father’s eternal Being. He reveals to us, in the most extreme manner, what it means to die to the self so that the Father’s will might be perfected in human nature. He redeems our nature through a suffering and death that no man could endure. Out of His death alone can all men be made alive.
Tonight we remember an event that precedes Christ’s Suffering, Passion, and Death in which He revealed something of the transformed and transfigured glorious life that would be the reward of those who would be faithful and obedient to God through His Grace. To His specially chosen Apostles –Saints Peter, James, and John, He manifested that state of life to which He intended to return all fallen human beings. Through the form of His humanity, through the symbol of His human nature, Jesus revealed to Peter, James, and John the Divine Nature that He intended to elicit and grow out of their converted hearts. This He would accomplish as His Divine Grace transformed and transfigured them through His visible nature by His invisible power. In faith they looked, pondered, wondered, studied, and explored the paranormal vision of Christ’s Transfiguration. St. Peter tells us long after the event: We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,. but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. Peter and his friends would learn how difficult it was to move from earthly and visible life into a future of their own transfiguration. Christ’s Transfiguration would begin to become theirs only after they had come to know their spiritual powerlessness and thus their utter need for the invisible desire of God made visible in the suffering and death of their Saviour. He himself who becomes visible is none other than He himself who is totally invisible and totally hidden. The path from one to the other is from Heaven to Earth and then from Earth to Heaven through Jesus Christ in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn or every creature. (Col. i. 14, 15)
Moses stood to one side of Jesus on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage and onto the road that leads to transfigurative liberty and salvation through the transformative nature of Jesus Christ. Moses symbolizes human hope that waits for Christ’s coming. Elijah admonished the people to come out of alienation and to return into the presence of God. Elijah is a symbol of the heavenly power that carries man on a chariot of fire back into the nearness of the Almighty. Moses is human hope; Elijah is Divine Mercy. They are arrested and consumed by God in Man and Man in God. Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God. The two are one. Man’s destiny is to be one with God. God makes this possible by making His invisible design visible.
Moses and Elijah looked upon Jesus. Peter, James, and John beheld also the glory of the Lord, what had been hidden from them, present to them now in the glorified faces of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. St. Luke tells us that Peter, James, and John had been asleep when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus of His impending death. They awoke to see and perceive a glory the likes of which they would not see or experience until the Resurrection. The vision does not yet reveal the content of the relationship; what is perceived at first is the radical otherness of the event.
Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. (St. Luke ix. 33) Peter was determined to capture the moment, to contain and limit what he sees in Christ’s Transfiguration. In this he was wholly wrong. Christ’s Transfiguration is the Divine Activity of the Invisible God’s love for man in the visible motions of His Son. The Invisible God moves to man through His visible Son to summon all men back to Himself. To entrap and encapsulate the moment is to miss the message. Christ reveals what is in store for those who would become the sons and daughters of God. Christ calls Peter, James, John, and every willing human being into His ongoing Transfiguration. This is not about the Apostles’ vision of the distinctly Divine uniqueness interrupting human history in an isolated moment. Christ calls us forward into the vision and experience of our future Transfiguration. This visible manifestation of Transfiguration is a revelation of God’s ongoing, invisible desire to redeem and save His people. Long past the Resurrection, St. John would be moved by faith to say this: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 St. John iii. 2,3)
Cardinal Shonborn elaborates further on what had happened to Peter, James, and John. After Christ’s Transfiguration, when the three Apostles, in fear and terror prostrated on the ground, lifted up their eyes, they ‘saw only Jesus.’ (God’s Human Face: Schonborn, p. 132) He whom they beheld a moment before in the blinding splendor of Mystical converse with Moses and Elijah, now they saw alone, Jesus of Nazareth, strikingly human once again. He was transfigured from one state back into the other. Jesus’ human countenance, the face of Jesus of Nazareth, holds in itself the complete mystery of God. (Idem) Here is the brilliance. Christ’s transfigured glory can make sense to the Apostles only slowly and methodically as they follow the human Jesus into His suffering and death. The brilliance of the glory is tempered and adjusted to the Apostles’ capacity or ability to receive it. Jesus will lead them into glory but only as they move from death up and into new life. In the visible face of Jesus we can see the invisible love of the Father. We must behold that face first as its brilliance reveals sadness, loneliness, suffering, and death. Thereafter we must look upon the same face that reveals now a brilliance of new life that if offered to us from the invisible heart of the Father.
