Kierkegaard as Missionary

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

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

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

Zachery Crofton, Repentance not to be Repented.7

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      SECOND PART OF CONVERSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job 22:1–3 (ESV)

22 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

                      “Can a man be profitable to God?

Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A willingness to even suffer:

Not only doth he believe,

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

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

Under sharpest sorrows,

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

In saddest disasters he complains not,

because he hath sinned against the Lord.

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

for that God hath bid Shimei curse.

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

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

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

Ruth’s “Return”

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

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

Zachery Crofton, A Repentance not to be Repented.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is his caveat at length:

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

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

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

Zachery Crofton, A Repentance not to be Repented.5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measure for Measure Act I, Scene 1b.

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Enter Angelo.

Duke

[26]     Look where he comes.

Angelo

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

[28]     I come to know your pleasure.

Duke

[29]     Angelo,

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

[31]     That to th’ observer doth thy history

[32]     Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[40]     The smallest scruple of her excellence

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

[42]     Herself the glory of a creditor,

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

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

[45]     Hold, therefore, Angelo.

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

[47]     Mortality and mercy in Vienna

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

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

 [50]    Take thy commission.

He hands Angelo a paper.⌝

Angelo

[51]     Now, good my lord,

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

[53]     Before so noble and so great a figure

[54]     Be stamped upon it.

Duke

[55]     No more evasion.

[56]     We have with a leavened and preparèd choice

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

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

[59]     That it prefers itself and leaves unquestioned

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

[61]     As time and our concernings shall importune,

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

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

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

[65]     Of your commissions.

Angelo

[66]     Yet give leave, my lord,

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

Duke

[68]     My haste may not admit it.

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

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

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

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

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

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

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

[76]     Their loud applause and aves vehement,

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

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

Angelo

[79]     The heavens give safety to your purposes.

Escalus

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

Duke

[81]     I thank you. Fare you well.

He exits.

Escalus,to Angelo

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

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

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

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

[86]     I am not yet instructed.

Angelo

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

[88]     And we may soon our satisfaction have

[89]     Touching that point.

Escalus

[90]     I’ll wait upon your Honor.

They exit

Notes

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

[29]     Angelo,

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

[31]     That to th’ observer doth thy history

[32]     Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings

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

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

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

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

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

[38]     As if we had them not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      [1]      From fairest creatures we desire increase,

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

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

      [4]      His tender heir might bear his memory.

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

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

      [7]      Making a famine where abundance lies,

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

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

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

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

                                    Spirits are not finely touched

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

[40]     The smallest scruple of her excellence

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

[42]     Herself the glory of a creditor,

[43]     Both thanks and use.

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

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

                                    But I do bend my speech

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

[45]     Hold, therefore, Angelo.

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

[47]     Mortality and mercy in Vienna

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

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

 [50]    Take thy commission.

He hands Angelo a paper.⌝

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

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

Angelo

[51]     Now, good my lord,

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

[53]     Before so noble and so great a figure

[54]     Be stamped upon it.

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

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

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

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

Duke

[55]     No more evasion.

[56]     We have with a leavened and preparèd choice

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

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

[59]     That it prefers itself and leaves unquestioned

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

[61]     As time and our concernings shall importune,

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

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

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

[65]     Of your commissions.

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

Angelo

[66]     Yet give leave, my lord,

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

Duke

[68]     My haste may not admit it.

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

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

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

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

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

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

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

[76]     Their loud applause and aves vehement,

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

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

Notice the insistence of the Duke:

Your scope is as mine own,

[71]     So to enforce or qualify the laws

[72]     As to your soul seems good.

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

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

Now we close out the scene:

Angelo

[79]     The heavens give safety to your purposes.

Escalus

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

Duke

[81]     I thank you. Fare you well.

He exits.

Escalus,to Angelo

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

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

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

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

[86]     I am not yet instructed.

Angelo

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

[88]     And we may soon our satisfaction have

[89]     Touching that point.

Escalus

[90]     I’ll wait upon your Honor.

They exit

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

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

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

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

Measure for Measure Act 1, Scene 1a

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Measure for Measure has provoked a rather mixed appraisal among critics. While the play hinges on a very improbable plot point, it raises questions of morality in a rather pointed manner. I have been fascinated by this play and want to think it through

Scene 1

Enter Duke, Escalus, Lords, ⌜and Attendants.⌝

Duke

 [1]      Escalus.

