Saturday, September 29, 2007
However, I include this picture to show that while I prefer Reverse Flash to The Rival, it takes television to really make a mess of things. What you see here is the TV version of the Reverse Flash story line form that ill-fated, though I watched it religiously because it was after all superheroes, 80's era televsion show.
Blue? BLUE? BLUE?? Where in the h-e-double hockey sticks did they come up with blue? Only television could miss the point entirely.
Friday, September 28, 2007
My experience is that “after high school youth group” discussions of personal holiness (discussions with adults) about some areas of sin at best bring a yawn (”We’ve heard that.”) or hostility.I love this post - John Mark has hit on something really important here, and it should go farther.
The hostility seems directed at a perceived early “over-emphasis” in some church groups on certain kinds of sin. Purity is not (after all) just about chastity and avoiding polluting our bodies with bad substances. This is very true, but a weird thing happened on the way to balance in teaching in adults.
In some adults who are Christians, the reaction has led to an over-reaction leading to a near break down in any accountability for issues of holiness in these areas. It is not rational, but then human beings are often not rational when it comes to pleasure and passion.
Just because some youth groups said (or may have said) too much about this sort of sin does not mean that sinning is o.k. (in some sort of cosmic pay back). Being chaste in youth does not give license for being unchaste as an adult.
Of course, whenever I write this type of thing I am driven back to prayer. I am a sinner. I need God’s grace. I must NOT see the speck in someone else’s eye without acknowledging the plank in my own eye.
You see, I don't have the kinds of issues he discusses in the details. My fidelity to my wife in intact, I consume alcohol perhaps twice a year, in great moderation. For the moment, I have my food intake under control. But none of that changes the fact that I am just as fallen as the next guy.
We lose accountability structures because we do not "go deep." Those of us blessed enough to have a handle, by the grace of God, on the obvious sins tend to want to hold those that do not accountable, but who holds us? Do we allow it. Why then if we don't drink, but are otherwise complete jerks, should people feel compelled to seek holiness in the matter of alcoholic consumption? Under those circumstances, holiness looks just like everybody else, but without the booze. What's the point?
Here's a radical idea. I have known heavy boozers that had a handle on patience - something I struggle with. What if while I was working to hold them accountable on the booze, they were holding me accountable on the patience thing? Might that not motivate them just a bit?
Booze, sex, and other "obvious" sins are important first steps, but conquering them does not constitute conquering sin in our lives. If we want to call others down the path to holiness, we need to be walking it as well. We have not arrived at the destination, it is a life-long journey. We have to take it together.
St. Peter said, "Well, Forrest, it is certainly good to see you. We have heard a lot about you I must tell you, though, that the place is filling up fast, and we have been administering an entrance examination for everyone. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into Heaven."
Forrest responds, "It sure is good to be here, St. Peter, sir. But nobody ever told me about any entrance exam. I sure hope that the test ain't too hard. Life was a big enough test as it was."
St. Peter continued, "Yes, I know, Forrest, but the test is only three questions.
What two days of the week begin with the letter T?
How many seconds are there in a year?
What is God's first name?"
Forrest leaves to think the questions over. He returns the next day and sees St. Peter, who waves him up, and says, "Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers."
Forrest replied, "Well, the first one -- which two days in the week begins with the letter "T"? Shucks, that one is easy. That would be Today and Tomorrow."
The Saint's eyes opened wide and he exclaimed, "Forrest, that is not what I was thinking, but you do have a point, and I guess I did not specify, so I will give you credit for that answer. How about the next one?" asked St. Peter.
"How many seconds in a year? Now that one is harder," replied Forrest, but I thunk and thunk about that, and I guess the only answer can be twelve."
Astounded, St. Peter said, "Twelve? Twelve? Forrest, how in Heaven's name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?"
Forrest replied, "Shucks, there's got to be twelve: January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd... "
"Hold it," interrupts St. Peter. "I see where you are going with this, and I see your point, though that was not quite what I had in mind....but I will have to give you credit for that one, too. Let us go on with the third and final question.
Can you tell me God's first name"?
"Sure," Forrest replied, "it's Andy."
"Andy?" exclaimed an exasperated and frustrated St Peter. "Ok, I can understand how you came up with your answers to my first two questions, but just how in the world did you come up with the name Andy as the first name of God?"
"Shucks, that was the easiest one of all," Forrest replied. "I learnt it from the song,
"ANDY WALKS WITH ME, ANDY TALKS WITH ME, ANDY TELLS ME I AM HIS OWN."
St. Peter opened the Pearly Gates, and said: "Run Forrest, run."
