"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Christian Universalism – Can We have our Cake and Eat it Too?

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I’m very aware that this is a thin, surface treatment of the question.  The topic engages pretty well all the major themes of faith and salvation, and I’ve only brushed on some areas.  My point – I haven’t done justice to some of the thought, so this is more properly an introductory overview.  I also realized while researching the topic that my own thought is not clear on the question, mostly because I’ve pushed it in to the category of mystery.  I know what is needed for salvation, what comes beyond is just speculation.

I’ll also acknowledge that my division of Universalism into ‘absolute’ and ‘conditional’ is a bit of a contradiction.  The classical position states simply that salvation will involve all, and I was trying to bring out a nuanced point that CS Lewis paints in The Great Divorce.


Universalism: Can Christians Have Their Cake and Eat it Too?  A PBSC Talk, St Stephen the Martyr, Edmonton, 22 February 2015,

A warm welcome and my thanks to you on behalf of the PBSC Edmonton Branch for coming out to join us this afternoon.  I am going to speak on the question of Christian universalism – under this somewhat tongue in cheek title, “Can Christians Have Their Cake and Eat it Too?”  I have to begin with a few definitions, and a few cautions we have to engage fundamental questions about the nature of Heaven and the nature of Hell, what happens after we die, suffering, what it means to be ‘good’, and what God’s gift of free will actually means.  I’m going to carve quite a wide arc through questions of faith as I engage this question of universalism, so please bear with me.

It’s probably best to begin with a bit of a caution.  One person I read in preparing for today was George MacDonald (1824-1905).  MacDonald was a Christian Universalist, although his thought is more nuanced than a simple label can reveal.  In his sermon Justice, MacDonald offers us a worthy caution about what we’re about here today, and a caution I will take particularly seriously:

I have no desire to change the opinion of man or woman.  Let everyone for me hold what he pleases.  But I would do my utmost to disable such as think correct opinion essential to salvation from laying any other burden on the shoulders of true men and women than the yoke of their Master; … Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly; then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly.  One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him.  … [and become] More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth … (George MacDonald, Justice) underlining added

MacDonald cautions us that when we theorize about Christ, we have to keep first and foremost our obedience to Christ lest we fall prey to being “more eager after credible theory than after doing the truth.”  This is an interesting topic, but we must be wary that our interest does not displace the certainty of God’s grace.  My salvation, I take on faith, is assured through my obedience to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and that’s the only really crucial element.  How that might be actually worked out for each of us, is not really defined by Scripture.

Christian Universalism – a Definition

What is Christian Universalism?  I expect we have all encountered this thought, and I also expect that most of us hold to some aspects of universalism.  It is particularly present in the modern church – mostly I think as a reaction to the doctrine of penal substitution, the idea that Christ bore God’s wrath in our stead.  This very Calvinist thought was what MacDonald was reacting to, and he replaced it with the idea that Christ died to save us from our sins, without the need for the Christ to bear God’s wrath.

Christian Universalism, simply stated, is the thought that all people will be ultimately reconciled with God and saved.  That is, there is ultimately no choice involved with salvation, it will happen to all of creation.  There are a variety of different arguments raised for this, but in the end it all comes back to the same thought – a good God would not dispose of any of His very good creation.

The belief has been around as long as Christians, and can be seen in the early writings of Saint Clement of Alexandria and Origen.  Universalism was fairly consistently rejected by the early church.  Universalism experienced a re-birth in the continental reformation, at least partly in reaction to the Calvinist idea that God had pre-ordained those who would be saved and those who would be damned.  There are strains of it found in many reformation theologies, and it continues to be a popular line of reasoning today.

I started out with a caution about labels, and I’ve very close to falling into that trap myself by using the term “Universalist” as a collective.  I’ll set up two types of Universalist to try to pull apart the thought.  At one end of this spectrum we have what we’ll call the absolute Universalist, who attests that all will be saved, regardless of who they are, what they believe, or the state of their heart at the time of death.  At the other end of the spectrum we have what we might call the conditional Universalist, who believes that salvation is a possibility for all humankind, but that there needs to be some exercise of free will required.

