In Whom We Have Our Being – Part 1

We’ve discussed Oprah’s favorite verse before. Let’s look at this verse again. In context, we read:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. Acts 17:26-29 English Standard Version (ESV)

From the website footnotes, the first quote is probably from Epimenides of Crete; the second quote is likely from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena.” To verses 27 and 28, Calvin says how conciliatory God is to us; He makes Himself findable:

That they might seek God. …It is man’s duty to seek God…God himself comes forth to meet us, and shows himself by such manifest tokens, that we can have no excuse for our ignorance.

Not only are the tokens He offers in the creation that surrounds us, but in the creation inside us:

Though he be not far from every one of us. …For though no corner of the world [is] void of the testimony of God’s glory, yet we need not go [outside] ourselves to lay hold upon him. For he affects and moves every one of us inwardly with his power in such [manner], that our [insensibleness] is [grotesque], in that in feeling him we feel him not…

Those apart from Christ are alienated, dead in trespasses and sins with no hope in the world. Yet, concerning even these (as we once were), Calvin says:

For in him. …God preserves, by the wonderful power and inspiration of his Spirit, those things which he has created [out] of nothing… [God did not create the world and afterward depart from his work; but the world continues to stand by his power moment by moment. The Creator of the world is its ever present governor.]

Paul said that [humans] need not seek far for God, whom they have [acting] within them [under his governance] …We have not only no life [except] in God, but [no] moving; [indeed, not even existence,] which is [lower in rank] to both [living and movement].

I say that life has the pre-eminence in men, because they have not only sense and motion as brute beasts have, but they [are endowed] with reason and understanding…So in John, when [he mentions the] creation of all things, [he adds separately and] not without cause, that life was the light of men, (John 1:4.)

…All those who [do not] know God [are ignorant that] they have God present with them not only in the excellent gifts of the mind, but in their very essence. [Since] it belongs to God alone to be [(i.e., He is the I am)], all other things have their being in him.

So, the self-existent God gives us physical life for one purpose: to know Him. He upholds the being of all things, including our own, by His power. We should, therefore, acknowledge Him. However, unless we receive by faith His justification of us by His unmerited favor, we are dead to Him.

Not only does His animating power envelop us, but our evil deeds surround us too; and He sees them all:

But they do not consider

    that I remember all their evil.

Now their deeds surround them;

    they are before my face.

Hosea 7:2 (ESV)

I urge you, then, to believe that His sacrifice of Himself for our sins declares you righteous. Then, you, along with the psalmist, can say with joy:

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:4-6 (ESV)

We’ll examine the entire context (Acts 17:26-29) next week.

Watch a Breathtaking Time-Lapse of Grand Teton National Park, Aug 27, 2016, YouTube, National Geographic

Wisdom From Above

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition motivate most enterprises in this world. Sure, there are some in those institutions who work selflessly, not seeking credit for themselves. But, even these individuals may be seduced by ambition’s rewards and caught in its snares. This happens in secular and non-secular institutions. No one is immune to the temptation. Very few resist and persevere. The Apostle James contrasts this wisdom of the world with the wisdom God dispenses freely if only we ask:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

This sounds like what we all would want were we not so preoccupied with seeking our own good. The reformer, John Calvin, analyzes these verses with direct application to those in the church:

But the wisdom which is from above. [James] now mentions the effects of celestial wisdom which are wholly contrary to the former effects:

He says first that it is pure; by which term he excludes hypocrisy and ambition.

He, in the second place, calls it peaceable, to intimate that it is not contentious.

In the third place, he calls it kind or humane, that we may know that it is far away from that immoderate [strictness] which tolerates nothing in our brethren.

He also calls it gentle or tractable; by which he means that it widely differs from pride and malignity.

In the last place, he says that it is full of mercy, etc., while hypocrisy is inhuman and inexorable.

By good fruits he generally refers to all those duties which benevolent men perform towards their brethren; as though he had said, it is full of benevolence. It [therefore] follows, that they [depart from the truth] who glory in their cruel [severity].

…Though he had sufficiently condemned hypocrisy…he makes it more clear by repeating the same thing at the end. We are [therefore] reminded that [we are miserable or severe] for no other reason…but [that] we too much [excuse] ourselves, and [scheme] at our own vices.

…James here, by [the opposite of impartiality] refers to that overanxious and over-scrupulous inquiry, such as is commonly carried on by hypocrites, who too minutely examine the sayings and doings of their brethren, and put on them the worst [spin].

So, Calvin shows us how the Apostle James elaborates on the Lord Jesus’ statement: “…Out of the abundance of the heart…” Calvin then goes on to say:

And the fruit of righteousness. This admits of two meanings, — that fruit is sown by the peaceable, which afterwards they gather, — or, that they themselves, though they meekly tolerate many things in their neighbors, do not yet cease to sow righteousness.

…James says, that those who are wise according to God’s will, are so kind, meek, and merciful, as yet not to cover vices nor favor them; but on the contrary, in such a way as to strive to correct them, and yet in a peaceable manner, that is, in moderation, so that union is preserved.

And thus, he testifies that what he had said [before] tends in no degree to do away with calm reproofs; but that those who wish to be physicians to heal vices ought not to be executioners.

In this way, Calvin points out the difference between the peaceable, who seek righteousness through correction leading to unity, and those who don’t. Calvin finally contrasts zeal tempered by peaceability versus untempered zeal resulting in disorder and division:

[James] adds, by those who make peace; which ought to be explained [as]: they who study peace, are nevertheless careful to sow righteousness; nor are they slothful or negligent in promoting and encouraging good works; but they moderate their zeal with the condiment of peace, while hypocrites throw all things into confusion by a blind and furious violence.

