Saturday, February 14, 2009
Happy Valentine's Day
The eternal, if to my taste often boring, struggle of brain v. brawn has long dominated the superhero comic idiom. The Hulk has the Leader and Superman has Brainiac, which is who we are looking at today. To say that the name "Brainiac" is iconic would be an understatement. I have no idea if the idiomatic reference to being really smart came first and the character followed, or vice-versa, but the word has permeated our common language in an extraordinary way.
But is he a good villain?
Brainiac is a moderately good villain. Frankly, there have been more "Brainiac's" than Carter s has pills. I mean this character has been reinvented so many times in so many ways. Bad guy, good guy (well his long distant same-named progeny anyway) in the Legion of Super Heroes, robot, humanoid, and even planet - you need the web just to keep track of who is, and who is not Brainiac.
With so many versions, his motivations are, to say the least, mixed. For the most part, in the end, he is just a tool - someone capable of creating a crisis large enough that it requires Supes, et. al. to stop the universe from ending.
At the bottom here we have the cover of his first ever appearance - also reflected in the head shot in the corner. Regardless of the changes the character has gone through - to my old fart mind, this is an iconic image. Admittedly the pink tights on green skin is less than intimidating, but the lights on his head - well, let's just say you have to be really smart to have lights on your head.
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Friday, February 13, 2009
When Is The Church Still The Church?
Oh, by the way, “sick” as in “Why stay in a sick church?” is Rev. Levenson’s word. I would feel hesitant to use this of another church or denomination, though I find it an apt description of my own denomination. We who are sick need healing. We need the Healer.A necessary apology with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Now, to the meat of the matter. As I read through interview, I had to agree completely with the sentiments expressed, with this one contrary thought - Does not the church at some point cease to be the church? And if so, do I not at that point need to, as Christ instructed the disciples (Mark 6:7-12), to "shake the dust from the soles of my feet?"
God's amazing redemptive story of history has an end point. He is working with power and authority far beyond our understanding to bring us ALL into His bosom. However, there will be an end to those efforts and some of us will die. At that point, even resurrection will be no longer available.
I agree with pastor Russell Levenson Jr., as long as the possibility of redemption exists, one must stay with the church and work for that redemption. But at what point does the possibility die?
I have, to date, felt that point was when the authority of scripture was rejected. In the current debates over the role of homosexuality in the clergy and marriage, I have thought such a point imminent. Scripture is simply too clear about the sinful nature of homosexual behavior. The picture is more clear in the Episcopal Church than in my own. In the Episcopal Church, the ordination of Gene Robinson is a clear denial of this scriptural authority made by the church as a matter of policy.
In my own church the matter is less clear-cut, our decision has been to allow people to "follow their conscience." Thus the standard has not been formally abandoned, but room has been made for those that wish not to adhere to it.
Can I then decide that the Episcopal church is irredeemably dead, but the PC(USA) may yet live? It is a heck of a call. Not being in the Episcopal church it is probably not my place to decide anything about them, but I need to examine them to know what to do about my own.
And then there is the more basic question - Are we supposed to decide who is dead at all? After all, the final judgment is some distance off. Are we not to assume redeemability until God plainly tells us otherwise. And if so, can we justify our own protestant existence?
I have no answers at this writing.
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I rear-ended a car this morning.Cute, but not really a belly laugh, so I go over to YouTube and search "dwarf" for supplemental or better material and up came a million hits for the BBC show "Red Dwarf." And then this post turns into a recommendation. Red Dwarf, for lack of a better way to describe it, is a sci-fi sitcom. It started out as a pretty formulaic "Odd Couple" set in a space ship, but over the years it took on more of the forms of genuine sci-fi while retaining its humor. In fact it notched up the humor as it went along. It is one the most creative and funniest shows ever produced, and has barely ever made a dent in the US markets. (PBS ran some episodes for a while, but they never seemed to catch on.)
So there we are alongside the road and slowly the driver gets out of the car . . . and you know how you just-get-sooo-stressed and life-stuff seems to get funny?
Yeah, well, I could NOT believe it . . . he was a DWARF!
He storms over to my car, looks up at me and says, 'I AM NOT HAPPY!'
So, I look down at him and say, 'Well, which one ARE you then?'
. . . and that's when the fight started . .
Anyway, YouTube has full episodes serialized (I doubt that such is legal, but...) and it is all available on DVD. My wife and I have watched through all the seasons courtesy Netflix. I highly recommend it. As a part of the recommendation, I link you a few outtakes (embedding disabled), which are funny even if you don't know the characters. But when you get there, check out some episodes and then get the DVD's - you will not regret it.
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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Outside The Profession
What does it look like to be “Simply Christian” outside the professional church from 9 to 5?It floored me because of the qualification about being Christian "outside" the professional church. It strikes me that if we need to put such a qualifier in a question about what it means to be Christian then something has gone horribly, terribly wrong with how we do church. Part of Wright's response really tells the tale:
We don’t expect to think. We don’t expect to make decisions. That’s what the Vicar is for.We expect the clergy to tell us what to do, and we don’t want to think for ourselves. I want to say, “No, you’ve all got to be individuals and do your own thing.” Actually, I think that’s part of the Gospel.What Wright is basically asserting here is that the church infantilizes believers and that most believers seem to like it. It makes sense if you think about it - parenting has gone largely the same way.
