Saturday, October 04, 2008
O.J. Simpson, who went from American sports idol to celebrity-in-exile after he was acquitted of murder in 1995, was found guilty Friday of robbing two sports-memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel room.The man, and his "legal team," have had a formative and significant role in the destruction of actual justice in Los Angeles. It is nice to know the rest of the nation can get it right, at least some of the time.
Simpson, 61, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Sentenced was set for Dec. 5.
It all gets very confusing and frankly even with a scorecard it can be hard to tell the players from each other, but Infinity Man is darned important in the whole thing somehow.
DC Database describes the history of Infinity Man this way:
Infinity-Man was a man named Astorr, a powerful warrior from another planet. Astorr came across Drax (Darkseid's brother) who was horribly burnt. After nursing Drax back to health, he died from old age. Before he died, Astorr was able to pass the role of Infinity-Man to Drax. It took Drax years of study before he was ready to assume the title of Infinity-Man. Drax (Infinity-Man) eventually came to serve Highfather on New Genesis, where he was acquainted with The Forever People and became a protector. Whenever Infinity-Man was needed, all the Forever People would touch the mother boxes and recite the word Taaru, thus tossing them into limbo until Infinity-Man returned the power to them.I will leave it to you the read to figure out the mystery that is Infinity Man and his role in the Death of the New Gods, the links are all here.
Darkseid saw Infinity-Man as a threat and figured out a way to place him in another dimension, where Infinity-Man made a planet called Adon his home. The Forever People were able to free him from this prison. Devilance the Pursuer had a personal vendetta against the Forever People and especially the Infinity-Man. Devilance tracked down Infinity-Man and the two battled, which resulted in the island they were fighting on exploding. The two appeared to die, but Infinity-Man returned due to the effort of the Forever People and Maya to defeat Darkseid.
To conclude, how could I resist the Kirby-drawn splash page of the New Gods below? There is debate as to whether the character in the upper right there in Infinity Man or not, but who cares - classic characters by classic Kirby. It is just nice to look at.
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Friday, October 03, 2008
I don’t want to get into the exegetical issues right now, but rather to make another observation. In my experience, those who oppose gay ordination would say about these passages, “If, after careful study, they can be shown to condemn all homosexual activity, then such activity is always sinful.” Those who favor gay ordination disagree. They tend to say, “If, after careful study, Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 can be shown to condemn all homosexual activity, then these passages are incorrect.” For example, while teaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary with an extension program in Southern California, I had a brilliant Christian student who was also a lesbian. She wrote an exegesis paper on Romans 1:18-32. She concluded that this passage cannot be used to support the cause of gay ordination because it condemns all homosexual behavior. Yet she did not believe that gay ordination was wrong because, in her view, Paul was wrong in his views.This is hardly news to anyone that has followed this debate. But I do think it is illustrative of a bigger issue that we are seeing throughout the church and throughout the world. That is a trend towards the rejection of authority, in all its forms, coupled with the justification of one's personal desires, regardless of communal consequence. It should be obvious that some authority is necessary for there to be community if for no other reason than there must be some conformity to even define a community, let alone live and act in one.
For more than thirty years, I have been involved in discussions of homosexuality and ordination. In the early years of this conversation, there was lots of debate about the meaning of biblical texts that deal with homosexual behavior. There seemed to be a common assumption among the debaters that biblical teaching, if rightly understood, should be binding on the church. But, in the last decade, as folks who oppose gay ordination have kept talking about specific biblical texts, those on the other side have mostly stopped this conversation. I haven’t heard one proponent of gay ordination say: “If it can be shown that the Bible truly regards all homosexual behavior as sinful, then I will change my mind and oppose it.” Rather, I have heard many say, in effect, “Whatever the Bible might teach about homosexuality, I am convinced that homosexuality is not always wrong. So, given this conviction, the biblical call to love and justice means that I will support gay ordination, no matter what the Bible might actually say about homosexuality.” Notice that this position is still based, to an extent, on Scripture and its authority. But the individual interpreter assumes the freedom to decide which portions of the Bible are inspired and which are not.
Freedom is something we cherish greatly, and it is biblically mandated. And yet, as is the way with all true evil, we have perverted the idea of freedom to the point where we use it to justify wrong. Please note, the evil is not the idea of freedom, but our perversion of the idea.
Evil, it seems, is not so much contrarian as it is perverse. We too often think of evil as the opposite of good when what it really is is a perversion of good. Some would conclude I here imply an argument in favor of authoritarianism, but that would be a perversion of the idea of authority, which is what I truly support - not the overbearing evils of authoritarianism.
Ministry to perversity is a very different thing than ministry to opposition. Ministry to perversion requires a great deal more subtlety than ministry to opposition. Denouncement and defeat are not the order of the day, but rather "course correction" is what is called for.
Which brings me to my final thought. In the subtlety of course correction lies the easy capability for perversion to take root. When we draw hard lines it is easy to stay behind them; it requires much more of us to avoid perversion when the lines are a bit blurrier, when we must alter instead of condemn.
And thus, in the end we find what the most difficult thing about ministry is. It is maintaining our own purity - avoiding our own perversions.
