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VIRTUE: THE SINGING DIAMOND
cAN DIAMONDS SING ?
Can you change font ?
But of course! if you have imagination and eyes combined. Thus the music of the diamond is melody to the heart, and the instruments are the eyes, and the players are the lilting thoughts engendered by the object in its setting.
What however is the chief
element you think of, when it comes to the diamond for its setting ? Is it not
the light ? But virtue like a diamond, what is crafted on a crystalline basis,
apt for light, transmitting it, focussing it, sending it as if in transports of
delight into the air, to be caught by the passing eye, like stationary
fire-flies in the cave of the mind ? Yes, certainly. Virtue is like that.
Let us consider.
First, notice that it is found, this Greek word 'areth, in II Peter 1:5. In fact, it is the very FIRST thing which Peter is moved to ask us to ADD to FAITH, in his beautiful list, which was considered as one whole in Ch. 7 of Spiritual Refreshings for the Digital Millenium (concentric Christianity, the topic).
The Greek word used by Peter means firstly, eminent endowment, outstanding gift, excellent (because notable) gift, strength in the sense of native possession, personal attribute that shines. Secondly, it means an ethical attribute, goodness, and this in thought, feeling or action, a thing notable morally; and in this, it can refer to some particular excellence of morality, ethical and personal, which is to be found.
But see it in its Biblical setting, and it is then that it sings, being full of joy and rapture, not for nothing the first thing after faith in Peter's moral and spiritual repertoire (not necessarily the primary thing, but certainly one highly conspicuous).
Think now in another
metaphorical setting. Take the body, and in particular the shoulder for
illustrative purposes. There it sits, and it may have pain from tendons, or
muscles or nerves, or be weak, asthenic in construction or development; or else
it may have virtue. In Latin, the correlative indicated a natural gift or
manliness (nowadays personaliness could be coined!). It was natural, it was
good, it worked, it had force, it could do things, it DID things, and these
were fitting things.
Biblically, it moves naturally beyond the natural! It requires us to think of what IS goodness (the moral character of God), and what IS natural (the created order as it ought to be), and what is strength. On this last, an excellent physiotherapist congratulated the author for courage because he, now a septuagenarian, on a climb up a rather steep and definitely challenging mountain (not big by Alpine standards, but requiring hundreds of large steps on rocks and the like), decided NOT to go the last hundred yards or two, because not only did it involve very heavy exertion (passable), but clinging desperately with the fingers to rock faces, in case with one slip, one should go down and crush a bone or two, or break one. It did not seem that this extra elevation was worth, for purely adventurous purposes and a somewhat better view, taking a substantial risk of being disabled for months, all at first dependent on precision of finger and ankle!
Bravery! for that. Yes, that is how she saw it. IF one had gone on, it would be perhaps a 30% chance that this would in fact occur, since one is not quite as agile, deft and accurate at such times, as when 50. Hence the possibility of the least clumsiness was palpable. IF this had been done and this result of a fracture had come, then SHE would probably have had to help in the restoration. For what ? for rescuing a child ? for conquering an enemy ? for repelling an invader ? Not at all: for having had fun in climbing adventure.
It was not an easy decision. IF one went a little further, one would estimate it better than possible that one would arrive intact, sniff the summit, expand into the distant horizons, glory in the view and so forth. Further, it is good to finish what one begins, as a general principle, but not of course when what is begun is foolhardy or misconceived. IF one did not proceed, one might never glimpse the wonder of that summit, after having walked for a long period. In mitigation, there was a delightful view already, and had been several on the way, when resting in some niche, one paused to regard the distant scene from the mounting heights.
Yet outside such adventure, one had work for CHRIST to do, and to represent to HIM that this was a good thing, a virtuous thing would not be within the author's competence. It would seem rather childish. Hence, perhaps chiefly for this sort of reason, one stopped, went back, and found ANOTHER WAY to the same sort of height, which did not involve this peril. This way led to further wonders to behold, which all in all, was a triumph of planning over impetuosity.
Virtue is what sees its
place, keeps to it, but is willing to see things beyond it, without ceasing to
practice its duty, fulfil its responsibilities, or to become aggrandised, or
despairing, one or the other, on the way.
