Polycarp on the Qualities of a Pastor

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In continuing through the source documents for Classic Pastoral Care, we come to Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians. There are two chapters in that letter which are relevant to the question of character in a pastor. First, chapter VI directly addresses pastoral character. In Lake’ translation with have the word “presbyter”. He begins:

“AND let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered.” Those who “wander” would be those who have fallen into sin. In reading Bully Pulpit by Michael Kruger, I was struck by his observation that a pastor is to be gentle, which he followed with, when is that ever listed in the job qualifications for a pastor as written by a church? Polycarp begins his discussion of the pastoral office with compassion and mercy. How often have we seen pastors praised for “vision”  and “leadership”? How often have we seen books on pastoral leadership? And often on pastoral gentleness, compassion, or mercy?

He then continues with a series of qualities which sound more like “social work” than modern pastoring. In the conservative arm of the church, from which I hail, the pastor might consider his work to be preaching with such acts of service a far second. I think that is wrong. Not because I think preaching unimportant, but rather that preaching should flow out of an intimate knowledge of the Bible and an intimate knowledge of the congregation. After all, one preaches to these particular people. If preaching were merely delivering a public lecture, most pulpits would be better served by reading Spurgeon out loud. But if preaching is also something intimate and loving, it must flow out of intimacy and knowledgeable love:

caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow, nor orphan nor poor, but “ever providing for that which is good before God and man,”

Here then are some additional concerns: “refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that “we all owe the debt of sin.”” These commands are particularly critical for the pastoral work of counseling.

It is far too easy to favor one person, to overlook another, to make conclusive judgments based upon poor understanding.

If the congregation is to be marked by love (and we must love one another), forgiveness will need to be basic element of church life. We will fail one-another, and thus we must forgive one another readily. That will be most likely to be achieved if the congregation is lead by one who is marked by forgiveness:

 “If then we pray the Lord to forgive us, we also ought to forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord and of God, and ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of himself.’”

In all of this, we are to serve the Lord. Notice that our zealous service of the Lord shows itself in our compassion, mercy, forgiveness.

“So then ‘let us serve him with fear and all reverence,’ as he himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles, who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord. Let us be zealous for good, refraining from offence.”

But such goodness is not open ended and foolish: it is capable a judgment which distinguishes those who belong to the Lord, “Let us … refrain …from the false brethren, and from those who bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who deceive empty-minded men.”

The congregation is then to be marked by love, faith, doing good, “STAND fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another,” joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you can do good defer it not.”

Notice that such kindness and love is to begin with the leadership and then to be found in the congregation.

Measure for Measure, Act 1, Scene 2a

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Scene 2

Enter Lucio and two other Gentlemen.

This scene continues with the exposition: the purpose of this second scene is set in motion the primary conflict of the play. The Duke has left and put Angelo, the seemingly untemptable paragon of perfect virtue over the city. That understanding of Angelo will undergo revision during the play.

Having looked at the situation from the highest level of society, Shakespeare now turns to lowest. Their conversation will perform certain functions. The first then it does is let us know that the something is up with the Duke. It also tells the audience that Lucio speaks confidently about things he knows nothing about.  Shakespeare does not belabor the point, it is only a few lines but it does paint some of this character.

Lucio

 [1]       If the Duke, with the other dukes, come not to

 [2]       composition with the King of Hungary, why then all

 [3]       the dukes fall upon the King.

First Gentleman

 [4]       Heaven grant us its peace, but not

 [5]       the King of Hungary’s!

Second Gentleman

 [6]       Amen.

The conversation moves quickly from politics generally to a moral observation, based upon their political position. It seems that these men would be comfortable with their being a war. However, a war would arguably violate the Sixth of Ten Commandments, namely, “Thou shalt not kill.”  They are happy to keep the commandments which do not interfere with their mode of life.

The make this observation by means of a joke about a pirate:

Lucio

 [7]       Thou conclud’st like the sanctimonious pirate

[8]       that went to sea with the ten commandments but

 [9]       scraped one out of the table.

Second Gentleman

 [10]     “Thou shalt not steal”?

Lucio

(FTLN 0101)    [11]     Ay, that he razed.

Razed: removed. The pirate would keep the rest, but lose this commandment. This joke actually underscores one of the moral arguments of the play. We are very certain of the importance, and are willing to sharply enforce those commandments which we ourselves do not experience temptation to violate. The pirate was not worried about idolatry, as long as he could steal.

First Gentleman

 [12]     Why, ’twas a commandment to command

 [13]     the Captain and all the rest from their functions!

 [14]     They put forth to steal. There’s not a soldier of

 [15]     us all that in the thanksgiving before meat do relish

 [16]     the petition well that prays for peace.

This character has the insight to realize that he is like the pirate: he would be pleased with a war, presumably because it would provide him employment.

Second Gentleman

 [17]     I never heard any soldier dislike it.

This next jibe lets us know more about Lucio. The two men have engaged in honest introspection. But Lucio can only make a crass insult.  This moves us into another phase of the scene.