When was the last time you reviewed yourself with this eye?
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The father thought for a moment, then replied, "I Don't rightly know, son."
The boy returned to his contemplation, then turned back to his father, "How do fish breath underwater?"
Once again the father replied, "Don't rightly know, son."
A little later the boy asked his father, "Why is the sky blue?"
Again, the father replied. "Don't rightly know, son."
Worried he was going to annoy his father, he says, "Dad, do you mind my asking you all of these questions?"
"Of course not son. If you don't ask questions,... you'll never learn anything!"
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Thursday, October 02, 2008
The idea....that old, tangible, solid, non-digital vintage things might be making a comeback. Could this signal hope for the traditional church...hope for organs, pews, stained glass, and buildings that look like they've been around for a century or more? More or less.Interesting - ramifications Russ sees:
But remember the caveat in the quote above....vintage material coming back into mode is more than likely a "remix"...not a slavish imitation of the past but an appropriation of past images, styles, and concepts and presented in a way that honors the past, but is also cool in the present.
Interesting points....but I think they're woefully inadequate. My perception is that younger generations are yearning for authenticity and relationships. Therefore, my take is that the types of things that are on the way back in:I can say this - I see these things happening in my church and my neighborhood, after a fashion. Home-cooked meals - not really, but fellowship activities where food is provided, on the rise. There is indeed a longing for community, but it seems to be community without effort. Dinner parties, no - meeting at a restaurant, yes.
Neighborhoods (the kind where you spend time with your neighbors .... you linger in conversation in the front yard)
- Home Cooked Meals (anything that takes more than three steps to prepare)
- Home-made music/arts/crafts
- Community-building organizations (bowling leagues, supper clubs, civic organizations....but again, the organizations that will benefit will be the ones that learn how to remix their tradition rather than insisting on slavish continuity)
Though I think virtually any ordained pastor will disagree with me, community, not preaching, is the primary mission of the church. It is, I know, the only thing that can build a church into more than a revolving-door magical entertainment. Entering into the church community is the first time we make the step from hearing the message to living it. It is in community where we find accountability, and to which we make commitment.
There is a reason Jesus picked 12 not one.
Are you building community in your church?
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Celebration of A Saint
Blaise is the patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik (where he is known as Sveti Vlaho) and formerly the protector of the independent Republic of Ragusa. At Dubrovnik his feast is celebrated yearly on 3 February, when relics of the saint, his head, a bit of bone from his throat, his right hand and his left, are paraded in reliquaries. The festivities begin the previous day, Candlemas, when white doves are released. Chroniclers of Dubrovnik such as Rastic and Ranjina attribute his veneration there to a vision in 971 to warn the inhabitants of an impending attack by the Venetians, whose galleys had dropped anchor in Gruz and near Lokrum, ostensibly to resupply their water but furtively to spy out the city's defenses. St. Blaise (Blasius) revealed their pernicious plan to Stojko, a canon of St. Stephen's Cathedral. The Senate summoned Stojko, who told them in detail how St. Blaise had appeared before him as an old man with a long beard and a bishop's mitre and staff. In this form the effigy of Blaise remained on Dubrovnik's state seal and coinage until the Napoleonic era.He is also the patron saint of those with sore throats.
In Russia, St. Vlasij is the patron saint of herds.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2008
"We tell our members, don't buy dresses and shoes, take trips, all on credit," Jenkins said in an interview. "It's killing us."There is a style problem in the presentation, but in the end that is a matter of taste. This is where things get really weird:
In the Washington region, churches have recently partnered with the state and federal governments to host foreclosure prevention forums. Some have distributed brochures that suggest that people contact their bank to create a "workout" plan, find creative ways to save, and seek legal advice if they believe they have been a victim of predatory lending.As Christians I think we should honor the debts we incur. This means we should also enter into debt with a great deal of forethought and wisdom, but once we are there, we need to pay it back.
Point is, I think it is a great idea for the church to tackle the very practical issue in people's lives. But this same piece seems to take pot shots at the church:
On the one hand, Wolfe said, believers are told that the love of money is the root of all evil. Then there are those who preach a prosperity gospel, which promotes that God wants believers to have an abundant life with extraordinary financial blessings.Well, I can't argue with that much - the prosperity gospel is a pretty awful thing, but then there is this:
So far, some area churches say they remain fiscally strong despite the struggling economy. It's their members that leaders such as the Rev. Timothy R. Wood, pastor of the Calvary Gospel Church in Waldorf, worry about.Now, if that is not a potshot, I don't know what is. If anybody should be managing money well, it is the church.
Then finally, there is the fact that this article addresses only black churches. I have no idea what to make of that at all. The mortgage and debt crisis is not a race based issue.
I guess my point is - the MSM does not get church, in all its various forms, guises, and practices. They also seem incapable of writing a piece that is not somehow critical.
The other point I would make is this. Is the management of money, and specifically debt, a part of the ministry at your church? It probably ought to be.
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
So, What Have You Joined?
