Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Martin Luther: Union & Christus Victor in the Great Exchange

Luther's salvation theology is often thought of as "the great exchange: Christ's righteousness for our sin."  That is certainly true, but that is not the whole picture.  In The Freedom of the Christian, he puts the great exchange in the context of (marital) union with Christ, as well as in Christus victor language.  Luther, like most theologians who get caricatured and thereby shrunken by later systematizers and summarizers, is richer and more nuanced than we often remember.

     "The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31-32].  And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage—indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage—it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil.  Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own.  Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits.  Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation.  The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation.  Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his.  If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his?  And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?
     "Here we have a most pleasing vision not only of communion but of a blessed struggle and victory and salvation and redemption.  Christ is God and man in one person.  He has neither sinned nor died, and is not condemned, and he cannot sin, die, or be condemned; his righteousness, life, and salvation are unconquerable, eternal, omnipotent.  By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s.  As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all.  Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell.  Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life and salvation of Christ its bridegroom.  So he takes to himself a glorious bride, “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” [Cf. Eph. 5:26-27] of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation.  In this way he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2 [:19-20] says. 
     "Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means?  Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace?  Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all this goodness.  Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him.  And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon [2:16] says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.”  This is what Paul means when he says in I Cor. 15[:57], “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, the victory over sin and death, as he also says there, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” [I Cor. 15:56]."

                                                      - Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian

Happy (500th) Reformation Day! 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Thoughts toward Christian unity...

From Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ:

"We gladly do the things we enjoy, and keep company with the like-minded; but, if Christ is to live among us, we must sometimes surrender our own opinions for the sake of peace.  No one is wise enough to know everything.  So do not have confidence in your own views, but listen to the ideas of others.  If your opinion is right but you surrender it for the love of God and follow another, you will win great merit.  I have often heard that it is better to accept advice than to give it.  It may be that two opinions are equally good but it is a sign of pride and obstinacy to refuse to come to an agreement with others when it is required."
                                                                           - Book 1, Ch. 9

"Judge yourself, but avoid passing judgement on others.  In judging others, we spend our energy to no good purpose.  We are often mistaken and so we sin; but it is a beneficial exercise to examine ourselves.  Frequently, our personal feelings influence our judgment, and if we are encouraged by personal motives it may become a false judgement.  If God were the only and constant object of our desires, we would not be so upset when our own opinions are rejected."

                                                                            - Book 1, Ch. 14

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Thomas A Kempis on Chrisitian learning...

From The Imitation of Christ:

Those who wish to understand and appreciate the words of Christ must strive to model the whole of their life on Him.
What use is it for learned people to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity if they have no humility, and so displease the Trinity?  Learned words do not make anyone wise or holy; it is a good life which draws us closer to God.  I would rather feel deep sorrow than be able to define it.  If you knew the whole Bible by heart and the teachings of all the philosophers, what good would that be without the grace and love of God?
                                                         - Book I, Chapter 1

If I possess all knowledge in the world, but have no love, it will not assist me when God judges my actions.
The more complete and the better your knowledge, the stricter will be the judgement on you, unless you lead a holy life.
A realistic and humble attitude is the highest and most valuable thing we can learn.  The wisest form of self-understanding is to think little of ourselves and to think kindly and well of others.
                                                                - Book I, Chapter 2

Of what value is specious reasoning on deep and obscure matters, when we are not going to be judged by our knowledge of such things?  It is supreme folly to neglect things that are useful and vital, and deliberately turn to those that are curious and harmful.  Actually, 'we have eyes but do not see.'  What do origins and appearances really matter to us?
Ultimately it is the Eternal Word which speaks to us.  It is from that Word that all things come into being, and all things speak of Him.  It is the author of all things who speaks to us.  Without Him not one can judge anything rightly.  It is those who see all things as one, and who relate everything to the One God, and who see everything as in Him, who are able to remain single-minded and live at peace with God.
All achievements in this life contain a level of imperfection.  All our speculations include an element of darkness.  A humble self-understanding is a safer way to God than a profound knowledge of academic disciplines. Learning in itself is not to be blamed, nor can we despise the acquisition of knowledge (for true learning is good in itself and comes from God), but a good conscience and a holy life are even better.  Because people prefer to acquire knowledge rather than to live well, they often go astray and so bear little fruit.  If only such people were as concerned to uproot vices and replace them with virtues, as they are to share in learned discourses, there would not be so much dissolution and scandal among us, nor slackness in Religious Communities.  On the Day of Judgement we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holy our lives have been.
                                                             - Book I, Chapter 3

We should seek food for our souls rather than subtleties of speech, and we would do well to read simple devotional books rather than those which are very intellectual.  Do not be influenced by the importance of the author, whether that person has a great reputation or not, but by the desire for the truth which attracts you.  Do not ask, 'Who said that?' but pay attention to what is said.
                                                             - Book I, Chapter 5

These critiques must have come as a slap in the face to the excesses of Roman Catholic scholasticism of A Kempis's day, yet they are hardly less applicable to many parts of the evangelical church of our own day.  

