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But what does it satisfy ? C.S. Lewis seems to feel that literature shows evidence of certain myth-making features, such evolutionary thrust, brazenly left without the denouement of sad failure that the literary version can offer, in the heroics seized on by some scientists. Doubtless, he is well versed in his field. (Christian Reflections, pp 82 ff., The Funeral of a Great Myth ... that of evolution.)
Certainly, the making of vast thrusts of imagination is something people can do. The Greeks were particularly good at putting humans into godly garb and having them do fascinatingly fantastic things, sometimes for humour, or for comment on life. However, there are insuperable problems in any endeavour to put Christ into this category, either in the fact or the features of His life.
In Appendix C (infra), the fact and basic structure of His life is shown remorselessly, in terms of the evidence. Similarly in Chapter 6 (infra), the character, quality and identity of His life as the Son of God is demonstrated; while in Chapter 1 (supra), the generic necessity that God has spoken is demonstrated, and the Bible including the New Testament is exhibited, necessarily, to be what He said. And there also, is revealed that same Jesus Christ. The imitations and intimations of fraud are as natural to man as is the reality of what is genuine; and deception with fraud is correlative to the existence and awareness of the genuine. The genuine has simply to be found in its meeting the criteria, as in bank-notes.
One of the attestations of fraud in this case is the point made by C.S. Lewis, the Cambridge Professor of such renown; and the fraud is that of those who try to manufacture God, because unwilling to worship the God who created them. Is it, one almost could wonder, in 'vengeance' for their being so 'demeaned' - might we say? - as to be created! Lewis notes the whole history and nature of literary development is against any concept of concocted gospels, arising not from history but from the creative imaginations of men, saying:
As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don't work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so... (This appears in God In The Dock, in the Essay, What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ, p. 82.)Speaking of the singularity of the gospels in terms of their literary form, not only in the ancient world, but now, Lewis adds:
There is nothing even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence.Lewis finds a singularity in the realistic format of the gospels wholly alien to works of fiction, of legend in all antiquity and that this startlingly different air is maintained in substantial uniqueness for 1900 years to the beginning of our modern age. Let us pursue this theme for a moment, in its individuality, before tracing its place in the network of allied considerations, as testimony and verification of the vast historical impact of the majesty, truth and strength of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
As to the matters recorded, then, in these gospels, this was no philosophy. The Church spent much time apprehending all the implications of this startling historical happening, and formulating the results as it met various challenges; though the power of God and the living presence of the physically resurrected and death breaching Lord Jesus Christ were always dominant, from the first. Nevertheless, Paul the apostle wrote, guided by the same Lord, within several years of Christ's resurrection, with wide acceptance and clear presentation of the deep things.
The triviality of the secular wit gave way to the awe of reality, and truth forged its own literary forms in the gospels of Jesus Christ. Reality released a realism in religious portraiture which taught the world a new form of biography. What would you expect, or as the French put it, que voulez-vous ?
When God was the subject, and God as a man, the format, uniqueness all through is, as it were, the formula: say better the very air and atmosphere. Thus even the form of writing carries its own force of verification. Like truth, and being truth itself, it exhibits its natural reality on every side: what we might call the natural verification of the supernatural, on earth.
There is a sense, indeed, in which the writers are following in writing the Lord whom they followed, in their own biological format, as men, on earth. The verb in Luke's expression, concerning the writing of the gospel of Luke, means to 'follow after someone so as to always at his side', as the dictionary puts it, or accurately to follow... all things, as the New King James translation puts it in the margin, as literal.
The disciples who were called to write were, like Mary at the preparation of the Christ in the womb, overshadowed by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth as Christ called Him (John 16:13), who ministered to them the simplicity of the record (cf., Luke 1:2-3), as a tourist writes of the Niagra Falls, with conscious directness, but with the majesty of truth.
Now we may return to the observation of Professor C.S. Lewis, concerning the literary form of the gospels, review his statement and relate it to allied considerations concerning the historical life of Jesus Christ, and its consequences and implications, in terms of verification of the Bible.
As an imaginative construction, the gospel record would fail to meet the form for any ancient literary role, as would a brain surgeon if he were trying to become a romantic actor. In that role, he might well be clumsy, for it is not his. The roles, the reasons and the rationales are all different in entirety... He is not 'dealing' with audiences but with raw reality.
Lewis' point is that only as authentic history, claiming amazed accounts with full, frank and free records of events - which is indeed the stress - can explanation be found for the fact of the gospels. Except as record, says Lewis, it does not fit, into literary history. Indeed, like so much else, viewed contrary to fact it does not fit anywhere.