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Suffering may never make sense. But God’s love is always there for us.AMEN to that.
Mark calls his post "Why Do the Innocent Suffer?" and in it he makes the excellent point
...ignore those who try to say that every bad thing that happens to you is your fault. It isn’t!In specificity, I agree with Mark completely here. God does not mess with our lives in some sort of quid pro quo failure/discipline cycle. Suffering does often appear to us as random and pointless, and we will never be able to make sense of it.
But that said, there are no true "innocents." In the general sense, suffering is a result on the fallen state of the world, and our individual fallen state. Generalisms like that are little or no comfort in times of suffering, but they are important in determining our response to suffering. There is a difference you know. Our emotions, our need for comfort is natural, but what we do with that feeling can be for our betterment and the betterment of the world, or we can choose to wallow in it.
What comfort was their for Christ, who petitioned His Father at emotional depths that I think few of us have ever experienced, to have his suffering removed. And yet, God did not remove His suffering, and Christ bore His suffering because it had redemptive purpose. That suffering too, was generally about the fallen state of the world.
Oh, we should indeed ask God to remove our suffering from us, but we should know that like Christ that request may or may not be granted. So now what. Do we hide from our suffering? Do we lash out at those that we perceive as having put us in the situation (remember Peter at the garden?)
I think not. Like Christ we must get busy about the redemptive work to which God has called us. Our redemptive work is not the hinge of history as was Christ's; our redemptive work may be as simple as helping a neighbor carry in the groceries -- it may be as difficult as muttering "Not my will, but Thine."
Suffering indeed cannot be understood, but that does not mean we do not have a choice in how to respond to it. We should seek diligently, as in all things to be Christlike in that response.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Jesus - The Focus
Before I get to my real point, I must comment that this observation by Moreland was new to me and utterly bumfuzzling:
Jesus’ use of spiritual disciplines is important to rebut a misinformed criticism of the practice of spiritual disciplines: The practice is Roman Catholic and should be avoided.Why would any thinking, reasonable Christian dismiss any doctrine or practice of faith simply because of its association with a particularly denomination? That is just beyond me. Even the devil speaks the truth if it suits his purpose, so would not a church that you disagree with contain some truth? That's not an argument, that's just bigotry.
But to my real point. Faith must be turned into practice - as James says:
Spiritual disciplines are one excellent way to accomplish that transition into practice.
James 2:26 - For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
That said, I have come to the point where I wince whenever I hear the term. Why? Because the idea of spiritual disciplines has moved from good idea to cliche'. That fact comes with consequences.
Spiritual disciplines have been morphed into so many things that we now claim spirutual "credit" for things like avoiding too much credit card debt. That is a very wise thing to do and wisdom is important in becoming who God would have us be, but don't you think we are stretching a point here just a bit?
But the worst thing about spiritual disciplines is that we become legalistic and idolatrous about them. We cannot measure our spiritual health by how many minutes we spend on the prayer treadmill, nor is accomplishment in that area the same as becoming more Christ-like. Need we forget the Pharisee and his public prayers?
The basic point is this - everything can be perverted. This is particularly true when something takes on "fad"-like proportions - we start to look at the thing instead of the use for which the thing was intended.
Keep your eyes upon Jesus. No matter what you are engaged in - keep your focus on Him. Only then can we mainain the proper perspective on our practice.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Enviro-Politics and Communications
On the one hand the local economy around the mine area needs the investment the mine would bring. The benefits would be enormous, jobs, new homes, cleaning up old Soviet era mining diasters.
On the other hand, rich westerners in the form of George Soros or Vanessa Redgrave need something to do with their lives, having already made their fortunes through some industry that certainly somehow exploited somebody.
Need is a funny thing - we all need something. That means there better be some sort of heriarchy of needs to decide which a society must choose between. As I look at these opposing forces, some needs seem basic to existence and some seem on a more psychological or spiritual level, let's call them meta-needs.
Which points out something extraordinary about people that live without religion - when ones meta-needs are not met through a supernatural understanding, what we call religion, they can only be satisfied by natural means, which generally means at the expense of someone else.
In America we live in a place where our basic needs are met almost without effort. Virtually everything we "need" is meta-need of some sort. We would be very smart to keep that in mind as we try to enforce agendas on others.
People still struggling with basic needs have very limited perspective - "What can I eat tonight?"
People who are operating out of meta-needs have a broader perspective, but it is still limited, because it is personal. They ask not "What is best?" - rather they ask "How can I approach this situation in a way that will give me rewarding feedback?" In other words they look for a wrong to right to satisfy their inner drive for justice and meaning, but they often fail to take the boradest possible perspective becasue once they perceive a wrong, their needs drive them forward rather than continue the investigation.
