Gnawing inadequacy

We can never be good enough. No hero or saint comes close. Most of us brush it off, but a saint or a vicar lives in a shadow of the knowledge of inescapable inadequacy.

Most of us if we think about it at all, as we should, bumble through, hoping we are good enough, praying for the promised salvation, or hoping our faults will not be noticed, as if we could hide. A vicar lives in the constant knowledge of the presence of God, which should be glorious, awe-inspiring, joyful; but which in the knowledge of sin is terrifying, inescapable unless with the utter certainty of grace.

An insightful vicar used to lead students around a cathedral; he stopped by a pillar and asked his students about good and bad people, ranked on the pillar.  Usually they put Hitler about the bottom and some modern popular saint around the top. He would then ask, “What is the standard God requires?”, to which the students would guess somewhere around the middle of the pillar. The standard though, he revealed, is not the middle of the pillar, not the top: the standard is the sky.

The mediaeval plays put on around villages to frighten the peasants might show a man weighed in a great balance, going to eternal bliss or to eternal fire depending on the fine turn of sin against merit. That is not Christian doctrine though: the standard is the sky: utter sinlessness. That is unachievable even amongst saints; we need forgiveness, and as we cannot earn forgiveness it only works by grace, which is to say forgiveness granted freely by God. We are all at the bottom of the pillar, needing to put ourselves into the hands of God to escape.

It is harder in a mechanical, rule-driven society to accept the position we are in: it should be possible to put in some data and let the computer say “yes” or “no”, and then we can relax.  That is the attractiveness of rabbinical law, or the sharia system, or the Roman system of obligations and penances: it is clockwork salvation. It has never been like that though.

For an ordinary man or woman in the pews, we can get away with not thinking about it until Sunday morning, then dozing through a sermon. To live with this as you everyday, you meat and drink, must be either glorious or terrifying. The terror is in the knowledge of ones inadequacy.

No man can male his own salvation. No man is entitled to salvation. All men are entitled only to damnation, and none can climb out of it. To live with that as your daily contemplation might drive you mad, or drive you to find a clockwork salvation, or might lead you to immerse yourself in the scriptures. That will show you to an answer.

The unreformed, Mediaeval plays put on for those who had no access to the Scriptures, they portrayed the Word of God as full of warning and condemnation, but immersed in the whole Bible you find it full of light, love, joy. The picture of God is not in the fierce and gaudy Romanist art, that takes more from thundering Greek Zeus than from the God of the Bible: the picture of God is in Jesus, who could overturn the tables in the Temple when needed, but who would bless and heal and raise the downhearted and the maddened, whose words are full of love for those least deserving of it. In that context of knowledge of those words, reaching from creation to the end of things, the immediate presence of God is no longer frightening, and the knowledge of utter inadequacy is an encouragement to trust.

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Maddening the priests

How most vicars stay sane I do not know. There is a special blessing in the knowledge of the love of God: without it, Bedlam is close at the heels.

To reach out to touch the divine, the awe must overwhelm the mind, and it is easy to be misled down other paths.

A minister of the established Church has a position without easy parallel. He is a public official with all eyes upon him because he is expected to display a special insight into the mind of God, but with a doctrine reminding him that he has none.  He knows he is inadequate to the task. To be an elder of the church is to accept impossible responsibilities in which you are seen as what you can never be. The process of striving to achieve spiritual  improvement may destroy it.

Understanding anything of the vastness of God, and the divine is impossible to approach. Martin Luther when first ordained as a monk-priest shook uncontrollably when he first performed the mass, because he had been told that he was physically creating the body of Christ, which is to say he was quite literally making God. No man can do this.

Most vicars, level-headed and understanding as they are, know their own inadequacy at impossible task, and they fail only when they forget that they are mortal. Whatever vision Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel were shown on Sinai, we are told that none, not even Moses, can see The Lord and live. We though have Jesus, which is why any attempt by a minister of the church to understand his called must be by learning at the feet of Jesus, and being content there.

A temptation may creep upon one to believe that there is a special insight given to vicars, that any inspiration in the mind, notwithstanding that it is not scriptural, must be from the throne of the Most High. This is particularly evident in those vicars who take up political causes and a will not be swayed form them, as all who disagree must surely be evil.

Vicars should keep busy at their actual calling: we know who makes work for idle hands.

For as in the middest of the sea, though a man perceive no sound of that part of the water next him; yet he is well assured, that part contributes as much, to the Roaring of the Sea, as any other part, of the same quantity: so also, thought wee perceive no great unquietnesse, in one, or two men; yet we may be well assured, that their singular Passions, are parts of the Seditious roaring of a troubled Nation. And if there were nothing else that bewrayed their madnesse; yet that very arrogating such inspiration to themselves, is argument enough. If some man in Bedlam should entertaine you with sober discourse; and you desire in taking leave, to know what he were, that you might another time requite his civility; and he should tell you, he were God the Father; I think you need expect no extravagant action for argument of his Madnesse.

This opinion of Inspiration, called commonly, Private Spirit, begins very often, from some lucky finding of an Errour generally held by others; and not knowing, or not remembring, by what conduct of reason, they came to so singular a truth, (as they think it, though it be many times an untruth they light on,) they presently admire themselves; as being in the speciall grace of God Almighty, who hath revealed the same to them supernaturally, by his Spirit.

Thus we have vicars who preach sermons devoid of spiritual content but fiercely passionate on climate change, those who condemn racism, which could be done with a simple word, and consider they work done, with not a word from the charge given to them in the Great Commission.

It is displacement activity, just like the Pharisees of old following invented rituals and painting tombs rather than following justice and mercy.

It s hard to condemn such behaviour knowing we are all flawed. Modern life is too complicated to take it all in. The Christian faith is actually very simple so some ministers may be looking for something to fill in, to bulk it up, but that would be mixing the iron with clay.

In a more dangerous trend, a minister may turn away from the actual requirements of his calling, knowing it to be too hard and the awe too frightening, replacing the living faith with a dead, secular  doctrine drawn from his own Private Spirit, which is a form of madness. It is unsurprising then to see a minister sew his own lips together, which must be a sign of deepest madness in itself, not in the cause of the faith but in a purely secular idea of environmental eschatology.

If the secular cause has gained such traction as to displace actual Christianity, it is a heathen religion, an idol, to be condemned and cast out.

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Insignificant Speech as madness

There is yet another fault in the Discourses of some men; which may also be numbred amongst the sorts of Madnesse; namely, that abuse of words, whereof I have spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the Name of Absurdity.

And that is, when men speak such words, as put together, have in them no signification at all; but are fallen upon by some, through misunderstanding of the words they have received, and repeat by rote; by others, from intention to deceive by obscurity. And this is incident to none but those, that converse in questions of matters incomprehensible, as the Schoole-men; or in questions of abstruse Philosophy.

The common sort of men seldome speak Insignificantly, and are therefore, by those other Egregious persons counted Idiots. But to be assured their words are without any thing correspondent to them in the mind, there would need some Examples; which if any man require, let him take a Schoole-man into his hands, and see if he can translate any one chapter concerning any difficult point; as the Trinity; the Deity; the nature of Christ; Transubstantiation; Free-will. &c. into any of the moderne tongues, so as to make the same intelligible; or into any tolerable Latine, such as they were acquainted withall, that lived when the Latine tongue was Vulgar.

What is the meaning of these words. “The first cause does not necessarily inflow any thing into the second, by force of the Essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to worke?” They are the Translation of the Title of the sixth chapter of Suarez first Booke, Of The Concourse, Motion, And Help Of God. When men write whole volumes of such stuffe, are they not Mad, or intend to make others so?

And particularly, in the question of Transubstantiation; where after certain words spoken, they that say, the White-nesse, Round-nesse, Magni-tude, Quali-ty, Corruptibility, all which are incorporeall, &c. go out of the Wafer, into the Body of our blessed Saviour, do they not make those Nesses, Tudes and Ties, to be so many spirits possessing his body? For by Spirits, they mean alwayes things, that being incorporeall, are neverthelesse moveable from one place to another.

So that this kind of Absurdity, may rightly be numbred amongst the many sorts of Madnesse; and all the time that guided by clear Thoughts of their worldly lust, they forbear disputing, or writing thus, but Lucide Intervals. And thus much of the Vertues and Defects Intellectuall.

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Who are hypocrites?

It is not a word a thinking man should use freely. The unclassifying mind hurls it as an allegation broadly.

In Leviathan, Hobbes uses the term but four times (and once in De Cive), each in the Christian or Jewish religious context. The origin in our language is from the Gospels, in the great sermons in which Jesus condemns those Pharisees and teachers of the law who practise outward signs of piety but fail to live a life of actual sanctity.

That this man, hated of the Pharisees (whose false doctrine and hypocriticall sanctity he had reproved) and by their means, of the People accused of unlawfull seeking for the Kingdome, and crucified, was the true CHRIST, and King promised by God,

The word used in the original Greek that has come down to us is ‘ὑποκριται‘, and that word does not mean what we think it does: it is not a philosophical or theological technical term but is Greek for ‘play-actors’.

