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A Distinction for Justification by Faith Alone in Maximus the Confessor

The Byzantine saint Maximus the Confessor teaches, in Ad Thalassium 6, ‘On the Grace of Holy Baptism’,

The manner of birth from God within us is two-fold: the one bestows the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency in those who are born of God; the other introduces, wholly by active exertion, that grace which deliberately reorients the entire free choice of the one being born of God toward the God who gives birth. The first bears the grace, present in potency, through faith alone; but the second, beyond faith, also engenders in the knower the sublimely divine likeness of the One known, that likeness being effected precisely through knowledge.

Compare Richard Hooker in his ‘Learned Discourse on Justification’:

The righteousnes wherewith we shalbe clothed in the world to come, is both perfecte and inherente: that whereby here we are justified is perfecte but not inherente: that whereby we are sanctified, inherent but not perfect.

Like Maximus, Hooker speaks of a grace that is perfect, or entirely present, by faith alone; like Maximus, he also distinguishes it from another grace that involves active exertion, which he calls the righteousness of sanctification.

A Boy Soprano, Not a Woman

Countertenor:
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
(Isaiah 40.11)

Boy Soprano:
Come unto him, all ye that labour, come unto him that are heavy laden, and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him, for he is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
(Matthew 11.28–29)

This is why you can’t just replace a boy soprano with a woman. What you need is the purity of a child, who could be a shepherd boy, singing to you the truth of God.

The Two-Document Hypothesis on the Synoptics: Q or No Q?

The Two-Document Hypothesis on the Synoptic Gospels is one I find attractive in various ways, but ultimately I think the more parsimonious account is:

  1. Mark was written first.
  2. Matthew and Luke are both based on Mark.
  3. Luke also draws on Matthew to fill out what he thinks is missing from Mark, but he recontextualizes some Matthean material to articulate what he wants to say to his own audience.

This account agrees substantially with the Two-Document Hypothesis. Of these three assertions, 1 and 2 are also part of the Two-Document Hypothesis. The verbal agreement (1) of all three synoptics, (2) of Matthew with Mark against Luke, and (3) of Luke with Mark against Matthew – but only in a few places of Luke and Matthew against Mark – suggest strongly that Matthew and Luke both based their gospel accounts on Mark and not on each other. That is, Matthew was not based on Luke, nor Luke on Matthew; still less is the structure of the textual similarities explained by a common oral tradition alone. In this much I agree with key propositions of the Two-Document Hypothesis.

The lack of direct evidence for the very existence of a written ‘Q’ source for Matthew and Luke, however, leads me to lean strongly against it. The mainly v-shaped dependency structure of Mark, Matthew, and Luke is something we can identify because we actually have Mark as a basis of comparison; for Q, we have no such evidence. If for the sake of argument we grant that there is such a Q document, it is just as easy to say that Q borrowed the same material from Matthew as Luke did, or else the same material from Luke as Matthew did: the lack of comparative textual evidence from an actually extant document gives us little basis for asserting confidently the direction of borrowing. Still less am I inclined to conclude firmly that there was a Q document upon which both Matthew and Luke drew.

On a higher level, I also think it highly unlikely that, as Q proponents seem to suppose, there was a Q document without a Passion and Resurrection narrative. Such is the nature of the Q document people have proposed as a source for Matthew and Luke, but a document has itself to have been highly respected – on par with Mark – to have been a textual source for not one but two of the Gospels. To early Christians, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth about the inauguration and present experience of the age to come mattered only because his resurrection from the dead proved his identity as God’s Christ rather than as one more failed christic claimant; a Q without the Christian conviction of Christ’s resurrection, however, is not a text that two Gospels are likely to have used in the manner alleged by proponents of the Two-Document Hypothesis. On the other hand, it is even more problematic to suppose that a Q document had its own Passion and Resurrection narrative, but was not substantially used as a source in the corresponding parts of Matthew and Luke. These considerations, then, also suggest an alternative to the existence of a Q source for parts that Matthew and Luke have in common but did not take from Mark.