The way this thought is usually manifested in modern believers is in this form: “My friend Sally, is the best person I know.  She volunteers in a homeless shelter, and I’ve never heard her utter a bad word about anyone, except, she doesn’t believe in God.  I can’t believe that God would let Sally perish, when she’s so good.”  I’ll also admit to having similar thoughts myself – usually related to my clergy colleagues who hold views that radically differ from mine.  I know them to be good priests, but what impact does their particular belief have on salvation?  This engages the fundamental question of our faith, one that is so outrageous that we spend most of our lives asking the question, “Can it possibly be true?”  And that’s the question of salvation – can it possibly be true that any of us, especially knowing what type of people we really are, can be saved?

Charles Wesley asked this question in the wonderful hymn, And Can It Be, That I Should Gain:

And can it be that I should gain, an interest 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?

What Must I do to be Saved?

So this is a good next step to consider – how can it be that we should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?  MacDonald’s caution is one we have to keep in mind, as the history of Christianity has been one of a process of exclusion and separation.  One count suggests there are now some 41,000 different Christian denominations globally – and most of that has been result of groups of believers separating because of issues of belief.  Let’s look at what we might call the minimum test for salvation – what are we taught we must do to be saved?

From Romans 10: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

From Acts 2: 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

While there are lots of things we can say about the faith, and even more things we can speculate about, the actual high-jump bar of salvation that we have to achieve is set quite low.  In fact, I would say that Christ’s redeeming act was to kick the bar off the props, so that we don’t even need to attempt the jump anymore, but just to walk through the narrow door.  If you believe in your heart, and confess with your lips, surely you will be saved (Mountain Goats, Romans 10:9)…for thru God’s grace we have been saved by faith.  Even the Prophet Joel tells us that, “…it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:23)

Now, accepting that the ‘salvation bar’ is either set quite low, or no longer even present for Christians who believe and seek God, what does this mean for those who do not profess with their lips that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in their hearts?  This will take us a bit deeper in our walk to explore Universalism.

An Anglican Approach

As we go through this process, it is important to acknowledge that we Anglicans bring a unique approach to the question of belief.  We don’t have it all written down in a confessional book, like this example from the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Rather Anglicanism has always embraced a broad middle way, what we usually call the via media.  This leaves us in a position where there is constant tension, almost always between the Catholic and Protestant interpretations of something.  Since our church arose out of the unique English Reformation, and those were the two poles between which the new church had to balance, this is not a surprise.

This pull back and forth is at the heart of Anglicanism.  It is at once our greatest strength, and also our greatest weakness.  It’s our greatest strength because it is what has allowed us to resist, at least until very recently, the motion toward fragmentation as a way of preserving right belief.  It is our greatest weakness because when controversy arises, and someone is asked, “What do Anglicans believe about this?” often our only answer is to say, come and worship with us, and you will see what we believe.  This is embodied in the historic saying, lex orandi, lex credendi, the way of prayer is the way of belief.  The what of our belief is best manifested in the how of our prayer.  We’re left in that state because the only really explicitly Anglican statement of belief we have is in the Articles of Religion.  It means there are places where we will ultimately have to embrace the mystery, because we really can’t know.

Now, the problem with mystery is that we don’t much like it – our preference is for simply stated clear words that tell us what we need to do to be saved.  Yet, as we talk about salvation, there is much we can’t talk about with any authority beyond what Scripture presents us.  What must I do to be saved?  Consider Paul and Silas’ words to their jailer in Philippi when asked that same question:  30 Then [the jailer] brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And [Paul and Silas] said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)  Belief = salvation.  Full stop.

This is a challenge in considering the question of what comes after death, because the Bible is not a detailed manual to the reality of heaven, hell or the ultimate process of salvation.  Scripture sets out for us the things necessary for salvation (Article 6), and the things not set out in Scripture are therefore not requisite to salvation. The distinction here is a bit like buying a car – it comes with an owner’s manual that instructs you on the right way to use and maintain the car.  That manual doesn’t tell you what happens to the car after the end of its useful life, how the various materials will be recycled, what happens to the acid inside the battery, and how the metal will be used to make new things.  The Bible is our owner’s manual about how to live for Christ within a broken world, and only provides us with occasional tantalizing hints about what happens after we are through that fleshy life. It’s an under-determined question.