There’s a major difference between having a tribal mindset and a missionary mindset. The highest value of a tribally minded person is self-protection. They ask questions like: Since I feel the safest around those who are just like me, how can I protect myself from those who are different than I am? So they intentionally surround themselves with people who think the way they think, like the things they like, and despise the things they despise. As a result, they live with a sense of superiority, looking down on those who are not like them (for half my life I was convinced that surfers like me were far cooler than anyone on the face of this earth).Tullian is, of course, writing about mission and evangelism but I want to analyze this politically a bit.
In contrast to a tribal minded person, the highest value of a missionary minded person is not self-protection but self-sacrifice. A missionary minded person is a person that exists, not primarily for himself but for others. She is a person that is willing to set aside personal preferences in service to those whose preferences are different than hers. Missionaries are people who are willing to be inconvenienced, discomforted, and spent for the well-being of others. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we be missionary minded, because the gospel is the story of God sacrificing himself for others.
Identity politics is coming to rule our church politics and our national politics. In churches we see it in the continued fracturing and break-aways and even in the current fights over gay ordination and marriage. In national politics we have seen it in the politics of race of the last few decades, and we saw it in spades this election cycle in the furor surrounding Mitt Romney's Mormonism.
What I find most fascinating is that Tullian's argument is that as Christians we are called to NOT be tribal. In fact, it could be argued that such is one of the great messages of the New Testament. Christ exploded the tribalism of the Jews and brought salvation to the world.
So what are the implications of that when applied to our nation's politics? Is it OK to be tribal in the election of a president when it is not OK to be tribal in how we conduct the business of the church? Of course not!
Which leads me to one inescapable conclusion. The religiously based tribalism that has been witnessed during this election cycle is not simply un-American, it is un-Christian.
The arguments have been dressed up in all sorts of seemingly suitable clothes. "It's not religion, it's the 'changes of heart.'" And yet, every politician changes their mind from time-to-time, so why does it matter with this candidate? Well, becasue it plays to the fact that because most Christians think Mormon doctrine is false, they think Mormons are false. They begin with a presumption that error and lie are the same thing, and that is something that is tribal, not reasonable.
You know, in the end tribalism is about condemning people to hell when we should be inviting them to heaven. To me the question is a simple one. What would Mitt Romney have done as president of the United States that would have harmed the nation any more than any of the other candidates? Even holding errant doctrine? Didn't they ALL hold errant doctrine? (Consider the near blood curdling debates the blogosphere has seen between charismatics and cessationists and now we have a charismatic VP candidate. Based onthe level of rhetoric in those debates, Palin will be in hell very shortly)
And so, what was accomplished by the efforts to stop Romney? Well, based on my discussion with many Mormons, they now distinctly see a "NOT WELCOMED" sign posted on the door of pretty much every evangelical church in the nation.
Now how is the true gospel going to reach them under those circumstances? It really was unchristian, wasn't it?
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Monday, September 29, 2008
What Do You Value?
God seems to value character more than our comfort, often using the very elements that cause us the most discomfort as His tools in fashioning that character.And followed that up with a citation of Paul in his second letter to the Corintians:
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.Do WE truly value character enough to endure the pain? Do WE trust God enough to know that the pain is for the betterment of our character? Don't we usually approach God like we would an aspirin - "Take two and the pain will go away."
At this moment I cannot help but reflect on C.S. Lewis' choice in making the Christ figure of Narnia a lion - so beautiful and so terrifying. I wonder - does the church today present a God that is at all frightening? How many times have I been told when I asked a preacher why he did not preach about the God that ordered Saul to wipe out an entire nation, that it was "too scary," or "unpalatable," or the ubiquitous "They would not sit still for it."
And yet that is God - The same "God of love" of John's gospel and epistles - The same God "That so loved the world..." Which is sort of the point here. God so loved the world that He killed His son. In other words love, real love, is not comfortable, it is not cute, it is not fuzzy and warm. REAL love is measured not in the comfort it produces, but in its willingness to sacrifice.
How come I don't hear about love like that in church?
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Sunday, September 28, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
James B. Morley, English divine and philosopher, was born at Gainsborough, Lincoinshire, in 1813. He was educated at Oxford, and is particularly known for his discourses on Baptism and Predestination. Gladstone appointed him as pro¬fessor of divinity at Oxford. His Bampton Lectures on Miracles (1863) are still considered of classical authority. Dr. Brastow, in speaking of his clear and well-ordered thought, says: “He was intent upon getting at the heart of all subjects investigated, and his slowness in clearing up a subject and his deliberation and fastidiousness with respect to his diction embarrassed him. The result was a mastery of thought and an exactness and clearness and strength of speech that are more than an offset for the difficulties be encountered; and one can hardly fail to see that this patient, self-poised mental habit saved him from one-sidedness and kept the balance of his judgment and made him the safer guide. We see here the immense value of thorough mental training.” He died in 1878.
Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first - Matthew 19:30.