In this case, those opposed to the mining operation fail to see that absent the new mine, the Romanian government/people lack the resources to clean up the old mess and so it will stay polluted. They also fail to have a proper time perspective. Mining is distruptive to a local environment, while it is being constructed and carried out. However, in this modern era, it does not stay that way. Miners are required to restore land after the end of mining operations. I could take you right now to former mining sites where you simply would not know it save I am telling you. Yes, the land is differently-shaped than it was prior to mining, but it is healthy and productive.
Gaining real perspective on any issue requires moving out of one's needs altogether.
This battle being fought here is being fought through movies - documentaries. Yet these two films, both proporting to discuss the same situation tell radically different stories. The story is a compelling communication device for the human mind. Our minds strive to develop a narrative, or story, out of the set of facts we know about a situation - it is fundamental to how we think.
But when we develop narratives out of our needs, and a limited perspective, which means we do not have all the information, the narrative will be at least incomplete, if not false. We have a hard time with that because a narrative, by the nature of its structure, carries a weight of truth about it that settles in our minds and makes them not seek other facts.
This, by the way, is why movies differ from books, or reality. Movies, to appeal, require a pretty specific narrative structure. Movie writers must discard or alter facts to make the situation fit that structure. Well written books can use broader structures than films, but they can also be very limited depending on the author's intent. The more complicated the narrative structure of a book, the less it is likely to sell, but fortunately with books so inexpensive to produce compared to film, complicated books still get published. (From here springs the value of the Internet, BTW)
It is important when gaining information on a controversial situation, particularly through a visual medium like film or television, that we ask what facts we left out or altered to create the narrative. What perspective does the film maker carry? Whose needs are being met?
Monday, September 24, 2007
Oh Lord It's Hard to Be Humble...
As a leadership trait, humility is a heart attitude that reflects a keen understanding of your limitations as a leader to accomplish something on your own. It gives credit to forces other than your own brilliance or effort when a victory is won or an obstacle overcome.This will probably blow what little humility I have, simply by talking about it, but I can tell you that the thing I have lead that was most successful was the thing that I was least in control of. It was a very large enterprise involving 100's of volunteers. What made it work, I am convinced, is that I early on figured out that it was not my vision that matter, but as leader enabling the vision of everyone else. All I had to do was make sure everybody was pointed in essentially the same direction, and let them do "their thing."
So often we think leadership consists of finally being in charge and getting things our way. Nothing could be further from the truth. People that think that way are usually miserable failures as leaders. The pool of people that are willing to follow orders is a very small one and that limits what you can do. However, the pool of people that share a vision and are willing to work towards it is often pretty large, but they do need a little help in communicating with each other and getting organized.
Humility is a necessary trait in leadership, but I think it is more than simple humility - it is self-sacrifice. Leadership is about service, not control. Leadership is about enabling others to accomplish, not accomplishing yourself.
I have heard it said that a leader should not want the job. I think there is wisdom in that. It can be overstated, for a leader must be enthused about the job or it won't work. But any leader that works so hard to take control, is probably there for the wrong reasons.
If you find yourself begging to be in a leadership position, I suggest you ask yourself why. If the answers are about you, I suggest you give it a rest.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Sermons and Lessons
James Denney, Professor of New Testament language, literature and theology, United Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland; born Paisley, February 5, 1856; educated Highlanders’ Academy, Greenock; Glasgow University and Free Church College; D.D. Glasgow, Chicago Theological Seminary, Princeton University and Aberdeen; minister of Free Church, Broughty Ferry, 1886-97; author of “The Epistle to the Thessalonians,” ‘‘Second Epistle to the Corinthians” (“Expositor’s Bible”), “Studies in Theology,” “The Epistle to the Romans” (“Expositor’s Greek Testament”), “Gospel Questions and Answers,” “The Death of Christ,” “The Atonement and the Modern Mind,” “Jesus and the Gospel,” etc.
“Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man’s justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” - Romans 3:27-31.
