Edward Taylor, Meditation 36.7, What a strange, strange am I

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The previous post on this poem may be found here:

A cockle shell contains this world as well

As can this world thy liberalness contain.

And by thy will these present things all fall

Unto thy children for their present gain

And things to come too, to eternity.

Thou willedst them: they’re there by legacy.

Summary: God has filled with the world with a superabundance of good things. The good begins now and will continue on through eternity. 

Notes

A cockle shell is a clam shell. He makes a comparison here: You could more easily stuff the entire globe into a clamshell than you could fit all of the goodness of God into the world itself. 

The use of the simile was not unprecedented. Thomas Manton and Thomas Brooks both used the shell in much the same way, as an imagine of something impossible:

the divine nature is incomprehensible; angels clap their wings, and cover their faces. Finite cannot comprehend infinite, no more than a cockle-shell can the ocean.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 20 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 193.

Who can empty an ocean with a cockle-shell? And since the fall we are grown quite brutish; our conceits are not so monstrous in anything as in the worship of God.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 5 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 107.

We cannot empty the ocean with a cockle-shell; so neither can we exhaust the divine perfections by the shallow discourse of our reason. 

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 15 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 215.

We are as well able to comprehend the sea in a cockle-shell, as we are able to comprehend the Almighty

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 178.

You shall as soon remove the earth, stop the sun in his course, empty the sea with a cockle-shell, make a world, and unmake yourselves, as any power on earth, or in hell, shall ever be able to hinder Christ from the performance of the office of a surety ….

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 360.

And by thy will

He repeats this concept in the last line of the stanza, Thou willedst them

Here is the doctrine of predestination as seen from the inside. Often the doctrine is discussed as a barrier to coming to God, as if there were someone who wished to the receive the grace of God and who was then turned away for lack of a “predestination ticket”.  As Jesus says in John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

But predestination is not a matter of permission to enter. It is not door to keep one out, but rather should be seen as a net to keep one from being lost. While the good would be generally any blessing available to the believer, this poem in particular concerns the good of repentance and forgiveness. 

Repentance which is joined to forgiveness is itself a divine action:

thou canst as well raise the dead at pleasure, as thou canst repent at pleasure; thou canst as well make a world at pleasure, as thou canst repent at pleasure; thou canst as well stop the course of the sun at pleasure, as thou canst repent at pleasure; thou canst as well put the sea in a cockle-shell at pleasure, and measure the earth with a span at pleasure, as thou canst repent at pleasure

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 4 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 192.

When Taylor writes that God has willed the good to his children, that “good” necessarily includes repentance which brings about forgiveness. 

Thus, the poem itself, which is a matter of repentance, is a gift of God! In seeking good from God, he is performing the good God has done to and for him. The good which extends to eternity is here being built in the very act of writing this poem. Thus, the good sought by the poem is part of the good. 

How to Live Together, Romans 12, Chapter 5.1 “You are not your own”

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“Present your bodies”. Romans 12.1

When you come to a text there a number of questions you can ask in your effort to understand what the text “means.” There is the direct question of “what does is the proposition set forth here?” In our text, we have the obvious question of what does “body” mean:

Present your bodies 

Does he mean bones and blood as opposed to something else? And on this point, the commentators are agreed that body means the entire person:

It is consistent with this that he goes on to refer to your bodies; by ‘body’ (σῶμα) Paul means the whole human person, including its means of expressing itself in common life (cf. 6:6, 12)

C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, Rev. ed., Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Continuum, 1991), 213. Or, as a translator’s handbook as it:

Yourselves is literally “your bodies,” but in such a context Paul is using “bodies” as a reference to one’s entire self (NEB “your very selves”). This is similar to the meaning in 6:13, 19.

Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 233.

But there is a second question which is more interesting in this place. That question is why does Paul use the word “body” to refer to the entire person. Paul could have present your “heart” or your “mind” or your “soul” or your “self”; but instead he writes, present your body.

Paul is a remarkably precise writer, and so we must take the use of the word “body” seriously. What is the point of writing “body” in this place?  In the next sentence he will write about transforming our “mind”; why is it then our body we present?

On that question, fewer commentators have an observation; but the observations which they make are open up some useful questions:

The use of the term bodies is interesting, for Paul surely expected Christians to offer to God not only their bodies but their whole selves. Indeed, Leenhardt takes it here to mean “the human person in the concrete manifestation of his life”. Many others take up a similar position (NEB, “your very selves”). But we should bear in mind that the body is very important in the Christian understanding of things. Our bodies may be “implements of righteousness” (6:13) and “members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15). The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19); Paul can speak of being “holy both in body and in spirit” (1 Cor. 7:34). He knows that there are possibilities of evil in the body but that in the believer “the body of sin” has been brought to nothing (6:6); sin does not reign in the believer’s body (6:12). Grace affects the whole of life and is not some remote, ethereal affair.

Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 433–434. And so this comment tells us we should consider what else Paul has to say when uses the word “body” to describe our life. Calvin opens up some areas of consideration:

But there is throughout a great suitableness in the expressions. He says first, that our body ought to be offered a sacrifice to God; by which he implies that we are not our own, but have entirely passed over so as to become the property of God; which cannot be, except we renounce ourselves and thus deny ourselves.

John Calvin, Romans, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ro 12:1. This observation comes from Paul’s other comments concerning our “body”. 

And, with the encouragement of these men, we will consider some of what else Paul has to say about the “body” in the hope that such consideration will help us understand what Paul is doing here in his effort to give encouragement and direction to the members of a church as to how we can possibly live together in love. As we will see, there is something irreplaceable in the presentation of our bodies in a sacrifice, holy, living, and acceptable to God. 

Kuyper, Common Grace 1.24, Language

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The previous post in this series may be found here.

What sort of effect did the tree of “conscience” as Kuyper calls, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Kuyper rules a primarily physical effect because the response of the pair to Adam’s eating was the realization of shame. They were not immediately poisoned by the fruit, but they did immediately have a different understanding of themselves. 

He further notes that it was language which led to their trouble, in that the Serpent tempted them by speaking. 

This raises an interesting question: “what meaning language had for Adam and Eve in paradise.” The way in which the original pair related to language could have been different than the way in which we understand language, because we have more social background and experience for the words we use.

We develop concepts through and with language over the course of time.

For instance, what did “die” mean to someone who had never seen another human being die? And yet, we must not overdo this consideration. The text indicates that God was speaking to Adam and that God understood that Adam would know the meaning of the words.

“In addition, however, the notion that Adam understood language still only imperfectly cannot be reconciled with the rest of the narrative. In the first part of the story, Adam listens more than he speaks, but it is entirely different in the continuation of the narrative. There, with astuteness and nuance Eve argues with Satan, and Satan with her. Then she reasons with Adam.”

Thus, Kuyper concludes, that this capacity to use language effectively must have been something known to Adam and Eve. If they were “wise, holy, and righteous” then they must have had linguistic ability: these aspect require capable thought and thought requires language. 

Kuyper rejects a quasi-evolutionary understanding of language (he calls it a “patchwork”) whereby we point at the same object and make an arbitrary sound which “means” that object. 