I remember the Cosby Show of the '80's. The running joke was that Cosby and his wife somehow could never get the kids out of the house. Well, such has come to pass, only now no one thinks its funny. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that parenting is about making ADULTS. People that leave the house and start their own lives and families. Well the church never quite seems to have gotten that message.
We hold tight, keep our congregants as dependents. What is worse yet is that when someone does have the gumption to break away, it is usually out of gumption and not maturity - thus the new family they make is highly dysfunctional. Of course, the high gate-keeping standards for ministry of the mainlines is designed to prevent this, but since we are not raising adults to begin with.... It is not a pretty picture.
It is high time we started raising adult Christians in the church.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Why We Engage
Evangelicalism can, in its ultimate forms, be much like a cancer. Its devotion to reproducing new Christians is so manically focused, so uni-directional, that is produces Christians without purpose. Like cancer which reproduces rapidly, but produces useless cells that interfere with the working of normal cells. So Evangelicalism seems to produces Christians that interfere with the better workings of the church.
This was driven home to me deeply by ths post "The Point", a blog of Colson staffers. It looks, briefly, at atrocities committed in North Korean death camps, and then links to a deeply insightful Weekly Standard piece of what has become of the idea of "human rights." In the middle of the piece, Joseph Laconte, summarizes the problem succinctly:
How did we arrive at this dismal state of affairs? The problem is not simply that human rights have become grossly politicized. The problem is that rights have been profoundly secularized--and severed from their deepest moral foundation, the concept of man as the imago Dei, the image of God.America is widely acknowledged as the most religious nation on earth. But it strikes me that the religious folk of America, largely now "Evangelicals," spent so much time trying to make (somehow, although in politics I have no idea how it can be done) new Christians, that they ignored the very basics like this.
For the sake of some misplaced sense of doctrinal purity we let a president into office that will contribute to this slide of basic human rights. We elected a Congress that will more than help him.
Evangelicals need to learn there is more to being the church than making new Christians. The church is a multi-functional organism. One of the fundamental functions is keeping people alive. It's hard to covert them after they are dead - particularly at the hands of evil.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
"The problem with implicitly salesy evangelism is bad theology, not bad technique, and it requires more than a simple change in method. If you feel like a used-car salesman talking about Jesus, the solution to the perceived lack of authenticity isn't a smoother pitch—it's a renewal of the church. The potency of personal evangelism is, as it has always been, the simple and earnest retelling of what God has done in the lives of his people. Of course, this requires a community to back up our claims."Kruse Kronicle made some interesting counter-points:
One of the author’s key concerns is consumerism and the way it has harmed the church. With consumerism we try to establish our identity by the nature of the goods we consume. This bleeds over into the church. The concern is valid. But a I confess that I do take exception to some aspects of the author's argument.Kruse is not quite as contrary as this pullquote indicates, he is trying to expand the definition of marketing beyond what the CT article uses, which is technically true, but....
I chafe at the tendency to equate marketing with little more than a tool of consumerism.
Kruse goes on to say:
First, if you are in the marketplace, regardless of how intentional you are about it, you are engaged in marketing. You present yourself with a product and a prospective buyer looks for clues about the nature of your product and about your character. It is impossible to have an economic transaction without marketing. If you are opposed to marketing, then you are opposed to all economic transactions.An idea to which the CT article takes specific exception:
So, unless we completely withdraw from any kind of evangelism, marketing is inevitable. And if marketing is the language of our culture, we might as well be fluent in it, right? After all, if you were a missionary in a foreign country, you would learn the language. Marketing is just the latest incarnation of classic evangelistic models such as persuasion and example.If you break all of this down, the key is to decide whether evangelism really is about entering a marketplace or not. Is Christianity simply an idea in "the marketplace of ideas"?
The difficulty with the pro-marketing arguments, however, is the failure to recognize that marketing is not a values-neutral language. Marketing unavoidably changes the message—as all media do. Why? Because marketing is the particular vernacular of a consumerist society in which everything has a price tag. To market something is therefore to effectively make it into a branded product to be consumed.
My answer to this is a resounding "NO!" - for one, the thought expressed in the quote Bolsinger pulled, Christianity is more than an idea - it is about community and personal transformation. Simply competing in "the marketplace of ideas" reduces Christianity just another lifestyle choice, like Harley-Davidson or Marlboro, or alternately it makes it a philosophy - a set of propositions to which I subscribe. But Christianity is far, far more radical than either of those alternatives.
The other objection is that to compete in a marketplace, one must assume competition. As far as I am concerned there is no competition. Christianity is so radically different than anything else that to presume to compete with something is to give that other thing more credibility than it deserves. For a family of four, a motorcycle cannot compete with a car - to consider them in the same situation is to engage in silliness. If Ford ran a mini-van commercial comparing its products to a Honda motorcycle, most people would laugh or stare incredulously - because there simply is no competition.