A good friend of mine exhibits these peaceable attributes. It’s a pleasure to converse with him about the blessings and trials of life. Though he has opinions on all we discuss, I can hear when he tempers his discussion to correct me and preserve our union. I would have to say he sows righteousness benevolently. He is a rare friend. Others I’ve known, wishing to be physicians that heal vices, have been, as Calvin termed it, executioners instead.

Which are you?

Peaceable Kingdom - E. Hicks

Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1834, Edward Hicks (1780-1849), Public Domain in the US

On the Surface – Part II

Earlier this year, when discussing the topic of envy, we considered the brothers, Cain and Abel. Let’s see what else we can learn from both their lives and Abel’s death:

And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering. Genesis 4:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin analyzes this situation:

And the Lord had respect unto Abel, etc. …Notice the order Moses [observes]; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offeror; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him.

And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart.

Whence also it [follows], that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself?

…Now seeing that in another place, the Spirit testifies, by the mouth of Peter, that ‘hearts are purified by faith,’ (Acts 15:9) and seeing that the purity of the holy patriarchs was of the very same kind, the apostle does not in vain infer, that the offering of Abel was, by faith, more excellent than that of Cain.

Calvin then draws two conclusions with consequences. The first conclusion and consequence are:

Therefore, in the first place, we must hold, that all works done before faith, whatever splendor of righteousness may appear in them, were nothing but mere sins, being defiled from their roots, and were offensive to the Lord, whom nothing can please without inward purity of heart.

I wish they who imagine that men, by their own motion of freewill, are rendered [fit] to receive the grace of God, would reflect on this. Certainly, no controversy would then remain on the question, whether God justifies men gratuitously, and that by faith? For this must be received as a settled point, that, in the judgment of God, no respect is had to works until man is received into [his] favor.

And the second conclusion is harder still:

…Since the whole human race is hateful to God, there is no other way of reconciliation to divine favor than through faith. Moreover, since faith is a gratuitous gift of God, and a special illumination of the Spirit, then it is easy to infer, that we are [enabled to life] by his mere grace, just as if he had raised us from the dead.

In which sense also Peter says, that it is God who purifies the hearts by faith. For there would be no agreement of the fact with the statement, unless God had so formed faith in the hearts of men that it might be truly deemed his gift…

Calvin’s observations remind us of the apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Ephesian church:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice and through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Receive from the Lord Jesus Christ a new heart. May He renew a right spirit within you.

Andrew MurrayFaith – Abel – The Sacrifice Of Faith – The Holiest of All (99 of 130), Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Quo Vadis III

We here at Mandated Memoranda Publishing have just released book four to our advanced copy readers. Yes, this is actually book three, but we missed our Christmas deadline, ergo, book four. The title is A Digital Carol. From the protean blurb with which we’ve been toying:

This is a tale from our childhoods retold in modern language and forms. The story’s goal is not to inspire a more joyous holiday or a more generous giving spirit, but to question the very premise of our existence. We are too late into the dark night of the soul for anything but drastic measures.

We purchased the imagery for the cover and hope to post the blurb and quarter scale cover image on the MM books tab soon. We plan to use the same editing service that we used for Tragic Wonders to better effect this time. If we get a good review (who knows), then we’ll splurge on professional promotion.

Apropos of nothing more than sympathy for the Ukrainian people, here’s Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2013 – Second place finisher:

National park Holy Mountains, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine

National park “Sviati Hory” (Holy Mountains), Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine – Attribution: Balkhovitin (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, as folks eagerly purchase in app gaming benefits, we scour the interwebs everyday researching for our next two books. Book three is titled Who Shall Be God and book five is China Dream.

Some of the books we plan to read for WSBG are:

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion—Jonathan Haidt

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life—Kenneth Minogue

The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class—Fred Siegel

Liberty: Rethinking an Imperiled Ideal—Glenn Tinder

The Three Languages of Politics—Arnold Kling

Some articles that have impressed us are:

Progressives Against Progress—Fred Siegel (City Journal, 2010)

Can We Be Good Without God—Glenn Tinder (Atlantic, 1989)

The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication—Emma Green (Atlantic, 2014)

Bigger Than Phil—Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker, 2014)

Keeping the Faith in My Doubt—John Horgan (NY Times, 2004)

I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I quote Tinder from his Atlantic article:

Tocqueville suggested approvingly that Christianity tends to make a people “circumspect and undecided.” with “its impulses…checked and its works unfinished.” This expresses well the spirit of reform inherent in Christian faith. Christianity is radical, but it is also hesitant. This is partly, of course, because Christianity restrains our self-assurance. Efforts at social transformation must always encounter unforeseen complexities, difficulties, limits, and tragedies. Caution is in order. But Christian hesitancy has deeper grounds than prudence and more compelling motives than wariness of practical blunders. Hesitation expresses a consciousness of the mystery of being and the dignity of every person. It provides a moment for consulting destiny. Recent decades have seen heroic political commitments in behalf of social reform, but hesitation has been evident mainly in the service of self-interest. Christian faith, however, suggests that hesitation should have a part in our most conscientious deeds. It is a formality that is fitting when we cross the frontier between meditation and action. And like all significant formalities, it is a mark of respect—for God and for the creatures with whom we share the earth.

Is our program this year a tad ambitious? You betcha. Worse still, we hope to write about these and other sources in the coming weeks and months.