Friday, 23 December 2011

Jesus Film

If you want to watch an excellent film on the life of Jesus then watch this film. Its from a website www.shockawenow.com which is worth a look for other short films containing debates with well know New Atheist speakers, thinkers and writers.

Funerals - Orthodox Style


As someone who takes a lot of funerals - the vast majority of the cremations - I was interested to hear of the Orthodox view on the disposal of the body after death. Although I believe - as I am sure the Orthodox do - that God can raise ashes into a resurrection body, there is something to what Abbot Tryphon says in this article from his blog:

"The first time I ever attended a funeral service where cremation of the body of the deceased had taken place was in Portland, Oregon, many years ago. An Episcopal priest friend had died and had requested his body be cremated. Walking into the church and seeing a small box sitting before the altar was a shock for me. Cremation was always something only non-believers practiced, Christians having always viewed cremation as something of pagan roots. I clearly remember feeling cheated out of that last goodby, unable as I was to view my friend for one last time.

In ancient times pagans always either burned the bodies of their dead, or left them for birds to consume, whereas Jews and Christians placed their dead in tombs, or in the earth, awaiting the bodily resurrection. For Christians the belief that the body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore sacred, made the burning of the body unacceptable. Bodies of our dead were always to be treated with great reverence. From the earliest of times the bodies of the martyrs and saints were buried in the catacombs, their tombs used as altars for the celebration of the Eucharistic offering, catacombs often being the only safe place for believers to worship without threat of arrest.

One of my earliest memories was going to a family plot in Spokane, WA. with my maternal grandmother. She would lay flowers on the graves of her loved ones, family members who were long dead before I was even born. Even though many had been gone from this life for a few generations, to my grandmother they were still alive. She would sit on a tombstone, flowers in hand, and tell me about her sisters, her parents, and other family members. Her shared memories were made all the more real seeing the names of these loved ones chiseled in stone. The ritual of visiting graves was common back in those days, with families keeping alive the memories, while showing their love and respect for their dead relatives by tending to the graves, and leaving flowers. It was even quite common, especially in Western Europe, for friends and families to take picnics to graveyards.

There is also the role cemeteries can play in our own spiritual lives, for they are clear reminders of our own mortality. I have already picked the plot where my own remains will be placed on the grounds of our monastery. Seeing where one will eventually be laid to rest is a good way to remember one's own eventual death, reminding ourselves of our own mortality, and to use our remaining days wisely.

 The Orthodox Church forbids the cremated remains of anyone to be brought into the temple for services, or for any other reason, and funeral services over cremated remains is strictly forbidden. The practice is seen as a denial of the bodily resurrection, not because God can't raise the dead from ashes, but because the practice does not reflect the Church's teaching that the body of a believer housed the Holy Spirit. It is also ignoring the fact that believers receive, in their lifetime, the very Body and Blood of Christ, and the body is therefore made holy in preparation for that day when we shall be united in both body and soul, to live forever with God.

My parents converted to Orthodoxy in their mid seventies and are buried in the church yard next to Saint John the Baptist Church in Post Falls, Idaho. Having them in an Orthodox cemetery, side by side, means a lot to me, and I visit their graves whenever I am in Northern Idaho on visits to my family. Having a plot to visit continues that connection and allows me a chance to show my love for them by placing flowers on their graves as I offering prayers for their souls. It saddens me that so many people have deprived themselves of such moments, having spread their loved one's ashes over golf courses or on beaches. The loss of family cemeteries has contributed, I am convinced, to the breakdown of the all important extended families that were at one time so important to the cohesiveness of family values.

For those who would say that cremation is more ecologically sound, I would point out that the particles dispersed in the atmosphere are by no means good for the environment. A new way of burial, known as green burial, is gaining popularity throughout the country and is far more ecologically sound than cremation. Green burials require a simple pine coffin with no metal, nails or glue, using only wooden pegs and natural materials. The body is not embalmed (in keeping with Orthodox tradition), so nothing goes into the earth that is not natural. This is one of the most inexpensive ways of internment and is in keeping with the canons of the Orthodox Church. This is the way my own body will be laid to rest."

Fixed Point Foundation

I want to recommend a website called Fixed Point which engages with the New Atheists etc in open and cordial conversation about belief and unbelief. Their website is found here.

In their 'About' section this is what they say about their mission:

"It is our mission to seek innovative ways to defend and proclaim the Gospel and to prepare Christians to do the same. Whether it is our traditional concepts of human dignity and purpose or our understanding of what constitutes right and wrong, Christianity has served as the primary source of inspiration, giving light to law, government, the arts and sciences—indeed, giving light to what Dostoevsky called, “The Eternal Questions.”

That we have gradually lost sight of our Christian heritage is obvious even to the casual observer. In recent decades, however, we have witnessed aggressive efforts to demolish it systematically. Complicating matters is the fact that many Christians have imbibed any number of erroneous assumptions concerning their own faith, such as: Christianity lacks intellectual credibility; the Bible contradicts science; sincerity matters more than truth; Christian ethics cannot cope with the complexities of modern life; Jesus Christ is a way rather than the way; “diversity” is a value and “tolerance” means anything goes; and the list goes on.

Yet the mandate is clear. Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Unfortunately, many in the Church have ceased to love God with their minds. As a consequence, a substantive public Christian response to these trends has been absent to such a degree that one major newspaper asked pointedly, “Won’t anyone stand up for God?”

Fixed Point Foundation was established in 2004 with precisely this end in view and the results have been extraordinary. We have sponsored highly publicized events at universities ranging from Oxford to UAB and our resources are being used in universities, schools, and churches around the world. Fixed Point is an expression of the Church speaking into the culture, challenging the unbelief of skeptics and restoring the Christian’s confidence that the Bible is precisely what it claims to be—True.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church

The above quote is from an early church Father called Tertullian (160-220 AD). It's a reference to the fact that the persecution of the early church by the Roman Empire, rather than extinguishing the flame of faith, actually ended up making it burn brighter. One example of this is Polycarp one of the early bishops and a disciple of St. John the Divine, the writer of the fourth gospel. Please note that the speaker talks about Polycarp being converted as a child/youngster. That is an attempt to side-step the fact that Polycarp was baptized as a baby - a common practice then - and which all early Christians consider their 'conversion' to Christianity.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

SUMMARY: The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to several sacraments. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was administered to adults who converted from paganism and who, made on the occasion of Baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. Today it is substituted instead by intermediary parents or godparents. In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit "Jesus is Lord". And until one reaches this point, everything else in the Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer happen and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith" (Mt.13.58). The Baptism in the Spirit's effectiveness in reactivating baptism consists in this: finally man contributes his part -- namely, he makes a choice of faith, prepared in repentance, that allows the that allows the work of God to set itself free and to emanate all its strength. It is as if the plug is pulled and the light is switched on. The gift of God is finally "untied" and the Spirit is allowed to flow like a fragrance in the Christian life.

Before talking about the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to try and understand what the Renewal in the Spirit is all about. After the Second Vatican Council, many things in the Church's life were renewed - the liturgy, pastoral care, canon law, the constitutions of the religious orders and their dress. Although all these things are important, they are only external things and woe to us if we stop there and think the task is finished, because it is not structures but souls that are important to God. "It is in men's souls that the Church is beautiful," writes St. Ambrose, and therefore it is in men's souls that she must make herself beautiful.

God Is Author and Power
The Renewal is a renewal in which God, not man, is the principle author. "I, not you," says God, "make all things new" (Rev 21:5); "My Spirit -- and He alone -- may renew the face of the earth" (see Psalm 104:30). From the religious point of view, we tend to view things from a ptolemaic perspective: at the foundation there are our efforts -- organization, efficiency, reforms, goodwill -- with the earth here as the center which God comes to strengthen and crown, by His grace and our effort.

We must -- at this point the Word of God cries out -- "give the power back to God" (Psalm 68:35) because "the power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:12). For too long we have usurped this power of His from God, by managing it as if it were ours, as if it was up to us to govern the power of God. We have to totally change our perspective. That is, to acknowledge simply that without the Holy Spirit, we cannot do anything, not even say, "Jesus is Lord!" (I Cor 12:3).

Baptism in the Spirit and the Sacrament of Baptism
The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament, to several sacraments in fact -- to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. The primary relationship is with the Sacrament of Baptism. In fact, this experience is called the Baptism in the Spirit by English-speaking people.

We believe that the Baptism in the Spirit makes real and revitalizes our baptism. To understand how a sacrament which was received so many years ago, usually immediately after our birth, could suddenly come back to life and emanate so much energy, as often happens through the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to look at our understanding of sacramental theology.

Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but "tied" sacrament. A sacrament is called tied if the fruit that should accompany it remains bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. An extreme example of this is the Sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders received in the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances these sacraments cannot grant any grace to people until the obstacle of sin is removed through penance. Once this happens the sacrament is said to live again thanks to the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God: God remains faithful even if we are unfaithful because He cannot deny Himself (see Timothy 2:13).

In the case of baptism what is it that causes the fruit of the sacrament to stay tied? The sacraments are not magical rituals that act mechanically, without the person's knowledge or disregarding any response on his part. Their effectiveness is the fruit of a synergy or cooperation between divine omnipotence -- in reality the grace of Christ or the Holy Spirit -- and human freedom, because as St. Augustine said, "The one who created you without your cooperation, will not save without your cooperation."

The opus operatum of baptism, namely, God's part or grace, has several aspects -- forgiveness of sins, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (these, however, only as a seed), and divine sonship -- all of which are operated through the effective action of the Holy Spirit. But what does the opus operantis in baptism -- namely, man's part, consist of? It consists of faith! Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). At the side of baptism, therefore, there is another element: the faith of man. "To all who received Him He gave the power to become children of God: to those who believe in His name" (John 1:13).

Baptism is like a divine seal put on the faith of man: having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and having believed in it, you have received (of course, in baptism) the seal of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:13)

Baptism and Confirmation of Faith
At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was such a powerful event and so rich in grace that there was no need normally of a new effusion of the Spirit like we have today. Baptism was ministered to adults who converted from paganism and who, properly instructed, were in the position to make, on the occasion of baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. It is sufficient to read the mistagogic catechesis on baptism attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem to become aware of the depth of faith to which those waiting for baptism were led. In substance, they arrived at baptism through a true and real conversion, and thus for them baptism was a real washing, a personal renewal, and a rebirth in the Holy Spirit.

The favorable circumstances that allowed baptism, at the origins of the Church, to operate with so much power was that the grace of God and man's response met at the same time, and there was a perfect synchronization

Infant Baptism in Non-Christian Environments
But now this synchronization has been broken, as we are baptized as infants, and little by little this aspect of the free and personal act of faith no longer happens. It was substituted instead by a decision by intermediary parents or godparents. When a child grew up in a totally Christian environment, this faith still could flourish, even though at a slower rate. Now, however, this is no longer the case and our spiritual environment is even worse than the one at the time of the Middle Ages. Not that there is no normal Christian life, but this is now the exception rather than the rule.

In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit, "Jesus is Lord." And until one reaches this point, everything else in the Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer happen, and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith." (Mt 13. 58)

God's Will
Here, then, is what I feel is the significance of the Baptism in the Spirit. It is God's answer to this malfunctioning that has grown up in the Christian life in the Sacrament of Baptism.

It is an accepted fact that over the last few years there has been some concern on the part of the Church, among the bishops, that the Christian sacraments, especially baptism, are being administered to people who will not make any use of them in life. As a result, it has even been suggested that baptism should not be administered unless there are some minimum guarantees that it will be cultivated and valued by the child in question. For one should not throw pearls to dogs, as Jesus said, and baptism is a pearl, because it is the fruit of the blood of Christ.

But it seems that God was concerned about this situation even before the Church was, and raised up here and there in the Church movements aimed at renewing Christian initiation in adults. The Charismatic Renewal is one of these movements and in it the principle grace is, without doubt, linked to the Baptism of the Spirit and to what comes before it.

Release and Confirmation of Faith
It's effectiveness in reactivating baptism consists in this: finally man contributes his part -- namely, he makes a choice of faith, prepared in repentance that allows the work of God to set itself free and to emanate all its strength. It is as if the plug is pulled and the light is switched on. The gift of God is finally "untied" and the Spirit is allowed to flow like a fragrance in the Christian life.

In addition to the renewal of the grace of baptism, the Baptism in the Spirit is also a confirmation of one's own baptism, a deliberate "yes" to it, to its fruit and its commitments, and as such it is also similar to Confirmation too. Confirmation being the sacrament that develops, confirms, and brings to completion the work of baptism. From it, too, comes that desire for greater involvement in the apostolic and missionary dimension of the Church that is usually noted in those who receive the Baptism in the Spirit. They feel more inclined to cooperate with the building up of the Church, to put themselves at her service in various ministries both clerical and lay, to witness for Christ -- to do all those things that recall the happening of Pentecost and which are actuated in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Baptism of the Spirit is not the only occasion known within the Church for this reviving of the sacraments of initiation. There is, for example, the renewal of the baptismal promises in the Easter vigil, and there are the spiritual exercises, and the religious professions, sometimes called a "second baptism." and at the sacrament level there is Confirmation.

It is also not difficult to discover in the lives of the saints, the presence of a spontaneous effusion, especially on the occasion of their conversion. The difference with the Baptism in the Spirit, however, is that it is open to all the people of God, small and great, and not only to those privileged ones who do the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises or make a religious profession.

The Will of God in History
Where does this extraordinary force that we experienced when we were Baptized in the Spirit come from? What we are talking about is not just some theory, but something that we ourselves have experienced and therefore can say with John, "What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what our hands have touched, this we also announce to you, so that you too be in communion with us." (see l John 1:1-11). The explanation of this force is in the will of God -- because God was pleased to renew the Church today by this means -- and this is enough.

There are certainly some biblical precedents, like the one told in Acts 8:14-17, when Peter and John, having heard that Samaria welcomed the Word of God, went there, prayed for them, and laid hands on them so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. But these biblical precedents, are not sufficient to explain the vastness and depth of the contemporary manifestation of the effusion of the Spirit.

The explanation therefore is in God's plan. We could say, by paraphrasing a famous saying of the Apostle Paul: Because Christians, with all their organization, were not able to transmit the power of the Spirit, God was pleased to renew the believers through the foolishness of the Baptism in the Spirit. In fact theologians look for an explanation and responsible people for moderation, but simple souls touch with their hands the power of Christ in the Baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-24).

We men, and in particular we men of the Church, tend to limit God in His freedom: we tend to insist that He follows a compulsory pattern (the so called channels of grace) and we forget that God is a torrent that breaks loose and creates its own path and that the Spirit blows where and how he wants (notwithstanding the role of the teaching of the Church to discern what actually comes from the Spirit and what does not come from Him). What does the Baptism of the Spirit consist of and how does it work? In the Baptism of the Spirit there is a secret, mysterious move of God that is His way of becoming present, in a way that is different for each one because only He knows us in our inner part and how to act upon our unique personality. There is also the external community part which is the same for everyone and consists mainly of three things: brotherly love, laying on of hands, and prayer. These are non-sacramental but simply ecclesiastic elements.

Holy Spirit Proceeding from the Father and the Son
Where does the grace we experience in the Baptism of the Spirit come from? From those around us? No! From the person who receives it? No! It comes from God! We can only say that such grace is related to baptism, because God acts always with coherence and faithfulness and He does not do and undo. He honors the commitments and institutions of Christ. One thing is certain -- that it is not the brothers who impart the Holy Spirit, but they do invoke the Holy Spirit on the person. The Spirit cannot be given by any man, not even the Pope or a bishop, because no man possesses by himself the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus may give the Holy Spirit; all the others do not possess the Holy Spirit, but rather are possessed by Him. As to the manner of this grace, we may speak of a new coming of the Holy Spirit, of a new mission by the Father through Jesus Christ, or a new anointing corresponding to a new degree of grace.
Fr. Cantalamessa, Papal preacher to Pope John Paul II's Pontifical household. Originally from the (ICCRS) newsletter, this article is apparently based on a talk given to a gathering of religious men.

I believe in prayer

I believe in prayer for all kinds of reasons. Personal answers, recurring coincidences after prayer, the testimony of others - saints and people I trust - etc. I also believe because I believe in Jesus and, for me, He is the beginning and end of my faith when it comes to anything as supernatural as prayer.

However there have been lots of scientific studies aimed at proving or disproving the power of prayer. Here is an extract from an article I picked up on the web:

"Does prayer’s power heal the sick, change lives, or fulfill our needs and desires? Should you bury a statue of Saint Joseph, if you want to sell your home, or put Saint Christopher on your dashboard as you travel this holiday season? There’s no definitive way to prove the power of prayer, but it’s not for lack of trying. Humans, including scientists, charlatans, and medical experts, have attempted to prove and disprove the efficacy of prayer since the beginning of intellectual curiosity.

The most surprising thing about these studies is that we’ve learned nothing. Some studies seem to showconcentrated group prayer, whatever that is, has a measurable effect on AIDS patients. A decade ago, Dr. Elisabeth Targ’s famous double-blind research convinced some that AIDS patients who were prayed for lived longer than AIDS patients who were not prayed for by a controlled group of prayer-sayers. How do you control that?

