If

Two weeks ago we discussed ‘casting doubt.’ Two of the questions we looked at began: “If you are the Son of God…” This week, I’d like us to consider a similar question: “If He is the Lord, then what does that require of us?” Last week’s questions, spoken by the Lord Jesus’s adversaries, insinuated He was not who He said He was. This week’s question assumes He is who He says He is.

Let’s consider, then, what sort of people should we be? In the context of Christ’s return, the Apostle Peter says:

What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. 2 Peter 3:11b – 12a English Standard Version (ESV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon called “The World On Fire” based on these verses almost a century and a half ago. The second half of his sermon discusses how we ought to live. He starts by comparing us to Noah:

…Our position as Christians is, at this moment, like that of Noah before the destruction of the world by water. What manner of person ought Noah to have been? He said to himself, “This fair and beautiful world in which I dwell will soon be covered with the ooze and slime of a tremendous deluge.”

He looked upon his fellow men and he thought and said of them, “Except these men fly to the ark and are sheltered with me, they will, every one of them, be drowned.” He saw them marrying and given in marriage, feasting and trifling at the very hour when the flood came and he felt that if they would believe as he did they would find something other to do than to be engrossed in carnal pleasures.

When he saw them heaping up money he would almost laugh yet weep to think that they should hoard up gold to be submerged with themselves in the general flood. When men added to their estates acre after acre, I have no doubt the Patriarch said to himself, “The flood will sweep away all these landmarks and as it carries away the owner so will it destroy all vestige of his barn and his farm and his fields.”

Spurgeon then helps us walk in Noah’s shoes, so to speak, and think along with him:

I should suppose such a man, daily expecting the rain to descend and the flood to burst up from beneath, would lead a life very free from worldliness, a life the very reverse of the rest of his fellow men. They would reckon him to be very eccentric. They would be unable to understand him. And, indeed, his conduct would be such that no one could understand it except upon the theory that he believed in the destruction of all around him.

He then draws conclusions for us from Noah’s life:

Now our life ought to be like that of Noah. Look around on the beauties of Nature and when you enjoy them, say to yourself, “All these are to be dissolved and to melt with fervent heat.” Look up into the clear blue and think that yonder sky, itself, shall shrivel like a scroll and be rolled up like a garment that has seen its better days and must be put aside.

Look on your fellow men, your own children and your household, and those you pass in the street or meet with in transacting business, and say, “Alas, alas, unless these men, women and children fly to Jesus and are saved in Him, they will be destroyed with the earth on which they dwell, for the day of the Lord is surely coming and judgment awaits the ungodly.”

This should make us act in a spirit the opposite of those who now say, “Go, let us buy and sell and get gain. Let us heap together treasure. Let us live for this world. Let us eat and drink, and be merry.” They are of the earth, therefore is their conduct and conversation earthy. They build here, on this quicksand, and after their own sort they find a pleasure therein—but you whose eyes have been opened know better—and you, therefore build upon the Rock.

Then Spurgeon exhorts us to take God’s perspective:

You understand that the things which are seen are but a dream, that the things unseen are, alone, substantial. Therefore, set loose by all things below the moon and clutch as with the grasp of a dying man the things immortal and eternal which your God has revealed to you!

And he reminds us what we will face as the consequences of our actions:

Such conduct will separate you from your fellow men, as there is down deep in your heart an [goal] different from theirs. And as you set a different estimate on all things, your conduct will be wide apart from theirs. Being swayed by different motives, your life will diverge from theirs and they will misunderstand you. And while trying to find motives for you, as they do not know the true motive, they will ascribe ill motives to you.

But, so it must be. You must come out from among them, be separate and touch not the unclean thing. And the fact that all these things are to be dissolved should make it easy for you to do so, no, natural for you to do so, as it must have made it both easy and natural to the Patriarch Noah.

Spurgeon then examines the worldly man’s perspective:

…The sinner finds a reason for sin when he says, “God is not here. Everything goes on in the ordinary way.  God does not care what men do.”

“No,” says the Apostle, “He is not away, He is here, holding back the fire. He is reserving this world a little while, but by-and-by He will let the fires loose and the world will be destroyed. He is not far off. He is even at the door.”

Considering all that preceded, he calls us to examine ourselves and pray:

Am I ready to be caught away to be with my Lord in the air? Or shall I be left to perish amidst the conflagration? How ought I to live! How ought I to stand, as it were, on tiptoe, ready when He shall call me, to be away up into the Glory, far off from this perishing world!

It makes us look upon all these things in a different light and upon eternal things with a more fixed eye—and a sterner resolve to live unto God. Observe, if sin, even on the inanimate world, needs such a purging by fire as this—if the fact that sin committed here makes it necessary that God should burn it all up—what a horrid thing sin must be!

O to be purged from it! Refining fire, go through my heart! Spirit of the living God, sweep with all Your mighty burnings through and through my body, soul and spirit till You have purged me of every tendency to sin.