Just as literature does not admit such a testimony, in its historical setting, so history does not allow such a development in its literary setting... such a New Testament Canon so rapidly to 'arise', set almost at once among the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament, with their massive divine authority. (See Ch. 6 and Appendix C, Vol. 3, infra,).
Nor are such graphic constructions as the 4 gospels, reeking with individuality of utterance from each of the 4 writers, obviously more concerned to record fact than to mould a form, far less connive in its acceptance, to be admitted by common sense: except for what they are. Nor is the inability of man to overcome this God-claimant, except by plotting His death, able to fit into the professional setting of acute lawyers, always frustrated, against such a 'case'! - if a mere fraud. Nor, barring the authentic, does the record of Christ fit into the Old Testament predictive setting, where 'success' means death for the Messiah, and dispersion - as the ultimate covenant breaking penalty - for the Jewish people. (See in detail, Ch.s 8 & 9 infra, Zechariah 11:10-15, 12:10, Leviticus 26:27-35, and Scriptural Index on these verses; also cf. Ch. 6 infra.)
Still less does it fit for the Messiah who emphasised these things with a sombre realism alive with expectant joy; dwelling on the coming death, the ruin, the desolation and the scattering, with a fixity of purpose which might have seemed morbid: if it had not been truth. Nor for that matter does the power of a lifeless corpse fit into the life and the fearlessness in the face of death, of what would be frauds, daftly committed to deploy God's power without even their leader (cf. p. 470 infra): consigned to hell for deceit and blasphemy ... or liars, for whom infamy on earth would be followed by an abyss of folly, dug by their own hands. On the composite and complete data before us, nothing fits except the authentic one, who knew His place and His power. Authenticity fits all the requirements, of reason as well as of evidence, and it does so uniquely.
Here as elsewhere, different ideas merely emphasise the profound and consistent nature of the verification of the testimony of Jesus Christ, on every side.
Indeed, anyone who does not accept the self-revealing God has insuperable problems, in this lordly business of dispensing with history and logic, as used by Christians. As shown in Chapter 3 (supra), man in this situation, while even speaking with the most audacious assurance, does so quite illogically in such a matter as determining truth and reality. Walking myths, will they evaluate their substance ? For such makers or moulders or reviewers of myths and marvels as the godless, both of their own, and of those made or not made by other creatures: it is impossible to find any objective way in which logically to accord any significance whatever, systematically speaking, to anything at all declared. Once blowing up their own Houses of Spiritual Parliament, they are in no position to legislate; and to legislate is precisely what they do when they utter the myth that Christ is a myth.
With no basis of their own, to be distinct from meaningless meanders exhibiting their flimsy limits, they are not able to advance beyond myth to reality, in order to defy or define what is not! They need the self-revealing God as a prelude to attacking anything at this level. Theirs is the atheistic myth.
Atheistic myth? You might protest that it is really an anti-myth, but not so. It is part of a fiasco of human exaltation, in which gods and men are manipulated,'handled' broadly, on the godlike basis of those who, being (by their view) mere meaninglessly, experientially limited human miasma, atoms of non-significance, assume (functionally) divine honours. The myth is most comic when, in a world not even possessing any objective viewpoint to confer on its denizens (on their own basis, by implication), such people esteem any perspective or view or concept of the truth which may happen to lap on their (mini-) shores, to be possessed of any reality value at all. All this has been extensively shown, and is merely succinctly recalled here. Such myths die before they are born; and science is not the place for their funeral.
There is nothing personal as such here. If Bible-affirming persons (anomalously) did what these do, their ungodly words would be just the same: they would have the same vacuous insignificance. It is a question of procedure. It is not personal to say on this (unbelieving) basis, that nothing personal is significant. It is significant however in the myth-making claim. The parties making it are systematically barred from having the perspective and power to make judgments involving truth at all; and meaningless mouthings do not deserve reply.
If they contradict themselves in removing their power to know and then using it, there is no need for any activity in response, except pity. The myth of achieving god-reaching powers, divinity status, merely for the thrill of it, the imagination of it, when neither God nor His powers are believed in; or even if believed in, are free from convenient bans on speech, having no way of being found by the controversialist concerned: this is real myth. What is it then ? It is the fulfilment without rationality of fundamental hopes of many humans; comparable to speed thrills with a motor-cyclist, as he roars to a cliff top. It does not mean anything, but that his life is deranged.
This myth must be laid to rest; for it is merely irrational. That done, the basis for myth review is removed. Based on myth, confusing it with reason, you are automatically excluded from having the power to review myths, which would require reason, just to start.