Reading University's studies are interesting, but confusing. Some show cardiac patients who believe in God do better than those who don’t. On the other hand, in a Harvard study, it looks like cardiac patients assured of receiving prayers of intercession didn’t fare as well as others, and Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, determined that if a king’s subjects prayed for him, the poor guy lived a shorter life than other kings.

Consider this: Studies aside, nearly everyone has stories of friends, family, and acquaintances that lived a miracle brought about by prayer or devotion. A widow accidentally drops her keepsake wedding ring in the ocean. She prays daily that she will find it. Years later, it turns up in the local fisherman’s catch. A missing child is inexplicably recovered when his whole community gathers to pray.

My husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness ten years ago. We prepared ourselves. We prayed a lot. He’s still around, and his medical team is astounded. He should not have had a positive outcome. There are thousands of stories of humans visited by angels – some of them seem inarguable. We can’t get enough of George’s angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, and books about causing change through prayer fill the bookstores’ shelves.

You can drive yourself to distraction Googling for answers on whether prayer has power or can effect change. The Online Surgical Technicians Course has a comprehensive list of formal, rigorous, scientific studies. You can find first-hand prayer testimonials on the Experience Project Web site and, I dare say, all over the Web.

Maybe the most rational conclusion was drawn by Wendy Cadge from the sociology department of Brandeis University, Massachusetts. An expert on how religion and medicine impact each other in today’s American culture, Cage remarked, “With double-blind clinical trials, scientists tried their best to study something that may be beyond their best tools; and [this] reflects more about them and their assumptions than about whether prayer works.”

In other words looking to science to help us with regards to the efficacy of prayer is probably not the best place to start (or finish). The best way to go about testing prayer is to do it, but to do it with a copy of the Bible in your hand and with the advice of a priest or a seasoned Christian ready to guide you. Also it almost goes without saying - and this is where everything unravels for the wannabe pray-er - a relationship with God through Jesus is not only indispensible but pretty fundamental. The disciples quickly discovered this early on and asked Him to teach them how to pray (they had probably been trying and failing or saw in Jesus someone who had the authority to teach them). His response - known as the Lord's Prayer - takes it for granted that prayer is fundamental to their relationship with Him and His Father, and on that basis answers are assumed and expected.

I would also add one other thing which is often inferred but not always explicit. Being part of a Church - or The Church - is very important. Why? It is there that the New Testament assumes all progress in the Christian walk - plus th walk itself - is made. It is there that you can pray and learn with others. THere that you can find advice and encouragement. There you will discover a tradition of prayer and praying that goes back to the beginning. There that you can best keep to the straight and narrow because there is nothing more debilitating to your prayer life than disobedience, pride and sin. Over and over the Israelites discovered that when they disobeyed God His voice would fall silent.

So get into a relationship with Christ, His Church and His cause. Read His book which contains not only His teaching and guidelines but also examples of how prayer works. And you too will discover that prayer really does work. And with not a science textbook or study in sight!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Archbishop on Advent

David Cameron on the King James Bible

Today, at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, the Prime Minister did God. He delivered this sermon on the importance of Christianity and of the King James Bible in particular (His Grace will forgive the lower case 'p' in 'Protestants'):

It's great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.

I know there are some who will question why I am giving this speech.

And if they happen to know that I'm setting out my views today in a former home of the current Archbishop of Canterbury...

...and in front of many great theologians and church leaders...

...they really will think I have entered the lions' den.

But I am proud to stand here and celebrate the achievements of the King James Bible.

Not as some great Christian on a mission to convert the world.

But because, as Prime Minister, it is right to recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country's greatest achievements.

The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.

And with 3 Bibles sold or given away every second...

...a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future.

In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.

I am a committed - but I have to say vaguely practising - Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith...

...but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.

But what I do believe is this.

The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history.

And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.

Why?

Put simply, three reasons.

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage...

....from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art.

We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

And it is right that we should acknowledge this - particularly in this anniversary year.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy...

...from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects...

...the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history, and it remains so today.

Third, we are a Christian country.

And we should not be afraid to say so.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong.

I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion.

And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.

But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.

You can't fight something with nothing.

Because if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, language and culture.

Powerful language is incredibly evocative.

It crystallises profound, sometimes complex, thoughts and suggests a depth of meaning far beyond the words on the page...

...giving us something to share, to cherish, to celebrate.

Part of the glue that can help to bind us together.

Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language...

...creating arresting phrases that move, challenge and inspire.

One of my favourites is the line "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective.

The key word is darkly - profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning.

I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations.

The New International Version says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror"

The Good News Bible: "What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror"

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don't quite have the same magic and meaning.

Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud.

And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation.

It has also contributed immensely to the spread of spoken English around the world.

Indeed, the language of the King James Bible is very much alive today.

I've already mentioned the lions' den.

Just think about some of the other things we all say.

Phrases like strength to strength...

...how the mighty are fallen...

...the skin of my teeth...

...the salt of the earth.

... nothing new under the sun.

According to one recent study there are 257 of these phrases and idioms that come from the Bible.

These phrases are all around us...

...from court cases to TV sitcoms...

...and from recipe books to pop music lyrics.

Of course, there is a healthy debate about the extent to which it was the King James version that originated the many phrases in our language today.

And it's right to recognise the impact of earlier versions like Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, the Bishops and Geneva Bibles too.

The King James Bible does exactly that...

...setting out with the stated aim of making a good translation better, or out of many good ones, to make "one principall good one"

But what is clear is that the King James version gave the Bible's many expressions a much more widespread public presence.

Much of that dissemination has come through our literature, through the great speeches we remember and the art and music we still enjoy today.

From Milton to Morrison...

...and Coleridge to Cormac McCarthy...

...the Bible supports the plot, context, language and sometimes even the characters in some of our greatest literature.

Tennyson makes over 400 Biblical references in his poems.

...and makes allusions to 42 different books of the Bible.

The Bible has infused some of the greatest speeches...

...from Martin Luther King's dream that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled and that one day "every valley shall be exalted...

...to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address which employed not just Biblical words but cadence and rhythms borrowed from the King James Bible as well.

When Lincoln said that his forefathers "brought forth" a new nation, he was imitating the way in which the Bible announced the birth of Jesus.

The Bible also runs through our art.

From Giotto to El Greco...

...and Michelangelo to Stanley Spencer.

The paintings in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire are some of my favourite works of art.

Those who died in Salonika rising to heaven is religious art in the modern age and, in my view, as powerful as some of what has come before.

And the Bible runs through our music too.

From the great oratorios like J S Bach's Matthew and John Passions and Handel's Messiah...

...to the wealth of music written across the ages for mass and evensong in great cathedrals like this one.

The Biblical settings of composers from Tallis to Taverner are regularly celebrated here in this great cathedral...

...and will sustain our great British tradition of choral music for generations to come.

It's impossible to do justice in a short speech to the full scale of the cultural impact of the King James Bible.

But what is clear is that four hundred years on, this book is still absolutely pivotal to our language and culture.

And that's one very good reason for us all to recognise it today.

A second reason is this.

Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised.

The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God...

....and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order.

Jesus said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy.

The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power.

And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality.

In the ancient world this equity was inconceivable.

In Athens for example, full and equal rights were the preserve of adult, free born men.

But when each and every individual is related to a power above all of us...

...and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God...

...we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights...

...a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery...

...and the emancipation of women - even if not every church has always got the point!

Crucially the translation of the Bible into English made all this accessible to many who had previously been unable to comprehend the Latin versions.

And this created an unrelenting desire for change.

The Putney debates in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1647 saw the first call for One Man, One vote...

...and the demand that authority be invested in the House of Commons rather than the King.

Reading the Bible in English gave people equality with each other through God.

And this led them to seek equality with each other through government.

In a similar way, the Bible provides a defining influence on the formation of the first welfare state.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done "unto one of the least of these my brethren"...

... they have done unto him.

Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter...

...so today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action.

Organisations like the Church Urban Fund which has supported over 5,000 faith based projects in England's poorest communities...

...including the Near Neighbours Programme which Eric Pickles helped to launch last month.

And St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London's Bishopsgate...

...a building once destroyed by an IRA bomb...

...but now a centre where people divided by conflict, culture or religion can meet and listen to each other's perspective.

In total, there are almost 30 thousand faith based charities in this country...

...not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches....

...and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society.

And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises - like the famine in Horn of Africa - again you can count on faith-based organisations...

...like Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid...

...to be at the forefront of the action to save lives.

So it's right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics.