The face of Jesus is a human face, given to us as that symbol through which God lives and moves and has His being. Your face and mine too are meant to reflect the passion and beauty that we see in Him. Even in our sufferings, He longs to shine forth into us as the love that binds us obediently to our Heavenly Father. Even in our joys, He longs to shine forth as the love that is begotten of Heavenly Mirth. If His Vision transfigures us, we shall become images of God, icons of His invisible wisdom, power, and love. Like Moses and Elijah we shall be consumed with Jesus in that tight bond of unbreakable intimacy that reveals His glory to the world. Let us end with St. Maximus Confessor.
God provides equally to all the power that naturally leads to salvation, So that each one who wishes can be transformed by Divine Grace.And nothing prevents anyone from willing to become Melchisedec, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and simply transferring all these saints to himself, not by changing names and places, but by imitating their forms and way of life.
O mystery more mysterious than all the rest: God Himself out of love became Man…without any change of Him, He took on the weakness of our Human Nature, in order to bring salvation to man, and to give Himself to us as Ideal Image of virtue and as a living Icon of Love, and goodwill toward God and neighbor, an icon that has the power in us to elicit a dutiful response. (PG: 91, 644B)
[Addr-6] All possible Goodness that either can be named, or is nameless, was in God from all Eternity, and must to all Eternity be inseparable from him; it can be nowhere but where God is. As therefore before God created anything, it was certainly true that there was but one that was good, so it is just the same Truth, after God has created innumerable Hosts of blessed and holy and heavenly Beings, that there is but one that is good, and that is God.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that ‘Goodness and Being’ are really the same, and differ only in idea.’ He goes on to explain that ‘Goodness’ is something that is to be desired or longed after. He quotes Aristotle, who says that ‘Goodness is what all desire’(Nic. Eth. I). Now this is true of any want, desire, or appetite in man. It is also true of what other creatures tend towards naturally or instinctively. What men want, they desire because of some goodness attached to it. What they desire then is the fullness, completeness, or perfection of an object. This is another way of saying that they desire its goodness. All men desire both that the object they seek should be perfect and also that in their possession or consumption of it, they might be perfected by it. Of course most men desire only limited and finite forms of goodness. Nevertheless in their desire of it they seek its most perfect expression. If it is not as perfect as it can be, a man is let down or disappointed by the object of his appetite. That man desires perfection on any level is a sign that he seeks for a reality that has generated this desire. But a thing can be perfect only in so far as it is actual or actualized. This means that Goodness is synonymous with Being or existing. Goodness ‘is the aspect desired’, while Being is its actuality. Now for anything to be good and existing it must derive its essence and existence from what always Is or Exists as Perfect Goodness. Otherwise it is absurd to speak about goodness as becoming-being at all. So goodness and being that come to be and pass away derive their Goodness and Being from God. God alone then is that Goodness and Being who actualizes goodness and being in creatures who imitate His perfection. (Summary: S.T.A.: S.T. I, v, 1)
[Addr-7] All that can be called Goodness, Holiness, Divine Tempers, heavenly Affections, &c., in the Creatures, are no more their own, or the Growth of their created Powers, than they were their own before they were created. But all that is called Divine Goodness and Virtue in the Creature is nothing else, but the one Goodness of God manifesting a Birth and Discovery of itself in the Creature, according as its created Nature is fitted to receive it. This is the unalterable State between God and the Creature. Goodness for ever and ever can only belong to God, as essential to him and inseparable from him, as his own Unity.
The substantial being of any creature is its actualization by God’s Goodness and Being. God then lends His Goodness and Being to creatures as their potential form and matter are actualized in a substance that is perfected. Of course, creatures are perfected only imperfectly since their perfection comes to be and passes away. Even man, whose soul is made to live forever endures a period of division while he awaits reunion with His body that will come with the General Resurrection. If his imperfect perfection of body and soul is judged reconcilable to God, he shall be welcomed into the presence of God’s perfect Goodness and Being forever. If his imperfect perfection of body and soul is judged alien to God’s Goodness and Being, he shall live at a distance from God forever beholding the Goodness and Being that he rejected. ‘God’s Absolute Goodness is Complete Actuality.’ Every man is said ‘to be’ and ‘will be forever’. But every man is not said ‘to be good’ unless ‘the superadded actuality of knowledge and virtue’ makes him one with God. Thus it is imperative that a man should seek out and embrace that Goodness of God’s Being which ‘is essential to and inseparable from Him.’