A QUESTION OF SHOULDERS
Back to the shoulder. Let us personify it. Here is an asthenic shoulder. What is necessary is to be done to strengthen it, including any surgery. Effort and thought are provided to develop it. Perhaps one mentions this because a so-called 'frozen' shoulder was once found on the author's right side. It was appalling, weak, verging in measure, in some respects, on uselessness. It was not that it did not work, but it complained, it could not turn the hand properly to the back, it tended to resent effort beyond a mild point and so on. It was NOT virtuous, in the physical and Greek sense of the New Testament word. It REQUIRED much to restore it.
Thus my physiotherapist with excellent gradations worked it this way, with pain, and that way with pain, moving, stretching it, forcing it with restraint, but with mounting pressure. This took months. It worked, but with real limits, in the meantime. Virtue was not with it, but work was done on it!
As the tortuous activities mounted (and they were EMINENTLY worth it), one day there was a quite audible plop! and something which had apparently been an 'adhesion', linking it where it should not do so, broke. Then it was virtually over. Now it could move freely, without sickening restraint once more, and strength could return. It seemed a marvel that it could now take its virtuous place in the body, and hence in life, not a feeble or distorted or contorted, or complaining thing, but one with the full measure of natural mobility, regaining the normal strength and sufficiency, efficiency for its place in the body, and through the body, in life. It was a marvel, a delight, like welcoming back an estranged member of the family to virtuous domestic life.
It was GOOD to have it
back, and goodness was the quality that was embraced, enhanced, in the physical
life. It was a virtuous kind of goodness, a thing resuming its place, doing it
with strength and poise and propriety, and proceeding with gusto and grace to
enhance the work of the whole body, with joy. It was received likewise, with
delight. Goodness and mercy joined hands, and shouldered the work load.
THE HEAD SURMOUNTS
This illustration brings out what is delightful about virtue, Biblically. It is not just any goodness, any strength, any duty. It is that which is natural, normal, to be expected, in association with others of like mind, who together as Paul has it repeatedly, are like a body. But this is not all. The head has the orders. Naturally, the shoulder has its neighbours, and attached tendons, articulated structures, nerve attachments, clavicle, and these their muscular base. Naturally, it is to be cognisant (in our personification) of their needs, requirements and due association with strength for the whole, with all these parts, realising their weaknesses or needs, and helping the whole to function with felicity and precision.
However the ORDERS do not come from that physical neighbourhood, only the conveniences and associative functions of proximities. There is also the PURPOSE of the action, from the outset, whatever it may be. It is this which has to be considered with priority. This depends, ultimately on the head. There may be semi-automatic and automatic reference systems for co-operation, which in one sense have a measure of control; but beyond all this, there is the implementation of the PURPOSE OF THE HEAD. IF, for example, one muscle were to fibrillate, quiver, fade, then that is NOT to be put in comparison with the demands of the head. As in a war, one has to execute one's commission, and do what one can, even if one fellow soldiers are in rebellion. That is virtue.
Now that is also a martial illustration. As such, it has limits. Thus it is NOT virtue if the head is mad, or to take a likely case these days, a war criminal inciting one to irresponsible evil in the name of authority. That is something the head has to consider in formulating its purpose. Thus, in that case, in our martial illustration, the head would simply refuse, and despite the increasing moral depravity being legitimised in the world in the last century, to do other than this would certainly not be regarded as virtuous... afterwards.
But so regarded BY WHOM ?
By courts and commissions relevant to such wartime activities. But must they be
right ? Of course not, for they could be prejudiced and sensual, mere
expressions of lofty power in its own arrogance, slanted for profit,
politically or financially. One would hope for better, but the case admits this
Leave the illustration and come to the reality. GOD is the commission, and it is HE whom as a Christian one serves. Hence this HEAD cannot err, for He is without iniquity and just (Deuteronomy 32 and cf. SMR Ch. 1, Barbs, Arrows and Balms Chs. 6 - 7). It is for this reason that it is joy for the just to do justice, or judgment, as the Proverb has it (Proverbs 21:15). It is like God to be like that, and, again for the Christian, as one's Father HE is the cynosure, criterion and source of censure or praise. This head does not move. Its will IS just and good and right. GOD is righteous, and indeed justice and righteousness are the foundation of His throne (Psalm 89). Having made, He judges; having constructed, He occasions; having planned, He fulfils; the source of all, without aid from any, with nothing to gain from any, He gives, and gives according to principle.