Perhaps there is hardly any person of reflection to whom the thought has not occurred at times, of the final judgment turning out to be a great subversion of human estimates of men. Society forms its opinions of men, and places some on a high pinnacle; they are favorites with it, religious and moral favorites. Such judgments are a necessary and proper part of the present state of things; they are so, quite independently of the question whether they are true or not; it is proper that there should be this sort of expression of the voice of the day; the world is not nothing, because it is transient; it must judge and speak upon such evidence as it has, and is capable of seeing. Therefore those characters of men are by all means to be respected by us, as members of this world; they have their place, they are a part of the system. But does the idea strike us of some enormous subversion of human judgments in the next world, some vast rectification, to realize which now, even if we could, would not be good for us? Such an idea would not be without support from some of those characteristic prophetic sayings of our Lord, which, like the slanting strokes of the sun ‘s rays across the cloud’s, throw forward a tract of mysterious light athwart the darkness of the future. Such is that saying in which a shadow of the Eternal Judgment seems to come over us - “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” It is impossible to read this saying without an understanding that it was intended to throw an element of wholesome skepticism into the present estimate of human character, and to check the idolatry of the human heart which lifts up its favorites with as much of self-complacency as of enthusiasm, and in its worship of others flatters itself.
Indeed, this language of Scripture, which speaks of the subversion of human judgments in another world, comes in connection with another language with which it most remarkably fits in, language which speaks very decidedly of a great deception of human judgments in this world. It is observable that the gospel prophecy of the earthly future of Christianity is hardly what we should have expected it beforehand to be; there is a great absence of brightness in it; the sky is overcast with clouds, and birds of evil omen fly to and fro; there is an agitation of the air, as if dark elements were at work in it; or it is as if a fog rose up before our eyes, and treacherous lights were moving to and fro in it, which we could not trust. Prophecy would fain presage auspiciously, but as soon as she casts her eye forward, her note saddens, and the chords issue in melancholy and sinister cadences which depress the hearer‘s mind. And what is the burden of her strain? It is this. As soon as ever Christianity is cast into the world to begin its history, that moment there begins a great deception. It is a pervading thought in gospel prophecy - the extraordinary capacity for deceiving and being deceived that would arise under the gospel; it js spoken of as something peculiar in the world. There are to be false Christs and false prophets, false signs and wonders; many that will come in Christ ‘s name, saying, I am Christ, and deceive many; so that it is the parting admonition of Christ to His disciples - ”Take heed, lest any man deceive you” - as if that would be the greater danger. And this great quantity of deception was to culminate in that one in whom all power of signs and lying wonders should reside, even that Antichrist, who as God should sit in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Thus before the true Christ was known to the world, the prophecy of the false one was implanted deep in the heart of Christianity.
When we come to the explanation of this mass of deception as it applies to the Christian society, and the conduct of Christians, we find that it consists of a great growth of specious and showy effects, which will in fact issue out of Christianity, not implying sterling goodness. Christianity will act as a great excitement to human nature, it will communicate a great impulse, it will move and stir man’s feelings and intellect; this impulse will issue in a great variety of high gifts and activities, much zeal and ardor. But this brilliant manifestation will be to a large extent lacking in the substance of the Christian character. It will be a great show. That is to say, there will be underneath it the deceitful human heart - the natura callida, as Thomas a Kempis calls it, qua se semper pro fine habet. We have even in the early Christian Church that specious display of gifts which put aside as secondary the more solid part of religion, and which St. Paul had so strongly to check. Gospel prophecy goes remarkably in this direction, as to what Christianity would do in the world; that it would not only bring out the truth of human nature, hut would, like some powerful alchemy, elicit and extract the falsehood of it; that it would not only develop what was sincere and sterling in man, but what was counterfeit in him too. Not that Christianity favors falsehood, any more than the law favored sin because it brought out sin. The law, as St. Paul says, brought out sin because it was spiritual, and forced sin to be sin against light. So in the case of Christianity. If a very high, pure, and heart-searching religion is brought into contact with a corrupt nature, the nature grasps at the greatness of the religion, but will not give up itself; yet to unite the two requires a self-deception the more subtle and potent in proportion to the purity of the religion. And certainly, comparing the hypocrisy of the Christian with that of the old world, we see that the one was a weak production in comparison with the other, which is indeed a very powerful creation; throwing itself into feeling and language with an astonishing freedom and elasticity, and possessing wonderful spring and largeness.
There is, however, one very remarkable utterance of our Lord Himself upon this subject, which deserves special attention. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you.” Now this is a very remarkable prophecy, for one reason, that in the very first start of Christianity, upon the very threshold of its entrance into the world, it looks through its success and universal reception, into an ulterior result of that victory - a counterfeit profession of it. It sees, before the first nakedness of its birth is over, a prosperous and flourishing religion, which it is worth while for others to pay homage to, because it reflects credit on its champions. Our Lord anticipates the time when active zeal for Himself will be no guaranty. And we may observe the difference between Christ and human founders. The latter are too glad of any zeal in their favor, to examine very strictly the tone and quality of it. They grasp at it at once; not so our Lord. He does not want it even for Himself, unless it is pure in the individual. But this statement of our Lord‘s is principally important, as being a prophecy relating to the earthly future of Christianity. It places before us public religious leaders, men of influence in the religious world, who spread and push forward by gifts of eloquence and powers of mind, the truths of His religion, whom yet He will not accept, because of a secret corruptness in the aim and spirit with which they did their work. The prophecy puts forth before us the fact of a great deal of work being done in the Church, and outwardly good zealous work, upon the same motive in substance, upon which worldly men do their work in the world, and stamps it as the activity of corrupt nature. The rejection of this class of religious workers is complete, although they have been, as the language itself declares, forward and active for spiritual objects, and not only had them on their lips.