[Addr-8] God could not make the Creature to be great and glorious in itself; this is as impossible, as for God to create Beings into a State of Independence on himself. "The Heavens," saith David, "declare the Glory of God"; and no Creature, any more than the Heavens, can declare any other Glory but that of God.
God’s Goodness and Being make all other things. Thus all things derive from God, depend upon God, and hang upon the mercy of God for their being and goodness. The Glory that is revealed in and to the creature is God’s Glory. There is no independent being, goodness, or glory that is peculiar to the creature. The creature can reveal only what has been put into it by its Maker. Thus any notion of being, goodness, and glory that is divorced from God is better called non-being, evil, and obloquy. Created being is becoming-being and derives from God’s Pure Being alone. Created being’s perfection is actualized by the Goodness of God. Some creatures’ being is perfected by God’s Goodness naturally or instinctively. Other creatures’ being is perfected by God’s Goodness through knowledge and an act of will. Men and angels comprise the latter category of Being, and thus the known Goodness of God’s Being must be embraced by an act of will that desires to be perfected. The desire for perfection derives from God’s Good Being as what is made to return to Him by being made good because what is known is willed and completed.
Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail,
they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
(St. Luke xi. 1)
In last week’s Gospel we prayed that God’s never failing providence that ruleth all things both in heaven and in earth [might] put away from us all hurtful things and [might] give to us those things which are profitable (Collect: Trin. VIII) for our salvation. And this week Jesus illustrates how we might apply what we know of God’s providence to our present lives. He does this through The Parable of the Unjust Steward. In it He commends the virtue of prudence for our consideration.
In The Parable of the Unjust Steward, we read about a steward or manager of a rich man’s treasure who has been accused of wasting his master’s goods. The steward had been careless and irresponsible with the oversight of the rich man’s business. The rich man summons his employee to call him to account. How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) The rich man is surprised, and appears to go away to give his worker time to give account of his stewardship. The employee is struck dumb with fear and trepidation over his fate and future. Because he can make no excuse for his sin, he says to himself, What shall I do? For my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. (Ibid, 3) He is proud of his education and ability and so is not about to resort to manual labor to repay his master. He will neither dig ditches nor be reduced to begging. He has a good mind and is determined to use it to make good out of a bad situation. Though he has failed to manage the rich man’s business properly, he will nevertheless use his business acumen or prudence to recoup his master’s losses.
So he makes a deal with other men who have taken out loans with his Master. He asks them what they owe that he may return at least a portion of their debt to him. He ends up collecting fifty percent of what one man owed, and eighty percent from another, and returns to give to the Master what he has collected. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) Jesus tells his listeners that in earthly and worldly terms, here we find a man who used his prudence and worldly wisdom to make the best of a bad situation. In so doing, he admitted that his imprudence was in some way responsible for their inability to repay. Both he and they were in need of the Master’s mercy. The steward in today’s Gospel humbles himself and became one with the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. (St. Luke vi. 20)
So, what does Jesus mean when he says that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light? And why does He say that we are to make us friends with the mammon of unrighteousness? It seems to contradict what He commands elsewhere – i.e. that we cannot serve God and Mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) We might learn more about it in the verses that follow today’s Gospel lesson. There Jesus says that, He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? (Ibid, 10-12) Unrighteous mammon is a term used to describe money or material possessions. If a man has been dishonest when another has entrusted him with his earthly fortune, how can such a man be trusted to increase the worth of his spiritual treasure? The unjust steward was irresponsible and unfaithful with his master’s fortune. But he repented of his error and was determined to use prudence to repay what he could. In the Parable Jesus seems to suggest that the prudence of the unjust steward is a virtue to be imitated. Of course, it is not any obsession with the unjust steward’s future financial security that interests Jesus, but rather the prudence or practical wisdom that moves the man to be reconciled with his Master. Making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness involves acquiring the habit of prudence, which discovers its limitations. The mammon of unrighteousness is false mammon, ‘the meat that perishes’, the riches of this world, perishing things that disappoint those who raise their expectations from them. (M. Henry. Comm. Luke xvi.) Prudence teaches us that the mammon of unrighteousness can never bring lasting and eternal happiness. But it teaches us also that we can make ourselves the friends of