At first sight this is a difficult and intractable passage. Our minds are hurried abruptly from one question to another, and we fail to see how the questions are connected, or what is their significance when we take them altogether. Readers who are more familiar with the verses which precede than with almost anything in the New Testament, relax their attention unintentionally when they come to the words, ‘‘that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” They feel that there they have got to the heart of the matter - the revelation of God in a manner which is at once the vindication of His own character and the hope of sinful men. Their minds rest, and can not but rest there, and they go over and over the wonderful verses in which Paul interprets for all time the mystery of the cross: Christ Jesus, whom God set forth in propitiatory power, through faith in His blood, with a view to demonstrating His righteousness, that he might be just himself, arid justify all who believe in Jesus. But Paul does not himself stop at that point. The sight of Christ on his cross thus interpreted, of Christ a propitiation in his blood, of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world, searched and quickened his whole being. We read in one of the gospels, of the men who put Jesus to death, that sitting down they watched him there. So we must conceive Paul ‘s attitude as he writes this passage. He writes with his eye on the Son of God crucified for our sins. His heart is being searched and sounded by the revelation of the cross, and as these swift far-reaching questions rise in quick succession to his lips, we see how he is being moved within. Each of them is prompted by the cross. It is the power of Christ’s passion, descending into the apostle’s heart and making itself intelligible there, which comes out in them. Each of them is itself a revelation. Each of them implicitly asserts a truth which belongs to the very essence of the Christian faith. All of them together may be said to exhibit the notes of true Christianity as understood by Paul. They may be various, but they are not incoherent; they are connected by their common relation to the cross; they find their unity and their impulse there.
As Paul contemplates Christ a propitiation in his blood, the first question prompted by the sight is, Where is boasting then? - And he answers in a word, Excluded. Standing by Mount Calvary, and realizing that there is no way to God but that way, we become conscious of an infinite obligation to Christ. The deepest, strongest, most omnipresent of all Christian feelings is the feeling of debt. The one thing a man can not do, who has taken home to his heart the significance of the cross, is to make claims as of right against God. He feels that he is debtor to Christ for what he can never repay. Christ has done for him what he could not do for himself, and what no effort could ever enable him to do; lie has made atonement for his sins; and as this truth, on which all his hope depends, sinks into his mind and masters it, his soul is flooded with a sense of obligation to Christ in which all other feelings are swallowed up. Boasting is excluded; it is peremptorily and finally excluded; the Christian’s whole life is a life of debt to God.
It may seem to some that a truth so obvious is hardly worth stating, either by an apostle or by a modern preacher. But to Paul it was a great revelation, and a stage comes in every serious religious life in which it has to be learned anew. There is, as Dr. Chalmers said, a “natural legality “in the heart of man which urges him to seek righteousness “as it were of works,” instead of submitting to the righteousness of God. Even a Christian lapses half unconsciously into this unchristian at¬titude; he tries to be good, so to speak, with¬out God; he tries to achieve some character or virtue out of his own resources, and clothes himself in that character or virtue to challenge God’s approbation. True, he can only do this when the cross has sunk below his horizon; but it does sometimes sink; and it needs the painful experience of failure to bring him back to it, and to teach him that he must owe the power of the new life to the atonement. What Paul felt with startling force as he looked at Christ crucified, has found expression in every variety of Christian creed. All churches confess with one heart, tho in different forms of speech, that in our spiritual life we begin by being, and must forever continue to be, God’s debtors. We can have no relation to him but that of owing him all we are and all we hope to become. Salvation is of the Lord; and the moment we are influenced by any other thought, it ceases to be operative in us. This is what the Lutheran Church means when following in the train of Paul, it teaches that we are justified by faith alone, without works of law. What does that mean, as a religious truth, but
this: that before we have done anything, before we can do anything, nay, in order that we may be able to do anything, the mercy of God is there for us sinners in Jesus Christ; there, before our faces, independent of any action of ours, an inconceivable unmerited mercy, which we can only welcome, and to which we must be indebted forever? This, too, is the Calvinistic doctrine of election. For what does that mean (as a doctrine based on experience) but this: that the initiative of salvation lies with God? that the Master can always say to the disciple, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you? - And that the disciple must always say to the Master, Not unto us Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory? The religious import of Calvinism is precisely that of the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith; it is justification by faith expressed in the form of a doctrine of the divine sovereignty. And the same may be said even of what seem to be intellectually poor and unworthy, even degrading and superstitious modes of expressing the truth. The sacramentarianism of the Roman Catholic or of the Anglican Church, which ascribes a peculiar sanctity to sacramental elements, and makes them in themselves vehicles of grace, would never command the influence it does unless it represented, as it were, to the very senses, the truth (for surely it is the truth) that the grace of God is independent of our deserts, antecedent to our exertions, and that our sole relation to God must be that of being His debtors for it. Lutherans, Calvinists, or Catholics, to call them so—Paul anticipated every particle of the truth enshrined in their characteristic and fundamental doctrines when lie expressed the first conviction generated in his heart by the cross in the swift question and answer, Where is boasting then? It is excluded. Humility, as Calvin puts it, is the first, second, and third thing in the Christian religion.