Lucio

 [18]     I believe thee, for I think thou never wast where

 [19]     grace was said.

Second Gentleman

 [20]     No? A dozen times at least.

The Second Gentleman rolls with the insult.

First Gentleman

 [21]     What? In meter?

Lucio

 [22]     In any proportion or in any language.

First Gentleman

 [23]     I think, or in any religion.

Lucio continues advance this conversation in a degrading direction. He is the one who is moving this conversation in continually more insulting directions.

Lucio

 [24]     Ay, why not? Grace is grace, despite of all

 [25]     controversy; as, for example, thou thyself art a

 [26]     wicked villain, despite of all grace.

At the time Shakespeare’s plays, the controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and among various groups outside of both and within both led to extremely sharp conflict and even war where the religious conflicts could also command a political hearing. Lucio finds the religious distinctions unimportant.  “Grace is grace.”  This makes his insult that the other man is a “wicked villian” ironic. Lucio would be wicked under any Christian variant.

First Gentleman

 [27]     Well, there went but a pair of shears

 [28]     between us.

There is no difference between us.

Lucio

 [29]     I grant, as there may between the lists and the

 [30]     velvet. Thou art the list.

First Gentleman

 [31]     And thou the velvet. Thou art good

 [32]     velvet; thou ’rt a three-piled piece, I warrant thee. I

 [33]     had as lief be a list of an English kersey as be piled,

 [34]     as thou art piled, for a French velvet. Do I speak

 [35]     feelingly now?

The First Gentleman has now finally responded with a very sharp retort. Without unpacking every element of the insult, he has accused Lucio of having syphilis, which would be the result of sexual indiscretion.  The insults have now found their way to razed commandment of the play: how do we think of sexual immorality? A great irony, which is underscored by the way in which Shakespeare here introduces the main conflict is that these profane sexually immoral men will not be the ones who face the criminal sanctions for out of wedlock sexual contact.

The “crime” which jolts the conflict into motion is a man who impregnates a woman he is going to marry. They were merely waiting for her dowry before they made the match official. This violation of the law is nothing like the prostitution marks the world of Lucio and his companions. But there will be no actual prosecution of anyone for prostitution, only post engagement, before formal ceremony pregnancy.

Lucio

 [36]     I think thou dost, and indeed with most painful

 [37]     feeling of thy speech. I will, out of thine own

 [38]     confession, learn to begin thy health, but, whilst I

 [39]     live, forget to drink after thee.

Lucio jokes about the pain resulting from chancres on the man’s mouth: that is why he won’t use a cup after him.

First Gentleman

 [40]     I think I have done myself wrong,

 [41]     have I not?

The insults have moved beyond jokes and jibes to actual descriptions. This man has outed himself as being infected.

Second Gentleman

 [42]     Yes, that thou hast, whether thou

 [43]     art tainted or free.

Tainted by disease or without disease, the conversation has turned vicious.  

What then does this do: First, it comic, but it is not a light comedy. This creates a distinction between the very formal movement of the first scene and the fearful, desperate tone of the remainder of this scene. This allows the play to change its tone and give is some alteration.

Second, raises the questions of sexual immorality three ways. (1) It raises as a razed commandment. We are willing to obey all the Commandments, except for the one which crosses our personal desires.

(2) It raises the issue in a serious, though weirdly comic manner. Everyone knew that venereal disease was spread by sexual contact and that the disease was deadly serious.  Laws prohibiting sexual immorality would have the effect of lessening the spread of disease. While such laws (and any other related public health law) are famously inefficient, they do have some good effect in limiting some dangerous behavior.

(3) It creates a level of irony that the most egregious violations will go unpunished while the technical violation will result in a death sentence (which will then be raised to torture and execution).

(4) It creates a great contrast with the seriousness which other characters will take chastity .

Edward Taylor, Meditation 42.3

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Unkey my heart, unlock thy wardrobe: bring

Out royal robes; adorn my soul, Lord, so;                 20

My love in rich attire shall on my King

Attend, and honor on him bestow.

In glory he prepares for his a place

Whom he doth here beglory all with grace.

Notes

The flow of this stanza is easy to follow: Open up your wardrobe and take out a robe to put on me. When I am suitably dressed I will wait upon you like a a courtier waits upon the king.

Unkey my hear, unlock thy wardrobe: bring

Out royal robes; adorn my soul, Lord, so;

Lines 19-20 express a simple prayer: Open up closet and dress me in a robe. The imagery here alludes to the story of the Prodigal Son. The son of a rich father demands his inheritance. The son then leaves his father and wastes the inheritance on debauched living. The son falls to feeding pigs during a famine. In despair he returns home with the hope that he perhaps he take a position as a servant on his father’s estate.  Each movement of the son’s life brings greater disgrace upon the father. To demand an inheritance is to wish his father dead. To live a profligate life degrades his father further. He falls to the lowest of servants and then comes back a virtual slave. The father should reject the son to maintain his honor.

Instead, the father has been patiently waiting for his son to return. When he sees his son “a long way off” he runs through the streets (degrading himself further) to bring his son home. Once home, the father prepares a banquet and dresses his son in his “best robe.” (Luke 15:22)

By alluding to this story, Taylor is putting himself in the place of the son who has degraded his father and then receives grace and mercy in abundance.

