Archive for the ‘Obedience’ Category
Review by Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The writings of Swiss Brethren Anabaptists have been thus far underrepresented in English translation, compared to Hutterites and Dutch Mennonites. Post-Schleitheim Swiss Brethren history is little discussed – particularly in popular-level treatments. The perception may easily be formed that Swiss Brethren did not produce much literature or do much doctrinal thinking after the first generation.
This volume seeks to correct this perception and the deficit in English translations. Presenting well over 500 pages of translated documents, it helps round out our understanding of Swiss Anabaptism following the Schleitheim Confession and to the border of the seventeenth century. Study of these documents reveals how Swiss Anabaptist thought grew and developed, and how they preserved, used, and adapted earlier works (such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier) to fill later needs.
The core of this new volume is the translation of Codex 628, composed mainly of a work titled A Short, Simple Confession. This work was written in response to the published minutes of the Frankenthal Disputation (1571) between Anabaptists and Reformed theologians. Some Swiss Anabaptists felt that a more compelling case could be made for the Anabaptist position on the thirteen points which had been discussed. Utilizing earlier writings, such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the anonymous editor put together a compelling apologetic for the Anabaptist views on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Christians in the government, etc., including an extensive discussion of the relationship of the Old and New Covenants. The Simple Confession is followed in the codex by an expanded version of an earlier Swiss Brethren writing, Concerning Separation, which explains why the Anabaptists separated from the Reformed state church.
This book would be a valuable contribution to English-language Anabaptist writings if it only included the translation of Codex 628; but thankfully, it presents many additional gems, several of them previously untranslated. These include Wilhelm Reublin’s Confession of Faith, coauthored with Jakob Kautz; Zylis and Lemke’s letter to Menno Simons; a book on excommunication; and the prefaces to three Swiss Brethren hymnals, including (translated for the first time) the preface of the Ausbund. For those interested in Anabaptist hymnody, these three translations and the introductory essay on the origins of the Ausbund are worth the price of the book.
This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in Anabaptist history and theology. It would be hard to overstate its importance to the study of Anabaptism in general and the Swiss Brethren in particular.
Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.
There are Two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and the difference between the Two Ways is great.
The Way of Life, then, is this: First, Thou shalt love the God who made thee: Second, Thy neighbor as thyself; and all things whatsoever thou wouldst not have befall thee, do thou, too, not to another.
And of these words the Teaching is this: The first commandment: Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for them that persecute you; for what thank have ye if ye love them that love you? do not the nations also the same? but love ye them that hate you, and ye shall not have an enemy.
Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts.
If one give thee a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; if any one press thee into service for one mile, go with him two; if one take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also; if one take from thee thine own, ask it not back; for not even canst thou.
Give to every one that asketh thee, and ask not back; for to all the Father wills that there be given of his own free gifts.
Blessed is he that giveth according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receiveth; for if, indeed, one that hath need receiveth, he shall be guiltless; but he that hath not need, shall submit to trial with reference to why he received and for what purpose, and, having come into custody, shall be examined with reference to what he did, and shall not go forth thence until he have paid the last farthing.
But concerning this, also, it hath been said: Let thine alms sweat in thy hands until thou know to whom to give.
And the second commandment of the Teaching is:
Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not corrupt boys, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not use magic arts, thou shalt not practice sorcery, thou shalt not kill a child by abortion nor put it to death when born. Thou shalt not covet the things of thy neighbor, thou shalt not forswear thyself, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not speak evil, thou shalt not bear a grudge. Thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued; for doubleness of tongue is a snare of death. Thy word shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. Thou shalt not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor malicious, nor haughty. Thou shalt not take evil counsel against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not hate any man, but some thou shalt reprove, and for some thou shalt pray, and some thou shalt love above thy life.
My child, flee from every evil thing, and from everything like it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leadeth to murder; nor jealous, nor contentious, nor passionate; for out of all these, murders are begotten.
My child, be not one that lusteth, for lust leadeth to fornication; nor of foul speech, nor of leering eyes; for out of all these, adulteries are begotten.
My child, be not an augur, since augury leadeth to idolatry; nor an enchanter; nor an astrologer; nor a purifier; nor be willing to behold these things; for out of all these, idolatry is begotten.
My child, be not a liar, since lying leadeth to theft, nor a lover of money, nor vain-glorious; for out of all these, thefts are begotten.
My child, be not a murmurer, since murmuring leadeth to blasphemy; nor self-willed, nor evil-minded, for out of all these, blasphemies are begotten.
But be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be longsuffering and pitiful and guileless and quiet and good, and continually trembling at the words which thou hast heard.
Thou shalt not exalt thyself, nor give assurance to thy soul. Thy soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with righteous and lowly ones shalt thou hold converse. The events that befall thee, thou shalt accept as good, knowing that nothing cometh to pass without God.
My child, him that speaketh to thee the Word of God, thou shalt remember night and day, and shalt honor him as the Lord; for where the sovereignty of the Lord is proclaimed, there is the Lord. And thou shalt seek out daily the faces of the saints, that thou mayest rest upon their words.
Thou shalt not be desirous of division, but shalt bring contending ones to peace; thou shalt judge righteously; thou shalt not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. Thou shalt not hesitate whether this shall be or not.
Be not one that with reference to receiving stretcheth out the hands, but with reference to giving contracteth them: thou shalt give by thy hands a ransom, if thou have, for thy sins. Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor, when giving shalt thou murmur; for thou shalt know who is the good Recompenser of the offering. Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in want, but shalt share all things with thy brother, and shalt not say that they are thine own; for if ye are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in the things which are mortal.
Thou shalt not remove thy hand from thy son or from thy daughter, but from youth shalt teach them the fear of God.
Thou shalt not lay commands in thy bitterness on thy bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest perchance they shall not fear the God who is over both; for He cometh not to call according to appearance, but unto those whom the Spirit hath prepared. And ye, the slaves, shall, in modesty and fear, be subject to your masters as to a type of God.
Thou shalt hate all hypocrisy and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord.
Do not in any wise forsake the commandments of the Lord; but thou shalt guard what thou hast received, neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom.
In the church thou shalt confess thy transgressions, and thou shalt not come to thy prayer with an evil conscience.
This is the Way of Life.
And the Way of Death is this:
First of all, it is evil and full of curse; murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic practices, sorceries, rapines; false testimonies, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness; malice, self-will, covetousness, filthy talking, jealousy, self-assurance, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of good men, hating truth, loving falsehood, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joined to anything good nor to righteous judgment, watching not with a view to good but with a view to evil; far from whom are meekness and patience, loving vain things, pursuing a requital, not pitying a poor man, not toiling for one borne down with toil, not knowing Him that made them; murderers of children, destroyers of God’s handiwork; turning away from him that is in want, oppressing him that is afflicted, rich men’s advocates, poor men’s lawless judges; utter sinners.
May ye be delivered, children, from all these.
See that no one cause thee to wander from this Way of the Teaching, since thus aloof from God doth he teach thee. For, if thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord thou shalt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able that do.
And concerning food, brook what thou art able; but of that which is sacrificed to idols beware exceedingly, for it is a worship of dead gods.
And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if thou have not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, in warm. But if thou have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head, into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism, let the baptizer and the baptized fast, and any others, if they can; and thou shalt command the baptized to fast one or two days before.
But let not your fastings be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the Second Day of the week and on the Fifth; but do ye fast the Fourth and Preparation. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, thus pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we, too, forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the power and the glory for ever.
Pray thus three times in the day.
And concerning the Eucharist, thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David, thy servant, which thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever.
And concerning the broken bread:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Just as this, a broken piece, was scattered upon the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.
But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but those that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this the Lord hath said: Give not that which is holy to the dogs.
And after being filled, thus give thanks:
We thank Thee, holy Father, for thy holy name, which Thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Thou, Almighty Sovereign, didst create the universe for thy name’s sake; both food and drink Thou gavest men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us Thou hast graciously given spiritual food and drink and life eternal through thy servant. Before all things, we thank Thee that Thou art mighty: to Thee be the glory forever. Remember, Lord, thy church, to deliver it from every evil and to make it perfect in thy love; and do Thou gather it from the four winds, the sanctified church, into thy kingdom, which Thou hast prepared for it; for thine is the power and the glory forever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David. If any one is holy, let him come: if any one is not, let him repent: Maranatha. Amen.