it if we understand it rightly in relation to salvation. St. Bonaventure tells us that prudence rules and rectifies the powers of the soul for the good of the self and one’s neighbor. (Bonaventure: C. M. Cullen, p. 98) St. Bonaventure tells us also that prudence helps us to remain close to the spiritual center. (Idem) The center for the Christian is the practical knowledge of man’s temptations in relation to the mammon of unrighteousness. We and all others do well to remain on intimate terms with the mammon of unrighteousness, knowing its dangerous potential and power. Prudence encourages us to see in our neighbor another self, and to love our neighbor as ourself. And so when we are practically wise or prudent in relation to the mammon of unrighteousness, we enable our neighbor to see that the perishable commodities of this world are not what are nearest and dearest to the generation of our happiness. What mattered most to the unjust steward was reconciliation with his ruler. What should matter most to us is reconciliation with God. Jesus says that he that is faithful in that which is least, is also faithful also in much. (Ibid, 10) He means that we with others must use prudence to become faithful and honest with these lesser and least of things because only then can we all become far more consumed with serving one Master and looking for one reward. Prudence enables us to join all other men in labouring not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. (St. John vi. 27)
Christ makes it very clear in using this parable that most men are rather more prudent in preparing for their worldly futures than His followers are prudent in readying themselves for their spiritual futures. If spiritual men would take as much time, care, and caution in preparing for salvation, as earthly men take in preparing for their financial future, the world might become quite a different place. So the parable has a more literal meaning. If the Christian man would only see that he and his neighbor shared a common indebtedness to God, their spiritual Master, he would be swifter to help his poor neighbor out of material want and poverty. Being conscious of every man’s indebtedness to God for creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, and furthermore for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, he would see that neither he not any other man can ever repay God for His manifold goodness and mercy. And because he has profited spiritually from the unmerited and undeserved Treasure of God’s goodness and mercy, he would want all of his fellow men to likewise partake of so great a treasure. If there are men around him who are driven desperately to feed, clothe, and house their children, they will lack the leisure to receive and treasure the generosity of God the Divine Master. The rich like to quote Jesus, when He says, the poor always ye have with you, (St. John xii. 8), as if the latter’s predicament should not stir us to a prudence which sees in them a necessary help to our salvation. But Christ is suggesting those who are not rich towards God, and then to their neighbors, haven’t ever really appreciated that all of men together owe to God what they can never repay. Thus, if we share with others what we have, then when [we fail], (i.e. die)…they [will] receive us into everlasting habitations. (St. Luke xvi. 9) When we die, we shall realize that the poor have assisted us out of our obsessive materialistic idolatry, by helping us to embrace, cultivate, and treasure with them the unmerited and undeserved means of Grace and hope of glory!
So making friends with mammon of unrighteousness, (Ibid, 9) involves cultivating the Cardinal Virtue of prudence that is on the way to being perfected through faith, hope, and love. First, the prudent man imitates the unjust steward who acknowledged his sin and was thus assiduously and conscientiously determined to make right with his Master. Second, the prudent man knows that he is always an unjust [spiritual] steward of God’s mercies and gifts because of his fallen nature, and thus can never repay what he owes to Him. And, third, realizing this, the prudent man is determined to help others with what he’s got, thus enabling them to join and assist him on the Christian pilgrimage. For, as Calvin warns us, Those persons…who act improperly and unfaithfully in the things of small value, such as the transitory riches of this world, do not deserve that God should entrust to them the inestimable treasure of the Gospel. (Harmony of the Gospels: Vol. xvi.) So the prudent man shares his earthly treasure with others because only then will God entrust to him the deeper truth of the Gospel and the power to embrace and share it.
So today my friends let us begin to study and discover the virtue of prudence. Prudence looks with foresight and vision into a Christian future that is meant for all men. Prudence discovers those moral principles that God’s Grace will bring to birth in us in order to ensure our common salvation. Prudence is the spirit to think and do always such things that are right and what enables us to live according to [God’s] will by His Grace. (Collect: Trinity IX) Christian prudence asks, with St. Bernard, What is the value of this for eternity? Christian prudence concludes that the value of all others’ gifts is of indispensible worth in the journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. Christian prudence concludes also that God has called us to make to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness so that from the low plain of spiritual neediness they might receive us into everlasting habitations. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons