Here’s a question for you. I’m just posting quickly as I try to catch up with emails etc from the last few days. And for nefarious purposes of my own, I’m (a) only giving the two options and (b) not giving any context for the question just yet. Feel free to discuss.
What follows here constitutes the main part of Andrew Bonar’s preface to his little book The Person of Christ. It is of vast importance, he says, to ‘connect at all times the person of Christ with his work’ (which is what he aimed to draw attention to in writing).
Toplady quotes the following case from the diary of … Mr Thomas Cole. Listen to his interesting statement:- “I was convinced I could be saved no other way than by grace, if I could but find grace enough. But at that time I saw more in my own sin than in God’s mercy. But this put me on a further inquiry after the grace of God, because my life lay upon it: and then I was brought to the gospel. When, however, I came to the gospel, I met with the law in it; that is, I was for turning the gospel into law. I began to settle myself upon gospel-duties, such as repentance, humiliation, believing, praying; and (I know not how) I forgot the promise of grace which first brought me to the gospel. Soon I found I could neither believe nor pray as the gospel required. While I was in this plunge, it pleased the Lord to direct me to the study of the person of Christ, whom I looked on as the great undertaker in the work of man’s salvation. And … God overcame my heart with this. I saw so much mercy in his mercy, so much love in his love, so much grace in his grace, that I knew not what to liken it to. And here my heart broke, I knew not how. Before this faith came, I knew not how to secure myself against past, present, and future sins: but there was that largeness of grace, that all-sufficiency of mercy, that infinity of righteousness, revealed to me in Christ, that I found sufficient for all the days of my life.”
It’s only 120 pages long, but even after re-reading it a couple of times it’s hard not to be struck with how profound some of its contents are. (Bonar was the great friend (and biographer) of Robert Murray McCheyne, and with his brother Horatius and others they were among the best of the nineteenth Scottish ministers. This book must have been published sometime in the 1850s.)
Meanwhile, just to let you know, I’m unlikely to be around much for the next few days, probably until Tuesday.
Just trying out the brand-new polling option WordPress has bestowed on us. Geoff Hoon’s latest contribution seem ripe for ridicule.
For everyone who hasn’t had an email from me about this yet, I’d just like to draw your attention to this petition on the Number 10 site:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to to re-categorise lap dancing clubs as Sex Encounter Establishments.”
Since the Licensing Act of 2003, lapdancing clubs have been classified as leisure establishments, alongside cafes and karaoke clubs, rather than as sex encounter establishments, and hundreds of lapdancing clubs have opened across the UK in the past five years (see here).
What this means is that, (i) local residents are powerless to stop them opening near their homes, schools, or churches, (ii) more opportunities are created for club owners to traffic in women and girls, (iii) more women are financially and sexually exploited (women need to rent the privilege of working in a club, have little protection in private rooms, and are often expected to take money for sex; see here), and (iv) wider society in general is degraded through the mainstreaming of the sex industry, aka the pornification of society, which pressurises both men and women to view women as little more than objects for sexual gratification.
An old note I had of something Robert Traill said.
He’d been arguing that the fountain of grace is grace in God. He demonstrates that there is grace in each of the three persons of the Godhead: the Father, 1 Pet 5:10, the Son, John 1:14, and the Holy Spirit, Heb 10:29 or Zech 12:10.
“It is to be observed in that apostolic wish, which by a good custom is made the concluding blessing in Christian assemblies, ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, amen,’ that there is grace in the Father’s love, and grace in the communion of the Holy Ghost, as well as there is love and communion in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. For grace is in all divine favour, and in all its fruits, freely bestowed on the undeserving sons of men.”
Following on from this discussion, and the points raised about whether it is possible to love or worship one person of the Trinity exclusive of the others, I’d like to post something else that Thomas Goodwin has said.
In his work on faith (‘The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith’), Goodwin discusses how all three persons of the Godhead are involved in the salvation of each individual who is saved. ‘When we come to Christ, and believe on him, there is a concurrence and consent of all the three persons in the Godhead unto that great work,’ as the chapter in question is elaborately titled.