Greek drama was very different from ours. Their playwrights were just as skilled, and I would hold out Aristophanes as equal to many of our own, but the performance was of static oration by an actor with a mask in front of his face. The mask, not the actor, was the character, the image or portrait, χαρακτηρ, of the man portrayed (or as the Romans called it, the persona). The origin of the Greek word for a stage actor, ὑποκριτής, is in words for ‘pronounce from under’; in short, to orate from behind a mask.

In the Gospels then, those Pharisees who were all portrayal and no action were ὑποκριται, actors speaking another’s lines from behind a carefully constructed mask.

There will have been many of the Pharisee party in those days who were genuine, who had real love for God and for their neighbour, practising charity and mercy, but it is a lot easier just to put on a show, to set out rules and visibly follow those rules as on a rail along a straight road (even if as a result you pass the needy by on the other side of the road). Today we would call it ‘virtue signalling’.

A life fully according to the law and the prophets, and the Gospel, is impossible. It is easier to whiten the sepulchre so it is at least bright and clean outside as a show for other, and turn your mind from the rottenness within.

Modernity uses the word ‘hypocrite’ too loosely. It is an unanswerable condemnation where any variance from ones pronouncements triggers a tri-syllabic denunciation. Looking back to the origin of the term, restricting it to that context, should restrain the accusing mouth. Anyone can live up to a narrow set of rules he himself has invented and can amend, but how many of those accusers would live up to the standards of the Gospel?

The leading theme of Christianity is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and must struggle towards amending ourselves, seeking an unearned forgiveness. We will not find perfection. We must strive for it. In doing so if we scorn as a hypocrite, as a masked actor, one who is striving but has failed in some respect, it is to speak from behind our own mask.

Condemning others for failings is a positive act nevertheless. If there is no condemnation from others, there is little motive to improve. The prophets condemned others in fierce terms, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist, and accepted it when God condemned them in turn for their own failings. Jesus condemned the wicked, and forgave the penitent. The apostles too had harsh words for sinners. They knew their own imperfections though.

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Of the Office of our Blessed Saviour

We find in Holy Scripture three parts of the Office of the Messiah: the first of a Redeemer, or Saviour: The second of a Pastor, Counsellour, or Teacher, that is, of a Prophet sent from God, to convert such as God hath elected to Salvation; The third of a King, and Eternall King, but under his Father, as Moses and the High Priests were in their severall times. And to these three parts are corespondent three times.

For our Redemption he wrought at his first coming, by the Sacrifice, wherein he offered up himself for our sinnes upon the Crosse: our conversion he wrought partly then in his own Person; and partly worketh now by his Ministers; and will continue to work till his coming again. And after his coming again, shall begin that his glorious Reign over his elect, which is to last eternally.

 His Office As A Redeemer

To the Office of a Redeemer, that is, of one that payeth the Ransome of Sin, (which Ransome is Death,) it appertaineth, that he was Sacrificed, and thereby bare upon his own head, and carryed away from us our iniquities, in such sort as God had required. Not that the death of one man, though without sinne, can satisfie for the offences of all men, in the rigour of Justice, but in the Mercy of God, that ordained such Sacrifices for sin, as he was pleased in his mercy to accept.

In the old Law (as we may read, Leviticus the 16.) the Lord required, that there should every year once, bee made an Atonement for the Sins of all Israel, both Priests, and others; for the doing whereof, Aaron alone was to sacrifice for himself and the Priests a young Bullock; and for the rest of the people, he was to receive from them two young Goates, of which he was to Sacrifice one; but as for the other, which was the Scape Goat, he was to lay his hands on the head thereof, and by a confession of the iniquities of the people, to lay them all on that head, and then by some opportune man, to cause the Goat to be led into the wildernesse, and there to Escape, and carry away with him the iniquities of the people. As the Sacrifice of the one Goat was a sufficient (because an acceptable) price for the Ransome of all Israel; so the death of the Messiah, is a sufficient price, for the Sins of all mankind, because there was no more required. Our Saviour Christs sufferings seem to be here figured, as cleerly, as in the oblation of Isaac, or in any other type of him in the Old Testament: He was both the sacrificed Goat, and the Scape Goat; “Hee was oppressed, and he was afflicted (Isa. 53.7.); he opened not his mouth; he brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is dumbe before the shearer, so opened he not his mouth:” Here he is the Sacrificed Goat. “He hath born our Griefs, (ver.4.) and carried our sorrows;” And again, (ver. 6.) “the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquities of us all:” And so he is the Scape Goat. “He was cut off from the land of the living (ver. 8.) for the transgression of my People:” There again he is the Sacrificed Goat. And again (ver. 11.) “he shall bear their sins:” Hee is the Scape Goat.

Thus is the Lamb of God equivalent to both those Goates; sacrificed, in that he dyed; and escaping, in his Resurrection; being raised opportunely by his Father, and removed from the habitation of men in his Ascension.

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