Thursday, September 08, 2011

Meddlesome love

Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:3-14)

Following the post below, it behooves me to follow the advice of St. John Chrysostom. Writing in his Six Little Books on the Priesthood, Chrysostom warned against teaching against one error in such a way as to appear to endorse an opposite error. It has been said, if only by me, that this makes him the first to present the via media. The truth often cannot be found in one or other opposing extreme which demand that a false choice be made. The truth generally requires independence of thought from pressure to conform to partisan declarations and judgments. I have met, in my time, very few Anglicans who truly understood the via media, that the way of truth is a separate road from erroneous extremes; yet, it remains essential to our specific church tradition. 

Writing against the notion of a punitive Purgatory, I may have given some the impression that no chastening is to be expected. Clearly, the Bible tells us to expect chastening from God the Father, if indeed we are legitimate from our regeneration. Of course, we must be; we have been risen to new life in Christ. Therefore, we are God's children; therefore He takes it upon Himself to chasten.

Is this, however, about the just requirements of the Law? The answer is that it it is not at all about satisfaction and justice, nor about anything akin to penal sentencing (for Christ is the propitiation for our sins-I John 2:2). Neither is this chastening reserved for an intermediate state after this life. That is not to say it cannot be part of such a state; it is to say we can expect the Lord's hand in chastening here and now in this present life.

We must be on guard against thinking like the friends of Job. They thought they could see the Lord's judgment simply because they saw suffering. The story tells, us however, that Job's faith was tried; it is also reveals that God corrected some of Job's thinking; clearly, near the end of that story, a sort of Fatherly chastening is thereby implied. 

The essential difference between a legal punishment and the chastening of a father should be obvious to everyone. One problem, therefore, with the Medieval doctrine (still in the Catechism of the Catholic Church published under the papal imprimatur of Pope John-Paul II) of the Treasury of saintly merits, is the tortured logic of it. If the "temporal punishments" were the chastening of the Father to produce holiness of character, why would any saint's merits be applied to lessen the punishment? Would not the deprivation of necessary chastening be a loss to the soul in need of it? The answer, of course, is that that whole doctrine is not about the Father and His love, but about a legalistic and impersonal approach to courtroom style justice. It is, as our Articles teach, "repugnant to the word of God." It was also quite profitable, monetarily speaking, once upon a time.

We need to understand that every Christian is both a saint and called to be a saint. And, the Bible clearly and obviously speaks of the Church both militant and triumphant when using the phrase "the saints." More often than not, it uses this phrase in a manner that gives it application to the Church militant, such as "distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality (Rom. 12:13)," or, "if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet... (I Tim. 5:10)." The simple fact is, everyone who has been baptized into Christ has been set apart unto God, sanctified both by grace given and by belonging now to God not only by creation, but also by redemption. Therefore, every Christian is a saint in that objective sense, set apart as holy unto God.

Then, we see that sainthood, which implies growth in holiness of character, is the vocation and calling we all share. "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:7)." "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (I Cor. 1:2)." That word translated "called" is κλητός (klētos), used also by Paul to say that he was called to be a Apostle. 

Also, the words "sanctified" and "saints" in I Corinthians 1:2 bear out my point well, for both are forms of the same word: ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) for "sanctified." It is a verb form of ἅγιος (hagios), which is translated "saint." This is reflected in English, for the words "sanctified" and "saints" are also two forms of the same word that has a Latin root. Therefore, we see that they were already holy, that is, sanctified; but also that they were called to become holy. We are saints already as an accomplished fact in that we are set apart as holy to God in Christ. But we are also called to become holy, called to be saints, in character by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is accomplished with our obedient cooperation. He wills to impart grace to us that we may acquire the virtues He gives, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), above all charity. This growth in holiness is to fulfill the calling of sainthood, and that is simply because it pleases our Father to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). The love of God is reflected in the image of God, in man. What father is pleased to have a son with an evil character, of whom he is ashamed? It is love that causes joy from a righteous son, and love that brings grief from an evil son. The love of God is the sort that meddles and interferes with our stubborn wills, and that is good for us. It is the love of our Father who is not pleased with an unbelieving and willful heart in His children. It is love that sets a high standard, that demands of us that we live up to that standard. This is a kind of love that the world increasingly rejects and castigates. 

But, that love is why the Father chastens every son whom He receives. Every child of God, everyone who is in Christ, is the object of that demanding, meddlesome love. We have every reason to hope that this love pursues His children beyond the grave. But, we may be sure that it operates in this world already. It is chastening meant to change and transform us, to make us like Jesus Christ in character. Do not despise it, nor faint when it happens.

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