...and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.

People often say that politicians shouldn't "do God."

If by that they mean we shouldn't try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party...

...they could not be more right.

But we shouldn't let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country...

...and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue.

But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three quarters...

...and is forecast to continue rising.

For example, it is now thought there are at least 65 million protestants in China and 12 million Catholics - more Christians than there are members of the communist party.

Official numbers indicate China has about 20 million Muslims - almost as many as in Saudi Arabia - and nearly twice as many as in the whole of the EU.

And by 2050, some people think China could well be both the world's biggest Christian nation and its biggest Muslim one too.

Here in Britain we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope's visit last year...

...this year's Royal Wedding...

...or of course the festival of Christmas next week, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.

The key point is this.

Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.

And that brings me to my third point.

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.

Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, "we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible."

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love...

...pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities...

...these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values.

And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.

But they are also values that speak to us all - to people of every faith and none.

And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.

Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality.

They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths.

And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour.

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.

And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people...

...what we stand for...

...and the kind of society we want to build.

First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths...

...simply don't understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.

Why?

Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others...

...fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality...

...or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

Let's be clear.

Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality.

There are Christians who don't live by a moral code.

And there are atheists and agnostics who do.

But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.

And whether inspired by faith or not - that direction, that moral code, matters.

Whether you look at the riots last summer...

...the financial crash and the expenses scandal...

...or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world...

...one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality...

...has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.

The absence of any real accountability, or moral code...

...allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.

And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values...

... has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper...

...in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.

Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.

"Live and let live" has too often become "do what you please".

Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles.

To be confident in saying something is wrong...

...is not a sign of weakness, it's a strength.

But we can't fight something with nothing.

As I've said if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we've got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations.

The same is true of religious extremism.

As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope:

"...in reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning."

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone.

It stands neutral between different values.

But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

We need to stand up for these values.

To have the confidence to say to people - this is what defines us as a society...

...and that to belong here is to believe in these things.

I believe the church - and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain - have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.

So I don't think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don't object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.

Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn't agree with something he's right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn't be surprised when I respond.

Also it's legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities.

But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.

The future of our country is at a pivotal moment.

The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country...

...and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.

Facing your darkness

Peter Rollins honestly addresses the doubts we all have - priests and people - and challenges us to not only face but articulate those doubts in what we say, speak, write and worship. He is well worth a listen and although I can't go all the way with him - in the sense that I don't really know where it's leading - I think he has some really important things to say to the Church today.

How should we pray?

They asked Abba Macarius, "How should we pray?" And the old man replied, "There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretch out your hands and say, "Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me." But if there is war in your soul, add, "Help me!" and because he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us."

Relevant Magazine

Just a quick recommendation of a website that may/may not be interesting to Christians who want to think or read about how their faith relates to the culture of today. You may not agree with everything written there - I don't - but there is a lot of thought-provoking material there to get you thinking and talking about the various issues that challeneg us today.

Here is the link: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Importance of Being Obedient

The following is from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and it is a wonderful illustration of the importance of obedience (and faith):

It was said of Abba John the Short that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, "Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit." Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. The old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, "Take and eat the fruit of obedience."

The consequences of not praying

"Let him who does not pray expect nothing whatsoever from God- neither salvation nor renewal no direction nor grace. Rather, he is consigned to the whims and fancy of his own mind, the will of his own ego, and the direction of his own thinking. He is like one who has rejected the intervention of the Lord Jesus in his life, like one who hides himself from the Spirit of God. A man who does not pray is one who is content with his own condition. He wishes to remain as he is and not be changed, renewed or saved. His life unconsciously changes from bad to worse. He recedes spiritually day after day. The ties that bind him to the earth and to the flesh increase without his awareness. His ego remains the source of all his desires and ambitions.

As for his relationship with Christ, it remains only superficial and outward. It has no power to change or amend anything. The possibility to even deny Christ at times of danger, temptation, illness, or poverty becomes imminent.

So if man does not pray, he can never be changed or renewed, and he who is not changed or renewed can have no genuine or effective relationship with Christ. His worship, however active, is nothing but an outward protrusion or a superficial growth. In the end it breaks off, bearing no fruit."
From “Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way” by Fr. Matthew the Poor

Friday, 9 December 2011

Paying attention to the readings in Church

“If a man should come here with earnestness – even though he does not read the Scriptures at home – and if he pays attention to what is said here, within the space of even one year he will be able to  obtain  a  considerable  acquaintance  with  them. For we do not read these Scriptures today, and tomorrow others that are quite different, but always the same section and consecutively. However, in spite of this, many have such an apathetic attitude that after such reading they do not even know the names of the books. And they are not ashamed, nor do they shudder with dread, because they have come so carelessly to the hearing of the word of God. On the other hand, if a musician, or a dancer, or anyone else connected with the theater should summon them to the city, they all hurry eagerly, and thank the one who invited them, and spend an entire half-day with their attention fixed on the performer exclusively. Yet when God addresses us through the prophets and apostles, we yawn, we are bored, we become drowsy.”
St. John Chrysostom: Homily 58 from the Gospel of John

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The lost house of me

“We find that, more and more nowadays, people say to us that life is too individualistic, that their life is too materialistic, that there’s consumerism everywhere and that they’ve got more superficial pleasures in life and yet at a deeper level they are not happy.” Those are the words with which Abbot Christopher Jamison began each episode of the television series The Monastery, a fly on the wall documentary which followed a dozen men around as they spent 40 days in silence, prayer and contemplation at Worth Abbey.

Looking at that description of life in modern Britain today it is easy, as a Christian, to apply it to the many men and women who have no real discernible belief in the good news of Jesus Christ. As a preacher I have used similar words in many sermons outlining people's need to discover their joy and happinness in Christ. But reading them now in the "cold light of day", so to speak, the scary thing is that the Abbot's words actually hit much, much closer to home and apply to me, and I suspect, to large sections of the Christian Church.

How materialistic am I? Looking around my house as I prepare to move I note just how much 'stuff' I have accumulated over the years in books, dvds, cds, gadgets, etc.. And am I really immune from the consumerism that gives shape to our western society and which promises Nirvana when we buy that car or that 3D television? How superficial is my faith? If I am honest, when I move the camera closer and take a deeper look at the real state of my heart, what I see are layers and layers of pretence, falsehood and a rather polished 'Christian' gloss covering the corruption beneath. And am I really happy or does my happiness wax and wane depending on external factors like money, good days and fine weather?

Abbot Jamison has put his finger on a lot more than the ills of society. He has poked me in the chest too and I see that unless, and until, I apply them to me first, then my ministry - let alone my Christian walk - is going to remain crucially flawed. Before ever I say a word or offer an opinion I will already have been disqualified. Jesus once said that he came first for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). What about the lost house of the Church? What about the lost house of me?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Contemplative Prayer and following Jesus

"We have been taught as Christians, and presumably have believed, that "we are created for union with God" - but in practice we seem not to dare to accept the full implications of this on a subjective level, to really embrace is as the central truth of our lives. least of all, perhaps, are we prepared to trust that this is god's passionate desire for us. (How frustrating, for the Lover!)

At best, perhaps we vaguely accept that somehow, somewhere, "in heaven," we will come to this union of love. But Jesus' life and teachings concern our lives here and now: "The kingdom of heaven is within you"....Repent, and believe the good news": you are beloved of God! His message is that we love Him in loving one another, and that that love is the love of God, living and loving through us in this world, as its source, meaning and end.

It is this love which becomes experiential in contemplative prayer, and gradually in-forms our lives to become more and more a presence of God's love in the world. That love is not confined to time and space, and exerts a creative power which is the one true source of hope in a world tempted to hopelessness in the face of threatened extinction. It has been bluntly stated, "If you do not believe that evil will be overcome by good" - (or hatred by love) - "you are an atheist."  Nevertheless that "overcoming" will not take its course without us, but through our active engagement with God's love and our surrender to it as the only power that will save the world.

Contemplative prayer is consent to that love. It is not "pie in the sky by-and-by when you die," but part of a lifetime process - often costly and painful - of self-emptying and reorientation to selfless love, i.e., a serious following of Jesus. It is, therefore, vitally important today."
Thelma Hall: "Too Deep for Words." pp2-3

Monday, 28 November 2011

RE Quest

As an Anglican Christian one of the challenges I face is explaining to people what Confirmation is and how it fits into the Christian life. The website RE Quest is a good simple introduction to this and other aspects of the Christian life.

If you want to take a look or maybe use it to help others think about the Christian Faith then click here and it will take you to the site.

The E100 Challenge

What is the E100 Bible Reading Challenge?