The few major agreements between Matthew and Luke on things not present in Mark, moreover, are not features that I think are well explained by borrowing from a hypothetical Q text. For example, both Matthew and Luke have ‘prophesy, who is it who struck you?’ (Matthew 26.68; Luke 22.64) rather than Mark’s ‘prophesy’ (Mark 14.65). But Q is usually posited as a document of Jesus’s sayings, somewhat like the ‘Gospel of Thomas’. Uncharacteristically for the character usually attributed to Q as as source for Matthew-Luke commonalities, the clause ‘who is it who struck you?’ is an extensive verbal correspondence of Matthew and Luke not in one of Jesus’s memorable sayings but in the Passion narrative. Either this clause comes from Q, or it comes from some other written source common to Matthew and Luke, or it does not come from a written source other than one of the four Gospels.

More plausible than a common but independent borrowing from a hypothetical Q by both Matthew and Luke, I think, is an adaptation by Luke of material from Matthew. Luke’s declared audience (‘most excellent Theophilus’, 1.3) and asides for the understanding of Gentile-born believers suggests at least one motivation for adaptation for an otherwise foreign audience. His placing of many unique parables into a travel narrative, with several reminders of Jesus’s sense of resolve in his purposeful march to Jerusalem, also suggests a sophisticated readiness to place sayings into narrative frame contexts suited to his literary purpose. Luke’s Gospel, which is the longest Gospel whereas Mark is the shortest, has almost as few citations of the Old Testament as Mark. If Matthew is written as a Gospel to the Hebrews, interpreting Jesus and his teaching by more direct citation of the Old Testament, Luke is a Gospel to the Gentiles whose author interprets Jesus’s teachings by arranging them in narrative contexts of his own choosing. Matthew and Luke are both based on Mark, but their differences in audience lead to substantial differences in their texts.

Judge Me, O Lord

Judgement is often disparaged, but Psalm 35 says,

Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness : and let them not triumph over me.
Let them not say in their hearts, There, there, so would we have it : neither let them say, We have devoured him.

With this sentiment, this desire to be judged, is aligned N. T. Wright’s claim in Surprised by Hope (HarperCollins, 2008), 141, that the main point to notice in John 5.22–30 is that ‘all the future judgement is highlighted basically as good news, not bad’. The sacrifice of Christ, then, is not at odds with judgement, but is a crucial part of God’s righteous judgement, restoring the world to peace with God and of one piece with the final justification of the Last Day, of which judgement Christian believers now joyfully partake by faith. Wright also says, 142, that in 1 Corinthians the Eucharist is also an anticipation of God’s good judgement: ‘eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus means confronting here and now the one who is the judge as well as the savior of all’.

That the judgement is fearsome – some who took it in sacrilege, God smote and slew – does not change its proper nature as a powerful means of blessing, uniting the Church to her Lord and changing her into the fulness of his glorified body. I used to be puzzled by Psalm 35 and other such psalms (cf. Psalm 7.8), observing what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10.31), but in view of my union with Christ I now mark instead how sweet it is to be changed and delivered by his judgement from the power of sin. The God whose dreadful hands formed the dry land (Psalm 95.5) is the same God whose hand cares for his sheep (95.7), who extends to me the body of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. It is not God who changes, but we ourselves as we are turned toward him or away from him. So I view the holy fire of God’s judgement as the fire of heaven to those who are saved and as the fire of Gehenna to those who perish; or, to use a metaphor from St Paul, ‘we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life’ (2 Corinthians 2.15–16).

This, to me, is the resurrection power inside me. I don’t feel it at every moment, of course. But when I sin and come back to acknowledge the God who is saving me, I try to remember that the burning inside me is not to my damnation, but rather to my salvation. As the Book of Common Prayer says, the burden of my sins – which I often don’t feel – is intolerable; but in the silence God speaks and shows me what burden is lifted from me because I am judged in Christ and share in his justification by the Father when he raised him from the dead. This resurrection is indeed, as Wright says, 193, a ‘promise of new creation’ that is about the mission of the Church. When the Father raised the Son from the dead ‘and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come’ (Ephesians 1.20–21), he also gave the Church a promise of an exceedingly great power, according to that same working of the power of his might which he exercised in the resurrection, and thus he ‘hath put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ (1.22–23).