Scriptural Support for Absolute Universalism?

So, what Scriptural support is there for absolute Universalism?  If I was trying to convince you that the Universalists were correct, I would point you to these passages:

1 Timothy 4:10 “10 For to this end we toil and strive,[b] because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

1 Timothy 2:4 “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

1 Ephesians 1:10 “making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Colossians 1:20 “ For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”

You can see where the Universalist thought arises, because there are texts that suggest salvation may be universal.  As we go on, we’ll see that Scripture is not a unified witness, and not really supportive of absolute Universalism.  For example, if I wanted to convince you that the Universalists were not on to something Scriptural, I might read you this from Matthew:

Matthew 25 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

While there is some Scriptural support for the Universalist position, the largest burden for a Universalist to overcome are the numerous places in Scripture where there is a description of a sorting, or a judging, or a selection of people.  The most difficult text to undo is perhaps this, also from Matthew’s Gospel:

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.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

Absolute Universalism is a position I cannot see supported through the totality of Scripture, even accepting that the Bible doesn’t tell us much about salvation beyond the entry conditions.  There are too many contrary direct statements.  To make the thought consistent with the entire teaching of the New Testament requires some fairly brutal re-interpretation of certain passages, to the point of doing violence to the Greek.

As one example, consider this sentence from Matthew’s Gospel, 25:46, 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   This sentence has parallel structure, contrasting eternal punishment with eternal life.  In both cases the form of the Greek used is identical, the word (aiōnion).  Because of the parallel structure, and the identical grammar, an absolute Universalist would need to undertake some interpretative gymnastics to maintain coherent thought – for example that the same word means different things, or that the ‘eternal punishment’ refers to a metaphoric state while the ‘eternal life’ refers to a real state of being.

As a general rule, whenever someone starts having to perform intricate re-interpretation of Scripture to support a theory, it’s probably time to reject that position.  Almost invariably, teachings that depart from the one faith once received, have at their root some similar sort of textual slight-of-hand.  This is an area of some danger, because our human condition is such that we are constantly seeking to self-justify ourselves so as to avoid any imperative to change to conform ourselves to Christ.  Scriptural slight-of-hand allows us to do that by convincing ourselves we’ve found, at last, a ‘correct’ reading of the Bible.

The biggest challenge I see with the absolute Universalist is the question of free will.  Does our free will, a gift from God, have any meaning if we could not ultimately refuse salvation?  It is a salvation that drags all of humankind, some kicking and screaming, into God’s new creation.  This makes a mockery of the idea of free will.  The second big problem with the absolute position is the question of sin.  What is the possible impact of sin on salvation?  The answer, if we accept an absolute salvation for all, is that sin matters little, along with the idea of repentance.  Essentially, if we know for certain that we will enter into the salvation of Christ, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done, and independent of any contrition, why would we bother with living a good life, or even seeking to evangelise non-believers?  In the end it just wouldn’t matter.

Part of that objection is based in my understanding of the justice of God.  If our God is a just God, there needs to be some accounting for the place of sin and brokenness in our lives.  How is that sin done away with, and how is that brokenness healed?  How is a person who has lived a horrific life, murdering and destroying other’s lives, who arrives at their death bed plump and peaceful and completely self-justified and confident in personal righteousness, enter into God’s rest? (Lewis, The Problem with Pain) If God is a just God, this seems to present a fundamental contradiction.

Wesley’s Model of Progressive Sanctification

The justness of God was what led John Wesley to develop an incremental model of salvation, which makes an interesting counterpoint to the absolute Universalist.  While we are justified by faith (Article 11) Wesley considered that this is but the beginning of the process.  After justification begins the long process of gradual sanctification, whereby God’s perfection is worked out in the believer.  What permits that process is a believer who yearns for God, and seeks godliness in her heart.  It does not mean the total elimination of sin, but rather the start of a gradual process of re-shaping the person to become more like Christ.  The starting point, justification or pardon, begins with our baptism when we are born again in the Holy Spirit.