Here then we have a remarkable subversion of human judgments in the next world foretold by our Lord Himself; for those men certainly come forward with established religious characters to which they appeal; they have no doubt of their position in God’s kingdom, and they speak with the air of men whose claims have been acquiesced in by others, and by numbers. And thus a false Christian growth is looked to in gospel prophecy, which will be able to meet even the religious tests of the current day, and sustain its pretensions, but which will not satisfy the tests of the last day.
We are then perhaps at first surprised at the sternness of their sentence, and are ready to say with the trembling disciple, “Who then shall be saved?” But when we reflect upon it, we shall see that it is not more than what meets the case; i. e., that we know of sources of error in the estimate of human character which will account for great mis¬takes being made; which mistakes will have to be rectified.
One source of mistakes then is, that while the gospel keeps to one point of its classification of men, - viz., the motive, by which alone it decides their character, the mass of men in fact find it difficult to do so. They have not that firm hold of the moral idea which prevents them from wandering from it, and being diverted by irrelevant considerations, they think of the spirituality of a man as belonging to the department to which he is attached, the profession he makes, the subject matter he works upon, the habitual language he has to use. The sphere of these men, of whom the estimate was to be finally reversed, was a religious one, - viz., the Church, and this was a remarkable prop to them. Now, with respect to this, it must be observed that the Church is undoubtedly in its design a spiritual society, but it is also a society of this world as well; and it depends upon the inward motive of a man whether it is to him a spiritual society or a worldly one. The Church, as soon as ever it is embodied in a visible collection or society of men, who bring into it human nature, with human influences, regards, points of view, estimates, aims, and objects - I say the Church, from the moment it thus embodies itself in a human society, is the world. Individual souls in it convert into reality the high profest principles of the body, but the active stock of motives in it are the motives of human nature. Can the visible Church indeed afford to do without these motives? Of course it cannot. It must do its work by means of these to a great extent, just as the world does its work. Religion itself is beautiful and heavenly, but the machinery for it is very like the machinery for anything else. I speak of the apparatus for conducting and administering the visible system of it. Is not the machinery for all causes and objects much the same, communication with others, management, contrivance, combination, adap¬tation of means to end? Religion then is itself a painful struggle, but religious machinery provides as pleasant a form of activity as any other machinery possesses; and it counts for and exercises much the same kind of talents and gifts that the machinery of any other department does, that of a government office, or a public institution, or a large business. The Church, as a part of the work, must have active-minded persons to conduct its policy and affairs; which persons must, by their very situation, connect themselves with spiritual subjects, as being the subjects of the society; they must express spiritual joys, hopes, and fears, apprehensions, troubles, trials, aims, and wishes. These are topics which belong to the Church as a department. A religious society, then, or religious sphere of action, or religious sphere of subjects, is irrelevant as regards the spirituality of the indi¬vidual person, which is a matter of inward motive.
One would not of course exclude from the sphere of religion the motive of esprit de corps: it is undoubtedly a great stimulus, and in its measure is consistent with all simplicity and singleness of heart; but in an intense form, when the individual is absorbed in a blind obedience to a body, it corrupts the quality of religion; it ensnares the man in a kind of self-interest; and he sees in the success of the body the reflection of himself. It becomes an egotistic motive. There has been certainly an immense produce from it; but the type of religion it has produced is a deflection from simplicity; it may possess striking and powerful qualities, but it is not like the free religion of the heart; and there is that difference between the two, which there is between what comes from a second-hand source and from the fountain head. It has not that naturalness (in the highest sense) which alone gives beauty to religion.
Again, those who feel that they have a mission may convert it into a snare to themselves. Doubtless, if, according to St. Paul, “he who desireth the office of a bishop desireth a good work,” so one who has a mission to do some particular work has a good office given him. Still, where life is too prominently regarded in this light, the view of life as a mission tends to supersede the view of it as trial and probation. The mission becomes the final cause of life. The generality may be born to do their duty in that station of life in which it has pleased God to call them; but in their own case the mission overtops and puts into the shade the general purpose of life as probation; the generality are sent into the world for their own moral benefit, but they are rather sent into the world for the benefit of that world itself. The outward object with its display and machinery is apt to reduce to a kind of insignificance the inward individual end of life. It appears small and commonplace. The success of their own individual probation is assumed in embarking upon the larger work, as the less is included in the greater; it figures as a preliminary in their eyes, which may be taken for granted; it appears an easy thing to them to save their own souls, a thing, so to speak, for anybody to do.
What has been dwelt upon hitherto as a source of false magnifying and exaltation of human character, has been the invisibility of men ‘s motives. But let us take another source of mistake in human judgment.