Mercy gives when justice is not moved, except to censure. It is able to intervene. But divine mercy has its ways. It does not violate justice, but PAYS for the privilege, as when Christ died to save sinners, being the butt, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God (I Peter 2:22ff., 3:18, Romans 3:23ff.).
Thus, to revert to the case
of physiotherapy, in virtue the need of the shoulder was met. It cost. In
virtue it was mended; it worked. In virtue, it proceeded, it followed the head.
LIFE WITHOUT VIRTUE IS LIKE A STREAM WITHOUT WATER
So with virtue in life. It
involves the endowment, its efficiency, its due relationship to its neighbours
IN THE SAME BODY (in the Christian case, that of Christ), and its SEPARATION
definitively, from what is NOT CHRIST (as in II Cor. 6:14ff., Ephesians 5, cf. The
Kingdom of Heaven ... Ch. 8).
If you try to move your arm BY MEANS OF somebody else's shoulder, it can lead to conflicts between the head of your arm (your own), and another head (the one relating to the other shoulder). If the respective purposes are DEFINED as wholly divergent, then such an action would be sheer madness. Thus believers are not to be spiritually related to unbelievers, says Paul. Indeed, Christians are not to be related to what is CALLED Christian, which does not honour our head, Jesus Christ, by departing from His word (as in Romans 16:17).
A case arose some years ago in this country. A major denomination was astray on various topics of doctrine, and had moved perilously from its foundations. A second denomination from abroad has come into the land, same type, apparently and ostensibly indeed to remedy the failure of the first. In due time, it was announced that one of the churches of the foreign body would CO-operate with one of the local one. This is forbidden expressly in Romans 16:17, since the local variety had demonstrably, as it later began to admit, departed from the apostolic teaching. In exposing this fact, one was condemned by some, as is only natural when rebellion is around. If the Head is not being heeded in one thing, it is likely to condemn the corrective to its own recklessness. Children in tantrums can be like that too.
The same thing happened in
New Zealand, when the author, alone as it appeared, in Assembly, demanded the
restoration of the bodily resurrection of Christ to the required doctrine of
that Church, and condemned in Assembly, most vigorously, any departure from
this basic fact of Christianity. It is in fact one of the criteria of
justification as Paul expressly states in Romans 4:25-5:1, and defines in I
Cor. 15, where the thing laid is the thing raised, and in Luke 24, where the
flesh is specified, for the resurrected Christ. In the New Zealand case,
adjectives of condemnation flew like feathers from fighting roosters, floating
by mail onto the author. The 'judges' were fighting with the Lord, and His
servant was the butt this time. But then one is not in this world to rejoice in
pleasure, but to serve the Lord. His compassion is channeled like water from a
It is useless to try to evaporate it and avoid the channel.
The channel is Christ, not
some other Christ, not some other Gospel, not some other Spirit, as Paul
declares so clearly in II Corinthians 11:4, completing the condemnation in II
The ministers of Satan, he exposes and expounds, may be transformed into angels of light, but it is not so really, merely in propaganda fanfare and active delusion. Thus, it is not so hard, really, the course of virtue in such things, if one realises this only: that Christ does not change, the word of God does not rust or perish, the word of man is just that, emission from a frame created by God, which, should it try to create the word of God, is merely a spokesman for the opposition, which is what 'Satan' means - adversary.
Virtue does not follow an adversary, but the natural One for authority, who made nature, and as supernatural issues the way from His own mouth. He paid; He redeemed, as Job saw in prophetic vision, and Christ performed in painful reality. It is for Him to rule, and what is not so ruled, is unruly, not virtuous, but astray, like a broken limb, with the wrong angle. Such is by the SUFFICIENCY OF THE POWER OF GOD, to be avoided, and it is He who instils virtue (II Cor. 3:5-6, 4:1-6).
Rebellion continues in its own ways. It is like the pall of smoke, confused, invasive, acrid, perilous, unnatural to lungs, and when radioactive in its own flush line, a signal of mortality.