The E100 Bible Reading Challenge is based around 100 carefully selected Bible readings (50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament) designed to give participants a good understanding of the overall Bible story from Genesis to Revelation. The 'E' stands for Essential and each of the Essential 100 readings ranges from a few verses to a few chapters.

The programme is very flexible and can be used by individuals but it is even more powerful when adapted to the context of the local church. Through completing the challenge, participants are encouraged to build a regular habit of spending time with God through Bible reading and prayer.
Who is behind the challenge?

The programme was pioneered by Scripture Union in the USA where it is now a joint project with American Bible Society. Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Argentina are implementing or planning nationwide E100 campaigns.

As part of the Biblefresh initiative, a consortium comprising the national Bible Societies and the Scripture Union movements of England and Wales, Ireland Northern Ireland and Scotland, along with Wycliffe Bible Translators has been formed to promote the programme throughout Britain and Ireland.

The Devout Man

Devotion is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether private or public, are particular parts or instances of devotion. Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God.

He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are comfortableto His glory.
"A Serious call to a Devout and Holy life: William Law." Chapter 1

Friday, 25 November 2011

Prayer and praying

Prayer at it's simplest is speaking to God, but different traditions approach this in different ways. So it is fascinating, and stimulating, to see how others pray. Here are some guidelines taken from Eastern Orthodoxy:

Prayer is a conscious, intentional and purposeful act of uniting with God one's mind, heart, soul and body, with every thought, feeling, word and deed, in every time, place, and circumstance.  The sole purpose of prayer is to glorify God by discovering and doing His will.

Prayer is also directed to Christ Himself, as God's divine Son, in the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is also addressed to the Holy Spirit, especially when one begins to pray to God the Father and to His Son, Jesus Christ.  Prayers are also made to the Holy Trinity -- the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One in essence and undivided.  And prayers are also made to Christ's Mother, Mary, and to the saints, asking them to pray and intercede for us with God.

Three Ways of Prayer
Christians are taught to pray in three ways.  These three ways enable and empower each other.  When prayer is an honest and real dialogue with God, they are always held together; they are not separated.  In truth, if any of these three ways is missing, a person'a prayer is at best superficial, weak, and one-sided.  At worst it is deformed and distorted to the point where it ceases to be prayer at all.  This is especially true when any of the three ways is willfully suppressed or rejected.

In long, fancy words the three essential ways of prayer for a Christian are:
(1)  The corporate liturgical and sacramental worship of the Christian ecclesial community whereby the baptized believer enters into the ceaseless and eternal glorification of God the Father by His divine Son and Word, Jesus Christ, in and through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, together with the bodiless hosts of heaven and the assembly of saints;
(2)  The maintenance of a set rule (kanon, regula, pravilo) of prayer done in secret at specific times of the day and week within one's room, the door being shut, according to texts (or memozied words, especially if the person is illiterate) prescribed and guided by a pastor and/or spiritual elder, which rule always includes "O Heavenly King" and the Trisagion prayers concluding with the Lord's Prayer.  It may also include psalmody, the Creed, scripture reading, silence and intercession; and
(3)  The practice of continuous and unceasing spritual prayer of the mind united with the heart usually accomplished, at least at first, by the verbal repetition of a short line of a psalm, or a short prayer, most often a form of the Jesus Prayer such as the shorter "Lord have mercy," or the longer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

My parents, like all devoted Christians without much formal religious education, knew these three forms of prayer.  Without any theological training, they practiced them and taught them to their children in three short rules which were never to be broken.  These rules were:

1.  Go to church,
2.  Say your prayers,
3.  Remember God.
Saying Set Prayers
Christians always begin praying by using set prayers.  They begin with words provided by God in the Bible and liturgy.  The central set prayers for Christians are the Psalms, the Trisagion (Holy! Holy! Holy!), the Alleluia (Praise the Lord!), the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), the Lord's Prayer (Our Father...), the Doxology to the Holy Trinity (Glory to the Father ...), and the acclamation to the Theotokos (Rejoice, O Virgin...)

The "Our Father" is the paradigmatic and quintessential prayer for Christians (see Matthew 6:7-13 and Luke 11:1-4).  It is, to use a biblical way of speaking, the prayer of prayers.  All other prayers are either abbreviations or elaborations of the Lord's Prayer.  If they are not, then they are not acceptable prayers for Christians.  The saints teach us that we should be very careful if we pray something that is not specifically contained in the Lord's Prayer.  They warn us as well never to pray anyting contrary to it.

Beginning with set prayers in words given to us by God, we may then move on to prayers in our own words, inspired by God, or to prayers beyond words and thoughts, in the silence of God's Holy Spirit in a realm too high and too deep for words or thoughts of any kind at all.  But we never begin in our own words.  To do so is disobedient, dangerous, and foolish.  If we begin to pray in our own words, and certainly if we try exclusively to pray in our own words, we will almost surely end up making prayers that are insulting to God and contrary to His holy will.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir's Seminary, 2002

Praying for God's will

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.   In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me.   Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.    In all my words and deeds, guide my thoughts and feelings.  In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.  Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.   Direct my will, teach me to pray. And, Yourself, pray in me.   Amen.
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Blessed is he whose hand Wisdom holds

Jesus took the girl’s hand, healed her, and ordered that she should be given something to eat. This is evidence of life, so that not an apparition but the truth may be believed. Blessed is he whose hand Wisdom holds. I wish that righteousness held my acts and my hands. I want the Word of God to hold me, bring me into his closet, turn away the spirit of error, replace it with that of salvation, and order that I be given something to eat! The Word of God is the Bread of heaven. The Wisdom that filled the holy altar with the divine body and blood says, “Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine that I have mixed for you.”
Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition on the Gospel of Luke 6.63-64, quoted in Arthur A. Just (ed). Luke (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)  146.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Civil Partnerships and Religious Buildings

The following is a statement issued by the Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales (EFCW) with regard to the use of religious buildings for registration of Civil Partnerships:

"EFCW notes with concern the intention of the Westminster government, signalled in a speech by the Home Secretary (March 2011), to implement Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010. This would have the effect of permitting the registration of civil partnerships in religious premises.

It is encouraging that the Home Secretary, in the same speech, also said, “No religious group will be forced to host a civil-partnership registration”. In a statement of March 31st 2011, the Minister for Equalities said that as a first step towards registration “faith groups must agree whether to permit civil partnership registrations on their premises to enable individual religious premises to apply to host them”. EFCW believes that the Church in Wales should not take that first step of agreeing to permit registration, and that it should not do so for the sake of its witness to authentic marriage.

EFCW affirms the teaching of scripture which “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (Lambeth Conference 1998, 1.10b). Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2005 and since then have produced an ambiguity about marriage in English and Welsh law and a degree of confusion about marriage in the public mind.

Despite reassurances at the time that civil partnerships did not affect the institution of marriage, they in fact already do so.  The existence of a civil partnership is an impediment to marriage and this state of affairs indicates that civil partnerships were conceived from the start as standing in some relation to marriage. It is therefore not surprising that civil partnerships are commonly referred to as ‘marriages’.

To permit the use of church premises for the registration of civil partnerships will only serve to extend and deepen the existing confusion in society about marriage and its true nature.  The church should not collaborate in this confusion concerning God’s purposes for humankind.  Rather, it should be saying clearly at this time by word and action that marriage is the lifelong union of man and woman, instituted by God. The church should further make clear by its teaching that the state does not have competence either to alter this God-given institution or to blur its distinctive nature."

Friday, 18 November 2011

Repentance

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After old Mius had taught the soldier many things, Mius said, "Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?" The soldier replied, "No, I mend it and use it again." Old Abba Mius said to him, "If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?" (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward. Kalamazooo, MI, 1984, 150; lightly edited)

Prayer and your enemies

I love the Desert Fathers, their sayings are so 'biblical' and come from people who have soaked themselves in the scriptures. Here is one from one called Abba Zeno:

Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.'

Calvin on prayer - part 4

50. But although it has been said above, (sec. 7, 27, &c.,) that we ought always to raise our minds upwards towards God, and pray without ceasing, yet such is our weakness, which requires to be supported, such our torpor, which requires to be stimulated, that it is requisite for us to appoint special hours for this exercise, hours which are not to pass away without prayer, and during which the whole affections of our minds are to be completely occupied; namely, when we rise in the morning, before we commence our daily work, when we sit down to food, when by the blessing of God we have taken it, and when we retire to rest. This, however, must not be a superstitious observance of hours, by which, as it were, performing a task to God, we think we are discharged as to other hours; it should rather be considered as a discipline by which our weakness is exercised, and ever and anon stimulated. In particular, it must be our anxious care, whenever we are ourselves pressed, or see others pressed by any strait, instantly to have recourse to him not only with quickened pace, but with quickened minds; and again, we must not in any prosperity of ourselves or others omit to testify our recognition of his hand by praise and thanksgiving. Lastly, we must in all our prayers carefully avoid wishing to confine God to certain circumstances, or prescribe to him the time, place, or mode of action. In like manner, we are taught by this prayer not to fix any law or impose any condition upon him, but leave it entirely to him to adopt whatever course of procedure seems to him best, in respect of method, time, and place. For before we offer up any petition for ourselves, we ask that his will may be done, and by so doing place our will in subordination to his, just as if we had laid a curb upon it, that, instead of presuming to give law to God, it may regard him as the ruler and disposer of all its wishes.