The return of the poet for being so dressed is to attend upon the king in love. While no one can increase the honor of God, we can certainly extol his honor, which increases our joy in the Lord. (Think of the analogy. How we praise those things we love and admire because our praise of the thing increases our joy in that object or person. To praise God is not to increase God’s merit but our happiness.)

Let’s now move back to the very first clauses in the stanza:

Unkey my heart, unlock thy wardrobe

The King’s wardrobe is also the poet’s heart. God is not going somewhere else to find the robe. This is the image which has been working its way through the poem. The poet is a chest wherein God should find something wonderful. The love therein is in terrible shape, but the very act of God going to that chest makes it new.

There is a conceit in Christianity that God does not love us because we are lovely. We do not merit God’s mercy and love. But that by loving us, God makes us lovely. His love transforms us.

Taylor ends with this couplet:

In glory he prepares for his a place

Whom he doth here beglory all with grace

In John 14, after the “last supper” the disciples of Jesus are discouraged. He tells them not to be discouraged or frightened: He is leaving. But his leaving is “to prepare a place” for us to live with him.

Christ has gone to prepare a place – and here prepares us here to enter into that place. Here, we are “beglor[ied] all with grace.” Grace is every good kindness which God bestows upon us. Our return to him is love, praise, honor.

This poem then, which extols the glory of God in bestowing grace is part of the honor which the poet promises to render.  The poem is both a prayer and an answer to the prayer (open my heart that I may praise you).

Kierkegaard as Missionary

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Well, I have just begun this book and have come across this timely observation:

Kierkegaard’s activity as a writer, he says, was missionary activity on behalf of Christianity. His mission work, unlike that of missionaries to regions previously unchurched, was entirely a work of reflection designed to take account of the fact that the pagans in his mission field thought they were Christians. Suppose you’re a missionary and go to some far-off country to convert the native population to Christianity, but when you get there, the people claim to be Christians already. You are delighted that God has so wonderfully anticipated your arrival. But when you learn their language, talk to them, and observe their way of life, you find that they live in deeply unchristian ways, think about themselves and the world in which they live in very different categories from the Christian ones, and have aims and projects starkly alien to Christianity. You decide to stay among them and try to convert them to real Christianity. But their conviction that they are already Christians makes your project awkward.

Robert C. Roberts, Recovering Christian Character: The Psychological Wisdom of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. C. Stephen Evans and Paul Martens, Kierkegaard as a Christian Thinker (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2022), 1–2.

Zachery Crofton, Repentance not to be Repented.7

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      SECOND PART OF CONVERSION

Conversion is a turning and a turning to: turn from sin and turn to God. Before we consider Crofton’s discussion, it must be noted that the sinner turning to God presents a strange situation: God is the judge of sin. What criminal comes to the judge for sentencing?

But there is another aspect to understand the subjective psychology of sin. Sin is by nature a revulsion toward. This is a point which can be lost when we think of sin as violating a law. The law and the governor are distinct entities in our thinking. We can separate the law from any person and conceptualize it as having its own force. We do this because the legitimacy of the law in our political system must be independent of any individual. Neither king nor president are above the law. The law has its own legitimacy. As Rutherford titled his book, “Lex Rex”, The Law is King.

But with God there is no such distinction. The legitimacy of the law is that the law is based in God. The person(s) gives the law its force and legitimacy.

Therefore, when the sinner who truly repents realizes his violation of the law he does not merely seek to cease violating the law, it must entail a cessation of fleeing the source of the law. The one who experiences merely “legal repentance” (as opposed to “gospel repentance”), divorces the law from God. In his book The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson argues that legalism is understanding the law as somehow separate from God.

And so Crofton explains the second step in repentance as  “Reversion to God.—A reception of God. God, and God only, becomes the adequate object of gospel-repentance: man by sin hath his back on God; by repentance he faceth about. All sin doth agree in this, that it is an aversion from God; and the cure of it by repentance must be conversion to God.”

This opens up another way to understand the horror of sin. We could ask, “Why would the failure to do or not do some particular act matter to God?” Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends asks the question this way:

Job 22:1–3 (ESV)

22 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

                      “Can a man be profitable to God?

Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.

                      Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,

or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?

Considered in this manner, he is correct. Why should God care one way or the other when it comes to my sin or obedience. I can neither help nor hinder God.

But if the sin is not a bare violation of an external code, but rather is a personal rebellion against God – a refusal to be in right relationship to God—then the “size” of the sin is shown to be an irrelevant criteria.  It is the lack of the right relating to God that is the issue.

Notice the language, quoted by Crofton, of repentance being a call of God for relationship: “When God calls for true repentance, it is with an “If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me.” (Jer. 4:1.) And when repentance is promised, it is promised that “the children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and shall fear the Lord and his goodness.” (Hosea 3:5.) And when they provoke one another to repentance, it is with a “Come, let us return unto the Lord;” (Hosea 6:1;) and when provoked by others, it is to “return to the Lord their God.” (Hosea 14:1.)” The section from Jeremiah and the whole of Hosea conceptualize sin in Israel as adultery: the violation of a marriage vow.