After justification, gradual sanctification works to take the believer from grace to grace, and to eliminate sin.  The end point of that gradual process is what Wesley called entire, total or utter sanctification.  Utter sanctification reflects the entire elimination of capacity for sin, and the total conversion of the heart into one of godliness.

For some, utter sanctification comes during their lifetime, and these are the people we recognize as the saints.  Wesley taught that the utter goodness of God meant that no sinful thing could come into His presence, and therefore the believers, prior to entering eternal communion with God, would need to complete the process of gradual sanctification by becoming utterly sanctified.  For most of us, utter sanctification comes only after death.  What is particularly interesting about Wesley’s thought, is the acknowledgement that the process of sanctification may only be brought into maturity after death.  More on that in a bit.

Classical Salvation in Narnia

CS Lewis’ fiction reflects both what we might call classical salvation and the conditional Universalist’s model of salvation.  This is fiction, so not written to be definitive, but the variety of models suggests this was an area that Lewis wasn’t completed settled with.  In the Narnia series final book, The Last Battle we see a classical model of the sorting mentioned in Scripture.  As all creatures in creation stream towards Aslan, the great golden lion of Narnia, each looks up and meets his gaze.  Those that react with fear and hatred then disappear into Aslan’s shadow, never to be seen again.  Those that looked on Aslan and loved Him (while sometimes being very frightened) instead pass through a door to Aslan’s right to enter into the new creation.  Listen to the account:

On the grass before them lay their own shadows. But the great thing was Aslan’s shadow. It streamed away to their left, enormous and very terrible. And all this was under a sky that would now be starless for ever…And at last, out of the shadow of the trees, racing up the hill for dear life, by thousands and by millions, came all kinds of creatures—Talking Beasts, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Fauns, Giants, Calormenes, men from Archenland, Monopods, and strange unearthly things from the remote islands or the unknown Western lands. And all these ran up to the doorway where Aslan stood…The creatures came rushing on, but as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred… And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which … streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.

There is more than an echo of a number of Gospel passages in that fictional retelling, and the darkness of Aslan’s shadow strikes me as the ‘outer darkness’ and place of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ we read of in Matthew chapter 22, for many are called but few are chosen.  Lewis doesn’t seem to include free will in the sorting, as the looking on Aslan and the reaction is compelled.  This reflects a more traditional judgement encounter as we hear of in the Gospels.

Conditional Universalism in The Great Divorce

The thought of the person I’ve called a conditional Universalist is more nuanced than the absolute position we’ve already discussed.  The conditional Universalist sees the potential of salvation for all, but that act still requires some exercise of free will, to the extent that some will chose never to enter Heaven.  So conditional universalism would see the potential of salvation open to everyone, but not necessarily chosen by everyone.  This seems to be closer to the position George MacDonald takes, as his reaction is primarily against the meaning of the crucifixion.  He continues to affirm that Christ’s act on the cross was to defeat evil and death, and to open up a path to salvation for all humanity.  That is, to open up the potential of salvation for all, but not necessarily all will choose it.

The conditional Universalist is manifest through Lewis’ fictional description of Heaven and Hell, in The Great Divorce.  This is an entertaining little book, and includes George MacDonald as a character.  In The Great Divorce Lewis portrays the visit of a sleeping dream to both Heaven and Hell.  Hell is an infinite extent of rainy east-side London, a place where it is always just before the dawn, and the sun never rises.  People live there as long as they wish, but you are able to get onto a bus which will take you from Hell, to what Lewis calls “The Valley of the Shadow of Life” or near-Heaven.  Once the citizen of Hell arrives in near-Heaven, they discover that they are insubstantial, mere ghosts before the utter realness of Heaven.  So much so that even the act of walking on the grass is painful, for the blades of grass don’t bend underneath a ghost’s foot.

The narrator witnesses a number of encounters between the ghosts and the ‘solid people’ who are the residents of Heaven come to guide them.  In all of those encounters, the ghost decides that they must return to Hell.  My personal favorite is an Anglican bishop whose particular sin is that of the idolatry of intellectualism.  The representative of heaven says to the bishop: “We know nothing of religion here: we think only of Christ.  We know nothing of speculation.  Come and see.  I will bring you to Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facthood.”

