Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Beauty and Holiness

There is a triad of Christian ideals: the good, the true, and the beautiful. God is the fountainhead of these three, the source from which they flow, and the standard by which they are judged.

Like Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick, we all have a tendency toward monomania. Imprisoned by a fetish for reductionism, we tend to make the complex simplistic, and the multifaceted one-dimensional. It is a matter of emphasis, at times even preoccupation.

Church history bears witness to our monomial predilections. We have seen the impact of intellectualism, which so stresses the importance of doctrinal truth that it has little concern for ethics and aesthetics. We have seen moralism that reduces Christianity to right conduct without a view toward theological truth and often coupled with a contempt for art. We have seen aestheticism which has equated beauty with God and rested in liturgy at the expense of truth and conduct.

Indeed the true, the good, and the beautiful may be distinguished, but to separate them or isolate one from the others is to have a distortion of the character of God. Authentic beauty is wed to truth and goodness as authentic goodness is both true and beautiful.

In this issue we are concerned with one aspect of the triad, the beautiful; but not in isolation from or contradiction of the good and the true. We are also concerned with the relationship between the beautiful and the holy.

The Bible speaks of the “beauty of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29). We now ask if this phrase is in any way tautological; that is, we ask if it can be reversed and still hold true. We’ve seen what happens when we take the phrase “God is love” and make it a symmetrical equation, a copula that translates into “love is God.” Then romance becomes an idol worshiped in the place of the living God.

All that God is, is beautiful. But not all that is beautiful is God. It may come from God and bear witness to God, but it is not God. Nature is beautiful, but nature is not God.

The Enlightenment of the 18th century saw a rise in aestheticism, whereby the arts were assigned the function of shaping human thought and behavior. The chief epistemology of enlightenment thought was the analytical method, which involved a search for “the logic of facts”—it was an attempt to apply the scientific method that gave weight both to induction and deduction. Art was seen as a bridge between science and life. The chief span of the bridge was found in mathematics. Art involves a grasp of mathematical balance, proportion, harmony, and symmetry. As music was said to “charm the savage beast” (a la David’s music for Saul) the arts could be useful to instruct the human mind and shape the human spirit toward a good, proportional, balanced life.

The aestheticism of the Enlightenment, however, sought to find the relationship between the beautiful and the good without dependence upon biblical truth. It was a naturalistic form of aestheticism.

The chief opponent of Enlightenment thought in this area was Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s view of beauty was specifically Christian. For him, beauty was demonic if it was not subordinated to the Word of God.

Jaroslav Pelikan summarized the key points of Bach’s view in his book, Fools for Christ. The following propositions capture Bach’s Christian aesthetic:

Proposition #1. The highest activity of the human spirit is the praise of God. Such praise involves the total activity of the Spirit. Any object of the uplifted heart short of the Lord Himself is unworthy of human aspirations. Bach strove to honor the holiness of God even in his “secular” compositions.

Proposition #2. As the praise of the eternal God, Christian art is an expression of boundless freedom; but as the praise of God who became incarnate, it bends itself to form.

Proposition #3. As the medium of a historical faith. Christian art has to be cast in terms of historical tradition; yet as an expression of faith in the living God, it has to be relevant and contemporary. (Bach’s setting of the Nicene Creed in a contemporary style reflects this blend.) There is a marriage of the classic and the fresh; of the orthodox and the contemporary. Orthodox itself does not change, but its expression is contemporary.

Proposition #4. Christian art illumines or even transcends the content of the words with which it is joined. Art is never to be set in competition with the Word of God. Rather it is a response to the Word and reinforces the Word. Bach saw art as a kind of quasi-sacramental medium of communication. That is, it is dependent for its validation upon the Word yet aids in the communication of the Word.

Beauty then, for Bach, was a channel by which the holiness of God was communicated to the human spirit. Pelikan summarizes Bach’s view:
The Holy is not, first of all, a highest Good, a sublimely True, an ultimately Beautiful. Yet that Holy which men have vainly tried to grasp with their systems of thought, their categories of ethics, and their depictions of beauty; that Holy which has eluded every human attempt to take it captive and to tame it; that Holy has been made flesh and has dwelt among us in Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Superconquerors in Christ"

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us..." (Romans 8:37).

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German nihilist philosopher of the late 19th century, wrote that the true man is a conqueror. He despised the “meek and mild” ethics of Christianity and called on men to live as conquerors, even though life was meaningless (according to him) and being a conqueror was also meaningless.

Nietzsche should have paid more attention to Romans 8:37. Paul stated that Christians are “more than conquerors.” This phrase actually translates a single Greek term, the verb hupernikao. It comes from huper (superabundant) and nikao (conquer, be victorious). Paul is saying that Christians are “hyperconquerors.” The Latin for hyper is “super,” and so Paul is also saying that Christians are “superconquerors.” How are we superconquerors? It is in Christ that we have this ability. It is Christ who is the incarnation of the all-controlling sovereign God. It is Christ who raised Himself from the dead. We who are in Christ have access to this superconquering power.

Why do we need this power? Because of the “these things” Paul refers to in the beginning of the verse. Paul is referring back to the tribulation and distress of verse 35, the persecution that threatens to separate us from Christ. Paul is referring back to the entire theme of suffering in Romans 8. It is in the face of these things that we are superconquerors in Christ.