There is a kind of cessation of sin which is not repentance. I heard the story of a man who fell into a violently racist crowd. Then, at some point he gave up his hatred and became civil and tolerant. Surely, giving up the violent hatred is good. But merely stopping his hatred did not constitute repentance. Not being a racist does not make one in right relationship with God.

As Crofton writes, “The gospel-penitent turneth not from sin to sin, as do the profane; not from sinful rudeness to common civility, or only moral honesty, as do the civil honest men; but unto piety, acts of religion, unto God. God is the sole object of his affection and adoration.”

Why then would one dare to come to the lawgiver and judge if guilty? Because God is merciful, “The true penitent is prostrate at the feet of God, as him only “that pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin;” and pliable to the pleasure of God, as him only that hath prerogative over him.”

That relationship of Creator and creature, which entails so many aspects, lies at the heart of the reconciliation. It is the undoing of the primeval fall: you shall be God knowing good and evil.  With that we lost our position and became absurd. Repentance is then a return to that relationship, “The whole man, soul and body, is bent for God; and pursueth communion with and conformity to God.”

He then works out some implications of this turning to God. It is a return which entails the whole life, thought, affections, behavior. Behavior will entail an obedience which flows from love and willing to suffer loss of all things but God.

A return of the mind: “Not only doth repentance turn us from what is grievous and contrary to God; but unto that which is agreeable and acceptable to God. The mind returneth from the devising of evil, to the review of the mind and will of God.”

A return of the affections: “The will and affections return from all evil, unto a resolution, and ready acceptance of the good and acceptable will of God.” The will is easily and readily turned toward God, because love and desire are turned toward God, “His desires and affections run out to God, and God alone; there is nothing in all the earth to be compared with God, nor any in heaven acceptable to the soul beside God.”

A return of conduct; obedience which flows from love: “A gospel-penitent stands convinced, that “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;” (1 John 2:15;) and if any man love any thing better than Christ, he is not worthy of him; (Matt. 10:37;) and so he accounteth all things dross and “dung” in comparison of Christ. (Phil. 3:8.)”

This love of God causes the truly repentant to give the will of God precedence over any competing rule or desire: “The command of God carrieth the truly penitent contrary to the commands of men; nay, corrupt dictates of their own soul.”

The command of God overrules my own soul. A common argument of our culture is “authenticity.” I should be conformed to my own present desires. To act otherwise would be to be dishonest and unauthentic. The true penitent will follow the command of God when it crosses his own desire.

A willingness to even suffer:

Not only doth he believe,

but is also ready to suffer for the sake of Christ:

he is contented to be at God’s carving, as unworthy any thing.

Under sharpest sorrows,

he is dumb, and openeth not his mouth; because God did it. (Psalm 39:9.)

In saddest disasters he complains not,

because he hath sinned against the Lord.

Let Shimei curse him, he is quiet; nay, grieved at the instigations of revenge;

for that God hath bid Shimei curse.

In all his actions and enjoyments, he is awed by, and argueth not against, God.

Conclusion: “So that true gospel-repentance doth not only convince and cast down, but change and convert, a sinner. Sense of and sorrow for sin as committed against God, are necessary and essential parts, but not the whole or formality, of repentance: no; that is a turning from sin, all sin, unto God, only unto God. It indulgeth not the least iniquity, nor taketh up short of the Lord. It stayeth not, with Jehu, at the extirpation of Baal; but, with Hezekiah and Josiah, restoreth the passover, the worship of the Lord.”

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 387–390.

Ruth’s “Return”

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If we hold this understanding of blessing, it makes some sense of Ruth’s ‘return’ (šûb) to Bethlehem. The narrator states that Naomi returned, but he/she also specifies that Ruth ‘returned from the country of Moab’ (1:22). In a physical sense, it makes no sense for Ruth to ‘return’ to Israel. Yet in a spiritual sense, it is only when Ruth repents – that is, turns to trust in Yahweh (1:16–17) – that she begins to be blessed and becomes a blessing to others.37 For it is through Ruth (and Boaz) that Naomi’s emptiness/hunger (1:21) is satiated by the end of the Ruth narrative (4:14–17). Thus, Naomi’s fullness can also be understood not only in physical terms, but also spiritual – a return to right relationship with Yahweh, and the blessings that flow from that relationship.

NEW STUDIES IN BIBLICAL THEOLOGY 41 Series editor: D. A. Carson Unceasing kindness A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF RUTH Peter H. W. Lau and Gregory Goswell, 105

Zachery Crofton, A Repentance not to be Repented.6

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“So that the first part of conversion is a recession from all sin.—” He then proves this with a series of Scriptural citations. Our relationship to sin is one of “departing” (Ps. 34:14, 37:237), ceasing (Is. 1:16), “forsaking” (Is. 55:7), abhorring (Rom. 13:2), and: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph. 5:11)

Crofton concludes with the image of political rebellion, “Nay, it is an apostasy from sin, to break league with, and violate all those bonds in which we stand bound to profaneness; and with rage and resolution rebel against the sovereignty of sin which it hath exercised over us.” I have often heard of apostacy from God, but not from sin. And yet, this is quite similar to the image used in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian is met by Apollyon:

APOL. By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.