51. If, with minds thus framed to obedience, we allow ourselves to be governed by the laws of Divine Providence, we shall easily learn to persevere in prayer, and suspending our own desires wait patiently for the Lord, certain, however little the appearance of it may be, that he is always present with us, and will in his own time show how very far he was from turning a deaf ear to prayers, though to the eyes of men they may seem to be disregarded. This will be a very present consolation, if at any time God does not grant an immediate answer to our prayers, preventing us from fainting or giving way to despondency, as those are wont to do who, in invoking God, are so borne away by their own fervor, that unless he yield on their first importunity and give present help, they immediately imagine that he is angry and offended with them and abandoning all hope of success cease from prayer. On the contrary, deferring our hope with well tempered equanimity, let us insist with that perseverance which is so strongly recommended to us in Scripture. We may often see in The Psalms how David and other believers, after they are almost weary of praying, and seem to have been beating the air by addressing a God who would not hear, yet cease not to pray because due authority is not given to the word of God, unless the faith placed in it is superior to all events. Again, let us not tempt God, and by wearying him with our importunity provoke his anger against us. Many have a practice of formally bargaining with God on certain conditions, and, as if he were the servant of their lust, binding him to certain stipulations; with which if he do not immediately comply, they are indignant and fretful, murmur, complain, and make a noise. Thus offended, he often in his anger grants to such persons what in mercy he kindly denies to others. Of this we have a proof in the children of Israel, for whom it had been better not to have been heard by the Lord, than to swallow his indignation with their flesh, (Num. 11: 18, 33.)

52. But if our sense is not able till after long expectation to perceive what the result of prayer is, or experience any benefit from it, still our faith will assure us of that which cannot be perceived by sense, viz., that we have obtained what was fit for us, the Lord having so often and so surely engaged to take an interest in all our troubles from the moment they have been deposited in his bosom. In this way we shall possess abundance in poverty, and comfort in affliction. For though all things fail, God will never abandon us, and he cannot frustrate the expectation and patience of his people. He alone will suffice for all, since in himself he comprehends all good, and will at last reveal it to us on the day of judgment, when his kingdom shall be plainly manifested. We may add, that although God complies with our request, he does not always give an answer in the very terms of our prayers but while apparently holding us in suspense, yet in an unknown way, shows that our prayers have not been in vain. This is the meaning of the words of John, "If we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him," (1 John 5: 15.) It might seem that there is here a great superfluity of words, but the declaration is most useful, namely, that God, even when he does not comply with our requests, yet listens and is favourable to our prayers, so that our hope founded on his word is never disappointed. But believers have always need of being supported by this patience, as they could not stand long if they did not lean upon it. For the trials by which the Lord proves and exercises us are severe, nay, he often drives us to extremes, and when driven allows us long to stick fast in the mire before he gives us any taste of his sweetness. As Hannah says, "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up," (1 Sam. 2: 6.) What could they here do but become dispirited and rush on despair, were they not, when afflicted, desolate, and half dead, comforted with the thought that they are regarded by God, and that there will be an end to their present evils. But however secure their hopes may stand, they in the meantime cease not to pray, since prayer unaccompanied by perseverance leads to no result.

Calvin on prayer - 3

11. The fourth rule of prayer is, that notwithstanding of our being thus abased and truly humbled, we should be animated to pray with the sure hope of succeeding. There is, indeed, an appearance of contradiction between the two things, between a sense of the just vengeance of God and firm confidence in his favour, and yet they are perfectly accordant, if it is the mere goodness of God that raises up those who are overwhelmed by their own sins. For, as we have formerly shown (chap. 3: sec. 17 2) that repentance and faith go hand in hand, being united by an indissoluble tie, the one causing terror, the other joy, so in prayer they must both be present. This concurrence David expresses in a few words: "But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy, and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple," (Ps. 5: 7.) Under the goodness of God he comprehends faith, at the same time not excluding fear; for not only does his majesty compel our reverence, but our own unworthiness also divests us of all pride and confidence, and keeps us in fear. The confidence of which I speak is not one which frees the mind from all anxiety, and soothes it with sweet and perfect rest; such rest is peculiar to those who, while all their affairs are flowing to a wish are annoyed by no care, stung with no regret, agitated by no fear. But the best stimulus which the saints have to prayer is when, in consequence of their own necessities, they feel the greatest disquietude, and are all but driven to despair, until faith seasonably comes to their aid; because in such straits the goodness of God so shines upon them, that while they groan, burdened by the weight of present calamities, and tormented with the fear of greater, they yet trust to this goodness, and in this way both lighten the difficulty of endurance, and take comfort in the hope of final deliverance. It is necessary therefore, that the prayer of the believer should be the result of both feelings, and exhibit the influence of both; namely, that while he groans under present and anxiously dreads new evils, he should, at the same times have recourse to God, not at all doubting that God is ready to stretch out a helping hand to him. For it is not easy to say how much God is irritated by our distrust, when we ask what we expect not of his goodness. Hence, nothing is more accordant to the nature of prayer than to lay it down as a fixed rule, that it is not to come forth at random, but is to follow in the footsteps of faith. To this principle Christ directs all of us in these words, "Therefore, I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them," (Mark 11: 24.) The same thing he declares in another passage, "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," (Matth. 21. 22.) In accordance with this are the words of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering," (James 1: 5.) He most aptly expresses the power of faith by opposing it to wavering. No less worthy of notice is his additional statement, that those who approach God with a doubting, hesitating mind, without feeling assured whether they are to be heard or not, gain nothing by their prayers. Such persons he compares to a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. Hence, in another passage he terms genuine prayer "the prayer of faith," (James 5: 15.) Again, since God so often declares that he will give to every man according to his faith he intimates that we cannot obtain any thing without faith. In short, it is faith which obtains every thing that is granted to prayer. This is the meaning of Paul in the well known passage to which dull men give too little heed, "How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," (Rom. 10: 14,17.) Gradually deducing the origin of prayer from faith, he distinctly maintains that God cannot be invoked sincerely except by those to whom, by the preaching of the Gospel, his mercy and willingness have been made known, nay, familiarly explained.

12. This necessity our opponents do not at all consider. Therefore, when we say that believers ought to feel firmly assured, they think we are saying the absurdest thing in the world. But if they had any experience in true prayer, they would assuredly understand that God cannot be duly invoked without this firm sense of the Divine benevolence. But as no man can well perceive the power of faith, without at the same time feeling it in his heart, what profit is there in disputing with men of this character, who plainly show that they have never had more than a vain imagination? The value and necessity of that assurance for which we contend is learned chiefly from prayer. Every one who does not see this gives proof of a very stupid conscience. Therefore, leaving those who are thus blinded, let us fix our thoughts on the words of Paul, that God can only be invoked by such as have obtained a knowledge of his mercy from the Gospel, and feel firmly assured that that mercy is ready to be bestowed upon them. What kind of prayer would this be? "O Lord, I am indeed doubtful whether or not thou art inclined to hear me; but being oppressed with anxiety I fly to thee that if I am worthy, thou mayest assist me." None of the saints whose prayers are given in Scripture thus supplicated. Nor are we thus taught by the Holy Spirit, who tells us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (Heb. 4: 16;) and elsewhere teaches us to "have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Christ," (Eph. 3: 12.) This confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any advantage. The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs (if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is founded on the full assurance of hope. He might have been contented to use the simple name of faith, but he adds not only confidence, but liberty or boldness, that by this mark he might distinguish us from unbelievers, who indeed like us pray to God, but pray at random. Hence, the whole Church thus prays "Let thy mercy O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee," (Ps. 33: 22.) The same condition is set down by the Psalmist in another passage, "When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know, for God is for me," (Ps. 56: 9.) Again, "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up," (Ps. 5: 3.) From these words we gather, that prayers are vainly poured out into the air unless accompanied with faith, in which, as from a watchtower, we may quietly wait for God. With this agrees the order of Paul's exhortation. For before urging believers to pray in the Spirit always, with vigilance and assiduity, he enjoins them to take "the shield of faith," "the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," (Eph. vi. 16-18.) Let the reader here call to mind what I formerly observed, that faith by no means fails though accompanied with a recognition of our wretchedness, poverty, and pollution. How much soever believers may feel that they are oppressed by a heavy load of iniquity, and are not only devoid of every thing which can procure the favour of God for them, but justly burdened with many sins which make him an object of dread, yet they cease not to present themselves, this feeling not deterring them from appearing in his presence, because there is no other access to him. Genuine prayer is not that by which we arrogantly extol ourselves before God, or set a great value on any thing of our own, but that by which, while confessing our guilt, we utter our sorrows before God, just as children familiarly lay their complaints before their parents. Nay, the immense accumulation of our sins should rather spur us on and incite us to prayer. Of this the Psalmist gives us an example, "Heal my soul: for I have sinned against thee," (Ps. 41: 4.) I confess, indeed, that these stings would prove mortal darts, did not God give succour; but our heavenly Father has, in ineffable kindness, added a remedy, by which, calming all perturbation, soothing our cares, and dispelling our fears he condescendingly allures us to himself; nay, removing all doubts, not to say obstacles, makes the way smooth before us.