Instead, he sees the capacity and use of language as a necessary element in the creation of Adam. The original speech of human beings then later broke into families (particularly after the confusion of language (Gen. 11)). He references the evidence, which had shown remarkable coherence and development of languages. He makes no extended discussion of this point other than saying here is some evidence.

He makes an interesting comparison then to animals which operate by instinct – such as the bee making a honeycomb. But we come to our abilities through development and learning (which would necessitate language). 

Now, if we have the capacity to develop the ability to form and use complex concepts there is no inherent reason that God could not grant to Adam the fully developed capacity at creation (much as Adam was not created an infant who then fared for himself for decades). 

Love by itself is not enough

Chrysostom had this to say about love: “Love by itself is not enough; there must be zeal as well. For zeal also comes out of loving and gives it warmth, so that the one confirms the other. For there are many who have love in their mind but do not stretch out their hand. This is why Paul calls on every means he knows to build up love.” Like Paul before him, Chrysostom is keenly aware that ideological abstractions or rhetoric without accompanying action fails to create or sustain community. But stretching out one’s hand requires great courage since there is always the legitimate risk of rejection, on both micro and macro levels.

Ben Witherington III

Paul’s Letter to the Romans

How to Live Together, Romans 12, Chapter Four, “An Impossible Request”

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Chapter Four

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, 

Romans 12:1.

An Impossible Request

There is a belief so common in our age that it is invisible: There is a real you, an authentic you hidden in there. That authentic you is good and right. The trouble is that the “authentic-you” and the “public you” can’t always match up. It’s hard to be who you “really” are, and so you pretend and twist yourself into all sorts of shapes to get along. But this process of twisting and hiding comes at a cost. And so you find yourself depressed or anxious or anger or even manipulative as you try to negotiate this difference between the authentic-you and the public-you.

The Scripture has a different view of things. We should be authentic in our public life. This means that we should tell the truth and not seek to manipulate others. As Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or “No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matt. 5:37 We need to avoid hypocrisy. So, you might think Scripture and therapy have the same view of things.

But Scripture does something quite different than therapy: Rather than seeking to help you be comfort in the expression of your authentic-self, Scripture directs transformation of that “authentic-you”.  Be authentic in the sense of having integrity; but do not settle for who you are at present.

This idea of comforting and aiding the “authentic-you,” is another way of “suppressing the truth” which Paul condemns in Romans 1:18. “I’m just this way!” is no defense to the Scripture’s instruction.

As Paul says in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.  This is precisely the opposite of our therapeutic culture. 

This is completely consistent with the doctrine of the Fall. The therapeutic culture takes what we see around us and what we see in ourselves as “normal.” The present age with its values and judgments is “normal.” What most people do and accept is “normal.” What we want and desire “by nature” is normal.  

The Scripture presents a strikingly different picture. This world is anything but normal. The world is under a curse. Paul refers to our time as “this present evil age”. Gal. 1:4. John tells us to “not love the world neither the things in the world.” 1 John 2:15.

Jesus explains that our standard operating system is the source of trouble, not the means of our deliverance:

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” 

Mark 7:14–23.

Rather than seeing our heart as intrinsically good, Jesus speaks of it as a source of “defilement”. What need is not to protect our authentic self; rather we need to be fundamentally changed from the inside-out. This is not therapy but rather transplant surgery. 

The therapist could not offer something so radical, because the therapist cannot provide a place outside of this present evil age. The therapist is bound up inside of this world. Moreover, we lack the power to change our own hearts. It is not “natural” to love your enemies.

But we will not rely upon our own power. Instead, we will rely upon the Spirit God who uses the Word of God to create and transform the People of God. 

But what about ….

You might think, but don’t other religions speak about change? Not in the way which the Scripture does. For example, Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism may speak about detaching yourself from the “illusion” of this life. But that is not really seeking a change of your heart. It is instead a call to renounce the creation – and thus also to renounce the Creator. What Christianity calls for a transformation of who you are by means of a new relationship with the Creator not a rejection of the creation.

I appeal to you

Depending upon the translation before you, Paul is either “urging” or “appealing” to the Romans. It is an interesting word, whose exactly meaning depends upon the context. It has the sense of calling to some-one but the range of meaning can run comforting another to admonishing. Since Paul adds that he is calling to them “by the mercies of God,” the sense must be in terms of comfort or encouragement rather than rebuke.

So, while the effect is to give instruction, these are not the words of a drill sergeant making demands but of a wise friend directing your action toward something better. This is a favorite expression of Paul. It is the position of one stands ahead of us on the way and who calls us up to himself, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 4:16.

We should probably read this command in Romans 12:1 with Paul desire for the Romans expressed earlier in the letter

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 

Romans 1:11–12.  That phrase “be mutually encouraged” is our word, again. Paul is writing to the Romans to encourage them; not to crush them. And if there is correction in direction, it is correction for our happiness and holiness.

We must keep in the mind, the encouragement, the appeal, of Paul: he wants our good. If fail to understand his goal and his love, the whole will be discouraging. 

It could sound discouraging, because it sounds so unrealistic. When you read through the instruction of this chapter, Paul is requiring responses which seem self-defeating and contrary to all experience – even our experience in Church.

Paul encourages true humility. 

We all know the modestly boastful person, the one who “puts himself out there” and is given public and “prestigious” “ministry” assignments (that we can actually think about ministry in terms of prestige demonstrates how wrong we can be). A 2005 interview of Eugene Peterson by Christianity Today contained a section which illustrates this point perfectly”

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. “We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals.” This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!


Still, the one big hook or benefit to Christian faith is salvation, no? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Is this not something we can use to legitimately attract listeners?


It’s the biggest word we have—salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there was no resurrection. And we’re being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.
But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we’re just exacerbating the self problem. “With Christ, you’re better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy.” But it’s just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.


We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She’s not a selfish person. But she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. “How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?” It’s me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/26.42.html?paging=off

But Paul is not after a veneer of humility which gives greater room for a heart of pride. Paul is going after the death of one form of life. He is going to call this an actual sacrifice. Since we live in a world without animal sacrifices, we use the word to refer to inconveniences, but Paul has slaughter in mind.  

Paul encourages blessing those who cause us injury; and we all have seen church leaders use their office to control, manipulate, and take revenge upon others all with an air of holiness. And yet he suffers no consequence; because if the “pastor” does it, it must be okay. 

And so, Paul’s instruction seems not merely beyond our ability but beyond our experience. It would be easy to think, why should I be the only one who practices humility or loves an enemy or holds my tongue. He gossips and I suffer in silence!

But all the failures in the world—our own, and the failure of others—should not discourage us from following Paul. This instruction is for our encouragement. 

How can such hard things be an encouragement?

In John 15, Jesus speaks of how all of spiritual vitality comes from “abiding in” him. He is the vine and we are the branches. How then do we abide in him?

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 

John 15:9–10

It is an expression of love to Christ 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

John 14:15. If we do not keep his commandments, we do not love God:

 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 

John 14:24

Our knowledge of Christ is in keeping his commandments:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 

 1 John 2:3–6. 

These commandments are not burdensome:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 

1 John 5:3.

It is required of us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ 

Matthew 7:21–23. 