Those who believe the Bible, and in
One self- revealing God, may consistently affirm what the truth is, for
God Himself assuredly has the power of it (Chapter 1 supra). Those who
reject Him-as-revealed, equally assuredly have no way of getting the truth
(cf. Chapter 3 supra); and so action pre-supposing they have it, is merely
a frivolous frothing of uncontrolled and undisciplined imagination. It
is perhaps not quite so bad or comic if this is realised, and its day-dream
and contradictory elements are perceived. From this, we are led to:
The mythopoeic implications if God had not spoken
(Cf. Ch. 1, pp. 42 ff. and 88 ff. supra.)
One of the more aspiring actions of the mythopoeic powers of man is this: to invade heaven, or, if you wish, to construct his own without materials, situation or adhesives. Thus he may decide to evict God from heaven, or mythopoeically manufacture some heaven or haven without God - the result is the same, mythical; and then legislate that it is really no good, this system, this universe, this state of things, divinity and all that.
He, man, has said so; and lo, so it is. Forget his metaphysical monstrosity of irrationality in any such assertion (Chapter 3 supra). Let us, for the moment, concentrate on the pure ethics of it. Thus man is thereby saying that he has examined the nature of things, and it simply isn't good enough. If the management can't do any better, then he will for that reason, despite all logic, disbelieve in the management; or sometimes, he will utter this 'judgment' as a sort of threat like this: very well, if this is the way God acts, I shall simply disbelieve in Him.
In this case, the logic of the matter, the inescapable logic which we have already examined, is a little more acknowledged. God will be confronted by not being believed in, so there! It is rather like a divorce: Very well, if you will not measure up, I shall voluntarily and officially sever all ties, and you will be to me as if you were not. The 'as if' is the important part here...
Yet there is value for us here. If God had not spoken, and if there were all these judgments on the earth (that God has in fact spoken of, as we see and have seen): then the one speaking would in principle, be able to point out to God, ways of improving on His performance. A silent God confronting man, with a noisy planet filled with ethical horrors, would then be subject to a noisy man telling Him why and where it is wrong, and how it could be improved and that, if he, man, were almighty, he would solve the problems in this and that way in short order ... indeed, to be frank and of course humble, he, man, would never have let them happen.
The monstrous absurdity of a wholly constructed exhibit called man, initially and always dependent on God, being wiser than He, having access to more resolving power, greater intrinsic knowledge of all things and more apt provisions for the use of God's creation, using only the powers God donated, is of course a sort of logical insanity. It is one which seems chiefly confined to areas like religion, philosophy, psychology and its cognates, and at times, politics. There man is at risk and in hope, and often acts as if he were god, God indeed, without much thought beyond his desire. So here. The petty distinction between the finite and the infinite, the derivative and the Deriver seems lost in the winds of appetite.
Yet, as we have reasoned, if God had not spoken in such a world as this, with His construction of man, exhibiting His own truth and justice (Chapter 1), so leaving such a world remedy-less: there would be a flat contradiction between what He is and what is. Silence, in these circumstances, would allow the ludicrous irrationality just traced, to be true. Indeed, the point is this: it is this myth that God lacked in unlocking the right and good solution for man, so that man could himself envisage improvements, both radical and assured. (Cf. *7, p. 1163A; *1, p. 1174B infra.)
That does indeed follow if God had not spoken. Those who 'prefer to think' this, despite the necessities of logic and the perennial verifications in scientific method shown, and this so often in this work, are in fact guilty of the utmost blasphemy, as well as irrationality: One reason ... for judgment at the bar of God. (Thus self-disciplined love providing ransom is despised.) Avoiding both errors, we simply affirm His speech, as does He, with consistent and sustained verification, culminating in the elegant and articulate provisions of the incarnate Word (John 1:1-14, Colossians 1:19-21, 2:9), by which the needs of logic were so surpassed as to make it like first seeing the ocean, when only of a puddle was needed.
2 See *2, pp. 422Q-T infra.
3 Bloom here postulates that if there were to be, in the academic settings he has in mind, a teacher who regarded, for whatever reason, the Bible as authentic, as a genuine deposit from the divine Lord, for faith: then that instructor would be given short shrift by his university; he would be regarded as an intolerable teacher.
Indeed, Bloom considers that there would be fear, if the teacher were left alone, unsuppressed by 'measures'. Might he not recreate unresolved divisions, or activate them ? Might he not... set at war lingering passions, detonate lurking inadequacies, equipped with raw fear, if he were to remain unsuppressed by 'measures'. Might he not re-create, bring to focus, unresolved divisions, or activate them ? Might he not... set at war lingering battalions in favour of... or against... reason, or revelation! He would upset the marriage of convenience, so splendidly arranged between divergent parties. He would end, if left free to teach, by bringing humiliation on the humanities faculty, desolate in their impotence.