Nothing is easier, when we take gifts of the intellect and imagination in the abstract, than to see that these do not constitute moral goodness. This is indeed a mere truism; and yet, in the concrete, it is impossible not to see how nearly they border upon counting as such; to what advantage they set off any moral good there may be in a man; sometimes even supplying the absence of real good with what looks extremely like it. On paper these mental gifts are a mere string of terms; we see exactly what these terms denote, and we cannot mistake it for something else. It is plain that eloquence, imagination, poetical talent, are no more moral goodness than riches are, or than health and strength are, or than noble birth is. We know that bad men have pos¬sest them just as much as good men. Nevertheless, take them in actual life, in the actual effect and impression they make, as they express a man‘s best moods and highest perceptions and feelings, and what a wonderful likeness and image of what is moral do they produce. Think of the effect of refined power of expression, of a keen and vivid imagination as applied to the illustration and enrichment of moral subjects, - to bringing out, e. g., with the whole force of intellectual sympathy, the delicate and high regions of character, - does not one who can do this seem to have all the goodness which he expresses? And it is quite possible he may have; but this does not prove it. There is nothing more in this than the faculty of imagination and intelligent appreciation of moral things. There enters thus unavoidably often into a great religious reputation a good deal which is not religion, but power.
Let us take the character which St. Paul draws. It is difficult to believe that one who had the tongue of men and of angels would not be able to persuade the world that he himself was extraordinarily good. Rather it is part of the fascination of the gift, that the grace of it is reflected in the possessor. But St. Paul gives him, besides thrilling speech which masters men‘s spirits and carries them away, those profound depths of imagination which still and solemnize them; which lead them to the edge of the unseen world, and excite the sense of the awful and supernatural; he has the understanding of all mysteries. And again, knowledge unfolds all its stores to him with which to illustrate and enrich spiritual truths. Let one then, so wonderful in mental gifts, combine them with the utmost fervor, with boundless faith, before which everything gives way; boundless zeal, ready to make even splendid sacrifices; has there been any age in which such a man would have been set down as sounding and empty? St. Paul could see that such a man might yet be without the true substance - goodness; and that all his gifts could not guarantee it to him; but to the mass his own eloquence would interpret him, the gifts would carry the day, and the brilliant partial virtues would disguise the absence of the general grace of love.
Gifts of intellect and imagination, poetical power, and the like, are indeed in themselves a department of worldly prosperity. It is a very narrow view of prosperity that it consists only in having property; a certain kind of gifts are just as much worldly prosperity as riches; nor are they less so if they belong to a religious man, any more than riches are less prosperity because a religious man is rich. We call these gifts worldly prosperity, because they are in themselves a great advantage, and create success, influence, credit, and all which man so much values; and at the same time they are not moral goodness, because the most corrupt men may have them.
But even the gifts of outward fortune themselves have much of the effect of gifts of mind in having the semblance of something moral. They set off what goodness a man has to such immense advantage, and heighten the effect of it. Take some well-disposed person, and sup¬pose him suddenly to be left an enormous fortune, he would feel himself immediately so much better a man. He would seem to himself to become suddenly endowed with a new large-heartedness and benevolence. He would picture himself the generous patron, the large dispenser of charity, the promoter of all good in the world. The power to become such would look like a new disposition. And in the eyes of the others, too, his goodness would appear to have taken a fresh start. Even serious piety is recognized more as such; it is brought out and placed in high relief, when connected with outward advantages; and so the gifts of fortune become a kind of moral addition to a man.
Action, then, on a large scale, and the overpowering effect of great gifts, are what produce, in a great degree, what we call the canonization of men - the popular judgment which sets them up morally and spiritually upon the pinnacle of the temple, and which professes to be a forestalment, through the mouth of the Church or of religious society, of the final judgment. How decisive is the world’s, and, not less confident, the visible Church’s note of praise. It is just that trumpet note which does not bear a doubt. How it is trusted! With what certainty it speaks! How large a part of the world’s and Church’s voice is praise! It is an immense and ceaseless volume of utterance. And by all means let man praise man, and not do it grudgingly either; let there be an echo of that vast action which goes on in the world, provided we only speak of what we know. But if we begin to speak of what we do not know, and which only a higher judgment can decide, we are going beyond our province. On this question we are like men who are deciding irreversibly on some matter in which everything depends upon one element in the case, which element they cannot get at. We appear to know a great deal of one another, and yet, if we reflect, what a vast system of secrecy the moral world is. How low down in a man sometimes (not always) lies the fundamental motive which sways his life? But this is what everything depends on. Is it an unspiritual motive? Is there some keen passion connected with this world at the bottom? Then it corrupts the whole body of action. There is a good deal of prominent religion then, which keeps up its character, even when this motive betrays itself; great gifts fortify it, and people do not see because they will not. But at any rate there is a vast quantity of religious position which has this one great point undecided beneath it; and we know of tremendous dangers to which it is exposed. Action upon a theater may doubtless be as simple-minded action as any other; it has often been; it has been often even childlike action; the apostles acted on a theater; they were a spectacle to men and to angels. Still, what dangers in a spiritual point of view does it ordinarily include - dangers to simplicity, inward probity, sincerity! How does action on this scale and of this kind seem, notwithstanding its religious object, to pass over people, not touching one of their faults, leaving - more than their infirmities - the dark veins of evil in their character as fixed as ever. How will persons sacrifice themselves to their objects? They would benefit the world, it would appear, at their own moral expense; but this is a kind of generosity which is perilous policy for the soul, and is indeed the very mint in which the great mass of false spiritual coinage is made.