It is the only wise way to live in this world:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Matthew 7:24–27

The life of the church described in Romans 12 is a life of self-sacrifice; but it is the life to which we have been called:

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 

1 Peter 2:19–21.

But isn’t this “legalism”? The short and the long answer is , “No.”  A faith is merely a vaguely held personal opinion is not real faith:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

James 2:14–17. Would anyone believe a man who says he loves his wife and yet has never come home in 20 years? Our obedience earns us nothing. But we were saved to bring about this obedience:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) 

But this is too difficult

We have considered the mercy of God is, so we need not go over that again. Here we need to understand something different: that mercy of God becomes a basis upon which God call us to be merciful. In Colossians 3, Paul gives a series of instructions for the life of the church which are parallel to much of Romans 12, but there is something interested embedded in the middle of this list:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Colossians 3:12–14.  At end of verse 13 we see, “as the Lord has forgiven you.” That mercy of God is the basis for our mercy to others; the love of God is the basis of our love for others; the forgiveness of God is the basis of our forgiveness for others.

Here is the connection between God’s actions and our own.

While God could simply make demands upon us (he, being our Creator would have such a right), he does not require of us anything which he first does not provide. God does us good, and then asks us to imitate him in doing good:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

Matthew 5:43–48. God gives life and breath and rain to even those who hate him, those who were unjust. Think of it: When Jesus was being falsely accused and murdered, God had to keep his murders alive and give them sufficient reason to kill. 

There is something more here: God not only leaves us an example to follow (1 Peter 2:21), but he gives us a life in which such actions and affections are possible. The love of God transforms us and causes to live a different life:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 

2 Corinthians 5:14. And the act of coming to know Christ we are transformed into his image: the one who died for us:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 3:18.

God provides a basis for what he commands of us. But there is more. Another reason we balk at this life of humility is that it feels we will do this work for nothing. I am humble, he boasts and look at all the good which comes to him!

But the Lord does not see it the same way:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Matthew 6:1–4. And that reward will be worth the wait:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

 1 Peter 1:6–7. So let the Pharisee parade his works before others; you wait for the Lord’s reward and you await the Lord’s judgment:

So the last will be first, and the first last.

Matthew 20:16. 

What of those who have harmed you? It feels like injustice: the wrongdoer gets away with his wrong. But God has already anticipated that concern:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

Romans 12:19.

An Entirely New Way of Living

We are called to a way of life far more transformative, with far greater demands than we seem to imagine. The baseline, the given for the world into which we were born is fundamentally at odds with the life of this new world. It is as if you were born in the depths of the sea but now must live in outer space. 

Read this section from the Sermon on the Mount and do not try to soften the words, do not try to reconcile these statements with what is “possible” but just consider them as they must have sounded to those who first heard them:

2 “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:2–12. How can being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering, merciful, pure, peacemaker, persecuted, reviled, slandered be at all “good” things as we normally count good things? Or look at this language from 1 Peter

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 

1 Peter 2:18–21. If you are a servant and if you are beaten and if it was done to you unjustly you are called to endure this with grace! If you are the victim of injustice, you are called upon to respond in a manner which seems impossible. You are supposed to love these people:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43–48. How does one “love” an enemy? None of this is to deny injustice, maltreatment. None of this pretends like any of this easy. It will require a kind of death. It is impossible, if we remain the people we were at the moment of salvation. 

This is a manner of life so very radical and demanding that it seems an impossible way to live, even among the people of God. 

It will be a manner of life in which God may take us to the point of despair so that he can rework our lives to be fit for his kingdom:

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 

2 Corinthians 1:5–10. 

Our redemption begins a life; it is not the end-point. That is why we are called to have a new mind; we must become different people on the inside and only as that thing which we experience ourselves to be changes will follow in this way:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:17–24. 

We are being called to give away an entire way of understanding the world. This is more dangerous and difficult than walking to the South Pole or walking on the moon. It is a thing which is impossible for a human being alone; and is only possible to the extent that the Word of God and the Spirit of God transform our minds that we can become conformed to the new life which has been given to us. 

And so, there is a way in which Paul’s language of appeal defines this path. We are not slaves being driven down a road. He does not command this manner of life, because it is only fit for those who love Jesus; who will take up a cross and follow. This must be willing: and if it is not willing, then let us stop saying we love Jesus and would die with him.  Far too often we are like the disciples who all fled on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. So particularly stalwart will wait until they are in the high priest’s courtyard before we run off. 

And yet we are called to those same disciples, who after the coming of the Spirit were willing to risk life and freedom for Jesus. Jesus has risen from the dead and has overcome the world, sin, and death. Let us live like that is true. 

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

1 O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown!
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.

2 What thou, my Lord, hast suffered
was all for sinners’ gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve thy place.
Look on me with thy favor,
and grant to me thy grace.

3 What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this, thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee.

How to Live Together, Romans 12, Chapter Three “Jesus Loves Even Me”

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Chapter Three

If there is only one song I can sing

When in his presence I see the great King

This will my song for eternity be

O what a wonder that Jesus loves me

Jesus Loves Even Me

Jesus Loves Even Me

Friends on the Beach

After two hours of flight, the jet lost power. Kept aloft by the power her massive engines, the mass of metal and plastic stuffed with hundreds of human bodies lost its will to fly. All those human beings experienced terror which they could not have imagined; the complete helplessness of being alone with gravity overtook their minds. 

The pilots who somehow kept their wits, managed to bring the airplane to a sort of landing along the beach. 

When the missile came to a halt, broken into pieces, scattered over half a mile, the dead stayed silent. The wounded moaned and cried in pain. The living untangled themselves and poured onto the beach to find the other living souls. 

At first, they have a profound basis for fellowship, they talk of their experience in being saved from death. They work together to rescue others. Even though in most areas of their lives they remain perfect strangers, in this one new world they are connected in ways which transform how they understand one-another. 

Those who watch a concert together or cheer for the same sports team have known something of this intimacy. But here, it is deeper: we have together comes to the gates of death and were not taken.

This creates intimacy which they would not have otherwise gained except for years of friendship.

Then overtime, the overwhelming sense of joy and terror which had thrown them together begins to fade. The differences which had kept them strangers before begin to resurface – only this time it is mixed the intimacy of having shared an escape from death.

By being both extremely close and strangely distant, the distinctions which are unimportant among strangers become matters of the gravest consequence. Things which would be overlooked among those who had never spoken become the basis for the sharpest quarrels. 

Cliques develop; the divisions of live from before the airflight become the basis for new divisions among those who survived. 

This is the Church—only it is far more vicious among the church, because we can justify our prejudice and our unkindness with the thought, I am serving God: you are working against God. 

If only we kept in mind the unspeakable grace of our salvation, the depth of sin and despair, the greatness of God’s mercy, how different would be the life of the church. But when we forget how we came to be here; when we begin to take our salvation for granted; when we fail to see the end will be glory; then how easily we slide and how dangerous we can become.