That of course would be a loss so great, that it would be unthinkable to allow the teaching force to include such a maverick instructor or lecturer! The superficiality and quasi-sophistication of the long-sick teaching corps, he seems to imply in terms of trend, would be provoked to fatal and revealing heart attack, depending of course on the continuance of that organ...
The irrational intolerance and fostered irreverence of deciduous teachers who had lost their leaves, in a continual academic Winter, are exposed like blackened trunks against the snow.
4 See EXTENSION on
the MYTHOPOEIC MATTERS OF MAN, pp. 380-386
One hears these days a great deal about love. Love to oneself is almost made into a sacred duty. One should, one hears, look after one's survival (as well as any alley rat), one's sacred personality, to see that it has proper self-interest duly cultivated, proper impact and intrusion in a world which has other things to do, and must learn that this is one of the things to be done. One should see that any drive, emotion, or perhaps even instinct is fully satisfied, whilst learning to do this discreetly lest it should be aborted by others in needless collision; one should... oh, the list can go on, one should deceive the public into believing that one is genuinely and heartily concerned for them, for oh, they like that! One should maximise profit, minimise pain and secure a shrewd life; and in more advanced forms of this loveless scenario, one should deceive even friends in order to achieve total self-fulfilment (a business executive poll tended to suggest this).
Deceit then collides with truth, a mutilating experience, a masquerading parody of man and a wrestling with reality which cannot injure ... it.
Does a world like this deserve to live ? Has this generation, in its statistical tendencies and trends, forgotten truth altogether ? Is appearance to be their sole consideration, and acknowledgement their whole criterion ?
With the withering of patriotism, induced not merely by cowardice and self-love but by the carefully inculcated myth of an international community (though anything less unified, it would be hard to find); the love of family systematically being smothered by socialistic, moralless mouthing about one's own thing and one's own life, as if one came straight into the world without a use for a womb; and children increasingly the wards and things of the State, which indoctrinates them mercilessly with its cancerous monstrosities, creating turbulent adolescent tumours in the young, who know less and less of the very concept and meaning of truth... with all this, the human psyche is being deadened. It is left increasingly like a manipulated corpse, kept in motion by the marvels of modern (social) technology! While many remain, unmoved in Christ, and others temporarily stage degrees of resistance, the trend is both vigorous and vicious.
If the judgment seems too hard, consider the media; and if that does not fully convince you, try door-to-door visiting; and if more is needed, teach in government schools, and then at the tertiary level. People are turning in droves from State secondary schools, looking for discipline, authority, morals, ethics of some kind or other; and often quite uncritically, knowing merely that what the State produces seems to be increasingly, horribly tainted.
This is no attack on the young; but on the follies of men, whether in or out of government, who indoctrinate, propagandise and follow propaganda which they create, away from the absolute morals, the actual truth, the sacrificial certainties where peace lies.
Just as sacrifice from God, who was in Christ, reconciling the repentant who receive Him, to Himself, is increasingly thrust aside and rejected by the human subjects of Sovereign Sin, a reckless character; so self-sacrifice in life or even self-control in conduct, is departing. The wound in society is becoming purulent; while the possessed, proceeding with heedless feet even with guns to supermarkets, and the abused or ambitious, from Cambodia to California's lethal 'teen gangs, attest its decline for man. Christ's wisdom, inspiring much of America for generations, and giving a strong lead for many in Australia, at least in savoured ideal, being more and more firmly set to one side, the depths of folly come spilling out, like Saddam Hussein's oil streak, moving with dark menace down the Persian Gulf, threatening even the provision of pure water, for Saudi Arabia.
Almost predictably, the young, being mentally violated - the real remedy being recklessly distanced - and frequently therefore with little redress, are taught that all is relative, all morals, all religion, all is convenience, and that it is most convenient to act on this basis, never asserting anything in religion which suggests, far less declares that any one thing is the truth. That, in this modern society, is about as near to the unforgivable sin as you can get.
Yet it should be clear, even obvious, that you need to know absolute truth in order to claim that such things as these propaganda points are so, and that on their own basis, such things cannot be known, so that their whole system falls: the myth, the mirage of man continues, while much of the humankind runs with rigour the race that is set before it, like a pack of lemmings dedicated to drowning in the sea that swamps their very beings.