There can be no doubt that this necessity of coming under an infinite obligation to Christ is the great difficulty in the way of the acceptance of Christianity. It is still what it was when Paul preached - the offense or stumbling-block of the cross. It was not the cross itself which was or which is an offense: it was the cross interpreted as Paul interpreted it, the cross a propitiation for sin, the cross requiring men from the very beginning to humble themselves in a way they had never dreamed of, and to owe their very being as children of God, having access to the Father, to what had been done for them by another. Yet this is the test of Christianity. It is not the man who admires Christ, or who essays to imitate Him, or who exalts Him as the measure and standard of perfection, who is the Christian according to the New Testament; it is the man who is debtor to Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, and for every hope of holiness and impulse to it. Try yourself by that.
Humility is sometimes discredited in the Church because it is misunderstood. It is regarded as an artificial depreciation of one’s self in comparison with others. But that has no connection with humility as it is represented here. Humility is simply the recognition of the real relation between ourselves and God. To be humble is to be in one’s spirit and temper what we are in point of fact— God ‘s debtors; debtors forever, debtors all the time, to God’s redeeming love in Christ. This habit of mind has nothing to do, as is sometimes supposed, with low spirits. It is not characterized by want of hope or inspiration. On the contrary, the most unmistakable indication that the Church lives in the sense of its infinite obligations to Christ is the intensity and fervor of its praise. Boasting is excluded, says Paul; yet did any man ever boast as he? Why, he uses this very word boasting, or words of the same root, over fifty times in his epistles. There is no word he could less afford to dispense with. What he does exclude, or rather what the cross excludes, is that self-confidence in which a man would be independent of God; but when that goes, then room is made for boasting in the Lord. Put the atonement out of the Church‘s faith, and adoration dies on her lips. You may have complacent or sentimental hymns; you may have insincere or flattering hymns; you will have no doxologies like those of the New Testament. It is when the sense of what we owe to Christ strikes into our hearts as it struck into the hearts of the apostles that we can say with them, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,… to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” That is the beginning of Christianity, and the end of it. It is the exaltation of Christ in the inspiration of what we owe to him.
But as Paul contemplates the cross, another question arises swiftly in his mind. The cross is a revelation of God; it is the final and supreme revelation; for whom is it meant? The question may seem to us almost unreal, but it was a question of fateful importance then. God had had a people peculiarly His own; lie had been a God of Jews in a sense in which He had not been the God of other nations. Whatever difficulties we may have in adjusting it to our general conceptions of human history, the fact remains that God had been present in the history of Israel in a manner and to issues to which He had not been present in the history of other races, He had been the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets, the God of the pious souls who wrote the Psalms, as He had not been the God of the Gentile world. This had been in point of fact the method of His dealing with the human race, and whatever problems it may present to our apologetics, it is useless to quarrel with the way God has made and ruled I-his world. Salvation is of the Jews, let comparative religion say what it will. But God’s revelation of Himself to the Jews culminated in the cross, and as Paul looked at it, the truth rose upon his mind that the limitations of the earlier stages of the true religion had passed away. The deliverance from Egypt, the restoration from Babylon, the interpretation of history by Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah - these might have significance only for the Hebrew race; but Christ on his cross is propitiation for sin. Christ bearing sin, Christ dying in love and dying for righteousness’ sake: to whom is that intelligible? to whom does it appeal? To what, rather, let us ask, did it appeal in Paul himself? Was it to the Jew or to the Pharisee? No, it was to the man in Paul that Christ appealed from His cross. It was to the conscience stricken with sin, and doomed to impotence and despair. And as Paul realized this he realized at the same time the great truth which is peculiarly associated with his name - that the gospel is not for a nation, but for all mankind. Is God, the God who reveals Himself at the cross, a God of Jews only? No! There is nothing in the world so universally intelligible as the cross. Make it visible, and there is not a man on earth who may not know what it means and respond to its power. “I, if I be lifted~ up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” The second characteristic, then, of the true religion, which will live in the heart of every man who knows what it is, is its universality. The cross appeals to me not in virtue of anything which distinguishes me from others, but in virtue of that in which I am one with every member of the human race. It was the sense of this which made Paul a missionary. I am debtor, he said, not to Christ only, but to Jew and Greek, to wise and unwise. The gospel is not ours; we have no interest in it, and no hope in it, that is not common to the whole family of man. To exclude any section of humanity from it, on any ground whatever, is to disinherit ourselves.