It’s clear from what he says that he is presenting the acting of faith as a work which originates with God’s initiative (ie, faith is the outcome of a work of God in the individual’s heart). Also, his aim in all that he says is to encourage and provoke worship and adoration of this God who saves. The point that makes it especially relevant in the present discussion, though, is that he identifies each person of the Godhead as contributing in a slightly different, though equally essential, manner to the work of salvation in each saved individual. Thus, the people who are on the receiving end of this work should be encouraged to worship all three persons of the Godhead.
And even more to the point, because of how intricately connected is each aspect of the work of salvation, it would not seem to be possible to select one aspect (or the person of the Trinity most directly responsible for it) to consider strictly in isolation from any other aspect. Although there are various components of the work, which can be conceptually distinguished, they cannot be practically separated. Our worship, I think Goodwin would be inclined to go so far as to say, would indeed be defective, if it did limit itself to one or the other, consciously exclusive of the rest.
Anyway, here’s Goodwin.
“At that great union which is made between Christ and the soul, … there is a concurrence, a consent, a joint meeting of all three persons to this great work, and that in a special manner. … There is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father draweth, the Son accepteth, and the Holy Ghost is the instrument of both, and quickeneth and enliveneth the heart. Such a great conjunction is a matter of infinite wonder. If you look into the heavens, you shall not see great conjunctions of planets every day. … But here is a greater conjunction in the heaven of heavens, when there is an influence of all the three persons into a soul at its first turning to God.”
“[We have] the Father beginning the business in commending us to the Son, and the Son sending the Spirit into the soul, and the Holy Ghost working grace in us, he leads us from one person to the other back again. And therefore in our coming unto God, you have all the three persons mentioned together, eg Eph 2:18, ‘Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.’ Here is Christ, Father, Spirit. … As Christ Jesus took us, and took us by the hand as it were, and led us into that race, and took hold of us by his Spirit, so what doth the Spirit do? He leads us by Christ to the Father, for we come to God by and through Christ, being led in the hand of the Spirit. Thus the soul comes to have communion with all the three persons, fellowship with the Father, and with the Son, and with the Holy Ghost, till this fellowship is perfected in heaven.”
“Thou that art a believer, … [perhaps] thou hast considerations of what was done upon earth in thine own heart; but look up higher, and consider what was done in heaven as the originator of all, and let that be the thing for which thou praisest and blessest God. Go home, and down upon thy knees, and thank these three persons that have done all this for thee, though thou sawest it not, when thy heart was first drawn to Christ. … Set an high price and value on it, and consider that ere this match was made [between your soul and Christ], the Father said Amen in heaven, and the Son said Amen, and the Holy Ghost said Amen, before ever thy heart said Amen.”
(And sorry for the length!)
In his work on the Holy Spirit, Thomas Goodwin devotes a chapter to discussing how ‘we not only partake of the effects of the Holy Spirit’s operations in us, but also of his person dwelling in us.’ He follows this up in typical Puritan fashion with a chapter on the ‘uses’ we should make of this doctrine, and in particular he calls on believers to love and worship the third person of the Trinity even more than they already presumably do.
“Let us view with admiration the riches of this gift of the person of the Holy Ghost. … As in Romans 5:6-8, [the apostle] sets out the greatness of the love of God that gave Christ to die for us, so, in [verses 1-5] he would in like manner insinuate the greatness of that love that gave us this Holy Spirit to work all these graces in us, and reveal the love which God hath so much commended. Insomuch that this hath been started as matter of debate, and most serious consideration, by some divines, whether Filius datus, ‘To us a Son is given’ (Isa 9) or Spiritus datus, ‘The Spirit given’ (Rom 5) be the richer favour? Whether the incarnation, ‘God manifest in the flesh,’ or the diffusion or ‘pouring forth of the Spirit upon all flesh,’ be the greater mercy? From heaven they both came down, the Spirit as well as the Son, 1 Pet 1:2, and from the bosom of the Father both. They are both of them [pledges] and witnesses alike, of one and the same love. … If God hath given us his Spirit, how shall he not give us, I do not say, with him only, but in him, even in that one gift of him, give us all things? In this one gift of the Holy Ghost … – not gifts, as of many, but gift, as of one – is contained all the whole, both of grace and glory; tanquam in fonte, tanquam in semine; as in the seed and fountain of both.”