I heard on the bus such a conversation as appalled me, some young thing who had achieved the now all but necessary 'Pass At Matric.', speaking to lesser lights who had no such distinction. Remorselessly she educated her underlings, people about her own age... The rights of woman, the male dominated society, giving them what- ho, the inevitability of homosexuality for some, the biological determinisms that force it and so on ... a litany of hate, hatred of goodness. It was as if she had never heard, and never known that "they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
It seemed never to have occurred to her that if men's minds are determined by anything then, unless that be the truth, no knowledge of truth is possible, including that deterministic assessment, viewpoint or statement. If underneath and beyond any factuality and regard for the actualities, there are these subtle, or subterranean forces, be they mental, sexual, physiological or psychological, emotional or social, historical or economic, forces which manipulate and control the mind, now this way, now that, depending merely on the button being pushed by the force concerned and the shape of the human socket, then the power to know this would be wholly compromised.
The very theory that this is so would be out of court at once. It is inconsistent and horribly blind to claim the destruction of the power of knowledge, or to imply it, whilst seeking to impart it! to disable knowledge while declaring it, to be a pall-bearer for understanding, while passing it on.
Not so is this with Jesus Christ. Claiming to be the absolute truth, He could impart it without contradiction; challenged to defend His claims, He did meet them with entire resolution and resolving power, leaving no inconsistency behind, no issue unmastered, no power unused, if it was needed to perform anything He claimed. Now the chief thing He claimed for the nature of our lives, beyond His own lordship and creation of them, and beyond the necessity of His own redemption of them (without which, goodbye, life is gone, do what you will)... it was this (Mark 12:30-31):
Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, you will love your neighbour as yourself. There is none other commandment greater these.If then, Christ be the Lord, then love to Him, with the Holy Spirit and the Father, must be total, commitment undaunted, discipline unmolested, devotion ummarred. Now that is about as far from the marvels of modern educational technology as you can get; and the results are likewise. Which of these results then do you find most appealing ? The barren brashness of beautiful young lives doing their own most varied things with most unvaried ultimate results; or lives that sing and ring and harmonise and make spiritual symphony both together and with their sense of purpose, destiny and origin ? Lives that make loving their neighbours an art not an act, a sacred duty, all being offered to the God whose love is shed abroad in their hearts: activating them like the tension of a spring, without eliminating but rather fulfilling their personalities, for it is this for which they are made.
Why is there such interest in sport ? One reason, shown in the hugs for goals and so on, is this: that it involves teamwork very often, and discipline and devotion to goals! This is within the heart of man, but it is carnally misdirected by the modern State, with the hearts of the misled in full song at their captivity, the administrative captivity of man. Why is there such emphasis on the disabled ? Such emphasis is the least one can do, this appears to be the message, while ruthlessly seeking first one's own life and all that appertains to it. This is often a soggy immoral sop to replace the good meal of genuine love to God and neighbour, which would not merely touch the pocket but transform the whole character of one's life, and with it, the whole impact of living it ... on others.
How much more does the Lord remorselessly and lovingly release His love on the earth, pursuing, seeking, following! and how well does John Masefield, former Poet Laureate put it in his Everlasting Mercy :
But there's a great sun calls the moonHe continues:
And all God's bells will carol soon
For joy and glory and delight
Of someone coming home tonight...
Out into darkness, out to night,
My flaring heart gave plenty light,
So wild it was there was no knowing
Whether the clouds or stars were blowing;
Blown chimney pots and folk blown blind
And puddles glimmering like my mind,
And chinking glass from windows banging,
And in my heart the drink unpriced,
The burning cataracts of Christ.
I did not think,I did not strive,
The deep peace burnt my me alive.
The bolted door had broken in,
I knew that I had done with sin,
I knew that Christ had given me birth
To brother all the souls on earth,
And every bird and every beast
Should share the crumbs broke at the feast.
O glory of the lighted mindThat (long) poem, from which these lines are excerpted, is well worth reading! and God's poem is expressed in terms as joyous, but far more searching. For there is the searching that does not find, being partial, and there is the heart that does not come, the folly that does not repent. To this we will return; but our present concern is to express, response apart, the love of God which is like a vast waterfall, a Niagara of entreaty, deafening with its thrust, delighting with its beauty, cascading in the very innocence of its perfection. If men will ignore it, traduce it, seduced by sin, put ugly hands on the soul of beauty, the love of the Lord, so be it. It is beautiful no less; nor can the resurrected Christ be slain any more (Revelation 1:18-19) - His redemption is sure and His promises apply (John 4:14):
How dead I'd been, how dumb, how blind.
The station brook, to my new eyes,
Was babbling out of Paradise;
The waters rushing from the rain,
Were singing Christ has risen again.
I thought all earthly creatures knelt
From rapture of the joy I felt.