The Mercies of God

If a look at human madness is grim, an eye upon the mercy of God is unmitigated joy. To consider ourselves without God is a matter of profound sorrow and hopelessness:

remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:12. 

But to be in Christ, to be reconciled to God, to know the mercy of God, that is a matter of joy:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1–2.

This hope in the glory of God is focus of our lives. To open a Christian hymnal is centuries of praise for mercy of God, And Can it Be, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, There is a Fountain. Anyone who claims to know Christ and is not constantly struck by the wonder: How could Jesus love me? What endless depths of love must the Father have to give his Son? How can the Spirit so patiently work upon my heart?

There is mercy in God, a mercy which lies beyond all compare, a mercy which produces in our heart, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” 1 Pet. 1:8

So just as we cannot understand the commands of Romans 12 without a clear understanding of the persistence of indwelling sin, so also, we will never be able to fulfill the commands without a certain knowledge of the boundless mercy of God.

As we will learn, one of the chief reasons commands to not think of ourselves too highly, and to bless those who persecute us, seem unreasonable, even impossible is because we do not rightly esteem the mercy of God. 

The mercy of God begins at the Fall of Adam.

The command was unambiguous and without appeal, “for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Gen. 2:17 How Adam understood death, when it was not a thing he had experienced, we can only imagine. For us who have watched a parent or child or friend die, the finality and darkness of death is unquestioned. Once one has stood at the side of a grave, or closed another’s eyes with heartbreak, we know death.  It is our inheritance which the executor will always convey.

But something happened when Adam sinned. There was certainly a death, because the relationship to God was severed. But the curtain of bodily death did not fall in an instant. Instead, God pronounced judgment, inflicted penalties, and drove the first pair from the Garden, but he did end Adam’s bodily life in that moment. 

In fact, in the midst of that judgment, God showed his love toward all his creation. Notice the scene: There is the Serpent who we will come to know as the Arch Rebel against God. There is Adam and Eve fresh from their rebellion. God without question could have ended the existence of all three of them, but he does not:

God’s willingness to preserve the fallen spiritual creatures in spite of their rebellion is matched by his desire to keep the human race in being. This is a mystery that can only be explained only by his deep love for his creatures. Looked at in a purely rational light, it would not have been surprising if God had decided to wipe us out and start again.

(Gerald Lewis Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 473)

God then begins to pour grace and mercy onto his creation. He makes a promise in the midst of his first judgment:

       I will put enmity between you and the woman, 

and between your offspring and her offspring; 

                he shall bruise your head, 

and you shall bruise his heel.” 

Genesis 3:15. Someone will come and bruise the head of the serpent. God is thereafter lavish in mercy. He calls the idolator Abram to a knowledge of him and showers promises upon Abram. Gen. 12:1-3. He redeems Israel from Egypt because he wants to. He choses David because he wants to. 

When Israel rebels with the Golden Calf, God relents at the intercession of Moses. Moses then in awe of this God seeks to the glory of God. God grants his wish – as much as Moses can bear—and passes by Moses proclaiming his name:

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 

Exodus 34:5–8. The accent is upon the mercy, the forgiveness of God. As James will write, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

When Israel finally becomes so stubborn in her rebellion that the northern tribes are gone to Assyria and then Judah taken to judgment in Babylon, when it seems that the mercy of God has failed, he promises a new and better covenant:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

Jeremiah 31:31–34.

It is that New Covenant which Paul proclaims in Romans. We can only think about the barest outlines. First, grants blessing received by faith, not earned by work:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 

              “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, 

and whose sins are covered; 

              blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 

Romans 4:4–9. Paul will insist elsewhere upon the utter graciousness of this gift:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 

Ephesians 2:4–9.  Faith is the means by which one grants love and friendship to another. If someone promises you friendship, you can only receive it by faith and trust. If a young man bursting with love were to tell his beloved of his inmost heart and if she were to disbelieve him, no love would come to her. 

Among friends, among those who love, this rarest of gifts is exchanged by faith. One’s wrath does not need to be believed, by love must be received. 

No God faces an insolvable problem when he seeks to bestow mercy upon those have sinned against him. If God were merely to forgive, God would be unjust. If God does not forgive, God is unmerciful.

But God is both just and justifier, both perfect judge and full of mercy. He does this by an exchange whereby God, God the Son, obeys on our behalf and pays the penalty on our behalf:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 

Romans 5:6–11. And the proclamation of this exchange Paul saw as the key to his ministry:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

2 Corinthians 5:16–21.

There is astounding mercy: We utterly wretched, dead in our trespasses and sin, rebels, zombies a life in death, have found mercy and made righteous by life and death of Christ: a life and death credited to us; while our sin and misery are credited to him. 

Would you die for a friend? Would die for an enemy? Would you die to save someone who hated you? Would you give you son to do for your enemies so that your enemies would reconciled to you. Do you even begin to understand what that means?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

John 3:16. Once, when my infant son lay near death, I thought how I would willingly give my own life to save his. I thought further how I could give anyone else to save him. And as I had this thought it struck me, that the Father gave his Son to save me—his enemy. Do nothing to soften the depth of that gift. You cannot say, He is God and I am human. The Father loves the Son more than we love anything. The Son is worthy of more than any son of ours. The degradation to the Son to submit himself to the law, to be saddled with sin, to be struck in death, are things we cannot understand.

Glory Makes Reconciliation

The mercy of God is a movement from election to glory:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

Romans 8:29–30.  If you have been redeemed, you will be glorified. If you are in Christ, nothing in creation can keep you from being forever with Christ:

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Romans 8:38–39. If you have received mercy from God in Jesus Christ, that mercy cannot be lost. If you are in Christ, you will without question receive “praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet. 1:7.

One thing which will make the commands of Romans 12 seemingly impossible is because not one human being upon this planet can begin to fathom the depth of the Father’s love as shown in his Son. We lack the capacity to contemplate so things as they deserve.

And yet God calls us to think of his love and mercy. He welcomes our poor musing. 

We contemporary Christians are in such a hurry to do something for God that we never take the time to think about this wonder: not to do something, but just to gaze upon this mystery and be humbled. 

And then we have the greater mysteries: Why did God choose me? It is not because we have earned a thing. We do not value this mercy. Why did God not save the one next to you? We think ourselves so clever in complaining that God does not save all. That is nothing. Why did God save any. But God has chosen “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Eph. 1:6. This is a love which nothing can end, no power can sever. Rom. 8:38-39.

Until you have settled in your mind, the depth of your sin—even now persisting—and the unfathomable mercy of God, continuing uphold you, you will either reject or twist the commands which Paul gives for the life of the church.

So when you look to this commands and you see your flesh pinched by “I don’t want to do that,” or “I don’t think I can.” Think to yourself: Ah, there is my indwelling sin; there is that sin which continues to dog me like a cough which one cannot shake, an infection of the soul which will never ease. When you feel yourself rebel at these instructions, think, God loves me and has shown such mercy to me and all that he asks is that I love those for whom Christ died and that I show mercy on those who continue to rebel against the will of God. You must think, I will love not because this human deserves such love but because Christ deserves such honor. The mercy I have received is the mercy I will show, even to my enemies.