One is tempted to remark in passing that this throws an interesting light on the distinction that is popular in some circles, not to say fashionable, between Paulinism and Christianity. Paul is represented as a person of such abnormal individuality that his interpretation of Christianity must be heavily discounted, or, indeed, completely ignored. It is hardly worth while trying to understand him, let alone feeling under any obligation as far as possible to agree with him. Perhaps it is pleasant to have the consciousness of superiority to the protest of evangelists and of theologians, but it is surely a case in which to rejoice with trembling. May we not rather say that Paul became the first of missionaries, and established, as he does in this passage, the missionary character of the Christian religion just because he had eliminated from his gospel all that belonged to the Jew or the Pharisee, all that could be characterized as personality or idiosyncrasy, and saw confronting each other and calling to each other, as deep calls unto deep, the infinite love of God in the cross of Jesus, and the hopeless sin and misery of man. Those who contrast Christianity and Paulinism provoke one to say that they understand neither Christ nor Paul. Paulinism will go out of fashion only when sin and grace have ceased to need and to seek each other, and if it does, Christianity will perish with it.
Commonplace as it ought to be - an immediate inference from the fact that the cross appeals directly and exclusively to what is human in man - the truth which is involved in the question, Is He a God of Jews only? is one that is far from commanding practical acceptance in Christendom. It is traversed still, as it was in ancient times, by national pride. It is traversed by that national Pharisaism which disbelieves in the character or in the Christianity of other peoples, and re¬gards them as all, somehow, in the sight of heaven, less favored races. It is traversed even in the Church itself by the ecclesiastical exclusiveness which would confine the redeeming force of the cross of Christ to the boundaries of some particular organization. It is traversed by all who, on whatever ground, are opposed to the work of Christian missions. Such opponents are not to be found only outside of the Church; they are numerous and sometimes they are audible within. Now no one would assert that all missions have answered the hopes with which they were set on foot, and least of all, would any missionary assert that no mistakes have been made, that no wrong methods have been tried, or that nothing remains to be learned from ex¬perience. But that does not touch on the great question, whether God is the God of all, and whether the revelation of God made in Christ the propitiation for sin, is one which is meant for all, which all need, and which all are capable of receiving. When that question is raised, it can only be by those who have the whole significance of the cross yet to discover. The man who has seen what Paul saw, who has felt what Paul felt, dares not limit the range of that divine appeal. He dare not say, This speaks to me, and exerts its power over me; it has meaning and virtue for those who have been brought so far in the life of the soul without its help; but there are races to whom it does not speak, and to whom it will not speak for generations to come; they must be raised by some other discipline to the level at which in the long run they may see and comprehend and be subdued by the cross. Such a line of argument is not only confuted by all the experiences with which our missionary reports are crowded; it is confuted ab initio by the inspired insight of Paul. The discipline of law and of labor is no doubt indispensable in human life, as indispensable within the bounds of Christendom as beyond them. But it is not the discipline of law and of labor which qualifies us to appreciate the gospel; it is the discipline of sin, of failure, of despair. And the gospel comes not to put the finishing touches to a work which has been carried so far in independence of it; it comes to initiate the divine life in the soul. Law and labor can cooperate with it: they can do nothing of consequence without it, and they can not take its place. As long as the cross is visible, God speaks from it to the world in a language that all the world can understand; He proclaims a message from it that all the world needs to hear. Is He a God of Britons only? or of white men only? Who that has bowed down, as Paul did in his soul ‘s great need, and received the atonement, but must answer with him, No! not of Britons only, or of white men only, but of all; the God of Kaffirs and Hindus and Chinamen, exactly as He is our God; and there is that in every race, underneath the dark skin and the alien traditions, which leaps up as it does in us to the reconciling love of God. That is why we are debtors to all, and have no liberty and no inclination to listen to those who decry mission work. If there is any meaning in the cross, it means that there are no step-children in the family of God. The most superior person must sink or swim with all his kind.