But whosoever (once) drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.There is the prodigious tonnage of water flowing by, there is the unlimited offer, the simple taking required; and past humanity - like a crazed, heat drunk desert walker - it pours, while 'Mirage! mirage!', they cry, as they die. But whoever once tastes this water is done with mirages for ever!
The parable in Mark 12 illustrates the point tellingly. The master of a vineyard makes it all fine, buildings, production units, all is done well: departing for a far country, he leaves tenants. When rent is sought from afar, through messengers, sent servants, not merely is the produce for their Master denied them, but they are 'despitefully used' (verse 4). Now our present point is this: the master kept on sending more servants.
Did these wicked and graceless miscreants mistreat one obedient servant of that very Master who gave them the vineyard in the first place ? Very well, He sent more. Now does it not occur to you that God loved those servants ? they were not mere functionaries. God is love I never forget it (I John 4:7-8). His love is not episodic, fitful, whimsical, capricious, but sure, stable, sound, intrinsic not extrinsic, essential, ontologically permanent and quintessentially perfect. It does not display, but it is irrepressible.
He loved those whom He kept on sending, whom they kept on hurting, murdering as Rome murdered the great William Tyndale who slaved that others might gain the light of the Lord in carefully translated scripture, translated into their own tongue for their own hearts. (This is one reason why we use, with due prudence, the New King James for our New Testament, avoiding the translators' trash which sometimes presumes on the manuscripts, but following the same right 'family' majority of manuscripts providentially used in the King James, even at this early stage.)
The measure of love ? there is no measure. It goes to the utmost; there is no limit. There is limit in the response as we shall see, but not in the love. It falls like the rain, runs like the brook, is high like the snows, untouched like the vast realms of outer space, aloft like the sun at midday, but intimate and close like its rays to the body, at the very same time! How great is this love of God, which is shed on those who believe, beckons those who do not yet believe, more tenderly than a mother, more concerned than any father. God is ready to forgive, indeed He delights to do so:
Who is a God like to you? Who pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of thy heritage? He does not retain his anger for ever, because He delights in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us (Micah 7:18-19).Nor does it stop there. If you have received Him, then this same love loves to outdo the grace of His coming, in performing, doing wonders for and in you:
He will subdue our iniquities : and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham... (v. 19b).And as to Abraham:
He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they be not circumcised: that righteousness might be reckoned to them also: and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had, being yet uncircumcised (Romans 4:11-12).Not rules but redemption provided pity; but with love, there goes to the redeemed, that release from sin which enables the word of God to be kept, not indeed perfectly, for heaven awaits that, but characteristically so that (Romans 6), we are freed from the sovereignty of sin; and that, for such as we are, is the acme and wonder of love, that it not only provides the way in, but continues to make the way on!!
God in His liberality of wonder has loved us who believe, and in attitude extends love to the whole world, with open door to any who will enter. Should we then harbour, nurture the wicked dross of unrepentance in the midst of such fires ? As well ask a Hydrogen Bomb to spare the steel in its vaporising, as love to foster revenge or adhere to hatred in a Christian heart. Oh that we might recapture more of the sense of the plain, honourable and honest goodness of the love of God which, being shed abroad in our hearts who believe (Romans 5:5), is not available for compression, repression or rearguard actions. It has come, and it stays and it works where it is! this, you cannot stop; for there is none who can stop what God does (Isaiah 43:13). And what may it produce ?
This it produces: The sense of goodness resident in Christians by the grace and through the face of that incarnated Jesus Christ, who by His Spirit abides still in believers (II Corinthians 3:18) ... the awareness of the expectations that long practice confirms! But so much is now artificial, the devil loving and lusting to bring in farcical 'substitutes', even those that use the name of Christ but which are far from Him in doctrine and practice: as in Rome, and in the abominable follies of the Uniting Church which mixes so freely with it. This it does, having carried off much of the faithfully deposited means of evangelisation and teaching, left by the saints who prized the word, children of the Reformation in former times! Alas, the madness of unnaturalness is now... possibly allowed, while church after church purses its lips and wonders if really... well, in view of the current state and... indeed stage of our advanced culture, one can really keep... certain commandments any more.
But you cannot serve this world and Him whose servant James states, "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4).
It is one or the other. Thus the prophet Elisha was used by God to show His attitude of forgiving mercy, to the hard-hearted nation which so provoked Him by its continuing disobedience in so much, bad for them, bad as a testimony, bad for their coming history... How was this done ?