13. And first, indeed in enjoining us to pray, he by the very injunction convicts us of impious contumacy if we obey not. He could not give a more precise command than that which is contained in the psalms: "Call upon me in the day of trouble," (Ps. 50: 15.) But as there is no office of piety more frequently enjoined by Scripture, there is no occasion for here dwelling longer upon it. "Ask," says our Divine Master, "and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," (Matth. 7: 7.) Here, indeed, a promise is added to the precept, and this is necessary. For though all confess that we must obey the precept, yet the greater part would shun the invitation of God, did he not promise that he would listen and be ready to answer. These two positions being laid down, it is certain that all who cavillingly allege that they are not to come to God directly, are not only rebellious and disobedient but are also convicted of unbelief, inasmuch as they distrust the promises. There is the more occasion to attend to this, because hypocrites, under a pretense of humility and modesty, proudly contemn the precept, as well as deny all credit to the gracious invitation of God; nay, rob him of a principal part of his worship. For when he rejected sacrifices, in which all holiness seemed then to consist, he declared that the chief thing, that which above all others is precious in his sight, is to be invoked in the day of necessity. Therefore, when he demands that which is his own, and urges us to alacrity in obeying, no pretexts for doubt, how specious soever they may be, can excuse us. Hence, all the passages throughout Scripture in which we are commanded to pray, are set up before our eyes as so many banners, to inspire us with confidence. It were presumption to go forward into the presence of God, did he not anticipate us by his invitation. Accordingly, he opens up the way for us by his own voice, "I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God," (Zech. 13: 9.) We see how he anticipates his worshippers, and desires them to follow, and therefore we cannot fear that the melody which he himself dictates will prove unpleasing. Especially let us call to mind that noble description of the divine character, by trusting to which we shall easily overcome every obstacle: O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come," (Ps. 65: 2.) What can be more lovely or soothing than to see God invested with a title which assures us that nothing is more proper to his nature than to listen to the prayers of suppliants? Hence the Psalmist infers, that free access is given not to a few individuals, but to all men, since God addresses all in these terms, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me," (Ps. 50: 15.) David, accordingly, appeals to the promise thus given in order to obtain what he asks: "Thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee" (2 Sam. 7: 27.) Here we infer, that he would have been afraid but for the promise which emboldened him. So in another passage he fortifies himself with the general doctrine, "He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him," (Ps. 145: 19.) Nay, we may observe in The Psalms how the continuity of prayer is broken, and a transition is made at one time to the power of God, at another to his goodness, at another to the faithfulness of his promises. It might seem that David, by introducing these sentiments, unseasonably mutilates his prayers; but believers well know by experience, that their ardor grows languid unless new fuel be added, and, therefore, that meditation as well on the nature as on the word of God during prayer, is by no means superfluous. Let us not decline to imitate the example of David, and introduce thoughts which may reanimate our languid minds with new vigour.

14. It is strange that these delightful promises affect us coldly, or scarcely at all, so that the generality of men prefer to wander up and down, forsaking the fountain of living waters, and hewing out to themselves broken cisterns, rather than embrace the divine liberality voluntarily offered to them (Jer. 2:13). "The name of the Lord," says Solomon, "is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." (Pr. 18:10) Joel, after predicting the fearful disaster which was at hand, subjoins the following memorable sentence: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered." (Joel 2: 32) This we know properly refers to the course of the Gospel. Scarcely one in a hundred is moved to come into the presence of God, though he himself exclaims by Isaiah, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." (Is. 65: 24) This honour he elsewhere bestows upon the whole Church in general, as belonging to all the members of Christ: "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him." (Ps. 91:15) My intention, however, as I already observed, is not to enumerate all, but only select some admirable passages as a specimen how kindly God allures us to himself, and how extreme our ingratitude must be when with such powerful motives our sluggishness still retards us. Wherefore, let these words always resound in our ears: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth," (Ps. 145: 18.) Likewise those passages which we have quoted from Isaiah and Joel, in which God declares that his ear is open to our prayers, and that he is delighted as with a sacrifice of sweet savour when we cast our cares upon him. The special benefit of these promises we receive when we frame our prayer, not timorously or doubtingly, but when trusting to his word whose majesty might otherwise deter us, we are bold to call him Father, he himself deigning to suggest this most delightful name. Fortified by such invitations it remains for us to know that we have therein sufficient materials for prayer, since our prayers depend on no merit of our own, but all their worth and hope of success are founded and depend on the promises of God, so that they need no other support, and require not to look up and down on this hand and on that. It must therefore be fixed in our minds, that though we equal not the lauded sanctity of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, yet as the command to pray is common to us as well as them, and faith is common, so if we lean on the word of God, we are in respect of this privilege their associates. For God declaring, as has already been seen, that he will listen and be favourable to all, encourages the most wretched to hope that they shall obtain what they ask; and, accordingly, we should attend to the general forms of expression, which, as it is commonly expressed, exclude none from first to last; only let there be sincerity of heart, self- dissatisfaction humility, and faith, that we may not, by the hypocrisy of a deceitful prayer, profane the name of God. Our most merciful Father will not reject those whom he not only encourages to come, but urges in every possible way. Hence David's method of prayer to which I lately referred: "And now, O Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee" (2 Sam. 7: 28.) So also, in another passage, "Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant," (Psalm 119: 76.) And the whole body of the Israelites, whenever they fortify themselves with the remembrance of the covenant, plainly declare, that since God thus prescribes they are not to pray timorously, (Gen. 32: 13.) In this they imitated the example of the patriarchs, particularly Jacob, who, after confessing that he was unworthy of the many mercies which he had received of the Lord's hand, says, that he is encouraged to make still larger requests, because God had promised that he would grant them. But whatever be the pretexts which unbelievers employ, when they do not flee to God as often as necessity urges, nor seek after him, nor implore his aid, they defraud him of his due honour just as much as if they were fabricating to themselves new gods and idols, since in this way they deny that God is the author of all their blessings. On the contrary, nothing more effectually frees pious minds from every doubt, than to be armed with the thought that no obstacle should impede them while they are obeying the command of God, who declares that nothing is more grateful to him than obedience. Hence, again, what I have previously said becomes still more clear, namely, that a bold spirit in prayer well accords with fear, reverence, and anxiety, and that there is no inconsistency when God raises up those who had fallen prostrate. In this way forms of expression apparently inconsistent admirably harmonize. Jeremiah and David speak of humbly laying their supplications[5] before God (Jer. 42: 9; Dan. 9: 18.) In another passage Jeremiah says "Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord thy God, even for all this remnant." (Jer. 42: 2) On the other hand, believers are often said to _lift up prayer_. Thus Hezekiah speaks, when asking the prophet to undertake the office of interceding (2 Kings 19: 4.) And David says, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Ps. 141: 2) The explanation is, that though believers, persuaded of the paternal love of God, cheerfully rely on his faithfulness, and have no hesitation in imploring the aid which he voluntarily offers, they are not elated with supine or presumptuous security; but climbing up by the ladder of the promises, still remain humble and abased suppliants.