1. Stop and take the time to merely think about the mercy of God. Contemplate the love of the Father in the death of Christ. When you look upon the cross, think to yourself, this is how deeply the Father loves me.

2. How many times has God shown mercy on your sin, today?

3. How often have you refused to show mercy to others? Think of one occasion.

4. Memorize the words of this hymn, And Can it Be:

  1. And can it be that I should gain
    An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
    Died He for me, who caused His pain—
    For me, who Him to death pursued?
    Amazing love! How can it be,
    That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
    • Refrain:
      Amazing love! How can it be,
      That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
  2. ’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies:
    Who can explore His strange design?
    In vain the firstborn seraph tries
    To sound the depths of love divine.
    ’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
    Let angel minds inquire no more.
  3. He left His Father’s throne above—
    So free, so infinite His grace—
    Emptied Himself of all but love,
    And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
    ’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
    For, O my God, it found out me!
  4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
    Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
    I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
  5. No condemnation now I dread;
    Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
    Alive in Him, my living Head,
    And clothed in righteousness divine,
    Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
    And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

How to Live Together, Romans 12, Chapter Two, “The Emperor of the United States”

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Chapter Two

       The heart is deceitful above all things,

      and desperately sick; 

      who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

The Emperor of United States

Note: The purpose of this chapter is not to discourage but to diagnose. An accurate sight of our disease is the first step in a cure.  What must be kept in mind is that God has provided a remedy, and that the purpose of Romans 12 is to present and apply that remedy. 

Also, the topic of this chapter should help you be sympathetic with yourself and with others. As you come to realize just how powerful and dangerous are the world, the flesh, and the Devil; and come to see how disordering sin is to the human heart; you can look at yourself and others and think, Yes, sin can lead even the “best” of people into a very bad place. 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom. 7:25a. There is rescue, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.” Ps. 33:1a

John Newton writes:

You have one hard lesson to learn, that is, the evil of your own heart: you know something of it, but it is needful that you should know more; for the more we know of ourselves, the more we shall prize and love Jesus and his salvation. I hope what you find in yourself by daily experience will humble you, but not discourage you: humble you it should, and I believe it does. Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you? But let not all you feel discourage you; for if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate; and if he casts none out that come to him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but his mercies are more: our sins are great, but his righteousness is greater: we are weak, but he is power

John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 2 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 140–141.

Norton I

In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton presented himself to the world, most particularly the people of San Francisco, as Norton I, Emperor of the United States. He issued currency, awarded titles, and dissolved the United States of America on July 16, 1860.

His delusion, which followed an ill-fated attempt to corner the rice market in California, was a matter of amusement to the city and seemingly of little harm to him. San Francisco played along and continued honor their monarch even after his death. 

Joshua Norton was completely a mystery to himself: he was no monarch; he was an immigrant to tried to strike it rich only to be thwarted by ships filled with rice coming from Peru. And yet, to himself he was king of the country. 

He is little different than the poor, deranged people who frequent the bus stop across the street from work and engage in extended conversations with the air. He seems to have been far more genial than most lunatics, but his error was equally as profound. He simply believed much that was wrong about himself.

Yet his trouble did not end with his confused self-assessment: he was wrong about the world around him. He thought the people of San Francisco his subjects, when they were merely his audience; and participants in a quite different play than that imagined by Norton.

Whether it is especially pertinent that only Emperor of the United States was a madman I will leave to others; but I will press one point: his fault is common. To take a phrase from the poet Dylan Thomas, the fault is “commoner than water.”

It is a fault which inflicts everyone: we are all born quite wrong about ourselves, and wrong about the world: 

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Ecclesiastes 9:3. We are all born “in Adam,” who is the source of all madness in the species. Rom. 5:19.

Think of the madness of Adam. He could not claim that he was uncertain of God; that he lacked “evidence.” He could not complain that God must be defective because there is evil in the world. The conversation with God was unquestionably clear; the instruction plain. Gen. 2:16-17.

And yet, despite the plainness of his direction and unquestioned instruction of God, Adam took the advice of his wife who had gained her knowledge from a serpent. Granted the serpent was subtle, but we must marvel at the absurdity of the whole. 

Adam given lordship of the creation, direct conversation with God, and no want of any sort, fell for the instruction snake. 

God had spoken to Adam, Adam had communicated to Eve. A snake had spoken to Eve and Eve communicated that to Adam. 

If the result were not the death of every descendent of Adam, not the ravage of disease and war, not the plagues of pestilence, and the sorrow of a mother as her infant dies; if the result were not the endless evil which flows through history like sewage, the story of the serpent would be comical. 

But it is not funny in the least. It is a horror of sorrow. The absurdity makes it even more bitter. 

And so, Cain murdering his brother, and the brothers selling Joseph, and viciousness of Sodom, and the murder of the infants by the Pharoah who knew not Joseph, and the corruption of the time of the Judges and the thousand other horrors of history all flow from the moment with the serpent.

God cursed the serpent and brought judgment upon the humans: The relationship of mother and child would be pain, husband and wife would be contest; work would be on the vicious terms of sweat, boredom, unending; the very ground itself would become an enemy. The ground by nature grows that which we cannot eat; it takes tillage to keep an apple tree or a tomato vine in suitable shape. 

We are people subject to incurable madness, madness among people of incurable madness, in a creation we were created to rule and which escapes our control at every turn.  Our bodies decay. Our senses deceive. 

Even our minds: the very way that we think has been subjected to the ravages of Adam’s sin. 

You see to be born is to be born under the law and under the curse. The sin of Adam put everyone born on the planet under a death sentence. We are fragile creatures, beset on every side; and we are under a curse. We are born under the wrath of God.

This is too much for anyone to bear. Who can truly know the wrath of God and rest at ease? No one rests as a volcano explodes. No one rests when a lion attacks. No one rests as they swim in the ocean knowing a shark is near. No one rests knowing we are under the wrath of God. 

And so, we suppress:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Romans 1:18 This is no rare condition but the default response of our race. John Calvin begins his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the observation that, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 35.) And, “[I]t is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (Id., at p. 37) We do not know God and so we do not know ourselves (and from there, we know nothing correctly).

The results have been catastrophic. It begins with this refusal to concede the principle point of reality: God is, and we are under his condemnation. Much like a Jenga tower where a key block has been removed, the whole mechanism of human psychology plummets with the refusal to see ourselves in the right relationship to God:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21. Paul then details our descent into madness:

They became futile in their thinking.

The futility is that by rejecting the truth of God, we can never think rightly about God:

It is in the “reasonings” of people that this futility has taken place, showing that, whatever their initial knowledge of God might be, their natural capacity to reason accurately about God is quickly and permanently harmed.

(Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 107.) Our lives will be marked first and foremost by the nature of our relationship to God.