If we feel that, as Christians, we have to compete in a marketplace, then we have yet to figure Christianity out for ourselves. Our Christianity has yet to become radical enough in our own lives - we fail to understand its true uniqueness and power.
Maybe that is where we need to start.
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Monday, February 09, 2009
The Winsome Church
But I believe that the way the Church of Jesus Christ should appear to the world is as a winsome beauty. The Bride of Christ is meant to be beautiful. The Bride of Christ is supposed to be attractive. People should look at the Church and think, Wow!In part two Dan looks at some "tips" for being so winsome:
Yet somewhere along the way, we Christians, especially in America, developed a kind of self-inflicted persecution complex where we aspired to stop being the natural beauty we were meant to be, instead cultivating the attitude and lifestyle of the plain Jane friend. We tried—badly—to be a fashion plate, made every makeup mistake known to Man, and developed an attitude. In short, we grew to epitomize the friend character perfected in films by Rosie O’Donnell.
I agree wholeheartedly that the church should be attractive, and I don't have much beef with Dan's tips, but I would like to point out one caveat. Even Christ was not considered universally beautiful. Think about it, there were a bunch of people that thought He was so ugly, they had to crucify Him. Now, of course, it could be argued that there motivation was jealousy over his beauty, but try and get them to admit to that. They'd have called Him "hideous" every time.
- Listen more; talk less.
- Be the other person.
- Never let our own cherished opinions serve as an impediment to others.
- Live the truth rather than deliver well-intentioned speeches about it.
- Nurture beauty at home.
- Foster beauty in all its expressions
- Because some aspects of beauty are solely cultural constructs, embrace a broader definition of what is attractive.
Which filters down to the tips. Good ideas all, but they are, somehow, based a little too much in the here and now and not in the eternal. God's idea of beauty is somehow so transcendent that I believe it defies our concepts thereof. Our art and beauty may reflect the merest glimpses of but a portion of it, but capture it, never. Because God's beauty is so transcendent, and therefore, so very difficult to grasp we run a great risk of misidentifying it.
A physicist once described trying to build a fusion reactor, by holding the plasma in magnetic fields, as "trying to hold jello with rubber bands." So I think it is when we try and grasp God's beauty.
The mirror cannot describe that which it reflects, and so we cannot define nor describe God's beauty - we can but reflect it. The key to being the attractive church is to stop trying - to work simply on being the church.
That is to say, being God's people in this place.
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Sunday, February 08, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Jeremy Taylor, born in Cambridge, England, in 1613, was the son of a barber. By his talents he obtained an entrance into Caius College, where his exceptional progress obtained for him admission to the ministry in his twenty-first year, two years before the canonical age. He was appointed in succession fellow of All Souls, Oxford, through the influence of Laud, chaplain to the King, and rector of Uppingham. During the Commonwealth he was expelled from his living and opened a school in Wales, employing his seclusion in writing his memorable work “The Liberty of Prophesying.”
At the Restoration, Charles II raised him to the bishopric of Down and Con-nor (1660), in which post he remained until his death in 1667. His “Ductor Dubitantium,” dedicated to Charles II, is a work of subtlety and ingenuity; his “Holy Living” and “Holy Dying” (1652), are unique monuments of learning and devotion. His sermons form, however, his most brilliant and most voluminous productions, and fully establish his claims to the first place among the learned, witty, fanciful, ornate and devotional prose writers of his time.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. - II Cor. 5:10.
If we consider the person of the Judge, we first perceive that He is interested in the injury of the crimes He is to sentence: “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced.” It was for thy sins that the Judge did suffer such unspeakable pains as were enough to reconcile all the world to God; the sum and spirit of which pains could not be better understood than by the consequence of His own words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” meaning, that He felt such horrible, pure, unmingled sorrows, that, although His human nature was personally united to the Godhead, yet at that instant he felt no comfortable emanations by sensible perception from the Divinity, but He was so drenched in sorrow that the Godhead seemed to have forsaken Him. Beyond this, nothing can be added: but then, that thou hast for thy own particular made all this sin in vain and ineffective, that Christ thy Lord and Judge should be tormented for nothing, that thou wouldst not accept felicity and pardon when he purchased them at so dear a price, must needs be an infinite condemnation to such persons. How shalt thou look upon Him that fainted and died for love of thee, and thou didst scorn His miraculous mercies? How shall we dare to behold that holy face that brought salvation to us, and we turned away and fell in love with death, and kissed deformity and sins? And yet in the beholding that face consists much of the glories of eternity. All the pains and passions, the sorrows and the groans, the humility and poverty, the labors and watchings, the prayers and the sermons, the miracles and the prophecies, the whip and the nails, the death and the burial, the shame and the smart, the cross and the grave of Jesus, shall be laid upon thy score, if thou hast refused the mercies and design of all their holy ends and purposes. And if we remember what a calamity that was which broke the Jewish nation in pieces, when Christ came to judge them for their murdering Him who was their King and the Prince of Life, and consider that this was but ‘a dark image of the terrors of the day of judgment, we may then apprehend that there is some strange unspeakable evil that attends them that are guilty of this death, and of so much evil to their Lord. Now it is certain if thou wilt not be saved by His death, you are guilty of His death; if thou wilt not suffer Him to have thee, thou art guilty of destroying Him; and then let it be considered what is to be expected from that Judge before whom you stand as His murderer and betrayer. But this is but half of this consideration.