Escalus

 [2]      My lord.

Duke

 [3]      Of government the properties to unfold

 [4]      Would seem in me t’ affect speech and discourse,

 [5]      Since I am put to know that your own science

 [6]      Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice

 [7]      My strength can give you. Then no more remains

 [8]      But that, to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,

 [9]      And let them work. The nature of our people,

 [10]    Our city’s institutions, and the terms

 [11]    For common justice, you’re as pregnant in

 [12]    As art and practice hath enrichèd any

 [13]    That we remember. There is our commission,

He hands Escalus a paper.⌝

 [14]    From which we would not have you warp.—Call

 [15]    hither,

 [16]    I say, bid come before us Angelo.

An Attendant exits.⌝

 [17]    What figure of us think you he will bear?

 [18]    For you must know, we have with special soul

 [19]    Elected him our absence to supply,

 [20]    Lent him our terror, dressed him with our love,

 [21]    And given his deputation all the organs

 [22]    Of our own power. What think you of it?

Escalus

 [23]    If any in Vienna be of worth

 [24]    To undergo such ample grace and honor,

 [25]    It is Lord Angelo.

This introductory scene is all exposition, typically the dullest part of a story. Let us consider how Shakespeare handles this.

First, the entry of the characters.

Duke

 [1]      Escalus.

Escalus

 [2]      My lord.

We would have the advantage of seeing the way the men are dressed. But the costumes alone would only convey a limited amount of information. This interaction is necessary in any conversation, the two people acknowledge one-another.

We also learn that one character is named “Escalus” and the other character is more important, he is address, “My lord.”

The Duke (we do not necessarily know exactly what his status before this speech):

Duke

 [3]      Of government the properties to unfold

 [4]      Would seem in me t’ affect speech and discourse,

 [5]      Since I am put to know that your own science

 [6]      Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice

 [7]      My strength can give you. Then no more remains

 [8]      But that, to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,

 [9]      And let them work. The nature of our people,

 [10]    Our city’s institutions, and the terms

 [11]    For common justice, you’re as pregnant in

 [12]    As art and practice hath enrichèd any

 [13]    That we remember.

Details

[3]       Of government the properties to unfold

[4]       Would seem in me t’ affect speech and discourse,

There is no need for me to explain [unfold] how our government works. To explain that to you would be an affectation.

[5]       Since I am put to know that your own science

[6]       Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice

[7]       My strength can give you.

Your “science” is your knowledge. You already know more about the government than I could tell you. This particular element is not a significant point in the remainder of the play, so one could see this as perhaps a slight misstep. On the other hand, the Duke is about to put someone else in charge of the state while the Duke leaves. Perhaps we can understand this as flattery meant to soften the fact that another will be given the reigns and not Escalus.

                        Then no more remains

 [8]      But that, to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,

 [9]      And let them work. The nature of our people,

 [10]    Our city’s institutions, and the terms

 [11]    For common justice, you’re as pregnant in

 [12]    As art and practice hath enrichèd any

 [13]    That we remember.

He continues on with the praise of Escalus. But here we have our first pun –which is not apparent on the first encounter as it will be later. Escalus is “pregnant/in art and practice.”  This play will turn upon the question of pregnancy, art (skill) and practice. Also, Escalus is “enriched” in this knowledge.  And to “know” something also has double meaning.

The Duke continues:

There is our commission,

He hands Escalus a paper.⌝

 [14]    From which we would not have you warp.—Call

 [15]    hither,

 [16]    I say, bid come before us Angelo.

The Duke gives instruction to Escalus and tells him he may not vary anything in the direction. The irony here is the question of varying from the strict application of the law is the main moral quandary of this play. Escalus reads the paper and the Duke continues:

An Attendant exits.⌝

 [17]    What figure of us think you he will bear?

 [18]    For you must know, we have with special soul

 [19]    Elected him our absence to supply,

 [20]    Lent him our terror, dressed him with our love,

 [21]    And given his deputation all the organs

 [22]    Of our own power. What think you of it?

This information which Escalus does not have and which he needs. Also, this is all we need to know about the circumstance to permit the play to get going. The Duke asks Escalus whether he agrees with this decision. This allows us to learn this point of exposition, but it is not given mere talk so the play can get going.

It also sets up a dramatic question which underlies the remainder of the play, Is Angelo able to handle this power.