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Marvellous mixture of well-being and woe

    During our lifetime here we have in us a marvelous mixture of both well-being and woe.  We have in us our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and we have in us the wretchedness and the harm of Adam's falling. Dying, we are constantly protected by Christ, and by the touching of his grace we are raised to true trust in salvation.  And we are so afflicted in our feelings by Adam's falling in various ways, by sin and by different pains, and in this we are made dark and so blind that we can scarcely accept any comfort.  But in our intention we wait for God, and trust faithfully to have mercy and grace; and this is his own working in us, and in his goodness he opens the eye of our understanding, by which we have sight, sometimes more and sometimes less, according to the ability God gives us to receive.  And now we are raised to the one, and now we are permitted to fall to the other.  And so that mixture is so marvellous in us that we scarcely know, about ourselves or about our fellow Christians, what condition we are in, these conflicting feelings are so extraordinary, except for each holy act of assent to God which we make when we feel him, truly willing with all our heart to be with him, and with all our soul and with all our might.  And then we hate and despise our evil inclinations, and everything which could be an occasion of spiritual and bodily sin.  And even so, when this sweetness is hidden, we fall again into blindness, and so in various ways into woe and tribulation.  But then this is our comfort, that we know in our faith that by the power of Christ who is our protector we never assent to that, but we complain about it, and endure in pain and in woe, praying until the time that he shows himself again to us.  And so we remain in this mixture all the days of our life; but he wants us to trust that he is constantly with us, and that in three ways.
    He is with us in heaven, true man in his own person, drawing us up....And he is with us on earth, leading us....And he is with us in our soul, endlessly dwelling, ruling and guarding...."

                             - Julian of Norwich, Showings (long text), 14 Revelation, Ch. 52

Saturday, 14 October 2017

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well...

On one occasion our good Lord said: Every kind of thing will be well; and on another occasion he said: You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.  And from these two the soul gained different kinds of understanding.  One was this: that he wants us to know that he takes heed not only of things which are noble and great, but also of those which are little and small, of humble men and simple, of this man and that man.  And this is what he means when he says: Every kind of thing will be well.  For he wants us to know that the smallest thing will not be forgotten.  Another understanding is this: that there are many deeds which in our eyes are so evilly done and lead to such great harms that it seems to us impossible that any good result could ever come of them.  And we contemplate this and sorrow and mourn for it so that we cannot rest in the blessed contemplation of God as we ought to do.  And the cause is this: that the reason which we use is now so blind, so abject and so stupid that we cannot recognize God's exalted, wonderful wisdom, or the power and the goodness of the blessed Trinity.  And this is his intention when he says: You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well, as if he said: Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness of joy.

                              - Julian of Norwich, Showings (long text), 32nd Chapter

Friday, 6 October 2017

The shape of Christ's life is the shape of the Christian's life - St. Augustine

All the events, then, of Christ's crucifixion, of His burial, of His resurrection the third day, of His ascension into heaven, of His sitting down at the right hand of the Father, were so ordered, that the life which the Christian leads here might be modeled upon them, not merely in a mystical sense, but in reality.  For in reference to His crucifixion it is said: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). And in reference to His burial: "We are buried with Him by baptism into death" (Rom. 6:4). In reference to His resurrection: "That, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:5). And in reference to His ascension into heaven and sitting down at the right hand of the Father: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your live is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-3).

                                     - St. Augustine, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, LIII.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Bernard of Claivaux on 'present day' lukewarmness about Christ...

"When I reflect, as I often do, on the ardor with which the patriarchs longed for the incarnation of Christ, I am pierced with sorrow and shame.  And now I can scarcely contain my tears, so ashamed am I of the lukewarmness and lethargy of the present times.  For which of us is filled with joy at the realization of this grace as the holy men of old were moved to desire by the promise of it?"

                                    - Bernard of Clairvaux,  
                                      Sermons on the Song of Songs, 2.I.1,
                                      preached between 1135 -1153 AD