But permit the prophets to express what thanks they wish.
Whoever, then, shall come and teach all these things, the things aforesaid, receive him; but if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, do not hear him; but if he teacheth to the promotion of righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.
And with reference to the apostles and prophets in accordance with the ordinance of the gospel, act thus. And let every apostle that cometh to you be received as the Lord; but he shall remain, not one day, but, if there be need, the next also; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. And let the apostle, when he goeth forth, take nothing except bread to suffice until he lodge; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.
And no prophet that speaketh in the Spirit, shall ye try or judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. Not every one, however, that speaketh in the Spirit, is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord.
From their ways, then, shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And no prophet that in the Spirit commandeth a meal, will eat of it, else he is a false prophet ; and every prophet that teacheth the truth, if he doeth not what he teacheth, is a false prophet. And no prophet, approved, true, acting with a view to the world-mystery of the church, but not teaching others to do what he himself doeth, shall be judged in your presence; for with God he hath his judgment; for in like manner did the ancient prophets also. But whoever in the Spirit shall say: Give me money, or something else, ye shall not hear him; but if he bid you give for others that are in want, let no one judge him.
And let every one that cometh in the name of the Lord be received, and afterward ye shall prove and know him; for ye shall possess understanding right and left. If he that cometh is a traveller, help him as much as you can; however, he shall not remain with you, except for two or three days, if need be. But if he wisheth to reside with you, being an artisan, let him work and eat; but if he hath not a trade, provide, according to your understanding, that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he doth not wish so to do, he is one that maketh a gain of Christ: beware of such.
But every true prophet that wisheth to reside with you, is worthy of his food. In like manner a true teacher, himself also is worthy of his food, just as the workman. Every firstfruit, then, of the products of winepress and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, thou shalt take and give to the prophets; for they are your high priests. But if ye have not a prophet, give to the poor.
If thou make a baking of bread, take and give the first-fruit according to the commandment. In like manner, on opening a jar of wine or oil, take and give the first-fruit to the prophets; and of money and clothing and every possession, take the firstfruit, as it may seem good to thee, and give according to the commandment.
And every Lord’s Day gather yourselves together, and break bread and give thanks, after having also confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow assemble with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned; For this is the one that was commanded by the Lord: In every place and time, offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.
Choose, therefore, for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek and free from the love of money, and true and proved; for they, too, render you the service of the prophets and teachers. Do not, then, despise them; for together with the prophets and teachers, they are your honored ones.
And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as ye have it in the gospel; and to every one that acteth amiss against another, let no one speak, and let him not hear from you until he repent. But your prayers and alms and all deeds so do, as ye have it in the gospel of our Lord.
Watch for your life; let your lamps not be quenched, and your loins not be loosed, but be ye ready; for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. And ye shall often be gathered together seeking the things which become your souls; for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if ye be not made perfect in the last time.
For in the last days the false prophets and the corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another, and persecute and betray, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never been done since the world began.
Then shall the human creation come into the fire of trial, and many shall be caused to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself.
And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead; not of all, however, but as was said: The Lord shall come and all the saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.
 An observer of omens.—Ed.
Translation from S. Stanhope Orris, “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” in Teaching of the Twelve Apostles: Text and Translation, 1884, pp. 3-19.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
In the fall, many beehives can become rather defensive and harder for beekeepers to work with. Why would this be?
In the spring, the hive is mostly empty of food, and the bees are bringing in fresh nectar and pollen and are rearing brood at astounding rates. In the fall, an entire summer’s worth of work is stored up in the hive – potentially 100+ pounds of honey and stored pollen, the honey all having been painstakingly evaporated from nectar and covered with a thin wax seal.
All summer, tens of thousands of bees labored to gather and preserve what is now contained in the hive. To compare it to our own lives, think of the basement or pantry shelves, full of a summer’s worth of canning; or think of a barn full of hay and corn bins full of corn.