The prophet aided the king of Israel (yes the horribly defiling Northern Kingdom!), providing information to help him to be delivered from the Syrian assaults. These are rather reminiscent of recent Syrian threats to destroy Israel if... The Syrians, catching wind of this, sent troops to take Elisha. It was known that Elisha could, through the divine kindness, know as it were the words of the king of Syria in his bedchamber (II Kings 6:12).
We must reflect on this right here: never consider that anything cannot be done when God is in it. Miracles... a specialty, not the spectacular grandiose exhibits that Herod might have wanted, but ways that work, involving whatever it takes to overcome: these are provided for His will, even if it means making the shadow on the sundial go back, and the day for Joshua's conflict to be extended! (Isaiah 38:1-8, Joshua 10:11-15). Never forget that! In that there is room for a grand peace (Isaiah 26:1-3). Never depend on, submit to or be dwarfed by mere circumstance. God is sovereign over circumstance, and His love makes the young man seem almost mean by comparison, who speaks to his bride to be. Let us now return to our account of Elisha, the butt of Syria's wrath, for his divinely provided, gracious help to the king of Israel, in divulging what God showed him,
What happened when, backed by the wrath of their king, the Syrian troops came to settle with him, because of his divulging of information, gained from God, concerning Syria's movements in its warrings on Israel. When the troops came, then Elisha prayed that his young companion's eyes might be opened, so that seeing the power of the Lord, he might not fear; and the young man saw then the battalions of the Lord's power, and was comforted (II Kings 6:17). Then Elisha (but note the love of God to the young man, in passing: He cared enough to show this to him ...), the prophet asked the Lord to make the troops blind, which He did; at which, the prophet led the troubled troops right to the King of Israel - perplexed and powerless, as they were, before the power of God.
It was then the prophet made it clear that these men should be released, fed, clothed and returned to sender. That is forgiveness, there lies mercy! Do you practice it thus ? This we must all do, being forgiving to the point where men might find it pure distraction; but there is attraction, for it is a work of love, and God is love, and loves us, and we must love one another as He also loved us.
This works, because it is the work of God; and because it is godly.
These are those who "give heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. These bring in damnable heresies" (II Peter 2:1): false prophets and their misled minions. Yes there is an unforgivable sin, as Christ portrayed, when people have both opposed and misrepresented His works of saving mercy, attributing them to the devil. There is a shaft of darkness which encloses as by a thick cloud, the devilishly misled opponents of the gospel, at a time known only to God, such that the twisted follies leave the shrunken spirits lost forever, "having done despite to the spirit of grace..." and "trodden under foot the Son of God" (Hebrews 10:29).
But, says Paul to his hearers, at a similar point in Hebrews 6 - v.9: "... Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation", and again: "Cast not away therefore your confidence which has great recompense of reward" (Hebrews 10:35).
As for those who believe, the love of God is in them, Christ is in them, (John 15:21-23, 17:26): "they shall not perish" (John l0: 27-28), indeed, "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37), they shall find that "nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
The love relinquishes those lost ones, who having trodden under foot the blood of Christ, know no repentance; for the flesh should fail (cf. Genesis 6:3). Yet the love never lets go those who enter, who "shall go in and out and find pasture, and shall be saved" (John 10:9). Known to God before time began (Colossians 1:4), they are His - the will unviolated, the image of God unbreached, sin subdued: called they come.
Now this divine realism with which God relishes the found, seeks the lost, knows His own, and lets those who will not, who scorn the promises, deny the blood of the Lamb and defy the Lord, in the end go to their appointed place (I Peter 2:8, II Peter 2:10-13), is the realism which made practical things. He made these as well as those more wholly spiritual; and it is now in practical things that we must show the love of God, as well as more directly in spiritual things. A mother loves but also feeds, because she loves.
The folly of socialism is that it cannot create love, and feeds by function through functionaries whose first loyalty is often the State, and indirectly indeed, is often required to be this. The State, however, does not understand God, nor experience the joys of His redeemed, the adventure of His presence, the delight of His truth, the leading of His law! always, in principle, they err in presumption and intrusion and confusion, and do not know how to do what they claim power to perform.
England tried it and left it the poorer; Russia took it to its (illogical) conclusion and is virtually bankrupt, and in money least, for they yearn and cry now for the scriptures, these too sent by Western money. Not that the West is God; far from it. It has had its own dalliances with devilries - of which the force-feed evolutionary doctrine in schools is one which brands no small part of the West, to this extent, as a gaunt giant following folly, while promising freedom.