If we cannot think rightly about God, then we cannot think rightly about ourselves—or about anything else.  We will be deformed human beings if we are not in right relationship to God:

Every sinner is aware of the discomfort in his environment. The existentialists, and those psychologists and psychiatrists who are ininfluenced by them, have described this awareness as alienation and an undifferentiated angst .3 But the unbeliever fails to articulate the true nature of the problem. He knows something is wrong in himself and in this world, but the very thing that creates the problem—his separation from God—also makes it impossible to conceptualize the issues in those terms. The unregenerate man is an uncertain man; he has no absolutes, no standard outside of himself and his ever-changing opinions and values. Down deep inside he is never sure about the life he lives; he can’t be because his basic antagonism with his environment constantly unsettles him. He is unhappy and uncomfortable in his environment because he finds himself at odds with it. 

Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 39–40. And so, being alienated from God:

Their foolish hearts were darkened.

The heart is what a human is: it not limited to body, to thought, to emotion, or to soul. It is that which makes us as we are. But this central control of the human life is here said to be (1) foolish and (2) darkened. 

To begin to understand this clause we can consider what Paul writes elsewhere:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 

Ephesians 4:17–19. Whatever else this foolishness and darkness may mean, we know that it pours forth as sinfulness. It does not love what should be loved; it does not shun what should be shunned. It runs to its own destruction.

Nor can we trust in our conscience: “Conscience is sometimes deceived through ignorance of what is right, by apprehending a false rule for a true, an error for the will of God: sometimes, through ignorance of the fact, by misapplying a right rule to a wrong action. Conscience, evil informed, takes human traditions and false doctrines, proposed under the show of Divine authority, to be the will of God.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 13.

Having fallen to this state, we fall still further. Rather than worship God, by nature, we worship the creature. We set up idols based upon our own deformed desires. We give ourselves to these images, destroying ourselves for honor or fame, money or love, power or revenge, and so on. Not all idols stand upon a fixed altar. The most dangerous idols are those erected in the “factory” (to use Calvin’s apt phrase) of our foolish hearts. 

And from here, the steps fall further: we do not know right, we do not think right, we do not love or fear right, and so we are given over, given over, given over. 

This degradation ends unspeakable horrors:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. 

Romans 1:28–32. And just a bit further, in chapter 3 where Paul rightly says this anatomy of sin has infected us all (Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned”), he sums up human character, outside of God’s redemption as follows:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: 

                        “None is righteous, no, not one; 

            11          no one understands; 

no one seeks for God. 

            12          All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; 

no one does good, 

not even one.” 

            13          “Their throat is an open grave; 

they use their tongues to deceive.” 

                        “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 

            14          “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 

            15          “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 

            16          in their paths are ruin and misery, 

            17          and the way of peace they have not known.” 

            18          “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Romans 3:9–18

At this point, you may think to yourself: that is all fine and good, but what is that to me? I have certainly passed beyond that madness and sin. 

At this point, return to Romans 1:28. One of the results of the madness of sin is a “debased mind.”  The word here translated “debased” is the Greek work a-dokimos. There are a number of words which Paul could have used, and here he used this peculiar word. This matters because Paul uses the related word dokimos in Romans 12:2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

Romans 12:1–2. 

The root idea of the word has to do with testing: Is something true or fit. As a verb it means to test or try. In Luke 14:19, someone wishes to “examine” his new oxen. Proverbs 27:21 in the ancient Greek translation speaks of silver and gold tested by fire.  A man who is such, has been tested and found fit. 

In Greek, placing an “A” before a word has the effect of “Not”: a theist believes in God; an A-theist does not.

We are given over to a mind to a heart which is not trustworthy: it does not know how to value anything rightly; and it itself is tested and found wanting. 

Look earlier in Romans 1:28. The clause “just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God” contains this same word, to test: “see fitto acknowledge”. We do understand God rightly, therefore, we are unable to understand anything correctly. We do not worship God; we will worship sticks and stones. We do not love the life offered by God in Christ; we will love our own death and destruction. We cannot know our ourselves, because we do not know God: therefore, would mind is worthless, and it cannot rightly test anything.

Think of just worthless the mind of man who does not rightly know God will be. They murdered Jesus, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for it they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Cor. 2:4.

In a word, we are mad: We do not know who we are (because we do not understand either ourselves or God) and therefore we do not understand anything else correctly (worshipping the creature rather than the Creator).

There is a great deal which could be said of this mind, but for us we must see one thing: The “debased mind” given in Romans 1:28 is in the process of being renewed as shown by Romans 12:2. 

This renovation in Romans 12:1-2 is the reversal of Romans 1. 

Here is where the trouble then arises: the human being so brutally laid out in Romans 1-3 is to put to an end, that “old self” is crucified with Christ. Rom. 6:6 But we also know that this crucifixion is not the end but only the beginning of a transformation.

Upon salvation, we do not immediately shed our foolish thoughts, or wicked habits, or sinful desires. We may have shut the door, but we can still see the Tempter through the window. 

We have not achieved the reason and sobriety which will one-day be ours. We are like a carpenter who has purchased a rotten house and board-by-board replaces the planks, resets the doors, puts on a roof. In the end, it will be the same house, but not the same house. And someday “we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2. But today, we are being renewed into that image. Col. 3:9-10.

We must keep this infirmity in mind when we consider the instruction given Romans 12. A due since of our frailty and infirmity, of our absolute dependence is critical to reading these words correctly. 

We will always be tempted to think we have judged all things rightly and that the one with whom we have conflict is wrong. One thing I have learned by experience, is the most just is usually the one must ready to see his or her own sin, to seek reconciliation. The one who is smugly certain of no error, who is convinced of his own perfection is the one who is most mad and furthest from command of God. If you are not frightened that perhaps I may be in sin here, then you are most certainly in danger. 

And so, to end, we are born mad: We misunderstand ourselves and our God. This foolishness of heart, which reaches thoughts, and desires, and behaviors, make loving God and loving neighbor seemingly impossible. 

Ask yourself the following questions: Perform an examination of your own heart and life.

And do not be discouraged when see that you have cause to repent. In repentance, we renew our love to God. In repentance, we defeat the Tempter. In repentance, we are forgiven of all sin. The most dangerous sin, is the sin for which we will not repent. Look for the sin, that you may drag it from its hiding place and give room for God’s blessing.

1. We are commanded to love our enemies. Without trying to weasel out of the word “love” and without pretending like there are none who have hurt or of whom you are fearful, can you say you love them?

2.  We are to drag the log out of our own eye before seek the speck in our brother’s eye. When you have conflict, do you begin with your own repentance? Do you begin with a clear sight of the enormity of your own sin (and to sin as a believer is worse than to sin as an unbeliever, because you sin against light)?

3.  Paul was willing to die for the Gospel and the glory of Christ. Are you willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel? 

4.  Peter writes of a servant being wrongfully misused and suffering unjustly at the hands of a cruel master: and to do so without revenge. When you are mistreated by another, do you suffer it gracefully? Do you bless those who persecute you?

5.  When you minister to others and do some good, do you make sure that everyone knows how righteous you are? Or do you seek to hide it and wait for God to give you a reward? If you did good and another got public credit, would you fume or would you graciously commend the whole to God?

We continue the same through the commands to not sin: Have you lusted, coveted, envied, gossiped, harbored bitterness?  Have you believed false reports about another? I am here looking at those sins of the tongue and mind which are so easily excused as a “prayer request” or easily concealed because they take place in your heart beyond the sight of all.