By fall, the bees have put an enormous investment into what is stored in the hive, and they are depending upon it to get through the winter. It is their reward for hard work in the past; it is their hope for a continued future.
Not only do bees have more goods stored up in the fall; enemies have also increased. Hungry creatures abound in the fall, eager to get a share of the bounty which the bees have stored and converted. Hornets and wasps want to pick off members of the hive, or consume larvae. Even bumblebees will wander into a hive to try to steal honey.
Bees have no eternal future; like ants, their future is here on earth. They have laid up treasure on earth, and once they have procured it, they must defend it.
Man has an eternal future. The less he has on earth, the less he has to worry about, to preserve, and to defend. The more he sends before him, storing up treasure in heaven, the better his eternal future will be.
Let us learn from the bee. Like the ant, we can learn the values and rewards of hard work, diligence, and saving. But we can also learn that earthly treasure brings earthly entanglement. May our hard work, diligence, and saving be directed to the next world – to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (I Peter 1:4).
Originally published in The Witness September 2016.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“It’s really a shame – to work hard all your life, and have it all taken away in the end.”
A relative said this about another relative, who was spending a lot of money staying in a retirement home. As soon as he said that, Solomon’s words flashed into my mind.
Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20).
Solomon’s words capture the pain of a realization, near the end of life, of the vanity of laying up treasure on earth. For those who have spent their lives in pursuit of material gain, riches, and pleasures, life’s sunset finds them realizing that it is all over now; the pleasures, the riches, the gain – all of it is over and will be left behind. Life is now just a slow decline to the grave. Was that worth it?
The heavenly-minded Christian, however, has a mindset and reality much different from that of the treasure-accumulating worldling, or that of Solomon. For us, our focus is not on chasing pleasure or treasure on earth. Jesus said,
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
At the end of a life of work and service, the Christian does not realize that everything is over and must be left behind; rather, he realizes that his reward is just about to begin! We have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Our hard-earned inheritance cannot be taken away from us, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
Originally published in The Witness September 2016.
By William Law
Editor’s Note: Why do so many professing Christians seem to fall short of the holiness and devotion to God which Christianity teaches? Could it be because they do not actually intend to be as holy as they know they should be?
Reading this challenging piece by William Law, it may seem as though the only thing necessary to be holy is to intend to be so. Far from it, as he himself acknowledges at the end; rather, we must cooperate with God in the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 2:12-13). However, God will not force us into holiness of life against our will; we will never be holy unless we want and intend to be. With that full intention comes an earnest seeking of strength from God to do what we know He desires, and an asking for more light so that we may learn if there is some part of holiness which we do not yet know we must perform.
This selection is chapter 3 from William Law’s book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. The language has been slightly modernized.—Ed.
It may now be reasonably enquired, how it comes to pass, that the lives even of the better sort of people are thus strangely contrary to the principles of Christianity. But before I give a direct answer to this, I desire it may also be enquired, how it comes to pass that swearing is so common a vice amongst Christians; it is indeed not yet so common amongst women, as it is amongst men. But amongst men this sin is so common, that perhaps there are more than two in three that are guilty of it throughout the whole course of their lives, swearing more or less, just as it happens, some constantly, others only now and then, as it were by chance. Now I ask why is it that two in three of the men are guilty of so gross and profane a sin as this? There is neither ignorance nor human infirmity to plead for it: It is against an express commandment, and the most plain Doctrine of our blessed Saviour.
Do but now find the reason why the generality of men live in this notorious vice, and then you will have found the reason why the generality even of the better sort of people live so contrary to Christianity.
Now the reason of common swearing is this: It is because men have not so much as the intention to please God in all their actions. For let a man but have so much piety as to intend to please God in all the actions of his life, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will never swear more. It will be as impossible for him to swear, whilst he feels this intention within himself, as it is impossible for a man that intends to please his Prince, to go up and abuse him to his face.