Christ may be crucified again, and upon a new account, put to an open shame. For after that Christ has done all this by the direct ac¬tions of His priestly office, of sacrificing himself for us, He bath also done very many things for us which are also the fruits of His first love and prosecutions of our redemption. I will not instance the strange arts of mercy that our Lord uses to bring us to live holy lives; but I consider, that things are so ordered, and so great a value set upon our souls since they are the images of God, and redeemed by the blood of the Holy Lamb, that the salvation of our souls is reckoned as a part of Christ’s reward, a part of the glorification of His humanity. Every sinner that repents causes joy to Christ, and the joy is so great that it runs over and wets the fair brows and beauteous looks of cherubim and seraphim, and all the angels have a part of that banquet; then it is that our blest Lord feels the fruits of His holy death; the acceptation of His holy sacrifice, the graciousness of His person, the return of His prayers. For all that Christ did or suffered, and all that He now does as a priest in heaven, is to glorify His Father by bringing souls to God. For this it was that He was born and died, that He descended from heaven to earth, from life to death, from the cross to the grave; this was the purpose of His resurrection and ascension, of the end and design of all the miracles and graces of God manifested to all the world by Him; and now what man is so vile, such a malicious fool, that will refuse to bring joy to his Lord by doing himself the greatest good in the world? They who refuse to do this, are said to crucify the Lord of Life again, and put him to an open shame - that is, they, as much as in them lies, bring Christ from His glorious joys to the labors of His life and the shame of His death; they advance His enemies, and refuse to advance the kingdom of their Lord; they put themselves in that state in which they were when Christ came to die for them; and now that He is in a state that He may rejoice over them (for He hath done all His share towards it), every wicked man takes his head from the blessing, and rather chooses that the devils should rejoice in his destruction, than that his Lord should triumph in his felicity. And now upon the supposition of these premises, we may imagine that it will be an infinite amazement to meet that Lord to be our Judge whose person we have murdered, whose honor we have disparaged, whose purposes we have destroyed, whose joys we have lessened, whose passion we have made ineffectual, and whose love we have trampled under our profane and impious feet.
But there is yet a third part of this consideration. As it will be inquired at the day of judgment concerning the dishonors to the person of Christ, so also concerning the profession and institution of Christ, and concerning His poor members; for by these also we make sad reflections upon our Lord. Every man that lives wickedly disgraces the religion and institution of Jesus, he discourages strangers from entering into it, he weakens the hands of them that are in already, and makes that the adversaries speak reproachfully of the name of Christ; but although it is certain our Lord and Judge will deeply resent all these things, yet there is one thing which He takes more tenderly, and that is, the uncharitableness of men towards His poor. It shall then be upbraided to them by the Judge, that himself was hungry and they refused to give meat to Him that gave them His body and heart-blood to feed them and quench their thirst; that they denied a robe to cover His nakedness, and yet He would have clothed their souls with the robe of His righteousness, lest their souls should be found naked on the day of the Lord’s visitation; and all this unkindness is nothing but that evil men were uncharitable to their brethren, they would not feed the hungry, nor give drink to the thirsty nor clothe the naked, nor relieve their brothers’ needs, nor forgive their follies, nor cover their shame, nor turn their eyes from delighting in their affronts and evil accidents; this is it which our Lord will take so tenderly, that His brethren for whom He died, who sucked the paps of His mother, that fed on His body and are nourished with His blood, whom He bath lodged in His heart and entertains in His bosom, the partners of His spirit and co-heirs of His inheritance, that these should be denied relief and suffered to go away ashamed, and unpitied; this our blest Lord will take so ill, that all those who are guilty of this unkindness, have no reason to expect the favor of the Court.
To this if we add the almightiness of the Judge, His infinite wisdom and knowledge of all causes, and all persons, and all circumstances, that He is infinitely just, inflexibly angry, and impartial in His sentence, there can be nothing added either to the greatness or the requisites of a terrible and an almighty Judge. For who can resist Him who is almighty? Who can evade His scrutiny that knows all things? Who can hope for pity of Him that is inflexible? Who can think to be exempted when the Judge is righteous and impartial? But in all these annexes of the Great Judge, that which I shall now remark, is that indeed which hath terror in it, and that is, the severity of our Lord. For then is the day of vengeance and recompenses, and no mercy at all shall be showed, but to them that are the sons of mercy; for the other, their portion is such as can be expected from these premises.