We then here the answer:

Escalus

 [23]    If any in Vienna be of worth

 [24]    To undergo such ample grace and honor,

 [25]    It is Lord Angelo.

There is an interesting ambiguity here. If any be worthy is Angelo. Does this mean that Angelo is the best or that no one is worthy.

Zachery Crofton, Repentance not to be Repented.4

(Continuing with this sermon from the 17th Century from Zachery Crofton.)

That contrition and humiliation are required in repentance is admitted. But this raises the question of Why? Why would be important that one be contrite, that there be humiliation as part of repentance. The answer given by Crofton is that such humiliation/contrition makes us willing and able to change.

The first aspect of the change is that we will come to Christ.

Rearranging his argument somewhat, we see it as follows. If I am feeling content and without compunction for my sin, why would I do anything about it? We don’t change if we do not feel the need to change. While a cognitive appreciation is necessary to change, a cognitive appreciation is never sufficient. We will not act without an emotional push and pull.

Crofton writes this contrition suits us to “engage them to set an esteem on, Christ Jesus, and the remission of sin in him.” Only the seek a physician. Only those who see and feel their will seek mercy.

That seeing myself as being in need drives me to Christ. And it is precisely the person who is in such need who is offered welcome. “The weary and heavy-laden are the men invited to Christ for ease and refreshment; (Matt. 11:28;) for indeed such only seek him, and can be satisfied in him, and duly savour him.”

Another aspect of this contrition is that it gives us a deeper sense of the mercy received. “The deeper the sense of misery, the sweeter is the sense of mercy.” He then compares this to a one who is thirsty, “How acceptable is the fountain of living waters to the chased, panting heart! and the blood of Christ to the thirsty soul and conscience, scorched with the sense of God’s wrath!”

This is why, “The broken and the contrite heart is the only sacrifice acceptable to God. (Psalm 51:17.)”

The second element of the change is the movement away from sin. This is a necessary move, since sin comes to us by nature. We drink sin like water. It is only when the sin begins to “make us sick, [that we be] willing to be rid of it.”

Only one who is sick of sin will be willing to receive instruction which will make us fit to receive instruction. We may hate some knowledge of the sin, but until we hate the desire for the sin, until the sick makes us nauseous we will be unwilling to fully put it away.  When we see our sin well, it makes us willing to undergo the training God will exert to reform our hearts: “Sense of sin is a principle of submission under affliction: “Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39.)”  

We will receive instruction in the way soft wax receives a seal. “A bruised heart is, like soft wax, prepared for divine impression; so that, to the end [that] Christ may be of esteem as a Lord and Saviour.” The one who has a sense of sin which he wishes to escape my be willing to accept Christ as Savior. But only the one who has profound contrition for his sin will accept Christ as Lord.  That second move is perhaps the most critical in repentance. Lot’s wife was willing to flee the city, but she could not help but look back.

He ends this section with a caveat. Contrition is necessary for true repentance. But sometimes people may have contrition without repentance. Sometimes people are sorry, but they do not change. (An analogy here is the parent who loves her child, but will not get sober to care for her child.)

He ends with an eloquent expression of the work of preaching in bringing about repentance:

Preaching repentance is

the opening [of] the blind eye,

and the bringing [of] the prodigal into his right mind;

that, in the sense of his sad estate, he may go unto his father and seek mercy.

The work of the word is to make them sinners of sense, that shall come to Christ for cure; to cast down all proud imaginations, and every high thought which exalteth itself, and so to bring into obedience to Christ; (2 Cor. 10:5;)

to affect men with guilt and danger, that they may with fervency cry, “What shall we do to be saved?”

to convince, that the issues of death will be the end of the way in which they now walk, that they may flee with desire, and return without delay:

in a word, to affect the heart with the high transgressions of God’s holy law,

the disobedience of a gracious Father, and offence done to infiniteness;

that the soul may down on its knees, prostrate itself at the footstool of mercy,

fly to Jesus Christ as its Redeemer, Surety, and alone satisfaction,

and so sue out its pardon by a serious return to God.

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 381–383.

Zachery Crofton, A Repentance not to be Repented.3

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The third conclusion of Crofton concerning repentance is that it is a matter of humiliation. He begins his discuss here:

Sense of and sorrow for sin, as committed against God, are the precursive acts of true repentance.