15. Here, by way of objection, several questions are raised. Scripture relates that God sometimes complied with certain prayers which had been dictated by minds not duly calmed or regulated. It is true, that the cause for which Jotham imprecated on the inhabitants of Shechem the disaster which afterwards befell them was well founded; but still he was inflamed with anger and revenge, (Judges 9: 20;) and hence God, by complying with the execration, seems to approve of passionate impulses. Similar fervor also seized Samson, when he prayed, "Strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes," (Judges 16: 28.) For although there was some mixture of good zeal, yet his ruling feeling was a fervid, and therefore vicious longing for vengeance. God assents, and hence apparently it might be inferred that prayers are effectual, though not framed in conformity to the rule of the word. But I answer, _first_, that a perpetual law is not abrogated by singular examples; and, _secondly_, that special suggestions have sometimes been made to a few individuals, whose case thus becomes different from that of the generality of men. For we should attend to the answer which our Saviour gave to his disciples when they inconsiderately wished to imitate the example of Elias, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," (Luke ix. 55.) We must, however, go farther and say, that the wishes to which God assents are not always pleasing to him; but he assents, because it is necessary, by way of example, to give clear evidence of the doctrine of Scripture, viz., that he assists the miserable, and hears the groans of those who unjustly afflicted implore his aid: and, accordingly, he executes his judgments when the complaints of the needy, though in themselves unworthy of attention, ascend to him. For how often, in inflicting punishment on the ungodly for cruelty, rapine, violence, lust, and other crimes, in curbing audacity and fury, and also in overthrowing tyrannical power, has he declared that he gives assistance to those who are unworthily oppressed though they by addressing an unknown deity only beat the air? There is one psalm which clearly teaches that prayers are not without effect, though they do not penetrate to heaven by faith, (Ps. 107: 6,13,19.) For it enumerates the prayers which, by natural instinct, necessity extorts from unbelievers not less than from believers, and to which it shows by the event, that God is, notwithstanding, propitious. Is it to testify by such readiness to hear that their prayers are agreeable to him? Nay; it is, first, to magnify or display his mercy by the circumstance, that even the wishes of unbelievers are not denied; and, secondly, to stimulate his true worshippers to more urgent prayer, when they see that sometimes even the wailings of the ungodly are not without avail. This, however, is no reason why believers should deviate from the law divinely imposed upon them, or envy unbelievers, as if they gained much in obtaining what they wished. We have observed, (chap. 3: sec. 25,) that in this way God yielded to the feigned repentance of Ahab, that he might show how ready he is to listen to his elect when, with true contrition, they seek his favour. Accordingly, he upbraids the Jews, that shortly after experiencing his readiness to listen to their prayers, they returned to their own perverse inclinations. It is also plain from the Book of Judges that, whenever they wept, though their tears were deceitful, they were delivered from the hands of their enemies. Therefore, as God sends his sun indiscriminately on the evil and on the good, so he despises not the tears of those who have a good cause, and whose sorrows are deserving of relief. Meanwhile, though he hears them, it has no more to do with salvation than the supply of food which he gives to other despisers of his goodness. There seems to be a more difficult question concerning Abraham and Samuel, the one of whom, without any instruction from the word of God, prayed in behalf of the people of Sodom, and the other, contrary to an express prohibition, prayed in behalf of Saul, (Gen. 18: 23; 1 Sam. 15. 11.) Similar is the case of Jeremiah, who prayed that the city might not be destroyed, (Jer. 32: 16ff.) It is true their prayers were refused, but it seems harsh to affirm that they prayed without faith. Modest readers will, I hope, be satisfied with this solution, viz., that leaning to the general principle on which God enjoins us to be merciful even to the unworthy, they were not altogether devoid of faith, though in this particular instance their wish was disappointed. Augustine shrewdly remarks, "How do the saints pray in faith when they ask from God contrary to what he has decreed? Namely, because they pray according to his will, not his hidden and immutable will, but that which he suggests to them, that he may hear them in another manner; as he wisely distinguishes," (August. de Civit. Dei, Lib. 22: 100: 2.) This is truly said: for, in his incomprehensible counsel, he so regulates events, that the prayers of the saints, though involving a mixture of faith and error, are not in vain. And yet this no more sanctions imitation than it excuses the saints themselves, who I deny not exceeded due bounds. Wherefore, whenever no certain promise exists, our request to God must have a condition annexed to it. Here we may refer to the prayer of David, "Awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded," (Ps. vii. 6;) for he reminds us that he had received special instruction to pray for a temporal blessing.[6]

16. It is also of importance to observe, that the four laws of prayer of which I have treated are not so rigorously enforced, as that God rejects the prayers in which he does not find perfect faith or repentance, accompanied with fervent zeal and wishes duly framed. We have said, (sec. 4,) that though prayer is the familiar intercourse of believers with God, yet reverence and modesty must be observed: we must not give loose reins to our wishes, nor long for any thing farther than God permits; and, moreover, lest the majesty of God should be despised, our minds must be elevated to pure and chaste veneration. This no man ever performed with due perfection. For, not to speak of the generality of men, how often do David's complaints savour of intemperance? Not that he actually means to expostulate with God, or murmur at his judgments, but failing, through infirmity, he finds no better solace than to pour his griefs into the bosom of his heavenly Father. Nay, even our stammering is tolerated by God, and pardon is granted to our ignorance as often as any thing rashly escapes us: indeed, without this indulgence, we should have no freedom to pray. But although it was David's intention to submit himself entirely to the will of God, and he prayed with no less patience than fervor, yet irregular emotions appear, nay, sometimes burst forth,-emotions not a little at variance with the first law which we laid down. In particular, we may see in a clause of the thirty-ninth Psalm, how this saint was carried away by the vehemence of his grief, and unable to keep within bounds. "O spare me,[7] that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more," (Ps. 39: 13.) You would call this the language of a desperate man, who had no other desire than that God should withdraw and leave him to relish in his distresses. Not that his devout mind rushes into such intemperance, or that, as the reprobate are wont, he wishes to have done with God; he only complains that the divine anger is more than he can bear. During those trials, wishes often escape which are not in accordance with the rule of the word, and in which the saints do not duly consider what is lawful and expedient. Prayers contaminated by such faults, indeed, deserve to be rejected; yet provided the saints lament, administer self-correction and return to themselves, God pardons. Similar faults are committed in regard to the second law, (as to which, see sec. 6,) for the saints have often to struggle with their own coldness, their want and misery not urging them sufficiently to serious prayer. It often happens, also, that their minds wander, and are almost lost; hence in this matter also there is need of pardon, lest their prayers, from being languid or mutilated, or interrupted and wandering, should meet with a refusal. One of the natural feelings which God has imprinted on our mind is, that prayer is not genuine unless the thoughts are turned upward. Hence the ceremony of raising the hands, to which we have adverted, a ceremony known to all ages and nations, and still in common use. But who, in lifting up his hands, is not conscious of sluggishness, the heart cleaving to the earth? In regard to the petition for remission of sins, (sec. 8,) though no believer omits it, yet all who are truly exercised in prayer feel that they bring scarcely a tenth of the sacrifice of which David speaks, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise," (Ps. 51: 17.) Thus a twofold pardon is always to be asked; first, because they are conscious of many faults the sense of which, however, does not touch them so as to make them feel dissatisfied with themselves as they ought; and, secondly, in so far as they have been enabled to profit in repentance and the fear of God, they are humbled with just sorrow for their offenses, and pray for the remission of punishment by the judge. The thing which most of all vitiates prayer, did not God indulgently interpose, is weakness or imperfection of faith; but it is not wonderful that this defect is pardoned by God, who often exercises his people with severe trials, as if he actually wished to extinguish their faith. The hardest of such trials is when believers are forced to exclaim, "O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?" (Ps. 80: 4,) as if their very prayers offended him. In like manner, when Jeremiah says "Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayers (Lam. 3: 8,) there cannot be a doubt that he was in the greatest perturbation. Innumerable examples of the same kind occur in the Scriptures, from which it is manifest that the faith of the saints was often mingled with doubts and fears, so that while believing and hoping, they, however, betrayed some degree of unbelief, But because they do not come so far as were to be wished, that is only an additional reason for their exerting themselves to correct their faults, that they may daily approach nearer to the perfect law of prayer, and at the same time feel into what an abyss of evils those are plunged, who, in the very cures they use, bring new diseases upon themselves: since there is no prayer which God would not deservedly disdain, did he not overlook the blemishes with which all of them are polluted. I do not mention these things that believers may securely pardon themselves in any faults which they commit, but that they may call themselves to strict account, and thereby endeavour to surmount these obstacles; and though Satan endeavours to block up all the paths in order to prevent them from praying, they may, nevertheless, break through, being firmly persuaded that though not disencumbered of all hindrances, their attempts are pleasing to God, and their wishes are approved, provided they hasten on and keep their aim, though without immediately reaching it.

When the man comes around

Johnny Cash lyrics to one of his famous songs: When the man (Jesus) comes around. "And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder O...