If we remember the instances of God’s severity in this life, in the days of mercy and repentance, in those days when judgment waits upon mercy, and receives laws by the rules and measures of pardon, and that for all the rare streams of loving kindness issuing out of paradise and refreshing all our fields with a moisture more fruitful than the floods of Nilus, still there are mingled some storms and violences, some fearful instances of the divine justice, we may more readily expect it will be worse, infinitely worse, at that day, when judgment shall ride in triumph, and mercy shall be the accuser of the wicked. But so we read, and are commanded to remember, because they are written for our example, that God destroyed at once five cities of the plain, and all the country, and Sodom and her sisters are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Fearful it was when God destroyed at once twenty-three thousand for fornication, and an exterminating angel in one night killed one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrians, and the first-born of all the families of Egypt, and for the sin of David in numbering the people, three score and ten thousand of the people died, and God sent ten tribes into captivity and eternal oblivion and indistinction from a common people for their idolatry. Did not God strike Korah and his company with fire from heaven? and the earth opened and swallowed up the congregation of Abiram? And is not evil come upon all the world for one sin of Adam? Did not the anger of God break the nation of the Jews all in pieces with judgments so great, that no nation ever suffered the like, because none ever sinned so? And at once it was done, that God in anger destroyed all the world, and eight persons only escaped the angry baptism of water, and yet this world is the time of mercy; God bath opened here His magazines, and sent His Holy Son as the great channel and fountain of it, too: here He delights in mercy, and in judgment loves to remember it, and it triumphs over all His works, and God contrives instruments and accidents, chances and designs, occasions and opportunities for mercy. If, therefore, now the anger of God makes such terrible eruptions upon the wicked people that delight in sin, how great may we suppose that anger to be, how severe that judgment, how terrible that vengeance, how intolerable those inflictions which God reserves for the full effusion of indignation on the great day of vengeance!
We may also guess at it by this: if God upon all single instances, and in the midst of our sins, before they are come to the full, and sometimes in the beginning of an evil habit, be so fierce in His anger, what can we imagine it to be in that day when the wicked are to drink the dregs of that horrid potion, and count over all the particulars of their whole treasure of wrath? “This is the day of wrath, and God shall reveal, or bring forth, His righteous judgments.” The expression is taken from Deut. 32:34: “Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures? I will restore it in the day of vengeance, for the Lord shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants.” For so did the Lybian lion that was brought up under discipline, and taught to endure blows, and eat the meat of order and regular provision, and to suffer gentle usages and the familiarities of societies; but once He brake out into His own wildness, and killed two Roman boys; but those that forage in the Lybian mountains tread down and devour all that they meet or master; and when they have fasted two days, lay up an anger great as is their appetite, and bring certain death to all that can be overcome. God is pleased to compare himself to a lion; and though in this life He hath confined Himself with promises and gracious emanations of an infinite goodness, and limits himself by conditions and coven¬ants, and suffers Himself to be overcome by prayers, and Himself bath invented ways of atonement and expiation; yet when He is provoked by our unhandsome and unworthy actions, He makes sudden breaches, and tears some of us in pieces, and of others He breaks their bones or affrights their hopes and secular gaieties, and fills their house with mourning and cypress, and groans and death. But when this Lion of the tribe of Judah shall appear upon His own mountain, the mountain of the Lord, in His natural dress of majesty, and that justice shall have her chain and golden fetters taken off, then justice shall strike, and mercy shall hold her hands; she shall strike sore strokes, and pity shall not break the blow; and God shall account with us by minutes, and for words, and for thoughts, and then He shall be severe to mark what is done amiss; and that justice may reign entirely, God shall open the wicked man’s treasure, and tell the sums, and weigh grains and scruples. Said Philo upon the place of Deuteronomy before quoted: As there are treasures of good things, and God has crowns and scepters in store for His saints and servants, and coronets for martyrs, and rosaries for virgins, and vials full of prayers, and bottles full of tears, and a register of sighs and penitential groans, so God hath a treasure of wrath and fury, of scourges and scorpions, and then shall be produced the shame of lust, and the malice of envy, and the groans of the oppressed, and the persecutions of the saints, and the cares of covetousness, and the troubles of ambition, and the insolencies of traitors, and the violence of rebels, and the rage of anger, and the uneasiness of impatience, and the restlessness of unlawful desires; and by this time the monsters and dlseases will be numerous and intolerable, when God’s heavy hand shall press the sanies and the intolerableness, the obliquity and the unreasonableness, the amazement and the disorder, the smart and the sorrow, the guilt and the punishment, out from all our sins, and pour them into one chalice, and mingle them with an infinite wrath, and make the wicked drink of all the vengeance, and force it down their unwilling throats with the violence of devils and accurst spirits.
We may guess at the severity of the Judge by the lesser strokes of that judgment which He is pleased to send upon sinners in this world, to make them afraid of the horrible pains of doomsday - I mean the torments of an unquiet conscience, the amazement and confusions of some sins and some persons. For I have sometimes seen persons surprised in a base action, and taken in the circumstances of crafty theft and secret injustices, before their excuse was ready. They have changed their color, their speech hath faltered, their tongue stammered, their eyes did wander and fix nowhere, till shame made them sink into their hollow eye-pits to retreat from the images and circumstances of discovery; their wits are lost, their reason useless, the whole order of their soul is decomposed, and they neither see, nor feel, nor think, as they used to do, but they are broken into disorder by a stroke of damnation and a lesser stripe of hell; but then if you come to observe a guilty and a base murderer, a condemned traitor, and see him harassed first by an evil conscience, and then pulled in pieces by the hangman’s hooks, or broken upon sorrows and the wheel, we may then guess (as well as we can in this life) what the pains of that day shall be to accurst souls. But those we shall consider afterward in their proper scene; now only we are to estimate the severity of our Judge by the intolerableness of an evil conscience; if guilt will make a man despair - and despair will make a man mad, confounded, and dissolved in all the regions of his senses and more noble faculties, that he shall neither feel, nor hear, nor see anything but specters and illusions, devils and frightful dreams, and hear noises, and shriek fearfully, and look pale and distracted, like a hopeless man from the horrors and confusions of a lost battle, upon which all his hopes did stand - then the wicked must at the day of judgment expect strange things and fearful, and such which now no language can express, and then no patience can endure. Then only it can truly be said that he is inflexible and inexorable. No prayers then can move Him, no groans can cause Him to pity thee; therefore pity thy¬self in time, that when the Judge comes thou mayest be one of the sons of everlasting mercy, to whom pity belongs as part of thine inheritance, for all else shall without any remorse (except His own) be condemned by the horrible sentence.