The bishop responds: “I should object very strongly to describing God as a ‘fact’.”  When asked if he believes in God, the bishop answers, “Exists?  What does Existence mean?…God is, for me, something purely spiritual.”  (43) At the end of the interchange the bishop decides he must return to Hell for he is a member of a Theological Society and has a paper to present, discussing what Jesus could have accomplished if he had lived to a ripe old age.  Some things never change.

While Lewis’ fictional writing on the topic engages a degree of Universalism, I’m not sure that Lewis could be simply called a Universalist.  What he describes is an afterlife where the choices remain open for those who are in Hell.

As the narrator questions the guide, the guide finally tells him that Hell and Heaven are incomprehensible to a person that is still constrained by both choice and time.  The guide says there are only two kinds of people in the end: “those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’  All that are in hell choose it.  Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.  No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek find.  To those who knock it is opened.” (75)  This sounds a bit like the text of Romans 1:24, where God’s response to people’s rejection is to deliver them into their sin.  We will receive what we most desire.

Later on the narrator asks MacDonald’s character directly if he is a Universalist, and in Lewis’ imagined answer MacDonald basically replies that such a question is nearly meaningless to a person who is not already beyond space and time, that is, already dead:

“…it’s ill talking of such questions.  … Because all answers deceive.  If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain.  The choice of ways is before you.  Neither is closed.  Any man may choose eternal death.  Those who choose it will have it.  But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be … when there are no more possibilities left but only the real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears.  Time is the very lens through which ye see – small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope – something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all.  That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. … Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition.” (140-141) underlining added

The reality of our inquiry today is that we are attempting to grasp the eternal while looking through the wrong end of our binoculars…and so everything we see is smaller, distorted, and only a shadow of the reality we are trying to grasp.  This is a good caution to keep in mind whenever we attempt to plumb the depths of Scripture for answers like the nature of salvation, as it is a misuse to look for certainty in a book that is far more about how we are to live our lives today, than how we will be invited to live our lives in the hereafter.

And where does this leave us, and our good friend Sally who denies the existence of God but lives a godlier life than most Christians we know?  Well, it does not provide much of a solution to the question we started with.  As for Sally, and my clergy colleagues, and indeed myself, the best I can say is I don’t know.  I know that Jesus said he was the ‘way the truth and the life’ and that ‘no one comes to the Father except through Him’ (John 14:6).  I know that my salvation is dependent on that belief in my heart, and my confession with my lips.  How that might or might not be relevant to Sally, or to those who have never heard the Gospel preached, I don’t really know.  It may be that Lewis’s fiction is closer to the reality than we know – that the choice to opt for Christ is one that will be presented to us after death, even if we had rejected God in life.

That is an unsatisfying place to end, with an admission of unknowing.  This is why it is so critical to trust in God, and to believe in the Christ.  What I do know is that in spite of my unknowing, my blessed assurance rests with the same thing Charles Wesley focused on in the conclusion to the hymn:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

thine eye diffused a quickening ray;

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

my chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

 

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.

I thank you for your patience.  Amen.

 


 

Extended Quotations Used Today

 

George MacDonald on teaching and theories of faith:

 

I have no desire to change the opinion of man or woman.  Let everyone for me hold what he pleases.  But I would do my utmost to disable such as think correct opinion essential to salvation from laying any other burden on the shoulders of true men and women than the yoke of their Master; and such burden, if already oppressing any, I would gladly lift.  Let the Lord teach them, I say.  A man who has not the mind of Christ – and no man has the mind of Christ except him who makes it his business to obey him – cannot have correct opinions concerning him; neither, if he could, would they be of any value to him: he would be nothing the better, he would be the worse for having them.  Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly; then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly.  One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him.  In teaching men, they have not taught them Christ, but taught them about Christ.  More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth, the have speculated in a condition of heart in which it was impossible they should understand; they have presumed to explain a Christ whom years and years of obedience could alone have made them able to comprehend. (George MacDonald, Justice)

 

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle:

On the grass before them lay their own shadows. But the great thing was Aslan’s shadow. It streamed away to their left, enormous and very terrible. And all this was under a sky that would now be starless for ever.