In all the discouragements of life, these promises of God encourage me with the hope of his coming judgement, which by the Holy Spirit already convicts the world of sin. As the poem ‘Ave verum corpus’ says to the true incarnate body of Christ, ‘esto nobis prægustatum in mortis examine’: ‘be for us a foretaste in the trial of death’. My foretaste of his judgement, in what the ancients call his ‘awful mysteries’, is a matter of fear and trembling; but it’s also in his holiness that I find his love, by which I can live to know it better tomorrow than I know it today.

Spring and Summer Tang Dynasty Hanfu for Waifu

Spring and summer waifu on a Sunday or other holy day, with cloth ready to cover her head for prayer as the Apostle says. Tang dynasty ruqun in the style of the Wu Zetian period, according to hanfu gallery.

Ideal Woman in Personality and Attitude

A chastity memorial arch in China.

On Curious Cat: What is the ideal attractive woman in terms of personality and attitude? You praised submissive women before, but what does that entail, and how do submissive women behave?

To me, the most important thing in a woman is that she be (1) in due submission to the word of God and (2) honest about herself, her weaknesses, and her true feelings. These two requirements are related to the twofold knowledge John Calvin says is the most important in life: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. These two things done, the rest will be as well.

To know God is to know how far higher his ways are than our own ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts; for the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. Since the knowledge of God is something in which we grow, not by mere learning and making of many books, of which there is no end, but rather by obeying what we do know by the power of the Holy Ghost and thus feeling the life of Christ grow within ourselves, it is fundamental that a wife obey whatever she does know of God from his holy word. Obeying the word of God, she stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. Whatever the Lord commands, that must she doggedly do regardless of what it takes, even if she must kill or die to do it. This is the example of St Mary, St Perpetua, and many others who have lived in obedience to the Holy Ghost and been glorified by God in the Church. Thus, knowing that she has to fear not man but God, she must know and obey what St Peter says:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Being humble before the Lord her God, she will know it is to him first and foremost that she submits, because to him she owes her entire life, and only second does she submit to her husband; thus she will also know that she submits to her husband as to the Lord, and that she may disobey him only in matters in which obedience to her husband and lord is disobedience to the Lord. Her trust will not be in her husband’s virtue, nor in her own ability to manipulate him with her womanly wiles, but in the Lord’s unbreakable word. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. Her husband is wise to seek her perspective, because she draws her strength from submission to the Lord and her heart is at peace with the Lord’s love for those who trust in him. She will submit to her husband with courage, not because quiet subjection to a sinning husband is easy, but because the Lord has commanded it and promised the heavenly blessing of communion with himself to those who chastely obey. She will be diligent to obey what she does know, quick to acknowledge what she does not know, and diligent to find out what she does not know. Intellectually, this means she must be humble and willing to learn, not self-assured in what she does know.

For besides knowing how high God is, she must also know herself and ‘the lowliness of his handmaiden’. She is no more entitled to a husband than I am to a wife. If she knows no merit of mine makes me always worthy of reverence, she has also to know that no merit of hers makes her always worthy of love: rather, it is the holiness of Christ that calls me to love her always, and her to reverence me always. For this reason, she shall not even contemplate divorce. Rather than blaming others for her own weaknesses, she must bear in mind that she is responsible before God for her own deeds. And so, rather than dissembling or cloaking her sins before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father, she must – as the Prayer Book says – confess them with an humble, lowly, pænitent, and obedient heart, to the end that she may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy. To do this well, it is good that she confess her sins daily before God, at both Morning and Evening Prayer, not merely to satisfy a form but to bare her heart before God and be shown the mirror of the soul. For she who has been shown her self by the mirror of God’s word, and acknowledged the truth before God, is not slow to own her thoughts and attitudes before her husband. She does not accuse others when she faces troubles, but her spirit is quieted by her knowledge of herself before her God. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

If a wife show the character of St Monica, entrusting herself to the Lord even when her husband and her son do not obey the word of God, modestly relying not on the seductions of Eve but on the power of Christ, can her husband repine? Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

/Brunch/ Is a Strange Way to Spell /Dim Sum/

Iʼm Chinese. What we do is not called brunch. We have the apotheosis of all that is called brunch, as high above brunch as the heavens are above the earth.