On the other hand, while the open theater of spiritual power and energy is so accessible to corrupt motives, which, though undermining its truthfulness, leave standing all the brilliance of the outer manifestation; let it be considered what a strength and power of goodness may be accumulating in unseen quarters. The way in which man bears temptation is what decides his character; yet how secret is the system of temptation? Who knows what is going on? What the real ordeal has been? What its issue was? So with respect to the trial of griefs and sorrows, the world is again a system of secrecy. There is something particularly penetrating, and which strikes home, in those disappointments which are especially not extraordinary, and make no show. What comes naturally and as a part of our situation has a probing force grander strokes have not; there is a solemnity and stateliness in these, but the blow which is nearest to common life gets the stronger hold. Is there any particular event which seems to have, if we may say so, a kind of malice in it which provokes the Manichean feeling in our nature, it is something which we should have a difficulty in making appear to any one else any special trial. Compared with this inner grasp of some stroke of providence, voluntary sacrifice stands outside of us. After all, the self-made trial is a poor disciplinarian weapon; there is a subtle masterly irritant and provoking point in the genuine natural trial, and in the natural crossness of events, which the artificial thing cannot manage; we can no more make our trials than we can make our feelings. In this way moderate deprivations are in some cases more difficult to bear than extreme ones. “I can bear total obscurity,” says Pascal, “well enough; what disgusts me is semi-obscurity; I can make an idol of the whole, but no great merit of the half.” And so it is often the case that what we must do as simply right, and which would not strike even ourselves, and still less anybody else, is just the hardest thing to do. A work of supererogation would be much easier. All this points in the direction of great work going on under common outsides where it is not noticed; it hints at a secret sphere of growth and progress; and as such it is an augury and presage of a harvest which may come some day suddenly to light, which human judgments had not counted on.
It is upon such a train of thought as this which has been passing through our minds that we raise ourselves to the reception of that solemn sentence which Scripture has inscribed on the curtain which hangs down before the judgment-seat – “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” The secrets of the tribunal are guarded, and yet a finger points which seems to say - ” Beyond, in this direction, behind this veil, things are different from what you will have looked for.”
Suppose, e. g., any supernatural judge should appear in the world now, and it is evident that the scene he would create would be one to startle us; we should not soon be used to it; it would look strange; it would shock and appall; and that from no other cause than simply its reductions; that it presented characters stripped bare, denuded of what was irrelevant to goodness, and only with their moral substance left. The judge would take no cognizance of a rich imagination, power of language, poetical gifts and the like, in themselves, as parts of goodness, any more than he would of riches and prosperity; and the moral residuum would appear perhaps a bare result. The first look of divine justice would strike us as injustice; it would be too pure a justice for us; we should be long in reconciling ourselves to it. Justice would appear, like the painter’s gaunt skeleton of emblematic meaning, to be stalking through the world, smiting with attenuation luxuriating forms of virtue. Forms, changed from what we knew, would meet us, strange un¬accustomed forms, and we should have to ask them who they are – “You were flourishing but a short while ago, what has happened to you now?” And the answer, if it spoke the truth, would be - ”Nothing, except that now, much which lately counted as goodness, counts as such no longer; we are tried by a new moral measure, out of which we issue different men; gifts which have figured as goodness remain as gifts, but cease to be goodness.” Thus would the large sweep made of human canoni¬zations act like blight or volcanic fire upon some rich landscape, converting the luxury of nature into a dried-up scene of bare stems and scorched vegetation.
So may the scrutiny of the last day, by dis¬covering the irrelevant material in men‘s goodness, reduce to a shadow much exalted earthly character. Men are made up of professions, gifts, and talents, and also of themselves, but all so mixed together that we cannot separate one element from another; but another day must show what the moral substance is, and what is only the brightness and setting off of gifts. On the other hand, the same day may show where, tho the setting off of gifts is less, the substance is more. If there will be reversal of human judgment for evil, there will be reversal of it for good too. The solid work which has gone on in secret, under common exteriors, will then spring into light, and come out in a glorious aspect. Do we not meet with surprises of this kind here, which look like auguries of a greater surprise in the next world, a surprise on a vast scale. Those who have lived under an exterior of rule, when they come to a trying moment sometimes disappoint us; they arc not equal to the act required from them; because their forms of duty, whatever they are, have not touched in reality their deeper fault of char¬acter, meanness, or jealousy, or the like, but have left them where they were; they have gone on thinking themselves good because they did particular things, and used certain language, and adopted certain ways of thought, and have been utterly unconscious all the time of a corroding sin within them. On the other hand, some one who did not promise much, comes out at a moment of trial strikingly and favorably. This is a surprise, then, which sometimes happens, nay, and sometimes a greater surprise still, when out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of a state of sin there springs the soul of virtue. The act of the thief on the cross is a surprise. Up to the time when he was judged he was a thief, and from a thief he became a saint. For even in the dark labyrinth’ of evil there are unexpected outlets; sin is established by the habit in the man, but the good principle which is in him also, but kept down and supprest, may be secretly growing too; it may be undermining it, and extracting the life and force from it. In this man, then, sin becomes more and more, though holding its place by custom, an outside and a coating, just as virtue does in the deteriorating man, till at last, by a sudden effort and the inspiration of an opportunity, the strong good casts off the weak crust of evil and comes out free. We witness a conversion.