Surely you see how much remanent sin still clings to you. Surely you see how great your own fault.

Or one last test. What if your entire live since coming to faith were displayed for all: Every word, every deed, every thought, every desire, every intention, every glance. What if your heart were laid bare?

Only if you can see the continued horror of sin as it still pours out of your heart can you begin to comprehend the next clause we will consider, 

The mercies of God.

From The Valley of Vision

SOVEREIGN LORD,

When clouds of darkness, atheism, and
        unbelief come to me,
I see thy purpose of love
  in withdrawing the Spirit that I might prize
    him more,
  in chastening me for my confidence in
    past successes, that my wound of secret
      godlessness might be cured.
Help me to humble myself before thee
  by seeing the vanity of honour
as a conceit     of men’s minds,
    as standing between me and thee;
  by seeing that thy will must alone be done,
    as much in denying as in giving
   &nbsp  ;spiritual enjoyments;
  by seeing that my heart is nothing but evil,
    mind, mouth, life void of thee;
  by seeing that sin and Satan are allowed power
    in me that I might know my sin, be humbled,
      and gain strength thereby;
  by seeing that unbelief shuts thee from me,
    so that I sense not thy majesty, power, mercy,
      or love.
Then possess me, for thou only art good
  and worthy.


Thou dost not play in convincing me of sin,
Satan did not play in tempting me to it,
I do not play when I sink in deep mire,
  for sin is no game, no toy, no bauble;
Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies
  not so much in the nature of the sin committed,
  as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.
When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me,
    by showing me
  that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch,
  but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive,
    and satisfied;
  that I am feeble and unable to do any good,
  but that in him I can do all things;
  that what I now have in Christ is mine in part,
  but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.

How to Live Together, Romans 12, Chapter 1, “Therefore”

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Chapter One

Therefore

Therefore

Romans 12:1

The Christian Church is a strange thing. It brings together those people who never would otherwise never be in one place. The church has been the church of the master and the church of the slave. It is the church of the wealthy and the impoverished. It is the church of the well-educated and the uneducated. It is the church the sophisticated and the unsophisticated. The drug addict who had spent years on the streets sits with the eminently cautious and respectable. Every ethnicity under heaven is equally welcome and has come under the shelter of the great Lord’s wings.

These people who by nature would have nothing to do together as friends and equals are brought together and told to love one another and confess their sins to one another and to bear one-another’s burdens. No matter who we were before we came in, we are called as equals in salvation:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:27–29. And:

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:11. This is a matter which is beautiful in contemplation, but in practice … in practice, it is often lacking. In the end, we will all praise the Lord in perfect harmony. Rev. 5. But today we are in transition. We move fitfully. We begin well, and fail miserably. We pledge our love and friendship, and then turn with the unkindness which can only be exchanged by those who have been friends and family.

The most foolish of petty distinctions, the least cause for pride, the slimmest of prestige can bring out the worst in human nature. The desire to be esteemed by men, and the desire to get vengeance upon those who hurt us (whether that hurt is real or merely perceived by an excessive pride), are fertile ground for sin to overturn the work of God. 

Most of can easily give a catalogue of those who have wronged us, but we are given no instructions to force others to reconcile with us. There is something wrong with so many churches – but we cannot start with the wrongs of others. We must start with ourselves:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

Matthew 7:1–5.  Only when we have a clear view of our sin and failure can we go to our brother to remedy the wrong:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 

Matthew 18:15. How we will make that approach will be considered later in Romans 12. For now, our attention begins ourselves. 

To paraphrase Kierkegaard, when we read this text we must realize it is written to us and it is about us: you must think, this is written to me, and is about me. Paul is going to make extraordinary demands upon the church, but he makes these demands upon all those who are in the church so that he can heal the breach which has arisen in Rome. 

If we are suffering from a breach in the church, then this chapter gives us instruction on how to heal that breach. If we seek to avoid a breach, then this chapter tell us what we must be if we are to avoid a breach. 

The whole begins with  the  idea: “therefore”. 

Therefore

Romans 12 begins a new section of Romans and is marked by this “therefore.” What has gone before is generally theological propositions: an extended explanation of the power of God to rescue the damned. Paul begins this declaration of God’s good news with the word:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 

Romans 1:16. And having begun with the power of God, he ends with praise to the wisdom of God in exercising this power:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 

            34          “For who has known the mind of the Lord, 

or who has been his counselor?” 

            35          “Or who has given a gift to him 

that he might be repaid?” 

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 

Romans 11:33-36. If read this story of God’s salvation and do not end with a burst of praise, then we have not understood it aright. 

If we understood what God had done, then what would naturally flow would be the death of sin. (Rom. 8:13, Col. 3:1-7) Our lives would be conformed to Christ. (Col. 3:9-10) We would blossom with the fruit of the Spirit:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 

Galatians 5:22–26. But notice there in verse 25: Paul having spoken in the most glowing terms of what the Spirit will do in our lives issues a warning

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 

Why is that necessary?  And this is not simply something to do with Galatians alone; nor is it merely Paul. Consider this is Peter’s first epistle:

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for 

                        “All flesh is like grass 

and all its glory like the flower of grass. 

                        The grass withers, 

and the flower falls, 

            25         but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 

1 Peter 1:22–25. The glorious work of salvation which flows out in love and purity. But Peter immediately issues a command for the believers to not harm one-another:

2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

1 Peter 2:1-2.  The apostle proclaims the unspeakable joy of salvation, and then pivots immediately to the believers: stop hurting one-another. Stop your lying. Stop your hypocrisy. Stop you envy. Stop your slander.

The new life in Christ is utterly incompatible with the gossiping, envying, slandering tongues we acquire as standard equipment at our birth:

            The wicked are estranged from the womb; 

they go astray from birth, speaking lies. 

Psalm 58:3. And so that you don’t for a moment think that applies to others and not to you, consider the words of David in his great Psalm of repentance:

            Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, 

and in sin did my mother conceive me. 

Psalm 51:5. We are brought forth in iniquity. By the sheer grace of God, we are saved. But sadly, we fail to automatically live a life “worthy … of the gospel of Christ.” Phil. 1:27. 

The day of salvation is a day of birth. John 3:3. Salvation is a good seed in the good soil. The day of salvation is the beginning, not the perfection. As John Newton was to write to an unknown person on March 18, 1767:

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely. Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.

John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 2 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 141.

We will not be effortlessly transformed into that which we are called to be.  It will be rough work, flesh killing work.  When grown, we will be the perfect rose shimmering with dew in the morning sunlight, pure and undefiled. But today, we are not the rose in bloom, but the seedling breaking through the crust of the earth, and straining toward the light:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:2. Here, in this world, we still need instruction. Adam needed instruction in Paradise; sadly, he refused what he was told. Israel needed instruction when she was rescued in Egypt. And we today need instruction. We  will circumstances which will force us to love those who have sinned against us. We will need encouragement. And we will instruction on precisely how to perform this work. 