There is another side to this which must not be overlooked. If there are those for whom the gospel as Paul preached it is supposed to be as yet too good, there are those, on the other hand, who are supposed to be too good for the gospel in this particular shape. They do not deny that in some large indefinite sense the world has been indebted to Christ and is indebted to Him still; the leaven has leavened the lump, and in the process they, too, have in a measure been changed; but it is unnecessary, many think, to go further. There is no need, certainly, to disparage this collective impersonal Christianity; we ought to thank God that there is so much of it as there is. But to any one standing where Paul stood, feeling in his own spirit what Paul felt, bow inconsiderable a thing it is. Christianity means nothing whatever unless it means the sense of obligation to Christ; but what does this sense of obligation itself mean, when we keep it out of relation to the personal Savior, and to the divine supernatural deeds on which the hope of the world depends? When we think of the Son of God bearing the sin of the world, can we believe that it will ever be. less than the first interest of every man that breathes to know Him, to come under the infinite obligation to Him which constitutes Christianity, to call Him for what He has done Redeemer and Lord? No inheritance of science or philosophy, no advance of art or civilization can ever make the atonement less than essential. There is something in the cross of Christ which strikes deeper into the heart of man than all these elevating and refining powers, and which works miracles in it that none of them can work; and therefore we are debtors to the wise and to the Greek, to that modern intelligence which is often said to be alienated from the gospel, as much as to the barbarians and the uncultured. I believe it is from the cross, as a center, interpreted as Paul interpreted it - from the place at which a supernatural person achieved a supernatural work - that the modern mind, so far as it has been estranged from the New Testament mode of thinking, will be won for that mode of thinking again. The Christian view of all things will be recovered when the soul comes into the Christian relation to Christ bearing the sin of the world. A missionary society naturally thinks of those who have never heard Christ’s name; but it is not they only who need the reconciliation; it is not they only to whom God appeals in His Son; it is not they only for whom Christ died; and if we would do justice to the revelation of the cross, we must make it our calling to carry it not only to what are visibly the dark places of the earth, but to those also that boast of their enlightenment. Is God the God of barbarous races only? Is He not also the God of the races which have produced art and science and philosophy? Yes, He is their God, too; and as their need of reconciliation is the same, it appeals to them on the same terms.
We can not think of this common appeal of the reconciling love of God to all men without distinction without being disappointed with the smallness of the results achieved. The cross has not yet done much, we are tempted to say, to unite the human race. Even Christian nations are at war with each other. If they are not at war, they live in a chronic state of mutual envy, hatred and suspicion, which is morally if not materially as disastrous as war itself. Within a Christian nation there is strife and estrangement of classes; in spite of the all-reconciling symbol which is over them, men are arrayed in opposing camps, which represent hostile interests, and neither love nor trust each other. Nay, the Church itself is rent in pieces by questions of order and organization, and men unchurch each other over matters like these. The only explanation of such things is that the cross meanwhile has sunk beneath the horizon. If it were visible, if men saw what it meant, this would be impossible. The common relation to the cross would subdue to itself every other relation in human life.
This brings us to Paul’s third and last question. Do we make void the law through faith? The question may seem unprovoked, but it was a very real one then, and it resumes its reality as soon as the gospel exerts its power on a great scale. The gospel is a proclamation of the free forgiveness of sins, and the forgiveness of sins is capable both of being misinterpreted and abused. It was misinterpreted and abused in the apostolic age. It was regarded by some people as giving a license to sin with impunity. The enemies of Paul, who affected zeal for righteousness, slanderously insinuated that such was his teaching. He made void the law through faith, they said. In modern language, he abolished morality with his religion. The forgiveness of sins, freely bestowed upon faith, acted as a solvent on morality; the atonement was an opiate to the conscience; the man who accepted it did not take life seriously any more. This problem of the relation of faith and law, religion and morality, pardon and the good life, often comes up anew; there are always people full of moral interest, and especially of interest in their own morality - their very own - to deprecate the Pauline emphasis on the cross. When the objection was actually made to Paul’s gospel that it was unfavorable to morality, that it meant, in plain English, let us do evil that good may come, the more sin the more grace, he denounced it indignantly as a slander. The people who say anything of the kind incur the just judgment of God. There are still people who ought to be answered so. Even here, where it is rather the inevitable consequences of the cross with which he is dealing, Paul repels rather than refutes the idea that faith makes void the law, or that the cross of Christ as he has interpreted it is hostile to morality. The very contrary, he maintains, is the case. “We establish the law.” It gets its due for the first time in the lives of Chris¬tian men reconciled to God by the blood of the cross. The righteousness of the law is ful¬filled in them, walking as they do, not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
There are many ways in which this can be brought out. It can be proved by looking at what the cross of Christ was, even historically. The cross establishes the law, indicates mo¬rality, because it triumphs over the one thing which more persistently and insinuatingly than anything else tends to undermine it. The one undying enemy of Christ, it has been said, is the great God Pan: in other words, it is the feeling which creeps upon us insensibly that all things are one, and one with a unity in which all differences disappear. Truth and falsehood, right and wrong, nature and spirit, necessity and freedom, the personal and the impersonal, that which we inherit and that which we earn for ourselves - all these are perpetually in process of interpenetration and of transformation into each other. The differences between them are evanescent and unreal, even the difference between right and wrong. And suddenly, in this world of moral haze and uncertainty, where all things are in flux and nothing sure, we come upon the cross, and One hanging on it who died for the difference, and made it as real as His agony and passion, as eternal as the being of God which He revealed. Of all who are in¬terested in morality, the Christian is pledged by the cross to an interest the most passionate and profound. There is a challenge in the very aspect of it. It calls aloud, Who is on the Lord’s side? For the Lord has a side. It binds every man who owes allegiance to it to resist, even unto blood, striving against sin.