It seems but a small and necessary part of piety to have such a sincere intention as this; and that he has no reason to look upon himself as a Disciple of Christ, who is not thus far advanced in piety. And yet it is purely for want of this degree of piety, that you see such a mixture of sin and folly in the lives even of the better sort of people. It is for want of this intention that you see men that profess religion, yet live in swearing and sensuality; that you see clergymen given to pride and covetousness, and worldly enjoyments. It is for want of this intention, that you see women that profess devotion, yet living in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in idleness and pleasure, and in all such instances of state and equipage as their estates will reach. For let but a woman feel her heart full of this intention, and she will find it as impossible to patch or paint, as to curse or swear; she will no more desire to shine at balls and assemblies, or make a figure amongst those that are most finely dressed, than she will desire to dance upon a rope to please spectators: She will know that the one is as far from the wisdom and excellency of the Christian Spirit, as the other.
It was this general intention that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, that made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors. And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. You observe the same Sunday-worship that they did; and you are strict in it, because it is your full intention to be so. And when you as fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when you intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as possible as to be strictly exact in the service of the church. And when you have this intention to please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to anything that is profane. You will be as fearful of living in any foolish way, either of spending your time or your fortune, as you are now fearful of neglecting the public Worship.
Now who that lacks this general sincere intention, can be reckoned a Christian? And yet if it was amongst Christians, it would change the whole face of the world; true piety and exemplary holiness would be as common and visible as buying and selling, or any trade in life.
Let a clergyman be but thus pious, and he will converse as if he had been brought up by an Apostle; he will no more think and talk of noble preferment, than of noble eating or a glorious chariot. He will no more complain of the frowns of the world, or a small pay, or the lack of a patron, than he will complain of the want of a laced coat, or a running horse. Let him but intend to please God in all his actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will know that there is nothing noble in a clergyman, but burning zeal for the salvation of souls; nor any thing poor in his profession, but idleness and a worldly spirit.
Again, let a tradesman have this intention, and it will make him a saint in his shop; his everyday business will be a course of wise and reasonable actions, made holy to God, by being done in obedience to His will and pleasure. He will buy and sell, and labour and travel, because by so doing he can do some good to himself and others. But then, as nothing can please God but what is wise, and reasonable, and holy, so he will neither buy, nor sell, nor labour in any other manner, nor to any other end, but such as may be shown to be wise and reasonable and holy. He will therefore consider not what arts, or methods, or application, will soonest make him richer and greater than his brethren, or remove him from a shop to a life of state and pleasure; but he will consider what arts, what methods, what application can make worldly business most acceptable to God, and make a life of trade a life of holiness, devotion, and piety. This will be the temper and spirit of every tradesman; he cannot stop short of these degrees of piety, whenever it is his intention to please God in all his actions, as the best and happiest thing in the world.
And on the other hand, whoever is not of this spirit and temper in his trade and profession, and does not carry it on only so far as is best subservient to a wise and holy and heavenly life; it is certain that he has not this intention; and yet without it, who can be shown to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Again, let the gentleman of birth and fortune but have this intention, and you will see how it will carry him from every appearance of evil, to every instance of piety and goodness.
He cannot live by chance, or as humor and fancy carries him, because he knows that nothing can please God but a wise and regular course of life. He cannot live in idleness and indulgence, in sports and gaming, in pleasures and intemperance, in vain expenses and high living; because these things cannot be turned into means of piety and holiness, or made so many parts of a wise and religious life.
As he thus removes from all appearance of evil, so he hastens and aspires after every instance of goodness. He does not ask what is allowable and pardonable, but what is commendable and praise-worthy. He does not ask whether God will forgive the folly of our lives, the madness of our pleasures, the vanity of our expenses, the richness of our equipage, and the careless consumption of our time; but he asks whether God is pleased with these things, or whether these are the appointed ways of gaining His favor. He does not inquire whether it be pardonable to hoard up money to adorn ourselves with diamonds, and gild our chariots, while the widow and the orphan, the sick and the prisoner need to be relieved; but he asks whether God has required these things at our hands, whether we shall be called to account at the last day for the neglect of them, because it is not his intent to live in such ways as, for ought we know, God may perhaps pardon; but to be diligent in such ways, as we know that God will infallibly reward.