The light from behind them (and a little to their right) was so strong that it lit up even the slopes of the Northern Moors. Something was moving there. Enormous animals were crawling and sliding down into Narnia: great dragons and giant lizards and featherless birds with wings like bat’s wings. They disappeared into the woods and for a few minutes there was silence. Then there came—at first from very far off—sounds of wailing and then, from every direction, a rustling and a pattering and a sound of wings. It came nearer and nearer. Soon one could distinguish the scamper of little feet from the padding of big paws, and the clack-clack of light little hoofs from the thunder of great ones. And then one could see thousands of pairs of eyes gleaming. And at last, out of the shadow of the trees, racing up the hill for dear life, by thousands and by millions, came all kinds of creatures—Talking Beasts, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Fauns, Giants, Calormenes, men from Archenland, Monopods, and strange unearthly things from the remote islands or the unknown Western lands. And all these ran up to the doorway where Aslan stood.

This part of the adventure was the only one which seemed rather like a dream at the time and rather hard to remember properly afterwards. Especially, one couldn’t say how long it had taken. Sometimes it seemed to have lasted only a few minutes, but at others it felt as if it might have gone on for years. Obviously, unless either the Door had grown very much larger or the creatures had suddenly grown as small as gnats, a crowd like that couldn’t ever have tried to get through it. But no one thought about that sort of thing at the time.

The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Beasts, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognised one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head. Among the happy creatures who now came crowding round Tirian and his friends were all those whom they had thought dead. There was Roonwit the Centaur and Jewel the Unicorn, and the good Boar and the good Bear and Farsight the Eagle, and the dear Dogs and the Horses, and Poggin the Dwarf.

“Further in and higher up!” cried Roonwit and thundered away in a gallop to the West. And though they did not understand him, the words somehow set them tingling all over. The Boar grunted at them cheerfully. The Bear was just going to mutter that he still didn’t understand, when he caught sight of the fruit trees behind them. He waddled to those trees as fast as he could and there, no doubt, found something he understood very well. But the Dogs remained, wagging their tails and Poggin remained, shaking hands with everyone and grinning all over his honest face. And Jewel leaned his snowy white head over the King’s shoulder and the King whispered in Jewel’s ear. Then everyone turned his attention again to what could be seen through the Doorway.

Charles Wesley, And Can it Be, That I Should Gain

 

  1. And can it be that I should gain

an interest 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?

Amazing love! How can it be

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

  1. ‘Tis mystery 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.

‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;

let angel minds inquire no more.

 

  1. 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!

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,

for O my God, it found out me!

 

  1. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,

fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

thine eye diffused a quickening ray;

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

my chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

 

  1. 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.

Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,

and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

 

Scripture (ESV):

 

From Romans 10: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

 

From Ephesians 2: 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.

 

From Acts 2: 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

From Titus 3: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 

From Luke 13: 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

 

From John 10: All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

 

Articles of Religion:

XI.OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN.

WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

 

XXVIII. OF THE LORD’S SUPPER.

THE Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper of the Lord is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

 

XXIX. OF THE WICKED WHICH EAT NOT THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE USE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER.

THE Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

 

John Wesley, The Scripture Way of Salvation, Sermon 43

 

  1. But we are at present concerned only with that salvation which the Apostle is directly speaking of. And this consists of two general parts, justification and sanctification.

 

Justification is another word for pardon. It is the forgiveness of all our sins; and , what is necessarily implied therein, our acceptance with God. The price whereby this hath been procured for us (commonly termed “the meritorious cause of our justification”), is the blood and righteousness of Christ; or, to express it a little more clearly, all that Christ hath done and suffered for us, till He “poured out His soul for the transgressors.” The immediate effects of justification are, the peace of God, a “peace that passeth all understanding,” and a “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God” “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

 

  1. And at the same time that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins. In that instant we are born again, born from above, born of the Spirit: there is a real as well as a relative change. We are inwardly renewed by the power of God. We feel “the love of God shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”; producing love to all mankind, and more especially to the children of God; expelling the love of the world, the love of pleasure, of ease, of honour, of money, together with pride, anger, self-will, and every other evil temper; in a word, changing the earthly, sensual, devilish mind, into “the mind which was in Christ Jesus.”