True repentance, as most divines determine, doth consist in two parts; namely, humiliation, and conversion: the casting down [of] the heart for sin, and the casting off sin: a repenting “for uncleanness,” επι τῃ ακαβαρσιᾳ, (2 Cor. 12:21,) and sin, with grief, shame, and anguish; and repenting “from iniquity,” απο κακιας, (Acts 8:22; Rev. 9:20,) and “from dead works.” (Heb. 6:1.)

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 376. After considering various examples of repentance in Scripture he explains:

So that, according to the expressions of scripture, as well as the experiences of the saints, humiliation of the soul is an essential act, and eminent part, of repentance. And this is that which I in the description do denominate “sense of and sorrow for sin, as committed against God;” thereby intending to note unto you, that the soul must be humbled that will be lifted up by the Lord; and his humiliation doth and must consist of these two parts,—conviction and contrition, sight of and sorrow for sin. (377)

377. This begins with the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction, a recognition that one stands guilty under the law:

For as indeed without the law there is no transgression, so without the knowledge of the law there can be no conviction. Ignorance of divine pleasure is the great obstruction of repentance; and therefore the prince of this world doth daily endeavour to blow out the light of the word, or to blind the eyes of the sons of men, that they may not see and be converted. (378)

He refers to this as the “first part of humiliation”: I stand convicted by the law. It is the personal application which matters here: it is not the knowledge that such and such rule exists, but rather than the law is true and applicable. One could know the law of God and yet still not know conviction. Thus, it must be the Spirit brings to realization, this law applies to me here and now.

The first act of repentance is the falling of the scales from off the sinner’s eyes; the first language of a turning soul is, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6, 18:) (378)

There is more here. Not only does one see the law as applicable, one also sees himself as condemned. Yes, this law applies to me, and I stand condemned:

So that now the soul doth not only assent unto the law as true in all its threats, but applieth them unto himself; confessing [that] unto him belongs shame and confusion, hell and horror, woe and eternal misery; that he knoweth not how to escape; but if God proceed against him, he is most miserable and undone for ever; and so is constrained with anguish of soul to cry out, “What shall I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30.) (379)

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 378.

Now comes the “second part of humiliation”:

The second part, then, of penitential humiliation is contrition, or sorrow for sin as committed against God.—Herein the soul is not only acquainted with, but afflicted for, its guilt; seeth not only that it is a sinner, but sorroweth under, and is ashamed of, so sad and sinful an estate. (380)

This raises a question: Why should sorrow matter? Humans expect sorrow for repentance, because we want an emotional component to know the “I will stop” is real. But why would God seek sorrow?

Sorrow is a component of an actual change of position: the comprehension of guilt under the law is not merely a cognitive recognition (although it is not less). It must entail a real judgment, “this is true and I am guilty.”

A true recognition of guilt would necessarily entail a fear of the guilt and a horror of that God is my judge and adversary:

The stony heart is broken, the adamantine soul dissolved; he rends not his garment, but his heart, and goeth out and weepeth bitterly. He seeth with shame his many abominations; and readeth, with soul-distressing sorrow and anguish, the curse of the law that is due unto him; and considereth, with almost soul-distracting despair, the doleful estate into which his sin hath resolved him: for he seeth God, with whom he is not able to plead, to be highly offended; and therefore must, with Job, confess that he is not able to answer when God reproveth; he is vile, and must lay his hand on his mouth (380)

One aspect of this recognition which makes no sense from the outside is the recognition “I am vile.”  Taken out of its context, it seems perverse. But let us take this from the inside: A human being is created for fellowship with and the blessing of God. We are the image of God and the pinnacle of creation. To be in sin is to be in a drunken stupor. The awakening of conviction is the like the recognition of one awakens in some horrible state, in a crack den, in a garbage heap, in some utterly degrading and disgusting place and thinking, how did I get here.  It is the person who awakens to discover that in his intoxicated state he crashed his car into a van and murdered a family. That is the horror of sin.

Let us continue with the drunk who has killed the children in the drunken crash. We can imagine two men: one who is horrified at the damage he has done and the life that is lost. We can imagine another man angry at the punishment he will face and loss of his own expectations. The moral quality of these two men is quite different.

That is the distinction between true and false repentance.

His sorrow is a sorrow of candour and ingenuity; not so much that he is liable to the lash, and obnoxious to the curse, as that a Father is offended, the image of his God defaced. His grand complaint is, “I have sinned against God;” his soul-affliction and heart-trembling is, “God is offended.”  (380)