Finally, Spurgeon calls those outside the commonwealth to enter by the narrow way:

…Will you not have Christ? Will you not have a Savior? For if you will not, there remains for you only a fearful looking for judgment and of fiery indignation! Tempt not the anger of God! Yield to His mercy now! Believe in His dear Son. I pray that you may this day be saved and God be glorified in your salvation. Amen.

And, thus, let it be.

The World On Fire – Charles Spurgeon Sermon, YouTube, Published March 4, 2017, Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

The Art of Fiction – A Review

The book: The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner is not prescriptive in the same way as is Jon Franklin’s book: Writing for Story. Gardner surveys contemporary literature in general, pointing out its structure, methods, and morality. Morality in literature, for Gardner, is whether a story portrays what is real and eternally true about human life, as opposed to what is false or philosophically trendy.

His New York Times obituary quoted him writing:

“The value of great fiction is not just that it entertains or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our failures and limitations.”

This quote is from The Art of Fiction. Though he won the 1976 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for October Light, he deeply offended the literary powers-that-be at the time, especially with his book: On Moral Fiction.

In The Art of Fiction, Gardner describes — the work of fiction:

In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened…This kind of documentation, moment by moment authenticating detail, is the mainstay not only of realistic fiction but of all fiction…It’s physical detail that pulls us into the story, makes us believe…The importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind.

Its value:

The value of great fiction, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.

In great fiction, we not only respond to imaginary things—sights, sounds, smells—as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge…All fiction treats, directly or indirectly, the same thing: our love for people and the world, our aspirations and fears.

The overall method to create it:

The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life (the method of the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and many other writers, ancient and modern); by working his way back from his story’s climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation.

It’s by the whole process of first planning the fiction and then writing it—elaborating characters and details of setting, finding the style that seems appropriate to the feeling, discovering unanticipated requirements of the plot—that the writer finds out and communicates the story’s significance, intuited at the start.

Pitfalls in its creation:

The most obvious forms of clumsiness, really failures in the basic skills, include such mistakes as inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice, inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs [e.g., Slapping him silly, she proceeded to…] , shifts in diction level or the regular use of distracting diction, lack of sentence variety, lack of sentence focus, faulty rhythm, accidental rhyme, needless explanation, and careless shifts in psychic distance [i.e., the reader’s nearness to the character].

And, finally, the real work that the fiction writer does:

The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform.

To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.

John Gardner describes, in far more detail, these things, the state of fiction writing up to the early nineteen eighties, and his thoughts on it all in his book. A worthy read, especially after studying a process for creating works of fiction. The Art of Fiction is highly motivational and recommended.

The Art of Fiction - Gardner

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, John Gardner

God and Country

From the title, you might think this post is entirely about politics. It could have been, but instead, we examine human responsibility in light of God’s sovereign providence. Though, by the end of this post, you might concede that the principles we will discover are applicable to today’s political process and the restoration of our Republic.

The scripture that starkly portrays this seeming dichotomy between God and Man is found in the second book of Samuel the prophet (sometimes referred to as Two Samuel.) Preparing to battle the Ammonites and Syrians, Joab, commander of David’s armies, exhorts Abishai, his brother, to:

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin discussed this verse in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. As prelude, he sets out the following principles for one who would know and do God’s will. First God’s provision for us often comes through human hands:

…He [or she] will revere and extol God as the principal author [of the blessings which he receives], but will also honor men as his ministers, and perceive…that by the will of God he is under obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him kindness.

The one who fears God will:

Believe that [any loss sustained through negligence or imprudence] was the Lord’s will it should so be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself.

Furthermore:

…In the case of theft or murder, fraud and preconceived malice, […he] will distinctly recognize the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as each is separately manifested.

Therefore, this one:

…Will not…be remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. …As hands offered him by the Lord, he will avail himself of [all the aids which the creatures can lend him] as the legitimate instruments of Divine Providence.

Yet, undeterred by uncertainty or overconfidence:

And as he is uncertain what the result of any business in which he engages is to be (save that he knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good), he will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his abilities enable him.

However, his confidence in external aid will not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute.

Calvin, having laid out these principles, says:

Thus Joab, while he acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds with what belongs to his proper calling, “Be of good courage,” says he, “and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seems him good,” (2 Sam. 10:12).

The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are surrounded.

***

Some voters this election season have been thinking:

“…[I have] nothing to lose,” but most of us have something to lose.”

I feel we’re in danger of throwing our Republic to the wind. Another commentator has said:

Now we are at the start of an electoral season that Americans say is of the utmost importance even as they make the most flippant choice of front-runners…

Sober up, America. We’re a republic only for as long as we can keep it.

You might say, “we trust in God; He will bring about a good result.” But, I urge us to trust “the Lord to do what seems good to Him” and be courageous for our people: pray, vote, donate, and campaign.

Speaker Ryan at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘Prayer Should Always Come First,’ Speaker Paul Ryan, Published Feb 4, 2016