He will not therefore look at the lives of Christians, to learn how he ought to spend his estate; but he will look into the Scriptures, and make every doctrine, parable, precept, or instruction that relates to rich men, a law to himself in the use of his estate.
He will have nothing to do with goodly apparel, because the rich man in the Gospel was clothed with purple and fine linen. He denies himself the pleasures and indulgences which his estate could procure, because our Blessed Saviour says, Woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation. He will have but one rule for charity, and that will be, to spend all that he can that way; because the Judge of quick and dead hath said, that all that is so given, is given to Him.
He will have no hospitable table for the rich and wealthy to come and feast with him in good eating and drinking; because our Blessed Lord says, When thou makest a dinner, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed. For they cannot recompense thee, for thou shalt he recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12, 13, 14).
He will waste no money in gilded roofs or costly furniture: He will not be carried from pleasure to pleasure in expensive state and equipage, because an inspired Apostle hath said, that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Let not any one look upon this as an imaginary description of charity, that looks fine in the notion, but cannot be put in practice. For it is so far from being an imaginary impracticable form of life, that it has been practiced by great numbers of Christians in former ages, who were glad to turn their whole estates into a constant course of charity. And it is so far from being impossible now, that if we can find any Christians, that sincerely intend to please God in all their actions as the best and happiest thing in the world, whether they be young or old, single or married, men or women, if they have but this intention, it will be impossible for them to do otherwise. This one principle will infallibly carry them to this height of charity, and they will find themselves unable to stop short of it.
For how is it possible for a man that intends to please God in the use of his money, and intends it because he judges it to be his greatest happiness, how is it possible for such a one in such a state of mind, to bury his money in needless impertinent finery, in covering himself or his horses with gold, whilst there are any works of piety and charity to be done with it, or any ways of spending it well?
This is as strictly impossible as for a man that intends to please God in his words, to go into company on purpose to swear and lie. For as all waste and unreasonable expense is done designedly and with deliberation, so no one can be guilty of it, whose constant intention is to please God in the use of his money.
I have chosen to explain this matter by appealing to this intention, because it makes the case so plain, and because every one that has a mind, may see it in the clearest light and feel it in the strongest manner, only by looking into his own heart. For it is as easy for every person to know, whether he intends to please God in all his actions; as for any servant to know whether this be his intention towards his master. Every one also can as easily tell how he lays out his money, and whether he considers how to please God in it, as he can tell where his estate is, and whether it be in money or land. So that here is no plea left for ignorance or frailty, as to this matter, everybody is in the light, and everybody has power. And no one can fall, but he that is not so much a Christian as to intend to please God in the use of his estate.
You see two persons, one is regular in public and private prayer, the other is not. Now the reason of this difference is not this, that one has strength and power to observe prayer, and the other has not; but the reason is this, that one intends to please God in the duties of devotion, and the other has no intention about it. Now the case is the same in the right or wrong use of our time and money. You see one person throwing away his time in sleep and idleness, in visiting and diversions, and his money in the most vain and unreasonable expenses. You see another careful of every day, dividing his hours by rules of reason and religion, and spending all his money in works of charity; now the difference is not owing to this, that one has strength and power to do thus, and the other has not; but it is owing to this, that one intends to please God in the right use of all his time and all his money, and the other has no intention about it.
Here therefore let us judge ourselves sincerely, let us not vainly content ourselves with the common disorders of our lives, the vanity of our expenses, the folly of our diversions, the pride of our habits, the idleness of our lives, and the wasting of our time, fancying that these are such imperfections as we fall into through the unavoidable weakness and frailty of our natures; but let us be assured, that these disorders of our common life are owing to this, that we have not so much Christianity as to intend to please God in all the actions of our life, as the best and happiest thing in the world. So that we must not look upon ourselves in a state of common and pardonable imperfection, but in such a state as lacks the first and most fundamental principle of Christianity, that is, an intention to please God in all our actions.
And if anyone was to ask himself, how it comes to pass that there are any degrees of sobriety which he neglects, any practice of humility which he lacks, any methods of charity which he does not follow, any rules of redeeming time which he does not observe, his own heart will tell him, that it is because he never intended to be so exact in those duties. For whenever we fully intend it, it is as possible to conform to all this regularity of life, as it is possible for a man to observe times of prayer.