Jesus, King of Israel, Saviour of the Nations by the Cross

palm-sunday

Sermon, Sunday Next Before Easter (Palm Sunday), on John 12.12–36.

Peace be to you, brethren. Today, David and the pastor are in the Holy Land, so I am preaching instead. But let our hearts follow them and other pilgrims to the Holy Land, back to the events of Palm Sunday 2000 years ago, things that by the Holy Spirit are alive to those who believe and bring them peace.

Today, the King of Israel rides to Jerusalem. Today, the prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled. Today, the disciples do not understand, but they will. The King of Israel has come to claim his own, and his own is all the nations of the earth, and all the nations of the earth will be taught by his disciples, that they may look upon the one lifted up on the Cross, and in his blood be saved.

As the pilgrims are gathered for the feast of the Passover, to remember how God led all Israel out of Ægypt, Jesus comes into Jerusalem seated on a young ass. O daughter of Zion, fear not! he says silently. Why does the daughter of Jerusalem fear? Because of Israel’s enemies, oppressing the people of God. But God has said through his prophet, ‘I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes.’ The Lord has promised, and he delivers: fear not, he says to his people, because thy King cometh unto thee, just, and having salvation. Israel is freed from fear, because the one who is just, the one who saves, is here. This is what Jesus shouts without a word, because he rides in on an ass’s colt.

But anyone can claim to be the Lord’s Anointed King by doing what the people suppose that the Christ will do; not everyone can make good on this claim. Many kings have inscribed their names and been erased by history; many kings have set themselves up and crumbled into the dust. I can proclaim myself king, and no one will believe it. Or many false messiahs have called themselves kings, whom God has destroyed. But Jesus, without speaking, has the testimony of others, bearing witness that he called Lazarus out of his grave and raised him from the dead; and by this the people have reason to hope that he is the promised King to deliver Israel.

Do you even dare to hope for a king who can raise the dead? This Jesus has done what the people have barely dared to hope. The people feel the longing of their hearts. They come to meet Jesus. By the testimony of the Pharisees who hate Jesus, the whole world has gone after him. The people see Jesus, joy of man’s desiring, because he has exceeded what man by his own imagination is able to hope. Perhaps they do not know by what nature can tell them, but by the revelation of the prophets they dare to hope.

And there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast and said, Sir, we would see Jesus. Do you see what kind of king Jesus is? Here he is, the King of Israel, here to free his people Israel from the oppression of the heathen, of the Phœnicians in Tyre and Sidon, of the Philistines in Ashkelon and Gaza and Ekron; and yet here come the Greeks, conquerors of the nations, desiring to see this King of Israel. If a foreign king is come to his own people, what is that to you? You may like the spectacle of a king’s procession, you may be glad for the people of another country that their king will deliver them from their enemies, but do you ask to see this king yourself? There are kings, and then there are kings like this. Let the prophet Zechariah declare to you what kind of king Jesus is: ‘And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.’ He makes wars to cease for his people, and to the nations he speaks peace. Once all authority in heaven and on earth is given to him, his dominion stretches from sea to sea. Is this the desire of nations, the king you have waited for, and the king who satisfies the longings of the hearts of your friends? Was your heart made for him?

Jesus came to make the whole earth his kingdom, the kingdom of reconciliation between enemies, of peace and justice. If Jesus is the king of your heart, think of your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your friends. These are made by God, and sinners before him; remembered with God, and sinners before him; beloved of God, and sinners before him. Think of their hopes and dreams, and their need to be just and to have justice done for them, an extraordinary justice that can raise the dead from hell. For Israel needs no ordinary saviour, and the earth needs no ordinary lord. We have ourselves anointed a thousand false messiahs; the world has seen various ordinary messiahs, such as Cyrus the Great; but the universe can be put together again by only one extraordinary messiah, begotten of the Father before all worlds. We need, and our loved ones need, a king of miracles. Do they know – do you know – the peace that comes from the justice of Jesus the anointed King of Israel?

