Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jesus the Indicative

"Jesus was a revealer of the laws which underlie the universe.  He seldom used the imperative, almost never the subjunctive, almost entirely the indicative."  -E. Stanley Jones, The Word Became Flesh, p. 37.

Can anyone confirm the accuracy of this statement?  Has anyone counted up the number of times Jesus used the indicative in comparison to the subjunctive and imperative?  Is this a meaningful difference?

The imperative is a command (You do this!)  The subjunctive can be an exhortation in some forms (Let us do this!)  The subjunctive also expresses deliberation (should I do this?) and probability (he might possibly do this.)  

If Jesus seldom commanded, then it would make those occasions when he did all the more striking.  When and about which subjects was Jesus less than emphatic, and what does that tell us about his ministry and teachings?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brother Lawrence's confession of sin

Found a little gem regarding Brother Lawrence's method for confessing his sins.  It’s in Wesley’s Christian Library, v. 23, from CONVERSATION 2: Sept. 28, 1666.--
“That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, 'I shall never do otherwise, if thou leave me to myself; it is thou must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.' That after this, he soon found. himself in peace.”

“That he was very sensible of his faults, but he was not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to GOD, and when he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.”
I looked for a similar quick move from contrition to consolation in Wesley’s other publications.  The closest example I found is a Charles poem on Luke 13:3--
“Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”—[Luke] 13:3.
1 O what a life is mine!
Backward I cast mine eye,
And trembling own the truth divine,
“I must repent, or die!”
But him, who tells me so,
Highly extolled I see
The godly sorrow to bestow,
The godly love on me.
2 Saviour, and Prince, appear
To break this stubborn heart,
And then to bid my guilty fear
And unbelief depart;
While at thy feet I grieve,
From all my sins release,
The sense of thy salvation give,
The kingdom of thy peace.

I find Brother Lawrence’s confession delightful.  He is mindful of his sins, however he is not preoccupied with his helplessness.  He is preoccupied with love for God and trust in God’s power and grace.  

John did discuss the feeling of helplessness in Sermon 14, "The Repentance of Believers," but given that this sermon is not about the sense of peace that follows godly sorrow, it is no surprise that the sermon does not contain a lengthy discussion of assurance of forgiveness.  

Better to keep the two (guilt and assurance) in mind for the reader, I think.  This way a balance is maintained, and the reader avoids emphasizing one and ignoring the other.  Lawrence and Charles did a better job of maintaining this balance in comparison to John.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Communal Living in the Wesleyan tradition

Forming a Christian community that pooled material resources into a common fund was an ideal Wesley expressed in writing but did not implement throughout the Methodist Connexion.  Randy Maddox's article provides a summary of Wesley's argument that the first church described in the book of Acts was the ideal every Christian going on to perfection should strive to emulate.  This perspective is found in his doctrinal Notes for Acts 4:32--
And the multitude of them that believed - Every individual person were of one heart and one soul - Their love, their hopes, their passions joined: and not so much as one - In so great a multitude: this was a necessary consequence of that union of heart; said that aught of the things which he had was his own - It is impossible any one should, while all were of one soul. So long as that truly Christian love continued, they could not but have all things common.
I've discovered an intentional community in Todd, NC founded by a UMC--  The website doesn't indicate whether or not Wesleyan theology is an organizing principle for their life together.  Are you aware of any other intentional UM communities?

What besides holding all things in common would mark a community as distinctively Wesleyan?  Frequent communion would have to be on the list.  A commitment to loving God and Neighbor and using the means of grace to mature in a faith that works by love is another given.  Class meetings.  Meals together, a common house, community garden?

In your opinion, is there any interest in fulfilling this part of Wesley's vision for the Methodists?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Reproving Sinners as a Means of Grace.

Discourses 3 and 6 on the Sermon on the Mount list activities that Wesley considered works of mercy:

Giving alms, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, assisting the stranger, visiting those that are sick or in prison, comforting the afflicted, instructing the ignorant, reproving the wicked,  exhorting and encouraging the well-doer.

Unlike Discourse 6, doing good to others’ bodies and souls is not explicitly designated as a means of grace in Discourse 3, however the following statement does imply that when we engage in works of mercy, God’s grace is working through us—
This power [to do good to the soul], indeed, belongeth unto God. It is He only that changes the heart, without which every other change is lighter than vanity. Nevertheless, it pleases Him who worketh all in all, to help man chiefly by man; to convey his own power, and blessing, and love, through one man to another.

Wesley’s Notes for Ephesians 5:13 also implicitly identify reproving sin as a means of grace. Paul’s statement is intriguing—
τὰ δὲ πάντα ἐλεγχόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ φωτὸς φανεροῦται,              
            all        exposed     by           light     is lit up  
πᾶν γὰρ τὸ φανερούμενον φῶς ἐστιν    
all            that lights up         light     is
(John 3: 20 and 21 contain similar themes of exposure by an illuminating light.  In the case of the gospel, Jesus is identified as the light that can expose the nature of human deeds.)

In Wesley’s opinion when Christians reprove sin, heavenly light is working through them.  This is not an explicit biblical precedent for Wesley’s claim that reproving sin is a means of grace, but it comes close.