That all may think themselves concerned in this consideration, let us remember that even the righteous and most innocent shall pass through a severe trial. Many of the ancients explicated this severity by the fire of conflagration, which say they shall purify those souls at the day of judgment, which in this life have built upon the foundation (hay and stubble) works of folly and false opinions, states of imperfection. So St. Augustine’s doctrine was: “The great fire at doomsday shall throw some into the portion of the left hand, and others shall be purified and represented on the right.” And the same is affirmed by Origen and Lactantius; and St. Hilary thus expostulates: “Since we are to give account for every idle word, shall we long for the day of judgment, wherein we must, every one of us, pass that unwearied fire in which those grievous punishments for expiating the soul from sins must be endured; for to such as have been baptized with the Holy Ghost it remaineth that they be consummated with the fire of judgment.” And St. Ambrose adds: “That if any be as Peter or as John, they are baptized with this fire, and he that is purged here had need to be purged there again. Let him also purify us, that every one of us being burned with that flaming sword, not burned up or consumed, we may enter into Paradise, and give thanks unto the Lord who bath brought us into a place of refreshment.” This opinion of theirs is, in the main of it, very uncertain; relying upon the sense of some obscure place of Scripture is only apt to represent the great severity of the Judge at that day, and it bath in it this only certainty, that even the most innocent person hath great need of mercy, and he that hath the greatest cause of confidence, although he runs to no rocks to hide him, yet he runs to the protection of the cross, and hides himself under the shadow of the divine mercies: and he that shall receive the absolution of the blest sentence shall also suffer the terrors of the day, and the fearful circumstances of Christ’s coming. The effect of this consideration is this: That if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the wicked and the sinner appear? And if St. Paul, whose conscience accused him not, yet durst not be too confident, because he was not hereby justified, but might be found faulty by the severer judgment of his Lord, how shall we appear, with all our crimes and evil habits round about us? If there be need of much mercy to the servants and friends of the Judge, then His enemies shall not be able to stand upright in judgment.
Let us next consider the circumstances of our appearing and his sentence; and first I consider that men at the day of judgment that belong not to the portion of life, shall have three sorts of accusers: 1. Christ Himself, who is their judge; 2. Their own conscience, whom they have injured and blotted with characters of death and foul dishonor; 3. The devil, their enemy, whom they served.
Christ shall be their accuser, not only upon the stock of those direct injuries (which I before reckoned) of crucifying the Lord of Life, once and again, etc., but upon the titles of contempt and unworthiness, of unkindness and ingratitude; and the accusation will be nothing else but a plain representation of those artifices and assistances, those bonds and invitations, those constrainings and importunities, which our dear Lord used to us to make it almost impossible to lie in sin, and necessary to be saved. For it will, it must needs be, a fearful exprobration of our unworthiness, when the Judge Himself shall bear witness against us that the wisdom of God Himself was strangely employed in bringing us safely to felicity. I shall draw a short scheme which, although it must needs be infinitely short, of what God bath done for us, yet it will be enough to shame us. God did not only give His Son for an example, and the Son gave Himself for a price for us, but both gave the Holy Spirit to assist us in mighty graces, for the verifications of faith, and the entertainments of hope, and the increase and perseverance of charity. God gave to us a new nature, He put another principle into us, a third part of a perfective constitution; we have the spirit put into us, to be a part of us, as properly to produce actions of a holy life, as the soul of man in the body does produce the natural. God hath exalted human nature, and made it in the person of Jesus Christ, to sit above the highest seat of angels, and the angels are made ministering spirits, ever since their Lord became our brother. Christ hath by a miraculous sacrament given us His body to eat and His blood to drink; He made ways that we may become all one with Him. He bath given us an easy religion, and bath established our future felicity upon natural and pleasant conditions, and we are to be happy hereafter if we suffer God to make us happy here; and things are so ordered that a man must take more pains to perish than to be happy. God bath found out rare ways to make our prayers acceptable, our weak petitions, the desires of our imperfect souls, to prevail mightily with God, and to lay a holy violence and an undeniable necessity upon Himself; and God will deny us nothing but when we ask of Him to do us ill offices, to give us poisons and dangers, and evil nourishment, and temptations; and He that bath given such mighty power to the prayers of His servants, yet will not be moved by those potent and mighty prayers to do any good man an evil turn, or to grant him one mischief - in that only God can deny us. But in all things else God hath made all the excellent things in heaven and earth to join toward the holy and fortunate effects; for He that appointed an angel to present the prayers of saints, and Christ makes intercession for us, and the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groans unutterable, and all the holy men in the world pray for all and for every one, and God bath instructed us with scriptures, and precedents, and collateral and direct assistances to pray, and He encouraged us with divers excellent promises, and parables, and examples, and teaches us what to pray, and how, and gives one promise to public prayer, and another to private prayer, and to both the blessing of being heard.