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. How fitting it is that such a man should be glorified! Not the son of Joseph, or even the Son of David, but the Son of Man, who was the root and the flower of the kingly line to inherit the earth, in whom the meek are to inherit the earth. For this he was sent from heaven, for this born of the Virgin Mary, for this now arrived in the holy city: that he should be glorified. This was the hour that he arrived, because it was the hour when he would lay down everything to receive glory from the Father. And this he did for you, that you might partake of his glory and by the Holy Spirit give glory to God. It was time. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Do you hear what he says? This was the way of glory when the hour had arrived. There was but one way for the Son of Man to be glorified. The corn of wheat, who contains the entire life of the wheat, and without whom there is no wheat to speak of, and through whom the life of all worlds was made and sustained, that same seed must first fall into the ground and die. The Son of Man, who is come to bring life and peace to all nations by his reign, must first die. Yes, Jesus must die. We must look for his glory in his death; we must find our glory in the Cross. The Cross is how Jesus was to be glorified, and the Cross is how he is glorified. Even now, do not men die wondrous deaths in the sign of the Cross? For the sake of him who first died on it, do they not forsake all things and glory in the sign of the Cross? Is the Cross not now the sign dæmons fear, because of the one who has used it to break their power? Yes, in the Cross all nations are being reconciled today, and men that hated God and each other come to peace. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

If any man serve Jesus, let him follow Jesus; and where Jesus is, there shall also his servant be: if any man serve Jesus, him will the Father honour. If Jesus came to save his people Israel and extend God’s kingdom from Israel all the way to the ends of the earth, this is where his Church is too, bringing the nations to peace. To be sure, there are Christians – or men who bear that name – who in the name of freedom bring men to bondage, who in the name of life bring men to death. If the Church is what Scripture says it is, then those who are washed by baptism are called to condemn such blasphemies and call men to account by the word of God. Because God is love, he is willing to kill every last bit of sin in us, just as Jesus was destroyed on the Cross. The Pharisees of our time will complain that the world has gone to meet Jesus, because of the power he shows in the lives of those he has baptized. This power is available and promised to you if you are willing. Walk while you have light to see. Have you decided to enter Jesus’s service by submitting to baptism? Then follow him, and you will be where he is, and the Father will honour you just as he has glorified Jesus.

Jesus himself said, at the hour of his glorification, ‘Now is my soul troubled’; but he refused to say, ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ because for this cause he was come to this hour. To accept glory is to accept the Cross; to embrace the glory of the kingdom is to embrace the blessed Cross in which that kingdom is found. Do you wish to see glory? Think what you will say to your friends when everything that the faith demands is something society calls hateful, when the obedience to God is called hatred of the human race, when love is hate speech. Will you dare to speak, just as Israel dared to hope that her divine king was come at last? Think what you will say when you get expelled from a school, fired from a job, divorced by a spouse, because you stood up for what God taught and did not deny that he had forbidden the one juicy fruit in the garden. Your soul may be troubled, and it may be hard to believe God’s peace is still with you to defend you from your enemies. Do you say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? When we ask for the Lord’s kingdom to come, when we ask for his kingdom to overcome our oppressors, we ask for his will to be done, not ours. Not ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ but ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

When God promises glory, and when glory is hidden, you may miss it. Think what God’s voice will elicit. The Lord speaks out of the clouds, and you may think it was thunder. Thunder it is, but not only thunder. For those who have no ears to hear, the voice of God himself may be just a rumbling, a rumour of a rolling, random and roiling; but for those who are listening, God speaks. This voice is not for Jesus, who already knows, but for you. God promises to honour you if you trust him with your life. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

