Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis: Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

The Great DivorceOne of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthy choice will go with us into eternity.

Finney: No “Little” Sins

Revival LecturesIs there any such thing as an inconsequential sin? A sin that doesn’t really matter all that much? Charles Finney didn’t think so, and here’s his rationale in his Revival Lectures:

There are multitudes of such things by which the Spirit of God is grieved. People call them “little” sins, but God will not call them little.

I was struck with this thought when I saw a little notice in The Evangelist. The publishers stated that they had many thousands of dollars in the hands of subscribers, which sums were justly due, but that it would cost them as much as it was worth to send an agent to collect the money. I suppose it is so with other religious papers, that subscribers either put the publisher to the trouble and expense of sending an agent to collect his due, or else they cheat him out of it.

There is, doubtless, a large amount of money held back in this way by professors of religion, just because it is in such small sums, or because they are so far off that they cannot be sued. And yet these people will pray, and appear very pious, and wonder why they do not “enjoy” religion, and have the Spirit of God!

It is this looseness of moral principle, this want of conscience about little matters, that grieves away the Holy Ghost.

The world is watching the Christians. What do they see? Each of us will have to give an account before God for the faithfulness of our testimony. Hypocrisy is never a small thing.

Lewis: Made for Another World

Mere ChristianityWe are earthbound creatures. We are transfixed on what we see around us. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, reminds us that we are meant for a fuller existence, and that there is a reality we cannot see fully now, but if submitted to God and His will, forgiven of our sins and living righteously, we will see it. He also deals with a common misconception:

Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven”  means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.

Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. . . .

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

I’ll just simply add “amen.”

Finney & Effective Communication

Charles Finney 1Charles Finney had a lot to say about the effective means of communicating a message, particularly the most important message of all—the Gospel. He was continually criticized by other ministers for using plain language in his messages; he should show off his learning with superb rhetoric, they argued. Finney argued back in this way in his autobiography:

The captain of a fire company, when a city is on fire, does not read to his company an essay, or exhibit a fine specimen of rhetoric when he shouts to them and directs their movements. It is a question of urgency, and he intends that every word shall be understood. He is entirely in earnest with them; and they feel that criticism would be out of place in regard to the language he uses.

So it always is when men are entirely in earnest. Their language is in point, direct and simple. Their sentences are short, cogent, powerful. The appeal is made directly for action; and hence all such discourses take effect. This is the reason why, formerly, the ignorant Methodist preachers, and the earnest Baptist preachers produced so much more effect than our most learned theologians and divines. They do so now.

The impassioned utterance of a common exhorter will often move a congregation far beyond anything that those splendid exhibitions of rhetoric can effect. Great sermons lead the people to praise the preacher. Good preaching leads the people to praise the Saviour.

Finney’s exhortation here doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for great learning and wonderful rhetoric. He’s simply saying you have to be careful not to speak over people’s heads. They have to understand what you are saying. When I teach, I try to do the same. Even though I possess a history doctorate, it does no good to show off in-depth knowledge that many in the class cannot follow. It’s far more important to ensure they grasp the essentials of what I’m teaching. Plain language, directness, and, in my case, really good cartoons, are what accomplish that purpose.

Lewis: The Nature of Heaven

There have been many attempts to describe heaven. All undoubtedly fall short of the reality. We also have some misconceptions about the nature of the afterlife—although that term “afterlife” is a misconception in itself because that’s when life truly begins. C. S. Lewis addresses this in Mere Christianity:

I Cor. 2-9There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.”

The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. . . .

People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Heaven will not disappoint. Of that I am certain. How can the very presence of the One who gives life meaning be a disappointment? Lewis also notes that it’s just fine to desire heaven. As he explains in The Problem of Pain,

We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested [i.e., unselfish]. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

Those who have never humbled themselves before God would find heaven to be hell because it admits no one who lives for self. It’s made only for those who seek God’s face and rejoice to be with Him.

Reflections As We Begin a New Year

New Year's EveWelcome to 2014. As a historian, I see significance in the passage of time, but for practical day-to-day living, the distinction between one year and the next is artificial. What really changes from December 31 to January 1? Oh, yes, some new laws go into effect, but it’s all part of the continuum of time.