When you come to these words of Romans 12, you be tempted to draw – just like the Israelites drew back when God called them to enter the promised land filled with giants. It is for this reason that the writer of Hebrews, who calls for us to strive for peace and holiness, applies a warning to us:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 

                        “Today, if you hear his voice, 

                      do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, 

on the day of testing in the wilderness, 

                      where your fathers put me to the test 

and saw my works for forty years. 

            10         Therefore I was provoked with that generation, 

                        and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; 

they have not known my ways.’ 

            11         As I swore in my wrath, 

‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 

Hebrews 3:7–12. You could think of yourself as an Israelite rescued from Pharoah, called to enter the Promised Land.  But here in the “wilderness of this world” (as John Bunyan calls our home), we are in danger. We are freed from the dominion of sin, but not its presence. We are freed from captivity to the madness of sin, but our minds must still be renewed. Are hearts by nature are monsters in rebellion against God, but we have been brought into the household of God and our rebellious hearts must be tamed. 

And so Paul in Romans, having unfolded the manifold wisdom of God in salvation now turns to the Romans and calls them to be transformed:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1–2.  Since you have been rescued, you are called upon to learn to live in this in this humanity, this new family. The implication of the Gospel is this new life: That is why Paul joins the implication to the doctrine, the application to the knowledge. 

But we will not rightly understand this application if we do not have it firmly grounded in the Gospel. We must rehearse a two points which Paul emphasizes in these transitional verses: “the mercies of God,” and “the renewal of your mind.” 

We will take those two ideas in reverse order, because we need to understand the nature of the difficulty in rightly understanding and praising the mercies of God. Also, Paul in Romans begins with the trouble of our mind, and then moves himself to the mercy of God.

How to Live Together, Romans 12 (Preface)

(I have been troubled for years by the conflict I have seen in the church. I am working on a Bible study for some friends currently struggling with conflict, and to train myself on this point. I will continue to edit and revise this document. If anyone who reads this is kind enough to comment with corrections or assists, it would be appreciated)

Preface

The first sight we have of the church is found in Acts 2:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47. The church is to be marked by love. Jesus commands us to love one-another, as proof that we are his disciples:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34–35. That love is a witness that the Father sent Jesus:

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

John 17:20–21. But then we look the record of the church after those first days, we see that love often does not mark their life together: 

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 

Acts 6:1. Paul began a congregation at Corinth, and then shortly thereafter he wrote to them:

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

1 Corinthians 1:10–13. He writes to the church at Galatia:

14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 

Galatians 5:14–15. The church at Philippi also suffered a conflict: 

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 

Phil. 4:2. To Rome he writes:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 

Romans 16:17. Peter writes to the churches of Asia Minor

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

1 Peter 2:1. 

The church is to be led by men who are not self-seeking:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 

1 Peter 5:1–3. This is a command likewise given by Paul. 1 Tim. 3:3. And Lord says

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 

Matthew 20:25–27. Why then does the Apostle John write this:

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 

3 John 9–10. And Paul, likewise, was attacked by the church leadership in Corinth. 2 Cor. 11:1-15.  

We are faced with this horrific contradiction. The church is to be the household of God, the family of God, the new people of God, marked by love of one-another and love to God above. We are to be people who love our enemies, and yet we so often cannot love our friends. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven, and we cling to resentments with the tenacity of crocodile.

An executive of the highest level at one of the largest corporations in the world said it pain and sorrow that fellow Christians treated him worse than the sociopaths who exist at the height of international business. 

The church is marked with extremes: Who has been more wonderful to those in need than Christians caring for the weak. And nothing is more heartbreaking that believers who bite and tear one-another. 

The Holy Spirit knowing the wickedness of heart and the sin which persists even into our life did not leave us alone; He provided to us instruction to fight this evil.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 36.6 What a strange stringe thing am I

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The previous post on this poem may be found here.

How wond’rous rich art thou? Thy storehouse vast

Holds more ten thousand fold told ore and ore

Than this wide world can hold. The door unhasp.

And bring me thence a pardon out of therefore.

Thou stuffest the world so tight with present things

That thing to come, though crowd full hard, can’t in.

These things to come, tread on the heels of those.

The present breadth doth with the broad world run.

The depth and breadth of things to come out goes

Unto Time’s end which bloweth out the sun.

These breadth and length meet out eternity.

These are the things that in thy storehouse lie.

The Praise: Having come to the conclusion that he should marvel at the grace of God and thus seek a pardon for his continuing, Taylor now turn to praise the vastness of the God’s grace.  In these stanzas there seems two allusions to Paul. 

There are two general aspects of the wealth of good things God has to bestow. First, there is the matter of the sheer size:

            Thy storehouse vast

Holds more ten thousand fold told ore and ore

Than this wide world can hold….

Thou stuffest the world so tight with present things

That thing to come, though crowd full hard, can’t in.

…. The present breadth doth with the broad world run.

The depth and breadth of things to come out goes

Unto Time’s end which bloweth out the sun.

These breadth and length meet out eternity.

Of particular interest is the phrase “breadth and length”. In a notable passage from Ephesians, Paul prays that his readers will obtain some experience and knowledge of the “breadth and length” of God’s riches:

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 

Ephesians 3:14–19.  One can understand these stanzas of Taylor’s poem as in a sense being an answer to Paul’s prayer. Taylor is meditating upon the great riches of God and is seeking to “comprehend” this wealth.

The knowledge here is the knowledge of “love of Christ” which is a redemptive love. The pardon which Taylor seeks is the wealth of God on display.

The general tenor of the Ephesians passage as well as the unusual phrase “breadth and length” form a basis for Taylor’s language in these stanzas. 

Second, there is a distinction between present thing and things to come. The “things to come” might be eschatological; but it is also possible that the “things to come” may only be what God has for us tomorrow. It is potentially a simple future. 

The allusion here comes from 1 Corinthians:

21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21–23. The basis of the allusion is found in (1) the giving of good things by God; and (2) the division between things present and things to come. Again, the good is the reconciliation, the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.

The stanzas, together with their allusions, constitute praise for the unfathomable goodness of God in giving good gifts to Taylor. He cannot comprehend the goodness of God, which matches with confusion over his own wretchedness. As explained previously, his continued wretchedness perplexes him, how can this be possible?

Finding no direct answer, he sees the problem in a new light, How unbelievably gracious God is to tolerate such sin!

And so here, he praises the unfathomable grace of God will extend through the ages until the sun, itself, is “blown out”.

God gives such abundant goodness, that the things which will come cannot find room, so full is the present with God’s goodness.

The prayer.

Within this effusive praise is one prayer: 

                        The door unhasp.

And bring me thence a pardon out of therefore.

Unlock the door and take out a pardon for me. You, God, have such wealth pardon me and I will praise you. In this, Taylor is following the pattern of Psalm 50:

      And call upon me in the day of trouble:

      I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Psalm 50:15. Far from sounding like an impolite demand, the prayer for God open his storehouse and deliver a pardon to Taylor is encouraged by God. 

A father who loves his child desires to give good things to the child. It is not a burden but a joy:

remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 

Acts 20:35 God loves and desires to show love. The prayer for pardon is a prayer which God has promised to answer:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

1 John 1:9