Think how God has already honoured you by sending down his only-begotten Son to die in your place. You may have missed this neon sign as you drove by, but let us come back to it and see what it says. Already, before you ever trusted him, before you were even born, Jesus went to Jerusalem to die for your sins and defeat all the enemies that threatened to drag your life down to the pit of hell. He went trusting in God, and God so honoured him that by his resurrection even his death on a cross of shame became a death on a cross of glory. Before you were ever conceived by your mother, the Father in heaven had conceived of a way to become your Father, and the Son had fulfilled the plan. All your troubles, and all the troubles of your people, you can send to the Cross of Christ. Jesus has come to be the deliverer of all, of every nation on earth. Every nation will be saved, and indeed has been saved, by the shame that Jesus the king of Israel took upon himself to win the Father’s glory. This is the miraculous king, who turns lead into gold, wounds into gems. Your shame, if you entrust it to him, will become your glory, just as his shame became his glory, so that his riding toward his death was his entrance into his hour of glory. This is what he promised, that you would share in his glory if you joined him and stayed with him. We see that the Father fulfilled his promise to Jesus, to glorify his Name in him. Not only do we see that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but much more do we see that God raised Jesus from the dead with a body imperishable. The question, then, is not whether you should dare to trust him with your life: the question to ask is whether you should dare not to trust him with your life. If the Son of God has already died for you, do you think he will fail to honour his promise to you?

All men are being drawn to Jesus by the Cross on which he was lifted up, and through this Cross has come the destruction of Israel’s enemies, and deliverance from the hands of all that hate us. You have heard about the Son of Man, and all the world must hear from your mouth. He is the saviour of Israel; he is the desire of nations; he saves by the Cross, to the glory of his Father. The world is being judged, and the world is being saved. Choose to walk in Jesus while you can still see, that by the Holy Spirit you may share in the glory of his kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom that holds all the world in it. Go to the king, go to the king of miracles, go to the king who is God. Amen.

Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How Death Clarifies Life

monet-waterlilies

Le bassin aux nymphéas, Claude Monet (1919).

Aristotle, Althusius, and Donne, each in his own way, teach what a Chinese person knows in his heart to be true: that one man in himself is incomplete. When I think about things I want to accomplish in life, I see how limited a lifetime I have to accomplish things, but I also see how much God can take what he has done through me and make it bear fruit a hundredfold. Indeed, no person’s work is complete, or can be fulfilled, apart from others. Without successors, of blood or of spirit, who can have any legacy beyond living memory, and whose legacy means anything apart from the lives it continues to touch? Knowing that the very meaning of my life is contingent on others also reminds me that, by God’s purpose and according to God’s hidden ways, many of the things that have mattered most to me about my life will continue to unfold in others’ lives beyond my imagining; for from the start the idea was God’s, and the same God who has begun to build will surely finish what he has set out to build. Even if I haven’t planned for my own death within the next decade, if it does happen, then God has planned for it.

When I consider bucket lists, then, I think each of these events, each of these experiences, is a way of exploring a facet of who I am in God’s sight, and who God has been, is now, and will be in my life. But life is always full of surprises, and in each surprise I experience one aspect of dying. No one, dying a natural death, knows exactly when he will die: he knows only that he will die. If God has cut straight through my plans and intentions so many times, and in so doing brought good things I could never have known otherwise, then I think the same is true of death. I do not know, but he knows. This, I think, is how death clarifies life. Each surprise is, in microcosm, like death. It breaks the images we see on the face of the water, and we see that something we were looking at was a mirage. If living an abundant life means being open to surprises and responding to them, then so does dying an abundant death: both require a willingness to trust God – or, for those who do not know God, to at least basically trust that unknown – and to learn. In learning, we learn to know him.

A Few Reflections on Not Dying Suddenly

Stanley Hauerwas says, in the foreword to John Swinton and Richard Payne’s book Living Well and Dying Faithfully: Christian Practices for End-of-Life Care,

At one time, Christians feared the kind of death we say we want in answer to the question ‘How to [sic] you want to die?’ They feared a sudden death because that meant they had lost the opportunity to prepare to face God. They wanted time to be reconciled with those whom they had wronged, the church, and, most of all, with God. Like us, they loved life and did not want to die, but death did not determine their dying. Their dying was determined by their confidence in the love of God.