But this is a large and mysterious subject - the foundation for high virtue to become apparent in a future world, which hardly rises up above the ground here. We cannot think of the enormous trial which is undergone in this world by vast masses without the thought also of some sublime fruit to come of it some day. True, it may not emerge from the struggle of bare endurance here, but has not the seed been sown? Think of the burden of toil and sorrow borne by the crowds of poor: we know that pain does not of itself make people good; but what we observe is, that even in those in whom the trial seems to do something, it yet seems such a failure. What inconstancy, violence, untruths! The pathos in it all moves you. What a tempest of character it is! And yet when such trial has been passed we involuntarily say - has not a foundation been laid? And so in the life of a soldier, what agonies must nature pass through in it! While the present result of such a trial is so disappointing, so little seems to come of it! Yet we cannot think of what has been gone through by countless multitudes in war, of the dreadful altar of sacrifice, and the lingering victims, without the involuntary idea arising that in some, even of the irregular and undisciplined, the foundation of some great purification has been laid. We hear sometimes of single remarkable acts of virtue, which spring from minds in which there is not the habit of virtue. Such acts point to a foundation, a root of virtue in man, deeper than habit; they are sudden leaps which show an unseen spring, which are able to compress in a moment the growth of years.
To conclude. The gospel language throws doubt upon the final stability of much that passes current here with respect to character, upon established judgments, and the elevations of the outward sanctuary. It lays down a wholesome skepticism. We do not do justice to the spirit of the gospel by making it enthusiastic simply, or even benevolent simply. It is sagacious, too. It is a book of judgment. Man is judged in it. Our Lord is Judge. We cannot separate our Lord‘s divinity from His humanity; and yet we must be blind if we do not see a great judicial side of our Lord ‘s human character; - that severe type of understanding, in relation to the worldly man, which has had its imperfect representation in great human minds. He was unspeakably benevolent, kind, compassionate; true, but He was a Judge. It was indeed of His very completeness as man that He should know man; and to know is to judge. He must be blind who, in the significant acts and sayings of our Lord as they unroll themselves in the pregnant page of the gospel, does not thus read His character; he sees it in that insight into pretensions, exposure of motives, laying bare of disguises; in the sayings – “Believe it not”; Take heed that no man deceive you”; “Behold, I have told you”; in all that profoundness of reflection in regard to man, which great observing minds among mankind have shown, though accompanied by much of frailty, anger, impatience, or melancholy. His human character is not benevolence only; there is in it wise distrust - that moral sagacity which belongs to the perfection of man.
Now then, as has been said, this skepticism with regard to human character has had, as a line of thought, certain well-known representatives in great minds, who have discovered a root of selfishness in men‘s actions, have probed motives, extracted aims, and placed man before himself denuded and exposed; they judged him, and in the frigid sententiousness or the wild force of their utterances, we hear that of which we cannot but say, how true! But knowledge is a goad to those who have it; a disturbing power; a keenness which distorts; and in the sight it gives it partly blinds also. The fault of these minds was that in exposing evil they did not really believe in goodness; goodness was to them but an airy ideal, the dispirited echo of perplexed hearts, - returned to them from the rocks of the desert, without bearing hope with it. They had no genuine belief in any world which was different from theirs; they availed themselves of an ideal indeed to judge this world, and they could not have judged it without; for anything, whatever it is, is good, if we have no idea of anything better; and therefore the conception of a good world was necessary to judge the bad one. But the ideal held loose to their minds - not anything to be substantiated, not as a type in which a real world was to be cast, not as anything of structural power, able to gather into it, form round it, and build up upon itself; not, in short, as anything of power at all, able to make anything, or do anything, but only like some fragrant scent in the air, which comes and goes, loses itself, returns again in faint breaths, and rises and falls in imperceptive waves. Such was goodness to these minds; it was a dream. But the gospel distrust is not disbelief in goodness. It raises a great suspense, indeed, it shows a curtain not yet drawn up, it checks weak enthusiasm, it appends a warning note to the pomp and flattery of human judgments, to the erection of idols; and points to a day of great reversal; a day of the Lord of Hosts; the day of pulling down and plucking up, of planting and building. But, together with the law of sin, the root of evil in the world, and the false goodness in it, it announces a fount of true natures; it tells us of a breath of Heaven of which we know not whence it cometh and whither it goeth; which inspires single individual hearts, that spring up here and there, and everywhere, like broken gleams of the supreme goodness. And it recognizes in the renewed heart of man an instinct which can discern true goodness and distinguish it from false; a secret discrimination in the good by which they know the good. It does not therefore stand in the way of that natural and quiet reliance which we are designed by God to have in one another, and that trust in those whose hearts we know. “Wisdom is justified of her children”; “My sheep hear my voice, but a stranger voice they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers.”
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