All posts by missannita

On Predestination: The Universal becomes Particular

I find this quote from a Scottish theologian, Donald Macleod, helpful.

Who has the right to believe? Who has the right to come to Christ? That question has been discussed very thoroughly in Reformed theology and the answer has been unambiguous: every human being, without … exception whatsoever, is entitled to come to Christ and to take Him as his own Saviour. Every man as a man, every sinner as a sinner, the foulest, the vilest, the most vicious—it was put in the strongest possible terms—had the right to come.

This was based on certain clear emphases of the Word of God itself. For example, God commands every human being to believe. No one is exempt from that command. We have the right to come to Christ, whoever we are, because God commands us to come to Christ.

We have the right, secondly, because of God’s offer and invitation to come to Christ. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:22); “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “Let the wicked forsake his way … and let him return to the Lord” (Isa. 55:7). The offer was absolutely universal.

Thirdly, there is a universal divine promise: if we believe, we shall be saved. That is God’s promise. Now it is a conditional promise. The reward is conditional upon our believing. But God’s promise is made categorically: if we turn to God in Christ we shall be saved. Alternatively, it can be put in these terms: the warrant is universal because it arises from the fact that the Bible explicitly states that there is no price to be paid. This salvation is utterly gratuitous (Isa. 55:1). We receive the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). We take it without money and without price (Isa. 55:1).

Some Reformed preachers went to great lengths to express this fact that every human being, no matter how sinful, has the right to come and take Christ as his Saviour. They were predestinarians of the deepest dye (men like Thomas Boston, John Duncan, and Martin Luther) but they believed equally firmly in the free, universal offer of the gospel. John Duncan put it most succinctly: “Sin is the handle by which I get Christ.” [He went on,] “I don’t read anywhere in God’s Word that Christ came to save John Duncan … but I read this: He came to save sinners and John Duncan is a sinner and that means he came to save John Duncan.” Luther argued in the same way. He said to the devil, “Thou sayest I am a sinner. And I will take thine own weapon and with it I will slay thee and with thine own sword I will cut thy throat because sin ought to drive us not away from Christ but towards Christ.” The Bible and Reformed theology have taught us to come—just as we are.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Now it may be that in Reformed theology there is no theological answer to the question, “How can it be simultaneously true that only the predestined are saved and that God commands all men to believe?” All we can say is that both horns of the dilemma are equally valid. For the moment our concern is with only one aspect of the truth: every human being is warranted to come to Christ. The great thing here is that the universal becomes … particular. If all are warranted, each is warranted. If each is warranted, I am warranted. This is supremely important in relation to those who are tempted to spiritual despair: the backslidden, those who were once bright, shining Christians, but from whose lives the glory has gone and who feel that for them there is no hope. Wherever we stand, we have the warrant to believe.

From a sermon, “Amazing Grace”, by Alistair Begg.

C.S. Lewis’s Transposition

Recently I saw a reference to C. S. Lewis’s  “Transposition,”  which I couldn’t recall.  I found it in a collection of essays I have, C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory.  As I read I remembered a lot of it.

From the Introduction:

“Transposition” was preached in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford–a Congregational institution–at the invitation of its Principal, Nathaniel Micklem (1888-1976), on the Feast of Pentecost, 28 May 1944.  It was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1944 under the heading “Modern Oxford’s Newman” that “in the middle of the sermon Mr. Lewis, under stress of emotion, stopped, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and left the pulpit.  Dr. Micklem, the Principal, and the chaplain went to his assistance.  After a hymn was sung, Mr. Lewis returned and finished his sermon…on a deeply moving note.”

Lewis has probably accomplished as much as any modern writer, both in his fiction and in his sermons, to make Heaven believable.  My guess is that at sometime, but not necessarily in 1944, he may have felt that he had not succeeded as well as he might with “Transposition.”  Though he was quite ill during the spring of 1961 when…his publisher…was pressing him to edit a volume of his essays, something wonderful happened.  With a simplicity that is perhaps an instance of Heaven coming to its own rescue, Lewis was shown what glories are involved by the corruptible putting on incorruption, and there came from his pen an additional portion that raises that sermon to an eminence all its own.

That section is my favorite.  I tried to write a brief synopsis, but it just left too much out.  So I will share the beginning of that additional portion Lewis wrote later:

I believe that this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope.  We can hope only for what we can desire.  And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires.  There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty.  It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by hymn writers.  Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love.  But it is impossible for most of us.  And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naif than we are.  A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood.  Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.

Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God.  And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all.  That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations.  But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them?  That is quite a different question.  And for most of us at most times the answer is no……[T]he conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.

Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive.  What is worse, their presence–and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them–vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had.  The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good.  We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”

    We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it.  We must believe–and therefore in some degree imagine–that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling.  And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into Deity.  For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the lines proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion.  How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know.  But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing.  And it is here that Transposition helps me.

And his illustration is wonderful.  Read it all free here.

 

 

 

 

Each Most Rare

This morning, on my usual walk I was struck by how different familiar vistas look on each viewing.  After the heavy rain last night everything looked so fresh and alive and I noticed the contrast between various clumps of grasses.  And I thought about the uniqueness of each created thing.  Awesome.

            A Short Ode

All things then stood before us
as they were,
Not in comparison,
But each most rare;
The ‘tree, of many, one,’
The lock of hair,
The weir in the morning sun,
The hill in the darkening air,
Each in its soleness, then and there,
Created one; that one, creation’s care.

Edmund Blunden, A Hong Kong House: Poems 1951-1961 (Collins 1962).

Thanks to Stephen Pentz.

Reality

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Like many others, I am finding some time to read during our COVID-19 confinement.  I have been reading two books, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.  (I am rather plodding through them).  Last week, on my shelves, I saw Marilynne Robinson’s collection of essays, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, and read the one titled “Facing Reality.”  It begins:

    Anyone who reads and writes history or economics or science must sometimes wonder what fiction is, where its boundaries are, if they exist at all.  The question implies certain distinctions, as between fiction and fact, or, more cautiously, between fiction and nonfiction.  I would suggest that, while such distinctions are real, they are also profoundly relative, conditional, and circumstantial.  Almost everything we have a name for exists in the universe of time and matter, and should, so it seems to me, be assumed to share certain of their essential qualities, two of these being ineluctability and profound resistance to definition.

    Yet we have put together among ourselves a rigidly simple account of life in the world, which we honor with the name Reality and which, we now assure one another, must be faced and accepted, even or especially at the cost of those very things which societies we admire are believed by us to value, our example education, the arts, a humane standard of life for the whole community.  Science fetches back from its explorations mystery upon mystery, yet somehow we feel increasingly sunk in a world of mere things, in a hard-edged Reality that disallows imagination except to exact tribute from it, in portraits which assert its own power and ferocity, or in interludes and recreations which concede by their triviality that only Reality matters.  Our present model of the world is a fiction, based on notions of objectivity and of the character and implications of science which are a hundred years out of date.  It is based on the flotsam and detritus and also the floor sweepings of all disciplines–psychology, penology, economics, history, all of them.  From them it takes its important tone, helping in magnifying any present obsession.  For many of us it is true to say, Reality marks our ballots, even rears our children.  It is such a poor contrivance that we would not believe in it for a minute if we did not want to.

And this:

    As a fiction writer, I feel smothered by this collective fiction, this Reality.  I do not admire it or enjoy it, this work of grand minor imagination which somehow or other got itself acknowledged as The Great Truth and The Voice of Our Time because of rather than despite its obvious thinness and fraudulence.  So I will give it a bad review…

There is so much more, and it is all very good.  I particularly liked her extended discussion of anxiety.

Here is a nice review of the book.

Grace Before Meat

Reading from The Project Gutenberg ebook The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, Volume 2, I found a passage I have heard before, but never knew the context.  The essay is titled Grace Before Meat.  It begins:

The custom of saying grace at meals had, probably, its origin in the early times of the world, and the hunter-state of man, when dinners were precarious things, and a full meal was something more than a common blessing; when a belly-full was a windfall, and looked like a special providence. In the shouts and triumphal songs with which, after a season of sharp abstinence, a lucky booty of deer’s or goat’s flesh would naturally be ushered home, existed, perhaps, the germ of the modern grace. It is not otherwise easy to be understood, why the blessing of food—the act of eating—should have had a particular expression of thanksgiving annexed to it, distinct from that implied and silent gratitude with which we are expected to enter upon the enjoyment of the many other various gifts and good things of existence.

Then follows the familiar quote:

 

I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts—a grace before Milton—a grace before Shakspeare—a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen….[?]

Lord God of Hosts Be With Us Yet

Recessional

Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old,
    Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
    Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
    The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
    An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
    On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
    Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
    Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
    In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
    And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!