The falsehood of the suggestion that the Christian religion abolishes morality - or that forgiveness favors sin - is seen more clearly still if we think how forgiveness has just been connected by Paul with Christ as a propitiation for sin. If God ‘s forgiveness meant indulgence if it had no content but this, that God simply took no notice of sin, no doubt the charge would often be true. But the only forgiveness of which the New Testament speaks is that which is bestowed at the cross; and is there anything there which speaks of indulgence? At the cross of Christ sin is judged as well as pardoned; and the sinner who takes into his heart the Christian forgiveness, the forgiveness preached at the cross, takes into his heart along with it God’s annihilating sentence on his sin. Christ bore our sins; that is how they are pardoned; and the virtue of His submission to their doom enters into the Christian along with pardon, so that he is dead to sin. It is because Christ’s death has this character, because it is a death in which He is bearing sin that sinners have a point of attachment in Christ, and can become one with Him. If Christ were the holy one of God and we could say no more of Him than that, who could approach Him? Who could dare, to use the language which is so common, to identify himself’ with Him? But He is the Holy One of God bearing our sin; that is what He is at the cross, and that is our point of contact with Him; it is as He dies in our place, bearing our burden, that He draws us to Himself and unites our life to His own; and the new life that we live in Him is not a life to which law is indifferent; it is a life into which the awful sanctity of the law has entered once for all through the death of Jesus. This is the experience and the gospel of the apostle; and we can understand the indignation with which he repels a charge which virtually meant that Christ had died in vain.
And once more, we can give an experimental proof that religion does not abolish morality; only the forgiven man, it may be boldly maintained, exhibits goodness in its true proportions. The law is only established; that is, it only gets justice done to it when it is written on the heart. But it can not be written on the heart till the heart is made tender, and the heart is not made really tender by anything but that humility which is born in it as it stoops to be forgiven for Christ’s sake. It is this which makes it sensitive to all its obligations both to God and man, and not till then does morality get justice in a man’s life. The man who is proud of his integrity, and who needs no repentance nor forgiveness, thinks he is fulfilling the law; it does not occur to him that the only fulfilling of the law is love, and that love in Christian proportions and Christian intensity is the response of the soul to what God has done for us in Christ at the cross. We love, with the only love which does justice to the law, with the only love which works righteousness and holiness of truth - we love because He first loved us. And according to the plainest teaching of the New Testament, we do not know what God’s love is until we learn it at the cross, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The saint never lived who did not rest his sanctity from beginning to end on the forgiveness of sins. The blood of Christ is no opiate to the conscience; it is a slander so to say, a blind and fatal guiltiness so to think; it is the quickening of the conscience, it is death to sin and life to God.
Such are the thoughts that rise in Paul’s mind as he contemplates Christ set forth in his blood, a propitiation for sin. Whatever else they are, they are great thoughts; they are thoughts of that order, the truth of which is seen not in the light we can cast upon them, but in the light which they cast upon everything else. The Christian Church is passing through a hard and perplexing time; not a time of persecution, but one of indifference and even of contempt, in which injustice is easy. There are many who tell us that it is permanently discredited, and that the difficulty felt in almost all the Christian communities of obtaining ministers and missionaries is an unmistakable indication of this. We have heard such things before; they have been often heard in the course of Christian history. The way to meet them and defeat them is not to minimize the gospel, not to reduce it to its lowest terms or to what we consider such, but to maintain it in the integrity of the apostolic testimony. It is by its greatness it must prevail, by the sense in it of a breadth and length and depth and height passing knowledge. Intelligence may be alienated by the trivial; but great ideas, great truths, great problems, great tasks, always fascinate and subdue it again. We are debtors both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish; let us preach to them all Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God; and if we do it with this apostolic comprehension, in the sense of what we owe to God, in the sense of the appeal which His love makes to all without distinction, in the sense, too, of a new obligation to a holy life, we can leave it to God to make it salvation to every one who believes.