So that the fault does not lie here, that we desire to be good and perfect, but through the weakness of our nature fall short of it; but it is because we have not piety enough to intend to be as good as we can, or to please God in all the actions of our life. This we see is plainly the case of him that spends his time in sports, when he should be at church; it is not his lack of power, but his lack of intention or desire to be there.
And the case is plainly the same in every other folly of human life. She that spends her time and money in the unreasonable ways and fashions of the world, does not do so, because she lacks power to be wise and religious in the management of her time and money; but because she has no intention or desire of being so. When she feels this intention, she will find it as possible to act up to it, as to be strictly sober and chaste, because it is her care and desire to be so.
This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace, or that it is within our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the lack of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid.
And that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it.
It only teaches us that the reason why you see no real mortification or self-denial, no eminent charity, no profound humility, no heavenly affection; no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues.
 “Attendance, retinue, as persons, horses, carriages” (Webster’s 1828).
 The confessors were those who suffered imprisonment and perhaps torture for their faith, but were not martyred.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
This statement is used by many to excuse their disobedience to the words of Jesus and the Apostles – what they would call the “letter.” Anyone who insists on literal obedience to the commandments of God Almighty is accused of making too much of the “letter” which “kills.” The accusers, in their disobedience, are supposedly enjoying “freedom” of the “Spirit” and think they have spiritual life which their “legalist” friend lacks.
What are we to make of such arguments? They may sound intimidating and credible when they are put forward. After all, why be concerned about actually obeying Christ if you do not have to – or if obedience can actually tend to spiritual death? We certainly do not want that! But are our “spiritual” friends using the Scriptures correctly?
There is only one Scripture which uses an expression similar to that at the head of this article. In II Corinthians 3:6, the Apostle Paul writes that God “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” A similar expression is found in Romans 7:6: “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (cf. Romans 2:27, 29).
What is “the Letter”?
The question should immediately rise in our minds, “what letter is Paul referring to?” An examination of the contexts of the above references will reveal the answer.
Notice what Paul is referring to in the first part of II Corinthians 3:6: He is pointing out that he and his coworkers had been made “able ministers of the new testament.” The context, then, is the distinction between the two covenants – the New Covenant of Christ and the Old Covenant under Moses. The “letter” being referred to, then, is the old letter of the Mosaic Covenant.
That this is so is confirmed by a look at the broader context.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious (II Corinthians 3:5-11).
Notice what is being contrasted throughout this passage – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (To emphasize this, I have bolded that which refers to the New Covenant and underlined what refers to the Old Covenant.) Notice the back and forth contrast between the two which Paul is making – it goes all throughout this passage. Notice also that he later uses the spirit to refer to the New Covenant – “shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?”
Thus we see that in II Corinthians 3, the “letter” does not refer to the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, but to the Old Testament commands of Moses. What about the other passages where “letter” is used?
Here is the context for the quotation from Romans 7:
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Romans 7:1-7).
Notice again that the context is “the law.” Paul points out that we have died to the Law so that we are no longer under its dominion; instead, we can be married to Christ and bring forth fruit unto God. In verse 6, he restates this principle, saying that we are delivered from the Law, so that we could serve in the “newness of spirit” and not in “the oldness of the letter.” How do we know the “law” in this passage is referring to Moses’ law? Throughout Romans, this has been the predominant usage of the term “law,” although there are exceptions – even later on in this very chapter. However, notice in verse 7 how Paul reveals how he is using the term “law.” It was “the law” which said, “Thou shalt not covet.” What law is this? The Law of Moses (Exodus 20:17).
There is one more passage of Scripture in which “letter” is used in this context, and that is in Romans 2.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law…For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:17-18, 25-29).
Notice again the context of the reference to the “letter.” The Law of Moses is that which instructs the Jews. Circumcision, an ordinance of the Law of Moses, is included in the context. The “letter,” then, appears to mean a literal fulfillment or obedience to the details of the Law of Moses. For instance, in verse 29, Paul points out that the true circumcision is that which is in heart and spirit – “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11b) – not the actual operation on the body, i.e., “not in the letter.”