CHR. I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, Rom. 6:23; therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.

APOL. There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee; but since thou complainest of thy service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford I do here promise to give thee.

CHR. But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with thee?

APOL. Thou hast done in this according to the proverb, “changed a bad for a worse;” but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do thou so to, and all shall be well.

CHR. I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor.

APOL. Thou didst the same by me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now thou wilt yet turn again and go back.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

There is value in this understanding, because it underscores the extent to which sin is not merely a passive state but is an active ruler. To repent is to rebel:

“If we will call on the name of the Lord, and become his subjects, we must recede, rebel against sin, bid open defiance, and proclaim open war against it, notwithstanding all those engagements that lie upon us: “Let him depart [from iniquity],” saith our translation; in the original, αποστητω απο αδικιας, “apostatize from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19.)”

Having made the point, Crofton returns again to the proposition that sin makes a demand upon us: “Sin hath an interest in and engagement upon men. By nature they are obliged to follow it; and the whole man is too much devoted to pursue and obey the dictates of lust.”

This is a standard element of biblical psychology, if you will. And, I think it a point which we rarely consider. John Owen speaks about sin being a “law” to the one outside of Christ.

What then is the nature of the turn from sin: He gives three elements: cognitive, affective, behavioral.

First, cognitive, the turn takes place in the mind, “By the apprehension of his mind.—Seeing sin and its sinfulness, he discerns the contrariety of it to the image of God.” The nature of this apprehension is that sin violates the law of God. “By the law, which is, by the spirit of repentance, engraven on his heart, he now knows sin, which he never knew before; he discovereth abundance of evil, in what he deemed exceeding good.” He knows sin violates the law of God.

Second, there is a change in the nature of desire. He turns from sin, “By the alteration of his will and affections.” Crofton here seems to anticipate Jonathan Edwards in seeing the tight connection between affection and will [rather than seeing will as a self-determining force]. Rather than loving the sin or having desire for the sin, he hates the sin:  “David, he hateth “every false way,” and the very workers of iniquity. (Psalm 119:104.)”

Here Crofton wisely concedes that sin does continue even in the repentant. What the repentant do when he sees that he has sinned? “If he be surprised, by the difficulty of his estate, or distemper of his mind, with an act of sin, he loatheth himself because of it.” Here he takes Romans 7 to reference a believer in his struggle with sin [this is a debated point], “with Paul, professeth, ‘I do the things that I would not do.’”

How greatly is sin detested? “Death is desired, because he would sin no more. He would rather be redeemed from his “vain conversation,” than from wrath to come; penitent Anselm had rather be in hell without, than in heaven with, his iniquity.” Thomas Brooks makes a similar point :

“First, Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait that Satan holds forth to catch you; for this you have Rom. 12:9, ‘Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good.’ When we meet with anything extremely evil and contrary to us, nature abhors it, and retires as far as it can from it. The Greek word that is there rendered ‘abhor,’ is very significant; it signifies to hate it as hell itself, to hate it with horror.

“Anselm used to say, ‘That if he should see the shame of sin on the one hand, and the pains of hell on the other, and must of necessity choose one, he would rather be thrust into hell without sin, than to go into heaven with sin,’ so great was his hatred and detestation of sin.”

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 13.

Third, the repentance is in action: “Into an abstinence from, nay, actual resistance of, sin.” He abstains from sinful conduct. He avoids occasions for temptation. He seeksto reclaim others and is grieved by their sin. He mortifies his “earthly members” (Col. 3:5).  “All his complaint under sorrows is against sin. His care is to be rid of sin; his fear, of falling into sin.”

Here Crofton pauses. Yes, it is true that all the life must be thrown into the revulsion against sin; but that rebellion against sin is always imperfect in us. He is concerned this discussion of leaving sin may leave us fearful for ourselves. “Yet take along with you this cautionary note, that you run not into sinful despair and despondency, in observing your penitent recession from sin.”

Sin is a powerful persistent foe; though beaten it persists. When the allies landed on D-Day, the Nazis fate was sealed and still the war persisted.  “Sin’s existency, and sometimes prevalency, is consistent with a penitent recession and turning from it.—Sin may remain, though it doth not reign, in a gracious soul.”

No one can say that he has no sin and will not sin again.  “Who is there that lives, and sins not? (1 Kings 8:46.) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8.)”

Here is his caveat at length:

“The righteous themselves often fall. Noah, the preacher of repentance to the old world, becomes the sad pattern of impiety to the new world. Penitent Paul hath cause to complain, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Rom. 7:21.) Sin abides in our souls, whilst our souls abide in our bodies. So long as we live, we must expect to bear the burden of corruption. Sin exists in the best of saints, by way of suggestion, natural inclination, and violent instigation and enforcement of evil; and so, taking advantage of the difficulty of our estate, and distemper of our minds, it drives us sometimes into most horrid actions, even David’s adultery, or Peter’s denial of Christ.