Add to this account that God did heap blessings upon us without order, infinitely, perpetually, and in all instances, when we needed and when we needed not. He heard us when we prayed, giving us all, and giving us more, than we desired. He desired that we should ask, and yet He hath also prevented our desires. He watched for us, and at His own charge sent a whole order of men whose employment is to minister to our souls; and if all this had not been enough, He had given us more also. He promised heaven to our obedience, a province for a dish of water, a kingdom for a prayer, satisfaction for desiring it, grace for receiving, and more grace for accepting and using the first. He invited us with gracious words and perfect entertainments; He threatened horrible things to us if we would not be happy; He bath made strange necessities for us, making our very repentance to be a conjugation of holy actions, and holy times, and a long succession; He hath taken away all excuses from us; He bath called us from temptation; He bears our charges; He is always beforehand with us in every act of favor, and perpetually slow in striking, and His arrows are unfeathered; and He is so long, first, in drawing His sword, and another long while in whetting it, and yet longer in lifting His hand to strike, that before the blow comes the man bath repented long, unless he be a fool and impudent; and then God is so glad of an excuse to lay His anger aside, that certainly, if after all this, we refuse life and glory, there is no more to be said; this plain story will condemn us; but the story is very much longer; and, as our conscience will represent all our sins to us, so the Judge will represent all His Father’s kindnesses, as Nathan did to David, when he was to make the justice of the divine sentence appear against him. Then it shall be remembered that the joys of every day’s piety would have been a greater pleasure every night than the remembrance of every night‘s sin could have been in the morning; that every night the trouble and labor of the day’s virtue would have been as much passed and turned to as the pleasure of that day’s sin, but that they would be infinitely distinguished by the effects. The offering ourselves to God every morning, and the thanksgiving to God every night, hope and fear, shame and desire, the honor of leaving a fair name behind us, and the shame of dying like a fool, everything indeed in the world is made to be an argument and an inducement to us to invite us to come to God and be saved; and therefore when this, and infinitely more shall by the Judge be exhibited in sad remembrances, there needs no other sentence; we shall condemn ourselves with a hasty shame and a fearful confusion, to see how good God bath been to us, and how base we have been to ourselves. Thus Moses is said to accuse the Jews; and thus also lie that does accuse, is said to condemn, as Verres was by Cicero, and Claudia by Domitius her accuser, and the world of impenitent persons by the men of Nineveh, and all by Christ, their Judge. I represent the horror of this circumstance to consist in this, besides the reasonableness of the judgment, and the certainty of the condemnation, it can not but be an argument of an intolerable despair to perishing souls, when He that was our advocate all our life, shall, in the day of that appearing, be our Accuser and our Judge, a party against us, an injured person in the day of His power and of His wrath, doing execution upon all His own foolish and malicious enemies.
Our conscience shall be our accuser. But this signifies but these two things: First, that we shall be condemned for the evils that we have done and shall then remember, God by His power wiping away the dust from the tables of our memory, and taking off the consideration and the voluntary neglect and rude shufflings of our cases of conscience. For then we shall see things as they are, the evil circumstances and the crooked intentions, the adherent unhandsomeness and the direct crimes; for all things are laid up safely, and though we draw a curtain of cobweb over them, and a few fig-leaves before our shame, yet God shall draw away the curtain, and forgetfulness shall be no more, because, with a taper in the hand of God, all the corners of our nastiness shall be discovered. And, secondly, it signifies this also, that not only the justice of God shall be confessed by us in our own shame and condemnation, but the evil of the sentence shall be received into us, to melt our bowels and to break our heart in pieces within us, because we are the authors of our own death, and our own inhuman hands have torn our souls in pieces. Thus far the horrors are great, and when evil men consider it, it is certain they must be afraid to die. Even they that have lived well, have some sad considerations, and the tremblings of humility, and suspicion of themselves. I remember St. Cyprian tells of a good man who in his agony of death saw a fantasm of a noble and angelical shape, who, frowning and angry, said to him: “Ye can not endure sickness, ye are troubled at the evils of the world, and yet you are loath to die and to be quit of them; what shall I do to you?” Although this is apt to represent every man’s condition more or less, yet, concerning persons of wicked lives, it bath in it too many sad degrees of truth; they are impatient of sorrow, and justly fearful of death, because they know not how to comfort themselves in the evil accidents of their lives ;• and their conscience is too polluted to take death for sanctuary, and to hope to have amends made to their condition by the sentence of the day of judgment. Evil and sad is their condition who can not be contented here nor blest hereafter, whose life is their misery and their conscience is their enemy, whose grave is their prison and death their undoing, and the sentence of doomsday the beginning of an intolerable condition.