Virtue however, if the body be astray, recognises its fault and corrects it, so that the head can be obeyed, and the neighbouring structures co-operated with, in strict supervisory order, ONLY as the head declares. Otherwise it is not a body, but a piece of spasticity, and may such an object of horror not masquerade in spiritual places.
Virtue then involves discipline, self-discipline, a sense of place, of what one has to do, of co-operation, IN the doing of it, and this is not confused with doing something ELSE! It is a strong, sound, natural thing, sharing perspectives of the locale and the supervision of the lordly head, alike, each from its place, with true priority accorded the latter.
Not only is all this so, but there is discipline to DEVELOP the strength which is native and natural, so that it can HELP the other members of the body, so that it can alleviate difficulties for other members; and with this, there is self-control, so that the natural force being developed does not prove at all harmful to the body, but rather a support. This means experience and practice, principle and consideration. It ultimately draws on LOVE, so that one can forgive follies such as the above, but not regard them as the sort of thing with which to co-operate under any circumstances. It means that when this is the case, when repentance occurs, then one continues to strengthen without restraint due to having been betrayed. It is only necessary that repentance come, and then all continues, without compromise to the head.
But 'under any circumstances' ? Yes, this is another facet of virtue. It has faithfulness to its task and emplacement. With follies, it does not co-operate, now or then, here or there, for this reason or for that. It has to be willing to keep its native force and strength in alert constraint so that the head is always heeded. In the actual body, dementia of various sorts limit the analogy; but in the life of Christ, this case is one which, due to the mercy of God, does not even arise. Never, not even as a small cloud on the horizon is it to be found. It is a constraint which is never operative. It is a complication never to be met. It enables enormous simplification of moral duty, and the function of virtue.
That ? In turn, this involves FAITH. Believing the sublimity and spirituality of Christ, the great God of us and the Saviour, Jesus Christ, as Titus has it (following the Greek, 2:13), whose "glorious appearing" comes nearer daily, and resting in His revelation of Himself in history, in scripture, and by His own Spirit, all of which agree in matrix and message, one does safely proceed like a pilot on his instruments. They INDICATE what the pilot's occasionally disoriented or confused mind might not realise. He follows them. Again the analogy is limited because of possible instrumental malfunction ; but OUR Saviour as God , is not so subject! Hence faith moves, love acts, virtue moving in wonderful company, sparkles, structurally placed like the facet of a diamond.
Put differently, it is itself like a diamond, held in place in the palm of love, seen with the eyes of faith, and worn with the elegance of the beauty of holiness. It is of the Lord, who gives it, and helps it grow.
To your faith, says II Peter 1:5, add VIRTUE. It is a brilliant thing, in the wonderful company of Christ. Its naturalness is at its height, in the shaft of light from the supernatural. It is then that its beauty is transfigured, the effulgence of the character of Christ being upon it, reflected in pulses of light, flashes, sparkles, gleams, and with strength. But what does it reflect, in this setting: it is Christ whom it reflects: so having faith, add to it virtue. If without faith, GET IT! Go where it is to be found, to Christ, go with repentance, and
"and return to the Lord.
Say to Him,
'Take away all iniquity,
for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips' ".
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from him," is the divine response.
Virtue follows Him, its source, loves Him, its base and basis, grows in Him, its nurture and strength, follows faith, sails with the wind of His presence. It prevents confusion when applied vigorously in faith, with love, it allays doubt, rejoices the heart, for it is the very hearth of heaven shedding its warmth and naturalness, its order and its righteousness, its reliability and its scope, receptive to its vision and its assignment alike. In the life in Christ, it is a marksman against that serial killer, folly through autonomy, weakness through uncertainty, and arrogance through reaction.
It ends the Hamletesque
dilemmas for which the human mind is not framed as its métier. It is the
termination of turgid living, of compromise and treachery, bringing in Christ,
the rest of reality, and the light of that Lord who alone knows all, and can
without peril, rule the heart. In practice, it is as in principle: it works,
and with it, one works well. It is one more verification of the Bible, that
this feature in THIS ORIENTATION finds its rest and its labour rewarding.