Richard Sibbes on the Holy Spirit

“The wind … bears down all before it, beats down houses, and trees, like the cedars of Lebanon, turns them up by the roots, and lays all flat. So the Spirit is mighty in operation. There is no standing before it. It brings down mountains, and every high thing that exalts itself, and lays them level; nay, the Roman and those other mighty empires could not stand before it.”

From Sibbes’ Bowels Opened.

Psalm 136

I was reading Psalm 136 today and was struck as I traced with each line hundreds — thousands — of years of human history with God. There truly is none like the God of Israel, whose love endures forever. He is relentlessly good and he is eminently worthy.

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures for ever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures for ever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures for ever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures for ever.
who made the great lights –
His love endures for ever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures for ever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures for ever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures for ever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures for ever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures for ever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea[a] asunder
His love endures for ever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures for ever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures for ever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures for ever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures for ever.
18 and killed mighty kings –
His love endures for ever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures for ever.
20 and Og king of Bashan –
His love endures for ever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures for ever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures for ever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures for ever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures for ever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures for ever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures for ever.

Footnote to All Prayers

A poem by C. S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

 

N.B. “Pheidian fantasies” is a reference to 5th century B.C. Greek sculptor and artist Phidias (or Pheidias) who was known for his statues of Greek gods.

Affliction

Affliction.

Broken in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortur’d in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scatter’d smart,
As watring pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their furie can controll,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife,
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, trie out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sunne scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers, which work for grief,
Enter thy pay,
And day by day
Labour thy praise, and my relief;
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav’n, and much more, thee.

~ George Herbert, 1633

From a Recent Paper Discussing Trinitarian Thinking (Lack of) in Evangelical Churches

In evangelical churches where limited Trinitarian thinking prevails, the Trinity is often a concept that people are keen to affirm (indeed many will recognize that not to do so would be to slip into heresy), and yet the riches that have been given to the Church in God’s Trinitarian self-revelation (for her own edification and for the salvation of the nations) are so often absent. A little Trinitarian language here and there passes for Trinitarian thinking and the result is a kind of theological caricature, which suggests the continued presence of one of Christianity’s foundational doctrines, while effectively ensuring its functional absence, and this has the potential to be every bit as dangerous as full-fledged heresy.

The church’s claim to union with God is an audacious claim, but, precisely because we have a Trinitarian God, it is a legitimate claim. Evangelical churches are settling for less whenever they substitute robust Trinitarian thinking and practice for various brands of limited Trinitarian thinking, which can only offer a limited and a less attractive gospel. That God sanctifies and saves is good news. That in Christ and by the Spirit we are invited to enter into the eternal fellowship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have enjoyed for eternity is very good news.

Sin and humanity

A good quote from my systematic theology class, on humanity and sin:

“In the light of Christ’s righteousness we learn that sin is a deformation of human nature, the spoiling of humanity, not part of its definition; through sin, we become less human, not more. This knowledge is hard and shaming, but also hopeful. If sin were intrinsic to human nature, then we could not cease being sinful without ceasing to be human; redemption from sin would be our destruction. The righteousness of Christ therefore not only discloses the corruption of sin, but offers the hope of salvation, since we are invited to feed on his body and blood and be transformed into his image.”

— Dr. David Yeago

A quote from Charles Spurgeon

Do you think that you must be lost because you are a sinner? This is the reason why you can be saved. Because you own yourself to be a sinner I would encourage you to believe that grace is ordained for such as you are. One of our hymn-writers even dared to say:
 
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so.
 
It is truly so, that Jesus seeks and saves that which is lost. He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words, or calling themselves “miserable sinners,” out of mere compliment, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors upon such, neither weekdays nor Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins, but His heart’s blood was spilt to wash out deep crimson stains, which nothing else can remove.

You’re Not Doing Better

A good read. This one’s from Orthodox Church blogger, Fr Stephen Freeman …

Our Christian lives are not a moral project.

The moral improvement (or progress) of our lives is not the goal of the Christian life. It is not even on the same page. We imagine that if we manage to tell fewer lies, or lust fewer times, or fast a little more carefully, and swallow our angry words more completely, we are somehow the better for it and have “made progress.” But this is not so.

St. Gregory of Nyssa once stated, “Man is mud whom God has commanded to become a god.” This is not the story of progress. We are not mud that is somehow improving itself towards divinity. There is nothing mud can do to become divine. And if we were honest with ourselves, we don’t even become better mud …

… What is happening in our spiritual lives is not the perfecting of a better “me.” It is like a comparison between mud and light. Really great, truly outstanding mud, can only ever be mud. It never becomes more “light-like.”

… The spiritual life is not an improvement of the moral self, it is the finding and the living into the true self (the New Man), birthed in us through Christ. We lose the moral self in order to find the true self. We confess our moral weakness and there we find the true strength of the New Man. We empty the moral self and understand that even its best effort and performance is but “hay, wood and straw” (1 Cor. 3:12) …

… Even our righteousness, our best and most successful moral performances are like unmentionably filthy rags! If we understood this rightly, we would acknowledge that the very things we have in mind when we say, “I’m improving…” are as empty and useless as the things of which we feel ashamed.

And it is that very shame that would open to us the gate of paradise. Only a saint could face the complete emptiness of that point, but all of us can bear “a little shame” (in the words of Archimandrite Zacharias). For it is in the weakness and failure of our life that we become “poor in Spirit.”

This same emptiness and weakness is also the place where we find that we become generous and courageous …

… St. John Chrysostom offers these golden words:

O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy nor sufficient that You should enter under my roof into the habitation of my soul, for it is all deserted and in ruins, and You do not have a fitting place in me to lay Your head. But as from the heights of Your glory You humbled Yourself, so now bear me in my humility; as You deigned to lie in a manger in a cave, so deign now also to come into the manger of my mute soul and corrupt body. As You did not refrain from entering into the house of Simon the leper, or shrink from eating there with sinners, so also enter the house of my poor soul, all leprous and full of sin. You did not reject the sinful woman who ventured to draw near to touch You, so also have pity on me, a sinner, as I approach. And grant that I may partake of Your All-holy Body and Precious Blood…

Indeed.

Read the full post here.