What is the Death which the Letter Brings?
We have noticed from the context of Paul’s usages of the theological term “letter” that it refers to the Mosaic Law. In our search to understand Paul’s meaning, we must now investigate what the death is which this “letter” brings. The answer to this question is clearly given in Romans 7.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).
Romans 7 is a controversial chapter, but it appears that Paul is explaining the nature of the Law of Moses and its work in a man’s heart – that is, bringing the sinner to Christ – by his own experience before his conversion. This is particularly clear in this section of the chapter. Paul points out first that the Law is not sin; rather, it reveals sin, such as covetousness. Sin, however, takes the opportunity afforded by a commandment to take action in a man’s heart and life. It is human nature to want that which is forbidden. A preacher who is also a painter said that he used to put up “Wet Paint” signs when he would paint in restaurants. People who came through would inevitably touch the walls, just to see if it really was wet – and of course, would find that it was. When he stopped putting up “Wet Paint” signs, the wall-touching stopped. People want what is forbidden. The Law, rather than restraining sin, actually stirs it up and causes it to increase in strength.
Paul goes on to say that “without the law sin was dead.” Just like the people walking right past un-posted wet paint, evil did not have much appeal for Paul when he had not yet heard the law forbidding evil. He then says that he was alive without the law once. It seems that he is referring to his state as a young boy, before he learned the Law. Yes, Paul was probably a naughty boy at times, but having not yet learned God’s righteous standard nor having made a conscious, mature decision to accept or reject it, he was, in a sense, spiritually alive. However, the day came when Paul learned the Law of Moses. When “the commandment came,” that is, when he learned about it and became conscious of God’s standard for life, “sin revived.” The Law actually produced sin in his life! The result? “I died.” Paul’s entrance into the state of spiritual death occurred when he became a conscious sinner, knowing the Law of God and failing to live up to it. Paul points out that God ordained the Law to be “unto life.”
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Although God ordained the Law for life, Paul in his experience found it to lead to death. Why? Sin took the opportunity which the Law gave, and it was sin which deceived and spiritually killed young Paul. Paul goes on to vindicate the Law of being evil; on the other hand, it is “holy, and just, and good.” How could something good lead to death? Paul points out that sin, so that it could be revealed for what it was, took the Law in its hands like a sword and killed Paul. Sin took the Law and did with it what it had not been intended for. In this way, the Law revealed the true nature of sin – that it was “exceeding sinful,” in that it could take that which was good and use it to produce death.
So how does this relate to “the letter” mentioned by Paul? Remember that “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. This passage reveals what kind of death “the letter” works when it “killeth.” It gives an opportunity for sin to stir itself up and revive in a man’s heart, which then uses the Law to produce spiritual death. That this is a correct understanding of Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 is confirmed by verse 5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” The killing which the letter performs is done by producing sin in a man’s life; this sin works in our body to “bring forth fruit unto death.”
This is all directly contrary to our friends’ understanding, who insist that the “letter” is the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, and the “death” is brought about by the “legalism” of those who insist that Christians must obey God. The “letter” does not kill by driving to obedience, but by driving to sin!
What is the “Spirit”?
What is the “spirit” referred to in these passages? This is not made explicitly clear. One meaning which fits the contexts is that it is the spirit or intention behind the Law. Remember that God ordained the Law for life, but in practical experience, it leads to death. The spirit, then, could be God’s intention for man to have life – the heavenly life of God revealed in man’s everyday, practical experience. As Paul discovered, the carnal, unregenerated man cannot possibly keep God’s Law. A practical attainment (or surpassing) of the righteousness of the Law requires an indwelling of the Holy Spirit – God Himself. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9b). This Spirit is only given to those who obey God. “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).
Let us return again to our friends, who insist that insistence upon obedience is bondage to the “letter” which “killeth.” We have seen that the New Covenant commands of Jesus are not what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the “letter.” Such an interpretation would contradict Jesus’ own words: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Jesus’ words are spirit, and they are life! They are not the letter which kills.
Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.