In some ways it’s reminiscent of a discussion that some other famous Christian raised in the past – whether to be more thankful for justification or sanctification? There must be some value in thinking through the different aspects and features of the two things being offered for contemplation, but presumably ultimately the choice is fairly artificial. There’s no separating them, in either case. They are all unspeakable gifts; they all come from the same love.
John Owen says this on the incarnation of God the Son:
“His infinite condescension, in the assumption of our nature, did no way divest him of his divine essential excellencies. For a time, they were shadowed and veiled thereby from the eyes of men, when he ‘made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant.’ But he eternally and unchangeably continued ‘in the form of God,’ and ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God.’ He can no more really and essentially, by any act of condescension or humiliation, cease to be God, than God can cease to be. Wherefore, his being clothed with our nature derogates nothing from the true reason of divine worship due unto him, but adds an effectual motive unto it.”
All the angels of God were to worship him when he was brought into the world, Heb 1:6, and will not sinners worship him too, if we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end…
At the minimum, recognising the dignity of human life means aiming to preserve it – whether other people’s or your own.
Hot on the heels of Mary Warnock’s outrageous opining on what she called the “duty” of elderly people with dementia to have their lives ended, in order not to waste resources and for the greater good of society, we now have legal moves underway in both England and Scotland to change the law in order to make it easier for people to “help” others to end their lives.
In England, Debbie Purdy has won the right to a High Court review to clarify the law on assisted suicide. Although suicide itself is not a crime, it is a criminal offence to help someone else to commit suicide, and Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, wants clarification on what legally counts as assistance. (BBC report here.)
Meanwhile in Scotland, a motion tabled by Lib Dem MSP Jeremy Purvis calling for assisted suicide to be legalised is to go ahead and be debated by the parliament. Unlike his previous attempt in 2005, when his bill failed to gain enough support from other MSPs to proceed, this current motion is being treated as having cross-party support, now that the independent MSP Margo Macdonald has joined forces with him.
But as organisations like the Care Not Killing Alliance consistently point out, the main change that is needed is not so much something to make it easier for people’s lives to be ended, as ways to support people to live out their lives in the context of as much comfort, love, and dignity as possible.
The Care Not Killing Alliance’s response to Debbie Purdy’s High Court review makes the issues clear – and what they say in terms of multiple sclerosis can be applied much more broadly:
“There are over 70,000 people in Britain with multiple sclerosis at present and only a very small number ever request assisted suicide. These requests are virtually never persistent if patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs are properly addressed. Our key priority must therefore be to make the very best palliative care more widely accessible and to get rid of the postcode lottery of care that currently exists in Britain.
“We are concerned about Mrs Purdy’s expressed fear of choking to death or experiencing excruciating pain because with good palliative care these fears are quite groundless with multiple sclerosis. The public is being misled over this. There have been great advances in the management of multiple sclerosis which have benefited patients and now mean that many with the disease live an almost normal lifespan. Mrs Purdy has had MS for 13 years already and may have many more years still to live. It is also not at all clear, given the type of illness she has, that she would ever need assistance to end her life, should she be determined to do so. This case has to be seen therefore in the wider context of an ongoing campaign by Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, to change the law.”
Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting in person two of the best writers I know of in the blogging world.
One is Seraphic Single, who writes brilliantly at stillseraphic.blogspot.com on the single life as a conscientious Catholic (or, if that doesn’t move you, providing some blood-stirring commentary on issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in today’s Canada).
The other is Benedict Ambrose, as charming in person as in print: benedictambrose.wordpress.com. Read those haikus and marvel!
And then go and treat yourself to one (at least) of Seraphic’s novels. Two are available to download from Lulu, attended by rave reviews which I can only endorse -