“Which of the saints have not had a sad experience hereof? Nor must it seem to us strange; for repentance doth not cut down sin at a blow; no, it is a constant militation, and course of mortification; a habit and principle of perpetual use; not action of an hour or little time, as we have noted before; it is a recession from sin all our days, though sin run after us. If once we be perfectly freed from sin’s assaults, we shake hands with repentance; for we need it no more. So that let it not be the trouble of any, that sin is in them; but let it be their comfort, that it is shunned by them: that you fall into sin, fail not in your spirits; let this be your support, that you fly from, fall out with, and fight against sin.”

What then is the mark of the true repentant? There is a conflict in his life between sin and mortification.  “The true penitent doth evidence the truth and strength of his repentance, by not admitting sin’s dictates without resistance; not acting sin’s precepts without reluctance. When he deviseth evil, his mind is to serve the law of God; and he approveth of that as good. He doeth what he would not: the law in his members rebels against the law of his mind, and leadeth him captive; and therefore he abides not under sin’s guilt or power without remorse. If he be drawn to deny his Master, he goeth out, and weepeth bitterly. He is in his own eye a wretched man, whilst oppressed with a body of corruption. Nay, he retireth not into sinful society without repining; his soul soon thinks he hath dwelt too long “in Mesech,” and “in the tents of Kedar.” (Psalm 120:5.)”

Zachery Crofton, A Repentance not to be Repented.5

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Crofton beings the “fourth conclusion” (the fourth point) of his sermon on repentance as follwos:

Turning from all sin to God, is the formality of true repentance.—Sincere conversion is the summa totalis and ratio formalis of a gospel-penitent.”

The act of turning from sin to God is the action of repentance, it is the form of repentance. “Ratio formalis”, the formal reason. This is a reference to Aristotle’s four aspects of causation. The “formal cause” is the form. For instance, if we were to consider the formal cause of a sculpture making a statute, the “formal cause” would be the shape of the statute.

Turning from sin and to God is what we do in repentance. Having said this, he now proves up his point. First, he proves it by way of negative argument: What if you had other elements of sin without this turning, would that be repentance?

“Remorse for sin, without a return from sin, will afford you no comfort. Sin is an aversion from God; and repentance a conversion to God.” This is an interesting argument, he will make a detailed Scriptural argument in a moment, but he begins with looking at the subject effects.

Sin causes us to be move from God, it is an “aversion to God.” If I merely feel sorrow for sin, but do not also have the ability to move toward God to relieve that sorrow, I will be in the untenable place of both hating my sin and having no one to relief the burden. This is the picture of Christian at the outset of Piligrim’s Progress: he knows the great burden on his back, but he has no way to relieve the weight of that burden.

This is a state the Puritans often referred to as “legal terrors” or “legal conviction”, rather than the work of Grace which would not merely cause one to see sin as a matter of guilty but also bring one to Christ for relief of that guilty and shame. Another common analogy, used by Crofton, compares false repentance to Judas, “All Judas-conviction and confession, nay, contrition and condemnation, will not constitute a gospel-penitent, for want of conversion.”

He then picks up this argument from a different point, the way in which the term is defined, “The common call of sinners unto repentance is, to “turn,” and “return to God.” (Isai. 44:22; 55:7; Jer. 4:1; 18:11; and many other places.) Whenever repentance is promised, or predicated and spoken of in scripture, it is ordinarily by this term, of “turning,” and “returning to the Lord,” (Isai. 19:22; 59:20;) and that not only in the Old, but also in the New, Testament: “We were as sheep going astray; but now are returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.” (1 Peter 2:25.)”

The very term repentance entails that turning from and turning to.  Until we turn to, we are in a very grave state: “Like the prodigal, we are out of our wits, until by a spirit of repentance we recover our sound mind, and return to our Father, from whom we have madly run away; so that the very formality of repentance is “returning.””

Think of the psychological effects described in Romans 1:18-32. The passage begins with the action of suppressing the knowledge of the wrath of God against sin. But that process leads to a kind of madness which permeates the rest of the passage. We come to irrationality and finally the approval that we make of one-another in a plunge into sin. It is the sort of mutual encouragement to some stupid action that adolescents are famous for providing. And while it might be comical in minor instances, the overall effect is devastating.

This change in direction is a change in life, the repentant person is a “changeling.” “Old things are done away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) But what precisely is the nature of that change. He first gives two negative explanations:

First, the change is “not in his substance.” Before and after conversion, we still human beings made of the same stuff.  Second, it is not a change in “quantity, measure, and degree, as common Christians too commonly dream.”

What then is the change: “in quality, nature, frame, and disposition.” We might venture to say the change is a psychological change, a change in how we think and feel with respect to certain matters: “The soul and body, in regard of their essence, powers, faculties, proper and natural actions, remain the same after that they were before repentance.”