For this reason. Paul is convinced “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

Do you ever feel threatened by the world? Do you experience fear? Do you struggle with anxiety? Certainly such feelings are common to us all. While our faith doesn’t necessarily keep us from worldly harm, nothing can threaten our eternal security with Christ. Dwell on this thought today. Ask God to make you more conscious of your position and security in Him.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

6 Reasons to Delight in God

Mostly, we are well aware that we get our life in focus by concentrating on the most important things. But do we live our lives in such a way that the things most important to us are obvious to those who observe us? The most important thing is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We can only glorify Him by grace and we can only enjoy Him by glorifying Him. Delighting in God is what makes seeking to glorify Him a pleasure. When we have discovered this, we will know that there is no satisfaction to be found in seeking other things in place of God. True pleasure from created things comes through delighting in God. Even affliction and adversity are sweetened for the soul that seeks its delights in God. Since we are to glorify and enjoy God forever, delighting in God gets our life in eternal focus and prepares us for that unending activity. These are some reasons for delighting in God but there are many more. We also need to know what we mean by making God our delight.

Andrew Gray has a sermon on delighting in God that expounds Psalm 37:4.  It something enters into the deepest parts of the heart mastered by gospel grace. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

What is Delighting in God?

Delighting in God consists of the following things:

(a) Loving God

A soul should be much taken up in exercising the grace of love. To delight in God is to have love smoking in a Christian’s heart towards God. Love is only a bruised reed, but delight is love coming up to perfection.

(b) Esteeming Christ

A soul delighting in God has a high esteem and account of Christ. One whose delight is in God will have a matchless estimation and high considerations of Him.

(c) Thinking on God

The soul that delights in God has all its thoughts running towards God and exercised on Him. His thoughts are only terminated on Him; He is the object of them all. Now, Christians, on what are your thoughts fixed? Is it not certain that they are all confined within this rivulet and span-length of time? Does the world not have your first thoughts in the morning and your last thoughts at night? Then certainly, your delight is not in God.

(d) Desiring Fellowship

One who delights in God is consumed with desire for communion and fellowship with God. Then try yourselves by this test. If your main desire is not fellowship with God, your delight is not in Him. If God is the object of your delight you will strongly desire communion with Him and it will be refreshing to you.

(e) Mourning for the Absence of Christ

Such a soul will often lament and grieve the absence of Christ. Certainly, if your delight is in God, His absence will be your greatest affliction and His presence your main joy and pleasure.

(f) Striving to Please God

The person who delights in God will strive and endeavor in all things to please and give satisfaction to God. If we delight in any person, certainly we will attempt to please Him in all things. We can test whether we delight in God; our main design and endeavor will be to please Him in all things.

1. Delighting in God is a Foretaste of Heaven

Dear Christians, do you desire to have the noble activities of those that are above around the throne? Then delight yourselves in God. To delight in God is the only activity of the saints above. I will point out three differences between the saints in heaven and the saints that are below on earth.
(a) The saints above are in the higher room, and we are in the lower room.
(b) The souls of the saints above are in a higher degree of love than we are; their praise is higher than ours. They are delighting themselves in and praising Him through all eternity.

(c) Those above are enjoying Christ by sight and fruition, we on earth enjoy Him through the veil of faith. They have the immediate sight of God and behold Him face to face. But we behold Him through a glass darkly. Oh, Christians, if you desire to delight yourselves in God, you would bring down heaven upon earth. What is heaven, but a soul’s delighting itself in God, and God delighting Himself in the soul?

2. Delighting in God is Incomparable

Be persuaded to delight yourselves in God for it is an exceedingly commendable pursuit. I would commend delight in God in four ways.

(a) It unites us with Christ

What is it to delight in God? It is the soul of a Christian embracing the soul of Christ by the two arms of love and desire. Is not that an excellent thing which may commend it unto you?

(b) It lifts us above ourselves

The soul of a Christian that delights in God is more where it loves than where it lives. It is more where its object is than where its own abode is.

(c) It brings us to adore Christ

By delighting in God, a Christian achieves three acts of admiration.

First, Christian, you will say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the report that I have heard of Him!” You will be constrained to say, “The half was never heard of Him that now I see.”

Second, you will then experience and remark, “Oh, how far is Christ above the love that I have had to Him! He is far above it.”

Third, you will be forced to say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the admiration and amazement that I have had of Him!” Now, if your delight is in God, you will be compelled to such admiration and astonishment.

(d) It helps the soul towards a more spiritual and holy life.  

3. Delighting in God Makes Duty Pleasant

Delight in God makes all duties pleasant and heart-warming. Without delight in God, all the duties of religion will be most unpleasant and burdensome (Job 22:26-27). There are four advantages in the exercise of duty that waits on delighting in God. These four advantages are as follows:

(a) Increased Boldness in Prayer

He that has his delight fixed on God has boldness to speak to Him (Job 22:26).

(b) Increased Prayer

Delight in God will help a Christian to multiply his prayers (Job 22:27).

(c) Increased Fervency in Prayer

Delight in God will help with great fervency in prayer. The word rendered prayer may also be rendered as “many strong prayers.”

(d) Increased Freedom in Prayer

Delighting in God will help a Christian to tell all his mind to Him (Job 22:27).

4. Delighting in God Helps us Bear Affliction

Delighting in God will bring a Christian to bear patiently any cross or affliction that he encounters. This is clear from the scope of the text. It will be an excellent help and guard against fretting at the prosperity of ungodly men.

5. Delighting in God is the Most Excellent Delight

Consider the excellence of the object of the Christian’s delight – the Lord. He is the most excellent object of delight. He is the fountain from which all our streams come. Oh, then delight in Him who is excellent and majestic!

6. Delighting in God Gives us the Desires of our Hearts

If you delight yourself in God, surely He will give you the desires of your heart. I say, they will lack nothing that is for their own welfare and God’s glory. If you delight yourself in God, you will lack nothing that is fitting for you.

Oh then, be persuaded to give obedience to this most soul-concerning commandment of delighting in God. Christians, it is your everlasting concern. Oh, do it while it is still being offered. Do not neglect this excellent work any longer. Oh, do not delay any longer, for delays are dangerous, especially in the matter of our eternal salvation.