It is not that freedom is bad; decidedly not, and far from it! It is part of the very wonder of being created in the image of God that it is here and available: except where men prefer the overmastering, crushing handshake of sin to the deliverance of Christ, who frees from it every servant of His (John 8:31). Rather is it that when people use it to lose it, they trample it under foot, in subjection to what you will: to the writhing of pop stars, to drugs, to connivings with diabolical political plans... Democracy is not in itself enough; for if the people choose evil, they do not, just because they are the people, gain good.
Only God can so rule; and it is His kingdom alone which will remain, and work (cf. Zechariah 9:7, Daniel 7:13,27, 2:34,44, Isaiah 55:3-4, Revelation 7:15-17, 5:13, 11:15), that of the triune God; and the Head of that on earth is Christ, the Father's equal by His own glorious grace, His very word, who has 'life in Himself' (John 5:19-23, Hebrews 7:16, John 5:26). He rules with good pleasure (Ephesians 1:9), does good (Acts 10:38, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 34:8, 86:5, 100:5, 143:10, 25:10, 73:1) and secures it for those who receive His remedy (Psalm 23:6, 21:4,7).
In practice, realistically, then, it is... you remember that poem of Masefield from which we quoted, the Everlasting Mercy ? There is a difference that is practical, which comes from this new vision. Instead of formally functioning to help people, you have a spiritual zest and alacrity, and inward peace and concern, and a desire to help as if the other were your relation. Of course, the limit is the reception.
Merely to pour money, which the USA did, into countries with foul governments, this does not through Democracy bring peace and joy, far less love. Corruption seizes readily, and party politics and this-world religions abuse. Democracy ? It works well when the people seek well; and freedom has scope for sheer delight... in the Lord. There is no salvation without the Lord (Acts 4:11-12), nor any kingdom which can endure.
Out of Him, however, it can be the very ground of slavery. Certainly, there is more dignity for a man to make his own chains, but chains they can be none the less! It is for this reason, not least, that Christians are moved, in gratitude to His sublimity and the sacrifice that led to it, to serve in the spirit of Him who "came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
Again, we find however that many reject His love and grace, so qualifying for omission from its depth and resurgence, like rocks in the ocean, never penetrated, even though surrounded. Full many a one remains alien to the cover of His blood, the scope of His redeeming sacrifice, neither being atoned for nor provided with His righteousness (Romans 8:32 - He bore the sins of those who gain all things, cf. John 10:26, Romans 8:29, 9:16; and Appendix B, infra): yet His love not limited. The contrary is explicit.
Rather it rejects what rejects it (John 3:18-19, Proverbs 1:22-26, 8:32-36), and knows before all time what belongs to it - God knows His own (John 10:14, Romans 8:29): but its initial scope and outreach, its attitude is of a thrust of passion and pity, of kindness and goodness which knows neither beginning nor end. It is this God whom we who are Christians are to serve in that Spirit. Hear its ebullience:
For it was the Father's good pleasure that in Him (Christ in the context) should all fulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself; by Him, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, being in time past, alienated and enemies in your mind by your evil works, yet now has He reconciled, in the body of His flesh, through death (Colossians 1:19-22).Note the repetition, showing the amplitude of the readiness, which consorts with the knowledge (Romans 8:29, 9:10, 1 Timothy 1:9), but is not subdued by it.
Receiving the gospel, despatched as the word of the Son - who was Himself despatched, coming in the height of His love, saving His own - Christians thus are moved to minister to one another, and so seek to provide for others in that sprightly, spiritual, practical, activated love of the Lord which transforms duty into gratitude, and good works into grace.
This is the word for the wise who know Him, who work in His kingdom. This ? It is not one of "eating and drinking", but of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit..." (Romans 14:17). It is one where love is unquenchable (Romans 8:30, 38-39), as crucially shown in its divine attitude to man, where the light of the gospel first touches the frozen earth (Colossians 1:19-21, I Timothy 2:3-4, Titus 3:2-7) with its unconfined rays.
When the kindness of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of the regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life ... (Titus 3:4-7).It is this, reality within the God of redemption, within His kingdom, that is fitting for practice in its palaces, with forgiveness till "seventy times seven" to the contrite, from one to the other (Matthew 18:22). Here is the the kingdom where truth is irretrievable, majesty unmouldable, authority is hallowed and freedom fulfilled, rightly called "the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:1-11).
The follies of self-contradictory philosophies are simply set aside before the marvels of the self-revealing God, in whom is the grandeur of truth and the ground of goodness. It is here that faith "works by love" (Galatians 5:6), inspired by the vision of truth (II Corinthians 3:18, I Corinthians 13:6): that Person at the head of the Church who "suffered for sins once, the just for the unjust", to "bring us to God" (I Peter 3:18).
Such marvels, majesty and mercies cannot be manufactured, but must simply be received.
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