When I see the words sudden death, I think of the Litany’s petition for God to deliver us from sudden death. That my paternal grandfather was spared from a sudden death, in fact, has blessed me probably far more than I can tell in this life. It was as he struggled with liver cancer, in 1999 and 2000, that he came to know the Lord as our former pastor came to visit him and talk with him. Having stayed over at that pastor’s house when my brother was born, I knew that my grandfather had gotten to experience some of the love of Christ from outwith our own family, and it was wonderful to know that the pain of cancer had actually brought my grandfather, a long resister of the gospel, to the arms of Christ. And I myself, in Stanford Hospital, got to share something with my grandfather that I would never have experienced had he not had the time to get ready to die. The last time I ever saw him, before flying back to Virginia, there were some grapes on the table, but he couldn’t eat them because he could no longer take the skins. I peeled the skins for him, and in doing so I got to do more for him than I could ever have done before. We had not spent all that much time together before then, in the first 10 years of my life, but that event alone did more to bring us closer together than anything before or since.

When he died, I grieved, but I also felt greatly at peace about it, because I was sure he was with the Lord. I think, too, this experience is why my grandfather’s was the first funeral of which I had any specific memories (it was a beautiful funeral, too), and why I still feel the desire to go up to Mountain View Cemetery, in the Oakland hills, every time I go to the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s also why I feel that my own death, whenever the Lord has chosen for it to be, is something for which the Lord will surely have made me ready.

Dort and the Prayer Book on the Salvation of Baptized Infants

Christening of Victoria, Princess Royal.

On infants who are baptized and die in infancy, the Synod of Dort (1619) and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are agreed: there is no reason to doubt, and every reason to believe on the basis of God’s word, that God has chosen them to be saved.

The Canons of Dort confidently explain,

Since we are to judge of the will of God from his word (which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended), godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.

Canons of Dort 1.17.

The Book of Common Prayer says likewise,

It is certain, by God’s word, that children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved.

Publick Baptism of Infants, Book of Common Prayer (1662).

Whether or not you agree with John Davenant (who was influential at the Synod of Dort) that this is because baptism remits the guilt of original sin from infants, the Prayer Book states the general doctrine that baptized children dying in infancy are undoubtedly saved. This is not to deny that God may save – that the Spirit may regenerate – some or even all of those who die in infancy unbaptized: on such infants, whose cases God’s word does not make certain, Dort and the Prayer Book are respectfully silent. Neither is this claim of both the Synod of Dort and the English Prayer Book denied by the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which says elect infants are saved by Christ through the Spirit:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

WCF 10.3.

That all baptized infants dying in infancy are counted among this elect of God is reasonable to suppose, and expressly taught by the Synod of Dort; who else is elect is unknown. The Westminster Confession’s intent here seems to be to extend its affirmation of the regeneration of others who are elect but cannot possibly be outwardly called to salvation by the ministry of the word. Let the Reformed therefore not suppose that, on baptism, the Book of Common Prayer teaches anything contrary to Reformed orthodoxy. The teaching that baptized infants are (in their own manner) saved may seem strange to some, but it has the warrant of Scripture and is the common understanding of the Reformed.

How to Promote Chastity Among Christian Women

Vierge à l'Enfant, mosaïque de l'abside de Sainte-Sophie (Istanbul, Turquie)

Encourage respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary as the greatest of saints, through whose chaste obedience Christ came into the world and saved us. Her image with that of her Son should be in every Christian home, that believers may remember and bless her godly example. Not everyone is called to give virgin birth, but every woman is called to obedience and some kind of motherhood.

For what God has done through her the Byzantines sing,

It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, the ever most blessed, and entirely blameless, and Mother of our God. The more honourable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who didst bear without corruption God the Word: thee, verily the Theotokos, we magnify.

I Like My School

I’m very thankful for fellowship with other teachers at my school, learning from them and challenging their thoughts as well. I hope other people get to enjoy this blessing as more classical Christian schools open around the world, and I hope more children get to learn in such places, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in loco parentis. Curriculum is great, but it’s the people who make the school.

Send a King, O Lord

O Lord, raise up men in the Church who will be kings indeed, humbling themselves before thee all the days of their lives, that they may give glory to thee and by emptying receive power from on high. For as David was a great sinner but learned his destitution before thy face, so empty us, Almighty God, of our self-sufficiency, and teach us the power that is made perfect in our impotence. Raise up for us Christian kings and emperors whose greatness is in having nothing to boast of but thy grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.