The third sort of accusers are the devils, and they will do it with malicious and evil purposes. The prince of the devils bath Diabolus for one of his chiefest appellatives. The accuser of the brethren he is by his professed malice and employment; and therefore God, who delights that His mercy should triumph and His goodness prevail over all the malice of men and devils, hath appointed one whose office is to reprove the accuser and to resist the enemy, and to be a defender of their cause who belong to God. The Holy Spirit is a defender; the evil spirit is the accuser; and they that in this life belong to one or the other, shall in the same proportion be treated at the day of judgment. The devil shall accuse the brethren, that is, the saints and servants of God, and shall tell concerning their follies and infirmities, the sins of their youth and weakness of their age, the imperfect grace and the long schedule of omissions of duty, their scruples and their fears, their diffidences and pusillanimity, and all those things which themselves by strict examination find themselves guilty of and have confessed all their shame and the matter of their sorrows, their evil intentions and their little plots, their carnal confidences and too fond adherences of the things of this world, their indulgence and easiness of government, their wilder joys and freer meals, their loss of time and their too forward and apt compliance, their trifling arrests and little peevishnesses, the mixtures of the world with the thing of the Spirit, and all the incidences of humanity he will bring forth and aggravate them by circumstances of ingratitude, and the breach of promise, and the evacuating all their holy purposes, and breaking their resolutions, and rifling their vows, and all these things, being drawn into an entire representment, and the bills clogged by numbers, will make the best man in the world seem foul and unhandsome, and stained with the characters of death and evil dishonor. But for these there is appointed a defender. The Holy Spirit that maketh intercession for us shall then also interpose, and against all these things shall oppose the passion of our blest Lord, and upon all their defects shall cast the robe of righteousness; and the sins of their youth shall not prevail so much as the repentance of their age, and their omissions be excused by probable intervening causes, and their little escapes shall appear single and in disunion, because they were always kept asunder by penitential prayers and sighings, and their seldom returns of sin by their daily watchfulness, and their often infirmities by the sincerity of their souls, and their scruples by their zeal, and their passions by their love, and all by the mercies of God and the sacrifice which their Judge offered and the Holy Spirit made effective by daily graces and assistances. These, therefore, infallibly go to the portion of the right hand, because the Lord our God shall answer for them. But as for the wicked, it is not so with them; for although the plain story of their life be to them a sad condemnation, yet what will be answered when it shall be told concerning them, that they despised God’s mercies, and feared not His angry judgments; that they, regarded not His Word, and loved not His excellences; that they were not persuaded by the promises nor affrighted by His threatenings; that they neither would accept His government nor His blessings; that all the sad stories that ever happened in both the worlds (in all which Himself did escape till the day of His death, and was not concerned in them save only that He was called upon by every one of them, which He ever beard or saw or was told of, to repentance), that all these were sent to Him in vain? But can not the accuser truly say to the Judge concerning such persons, “They were Thine by creation, but mine by their own choice; Thou didst redeem them indeed, but they sold themselves to me for a trifle, or for an unsatisfying interest; Thou diedst for them, but they obeyed my commandments; I gave them nothing, I promised them nothing but the filthy pleasures of a night, or the joys of mad¬ness, or the delights of a disease; I never hanged upon the cross three long hours for them, nor endured the labors of a poor life thirty-three years together for their interest; only when they were Thine by the merit of Thy death, they quickly became mine by the demerit of their ingratitude; and when Thou badst clothed their soul with Thy robe, and adorned them by Thy graces, we stripped them naked as their shame, and only put on a robe of darkness, and they thought themselves secure and went dancing to their grave like a drunkard to a fight, or a fly unto a candle; and therefore they that did partake with us in our faults must divide with us in our portion and fearful interest.” This is a sad story because it ends in death, and there is nothing to abate or lessen the calamity. It concerns us therefore to consider in time that he that tempts us will accuse us, and what he calls pleasant now be shall then say was nothing, and all the gains that now invite earthly souls and mean persons to vanity, was nothing but the seeds of folly, and the harvest in pain and sorrow and shame eternal. But then, since this horror proceeds upon the account of so many accusers, God bath put it in our power by a timely accusation of ourselves in the tribunal of the court Christian, to prevent all the arts of aggravation which at doomsday shall load foolish and undiscerning souls. He that accuses himself of his crimes here, means to forsake them, and looks upon them on all sides, and spies out his deformity, and is taught to hate them, he is instructed and prayed for, he prevents the anger of God and defeats the devil’s malice, and, by making shame the instrument of repentance, he takes away the sting, and makes that to be his medicine which otherwise would be his death: and, concerning this exercise, I shall only add what the patriarch of Alexandria told an old religious person in his hermitage. Having asked him what he found in that desert, he was answered, “Only this, to judge and condemn myself perpetually; that is the employment of my solitude.” The patriarch answered, “There is no other way.” By accusing ourselves we shall make the devil‘s malice useless, and our own consciences clear, and be reconciled to the Judge by the severities of an early repentance, and then we need to fear no accusers.
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