The transformation is seen is the disposition, not the destruction of the life before conversion,  “sorrow, fear, joy, love, desire, natural passions and affections, are indeed altered, not annihilated; restrained, nay, regulated, not ruined: but the whole man is, in respect of property, bent, and disposition, no more the same, but a very changeling.”

He then provides examples from Scripture of this transformation described, “[so] that it may be said of them, as of Onesimus, “In time past unprofitable, but now profitable;” (Phil. 11;) or as of the Corinthians, [that] they were thieves, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, what not? but [that] they are washed, they are cleansed, they are sanctified. (1 Cor. 6:9–11.)”

Measure for Measure Act I, Scene 1b.

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Enter Angelo.

Duke

[26]     Look where he comes.

Angelo

[27]     Always obedient to your Grace’s will,

[28]     I come to know your pleasure.

Duke

[29]     Angelo,

[30]     There is a kind of character in thy life

[31]     That to th’ observer doth thy history

[32]     Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings

[33]     Are not thine own so proper as to waste

[34]     Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.

[35]     Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,

[36]     Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues

[37]     Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike

[38]     As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched

[39]     But to fine issues, nor nature never lends

[40]     The smallest scruple of her excellence

[41]     But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines

[42]     Herself the glory of a creditor,

[43]     Both thanks and use. But I do bend my speech

[44]     To one that can my part in him advertise.

[45]     Hold, therefore, Angelo.

[46]     In our remove be thou at full ourself.

[47]     Mortality and mercy in Vienna

[48]     Live in thy tongue and heart. Old Escalus,

[49]     Though first in question, is thy secondary.

 [50]    Take thy commission.

He hands Angelo a paper.⌝

Angelo

[51]     Now, good my lord,

[52]     Let there be some more test made of my mettle

[53]     Before so noble and so great a figure

[54]     Be stamped upon it.

Duke

[55]     No more evasion.

[56]     We have with a leavened and preparèd choice

[57]     Proceeded to you. Therefore, take your honors.

[58]     Our haste from hence is of so quick condition

[59]     That it prefers itself and leaves unquestioned

[60]     Matters of needful value. We shall write to you,

[61]     As time and our concernings shall importune,

[62]     How it goes with us, and do look to know

[63]     What doth befall you here. So fare you well.

[64]     To th’ hopeful execution do I leave you

[65]     Of your commissions.

Angelo

[66]     Yet give leave, my lord,

[67]     That we may bring you something on the way.

Duke

[68]     My haste may not admit it.

[69]     Nor need you, on mine honor, have to do

[70]     With any scruple. Your scope is as mine own,

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

[72]     As to your soul seems good. Give me your hand.

[73]     I’ll privily away. I love the people,

[74]     But do not like to stage me to their eyes.

[75]     Though it do well, I do not relish well

[76]     Their loud applause and aves vehement,

[77]     Nor do I think the man of safe discretion

[78]     That does affect it. Once more, fare you well.

Angelo

[79]     The heavens give safety to your purposes.

Escalus

[80]     Lead forth and bring you back in happiness.

Duke

[81]     I thank you. Fare you well.

He exits.

Escalus,to Angelo

[82]     I shall desire you, sir, to give me leave

[83]     To have free speech with you; and it concerns me

[84]     To look into the bottom of my place.

[85]     A power I have, but of what strength and nature

[86]     I am not yet instructed.

Angelo

[87]     ’Tis so with me. Let us withdraw together,

[88]     And we may soon our satisfaction have

[89]     Touching that point.

Escalus

[90]     I’ll wait upon your Honor.

They exit

Notes

The Duke begins an extended speech Angelo is a man of much virtue and that such virtues should not be shut up, but rather should be put to use in the wider world:

[29]     Angelo,

[30]     There is a kind of character in thy life

[31]     That to th’ observer doth thy history

[32]     Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings

[33]     Are not thine own so proper as to waste

[34]     Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.

[35]     Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,

[36]     Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues

[37]     Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike

[38]     As if we had them not.

This is not the end of the speech, but it is a good place to make an observation: the structure of the argument is that your excellence is not merely for you alone, but it should be continued and made further use of.

This is an argument which marks some Shakespeare’s sonnets, such as sonnet 3:

[1]       Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

[2]       Now is the time that face should form another,

[3]       Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

[4]       Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

It would be a waste if you did not have children. Or Sonnet 1:

      [1]      From fairest creatures we desire increase,

      [2]      That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

      [3]      But, as the riper should by time decease,

      [4]      His tender heir might bear his memory.

      [5]      But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,

      [6]      Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,

      [7]      Making a famine where abundance lies,

      [8]      Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

Excellent things should not be kept to themselves. The analogy may at first be seem strained, because the Duke is not telling Angelo to have children, but rather is encouraging him to be involved in public life of governance.

But, the effect of the Duke bringing Angelo into the public is that Angelo will be forced to marry and presumably have a child. Perhaps this is being too clever by half, the comparison of the structure of the argument (excellence should be shared) and the ironic plays upon sex and pregnancy which form the basis of the play suggest that perhaps the Bard did think of his earlier poems.