 

  1. How naturally do those who experience such a change imagine that all sin is gone; that it is utterly rooted out of their heart, and has no more any place therein! How easily do they draw that inference, “I feel no sin; therefore, I have none: it does not stir; therefore it does not exist: it has no motion; therefore, it has no being!”

 

  1. But it is seldom long before they are undeceived, finding sin was only suspended, not destroyed. Temptations return, and sin revives; showing it was but stunned before, not dead. They now feel two principles in themselves, plainly contrary to each other; “the flesh lusting against the Spirit”; nature opposing the grace of God. They cannot deny, that although they still feel power to believe in Christ, and to love God; and although His “Spirit” still “witnesses with their spirits, that they are children of God”; yet they feel in themselves sometimes pride or self-will, sometimes anger or unbelief. They find one or more of these frequently stirring in their heart, though not conquering; yea, perhaps, “thrusting sore at them that they may fall”; but the Lord is their help.

 

  1. How exactly did Macarius, fourteen hundred years ago, describe the present experience of the children of God: “The unskilful,” or unexperienced, “when grace operates, presently imagine they have no more sin. Whereas they that have discretion cannot deny, that even we who have the grace of God may be molested again. For we have often had instances of some among the brethren, who have experienced such grace as to affirm that they had no sin in them; and yet, after all, when they thought themselves entirely freed from it, the corruption that lurked within was stirred up anew, and they were wellnigh burned up.”

 

  1. From the time of our being born again, the gradual work of sanctification takes place. We are enabled “by the Spirit” to “mortify the deeds of the body,” of our evil nature; and as we are more and more dead to sin, we are more and more alive to God. We so on from grace to grace, while we are careful to “abstain from all appearance of evil,” and are “zealous of good works,” as we have opportunity, doing good to all men; while we walk in all His ordinances blameless, therein worshipping Him in spirit and in truth; while we take up our cross, and deny ourselves every pleasure that does not lead us to God.

 

  1. It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification; for a full salvation from all our sins, –from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief; or, as the Apostle expresses it, “go unto perfection.” But what is perfection The word has various senses: here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul. It is love “rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in everything giving thanks.”

 

An unused snip of text that was lost in the final edit:

 

I would be bold in stating that the labelling of others is a thought process that is not respectful of historic Anglicanism.  Our faith tradition grew out of the English Reformation, and not the continental reformation, and so it is a unique expression of Christian belief.  Anglicanism has always represented a broad middle way of faith, what is sometimes called the via media, which had to somehow bring together very disparate perspectives on aspects of Christianity.

 

There’s no better example of this than the Eucharist itself.  I’ve worshiped with brothers and sisters that range in real belief from Calvinism (that is anti-sacramental in calling communion a ‘memorial’) to a fully Catholic belief in transubstantiation (that the bread and wine undergo a physical transformation) and the sacrifice of the Mass (that each celebration is a sacrificial act in of itself).  That holding together of broadly separated perspectives is reflected in Cranmer’s prayer of consecration:

 

who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memorial of that his precious death, until his coming again.

 

You can hear the balancing that is taking place in the remembrance of salvation history: from the very Catholic (that Christ’s act, and the Eucharistic act itself was a sacrifice and oblation) to the very Calvinist (a perpetual memorial).  So what do you believe?  Is the Eucharist a primarily memorial activity, where we recall the last supper in the same way we might recall any significant event in the past?  Or is the Eucharist effectively a sacrificial activity where we re-enact the sacrifice of Christ?  Does the bread and wine undergo some form of transformation, or is the effectiveness of the bread and wine dependent fully on the state of heart of the recipient?  When you start to ask the detailed questions, most of us will discover that our beliefs about many parts of our faith reflect a wide variety of traditions.

 

Perhaps the most important thing about the Eucharist is not what we might think or believe is happening on the altar, or what happens to the bread and wine in any scientific sense, but rather that act of gathering as followers of Christ to partake in this common worship.  What unifies us is not right commonly-held belief about the ontological status of the bread and wine, but the gathering of the faithful to receive the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood in faith (whatever that might mean).  It requires that we embrace a certain amount of mystery.

 

 

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Written by sameo416

February 22, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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