I watch the revelers on New Year’s Eve and see mostly drunks and people who could easily lay claim to an award for brainless activity and superficial happiness. Of course, those are the ones focused on by the media, as they attempt to portray “joy” in the worldly sense of the term. I realize there are those who soberly and with gratitude to God for another year, give thanks for their blessings. Yet that kind of recognition for the grace of God pales in the public mind when compared to the temporary rejoicing in Times Square. The latter takes priority.

Do I sound like a downer today? I’m not trying to be the Scrooge of New Year’s, but my frame of vision differs quite a bit from the norm. I’m not alone, or at least I hope I’m not. All genuine Christians should stand apart in their perception of reality. They should have a distinct perspective on sin, mercy, and grace, and they should be about their Father’s business in displaying it to the world.

That’s what inspired me back in August 2008 to begin this ongoing commentary on life. From the start, I wanted it to be set apart somehow from the onslaught of the multitude of bloggers, particularly those who offer little more than shrill screeds, lashing out with intemperate words toward everything they despise.

I decided to call this daily commentary Pondering Principles because I want the basic truths God has given us to be the basis for everything I write. While I don’t intend to stir up controversy for the sake of controversy, I also realize that those things I call basic truths are rejected by a good part of our age. To write in favor of God’s law—righteousness across the board in morality—now makes one controversial whether one desires it or not.

There are times I tire of writing. What atrocity do I have to talk about today? Which sin needs to be illuminated? What new stupidity has the human race discovered now? That’s why I try to make sure I balance those types of posts with the message of God’s love and His heart for salvaging as many broken examples of humanity as possible. It’s why I include a large number of cartoons to add some humor to the unfolding of our societal foolishness. It’s why I devote weekend posts to insights from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney, hoping to escape the daily grind of political folly for at least a few days.

JeremiahI never intended to be another Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet of the Old Testament. But neither did I anticipate the rapid decline in our national morality that has occurred since I began this blog in 2008. Jeremiah had a strong message, speaking, in this passage, for God:

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

He got tired of delivering his message, too, and all the reproach he received from those who rejected what he said. At one point, he cried out in anguish,

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.

He remained faithful. He felt compelled to complete his mission.

I am in no way a replica of Jeremiah. I’ve not suffered major derision or persecution personally for sharing my views. Yet I can empathize with his emotion. Sometimes, I just want to walk away from writing anything more. I find myself thinking that all these words I write accomplish very little. Why submit to the inner drive to continue? Life would be easier and much more pleasant if I didn’t have to think of something to say every day. Some days I’m dry; there’s nothing worth saying. Or at least that’s how I feel.

Yet whenever I think of stopping this commentary, I find that same burning within that Jeremiah described.

I don’t really know what I’m accomplishing with Pondering Principles. Perhaps far less than I hope. Yet I also know, deep in my heart, that God merely calls us to be faithful, and we’re to leave the results with Him. Therefore, I will be like Jeremiah in at least one respect: I will remain faithful to what God has called me to do.

Those are some of my reflections at the beginning of a new year. May we all reflect regularly on God’s calling and our commitment to Him.

The Finney-Robertson Message Is the Gospel Message

Finney's Systematic TheologyHow do I combine Phil Robertson and Charles Finney? Rather easily. Robertson spoke clearly on the nature of sin, yet also said we had to love everyone, even those caught up in sin. Finney, in his Systematic Theology, puts it this way:

The command is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His [God’s] interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. . . .

But while the law requires that this should be willed to all . . . irrespective of character, it cannot, and does not require us to will that . . . any moral agent in particular, shall be actually blessed but upon condition that he be holy. Our obligation to the unholy is to will that they might be holy, and perfectly blessed.

While we are to desire the best for all, we need to recognize the basic Gospel truth that sin must be done away with first. No one who remains in sin can receive the ultimate blessing of God. Sin separates from God; only through repentance and faith in the work of Christ on the Cross can any of us enter into His kingdom. That’s Finney’s message, and it’s Robertson’s message as well. But more than that, it’s the Biblical message.