If that reading is correct, then it makes the next movement of the Duke’s argument even more ironic:

                                    Spirits are not finely touched

[39]     But to fine issues, nor nature never lends

[40]     The smallest scruple of her excellence

[41]     But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines

[42]     Herself the glory of a creditor,

[43]     Both thanks and use.

The language of “spirits” suggests something beyond the physical which is at play here. Angelo indeed seems to think of himself as some disembodied perfection, which will lead to his coming down to earth.

Nature is careful to waste nothing: if excellence is given, it is for use.

                                    But I do bend my speech

[44]     To one that can my part in him advertise.

[45]     Hold, therefore, Angelo.

[46]     In our remove be thou at full ourself.

[47]     Mortality and mercy in Vienna

[48]     Live in thy tongue and heart. Old Escalus,

[49]     Though first in question, is thy secondary.

 [50]    Take thy commission.

He hands Angelo a paper.⌝

Here is a curious point. The exposition is necessary for the characters, Angelo needs to learn from the Duke what he must do. There is a casual reference that this is in Vienna. The curious point is the last element in the speech: Escalus is more senior – and we know from the earlier speech to Escalus, he is better suited to government. The Duke says Escalus knows more than even the Duke of the practical management of the state.

Why then this jumping over the better suited for the lesser?  Escalus takes the news with poise. Does Angelo see anything here?

Angelo

[51]     Now, good my lord,

[52]     Let there be some more test made of my mettle

[53]     Before so noble and so great a figure

[54]     Be stamped upon it.

If Angelo were truly humble on this point, why doesn’t he suggest the obvious choice? Escalus. Instead, Angelo says, you should probably test me first. But he does not suggest Escalus. In this begging-off, there is no alternative to Angelo.

There is also a hint here of Paul’s direction to Timothy on choosing leadership: “And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” 1 Timothy 3:10 (ESV)

The Duke has set his trap and now he must hurry away. Angelo did not find the proper evasion even when offered to him. This next bit is perfunctory and partly untrue.

Notice also the language used at the end. The commission will be ‘executed.’ This is a perfectly appropriate word, but it is not the only word which could have been used here. That Angelo will use his power to “execute” the commission has a double meaning. In this we see that even perfunctory elements of the exposition do extra work and do not merely fill out the speech.

Duke

[55]     No more evasion.

[56]     We have with a leavened and preparèd choice

[57]     Proceeded to you. Therefore, take your honors.

[58]     Our haste from hence is of so quick condition

[59]     That it prefers itself and leaves unquestioned

[60]     Matters of needful value. We shall write to you,

[61]     As time and our concernings shall importune,

[62]     How it goes with us, and do look to know

[63]     What doth befall you here. So fare you well.

[64]     To th’ hopeful execution do I leave you

[65]     Of your commissions.

Angelo offers to walk the Duke out of town. Is this to hurry him on his way or to show respect? The point is ambiguous, but the Duke has other plans:

Angelo

[66]     Yet give leave, my lord,

[67]     That we may bring you something on the way.

Duke

[68]     My haste may not admit it.

[69]     Nor need you, on mine honor, have to do

[70]     With any scruple. Your scope is as mine own,

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

[72]     As to your soul seems good. Give me your hand.

[73]     I’ll privily away. I love the people,

[74]     But do not like to stage me to their eyes.

[75]     Though it do well, I do not relish well

[76]     Their loud applause and aves vehement,

[77]     Nor do I think the man of safe discretion

[78]     That does affect it. Once more, fare you well.

Notice the insistence of the Duke:

Your scope is as mine own,

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

[72]     As to your soul seems good.

Of everything which he could have mentioned, it raises “enforce or qualify the law.” The warning is not toward the execution of the law, but rather to avoid merely playing for the applause of the people.

This is no temptation to Angelo. He strikes me as too arrogant to want public applause.  It is a warning for a temptation which will not take Angelo.

Now we close out the scene:

Angelo

[79]     The heavens give safety to your purposes.

Escalus

[80]     Lead forth and bring you back in happiness.

Duke

[81]     I thank you. Fare you well.

He exits.

Escalus,to Angelo

[82]     I shall desire you, sir, to give me leave

[83]     To have free speech with you; and it concerns me

[84]     To look into the bottom of my place.

[85]     A power I have, but of what strength and nature

[86]     I am not yet instructed.

Angelo

[87]     ’Tis so with me. Let us withdraw together,

[88]     And we may soon our satisfaction have

[89]     Touching that point.

Escalus

[90]     I’ll wait upon your Honor.

They exit

Angelo’s reference to the “heavens” (79) could be perfunctory. Every Elizabethan would have believed that stars and planets had real influence in human affairs (like gravity or radiation would seem to us). 

Of all things, Angelo wishes “safety” upon the Duke. The Duke will have to act to bring safety to his purpose and to save a man’s life from Angelo’s rule.

Escalus’ wish will come true, the Duke will gain happiness.

It then ends with Angelo asking Escalus, what power do I have and how do I execute it. Again, this underscores Escalus being the better choice. Although it is not yet disclosed, the question would be, Why choose Angelo when a better is present and available?