The Mother-Heart of God
Jesus said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” — Luke 13:34 NRSV.
From the autobiography of Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911) — a 19th century Quaker-turned-Wesleyan-holiness-preacher:
“My children have been the joy of my life. I cannot imagine more exquisite bliss than comes to one sometimes in the possession and companionship of a child. To me there have been moments, when my arms have been around my children, that have seemed more like what the bliss of heaven must be than any other thing I can conceive of; and I think this feeling has taught me more of what are God’s feelings towards his children than anything else in the universe. If I, a human being with limited capacity, can find such joy in my children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards his; in fact, most of my ideas of the love and goodness of God have come from my own experience as a mother, because I could not conceive that God would create me with a greater capacity for unselfishness and self-sacrifice than he possessed himself; and since this discovery of the mother heart of God I have always been able to answer every doubt that may have arisen in my mind, as to the extent and quality of the love of God, by simply looking at my own feelings as a mother. I cannot understand the possibility of any selfishness on the mother’s part coming into her relation to her children. It seems to me a mother, who can be selfish and think of her own comfort and her own welfare before that of her children, is an abnormal mother, who fails in the very highest duty of motherhood . . . Since I had this insight of the mother-heart of God, I have never been able to feel the slightest anxiety for any of his children; and by his children I do not mean only the good ones, but I mean the bad ones just as much.”
[Only three of Hannah’s seven children lived to adulthood (one went on to marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell — from whom she was divorced after he had an affair.)]
N. T. Wright: Power to Become Children
From a sermon by N. T. Wright, preached at Cathedral Church of Durham on Christmas Morning 2007:
Because what we are promised, in that strange phrase at the heart of John’s prologue, is a new kind of power: to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. Power to become children! There’s a paradox for you: power to become powerless, authority to be under authority. Ah, people will say, but children of God; yes, but the meaning of the word ‘God’ is now being redefined, in this very paragraph, so that we only really discover who God is when we look at Jesus, Jesus the helpless baby, Jesus the one who reveals God’s glory when he dies on the cross, Jesus the only begotten Son who has revealed the invisible God. And when we hear that gospel word, and discover that something new is happening within us, something is stirring which feels very like faith, and hope, and love, we know that a new kind of life has taken hold on us, meaning that we have indeed been born again, whether a moment before or a lifetime before, have been made new with a life which death cannot touch, a life which will lighten our path through whatever darkness lies ahead, a life which doesn’t spring from mere human possibilities – born, says John, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Power to become children: that’s the promise of new birth, full of grace and truth.
“Part of the art of listening to scripture is learning to hear the multiple overtones in a single, simple phrase. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, says John: and we learn, and learn again, every Christmas, to hear in that great and simple statement all the glory of the new world, with its new possibilities: new life in Mary’s womb, new life within the increasingly dangerous public world which does its best to squash the rumour, and new life, please God, in our own hearts and lives and families and work. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. That is what we celebrate today: the new reality which leaves us no longer at ease in the old dispensation, but determined to live and rejoice and be part of his transforming work of new creation, so that though the world declares that it can’t see God and doesn’t know who he is we may declare, in what we are as well as what we say, that God the only Son, the Word made flesh, close to the Father’s heart, has made him known and will make him known. May that be true in us and through us this Christmas time and always.
The rest of the sermon can be found here: Power to Become Children.
Merton on Loving Created Things
A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoying the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual strait-jacket. They come from his direct docility to the light of truth and to the will of God. Hence a saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God than the observations of someone less holy, who has to strain himself to make an arbitrary connection between creatures and God through the medium of hackneyed analogies and metaphors that are so feeble that they make you think there is something the matter with religion.
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 24
It’s Good to Have Desires That Can’t Be Fulfilled
I can’t really comment on this passage extensively, because I’m not absolutely sure I fully understand it myself:
Lovers and friends have two desires. One is to love so much that one enters the other to make a single being. The other is to love so much that with half the earthly globe between them, their union would not suffer any diminishment. Everything that we desire vainly here below is perfect and real in God. Those impossible desires are within us as a mark of our destination, and it is good for us when we don’t hope to accomplish them.
Love between God and God, which is itself God, is the link of a double virtue; this link that unites two beings to the point where they are indistinguishable and really are one soul, the link that extends itself across the distance and triumphs over an infinite separation. The unity of God where all plurality disappears, and Christ’s abandonment of belief in being found, yet without ceasing to perfectly love his Father — these are forms of divine virtue of the same love, which is God Himself.
God is so essentially love that unity, which in a sense is its actual definition, is a simple effect of love. And corresponding to the infinite virtue of unification of this love is the infinite separation over which it triumphs, which is all of creation, spread through the totality of space and time, made of brutally mechanical matter, interposed between Christ and his Father.
— Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction” Awaiting God (pp. 37-38). Fresh Wind Press. Kindle Edition.
The oneness we desire in love is something we never fully experience in this life. But, it is a pointer. It points us to who we really are as beings created in the image of God. It points us to God — in whom alone are we will find the fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires. Thus, having unfulfilled desires is a good thing — and important aspect of being human.
Noble: How Christ Sanctified Our Humanity
From a book I’ve been reading:
Here surely is how Christ sanctified our humanity: by living a human life with all the practical choices and decisions of every day, and with all the outer demands and all the inner pressures and weakness of mortal humanity living in a fallen world in this present evil age. He took our sin, but in no way was he sinful. He entered into our slavery, but in no way was he enslaved. He entered into our pollution, but in no way was he defiled. Rather he sanctified not only our human nature in his nativity but also our human life by his consistent and continuously holy living. Having become one of us, a member of our sinful human race, “sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), he not only sanctified our human nature in his own Person, but so sanctified human personal life that it became possible for us too to live as he did as genuinely compassionate and holy persons. It was under these conditions, we must conceive, that he sanctified our human life by consistently selfless, God-centered choices, which ultimately were to lead him inevitably to the cross.
— Noble, T.A. (2013-02-19). Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Didsbury Lecture Series) (p. 176). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
From Around the Internet 3/27/15
Some random quotes from around the Internet:
An urban church rejects the idea of charity and finds renewal: ““If we believe that God’s spirit is flowing down on all people, old and young, women and men — and on the poor… why don’t we treat people like that’s true?”Here: Death and resurrection of an urban church.
Greg Boyd: “Some scholars today argue that the stories recorded in the Gospels are actually intentional fabrication. In essence, they argue that Mark took Paul’s theology and robed the story of Jesus in a fictitious historical narrative. The other Gospels followed suit. The argument is clever and removes the difficulty of explaining how a legend of a God-man could arise so quickly among first-century Jews. But there are 7 major problems with this contention….” Here: Are the Gospels Historical Fiction?
Kimberly Winston quotes Lawrence Wright, one of the producers of a new documentary on Scientology: “When people see for themselves the testimony of people who have been through the Scientology experience, they’ll have a better idea of what they might be in for if they decide to join the church….” Here: HBO’s ‘Going Clear’ Questions the Future of Scientology, (more…)
T. A Noble: The Trinity and the Gospel
A quote from one of the many books I’ve been reading lately:
The great revival of trinitarian theology in the late twentieth century helped us to understand that the doctrine of the Trinity is not just one Christian doctrine among others. It is the comprehensive doctrine that gives unity to the whole Christian faith. Without it, the gospel itself collapses into incoherence. Whereas it was pretty much a dead letter in the eighteenth century, rejected by rationalists and Deists as an illogical conundrum, and held by many Christians merely as a badge of orthodoxy, it has become increasingly clear in our day that every area of Christian doctrine is illuminated and held together in unity by our confession of the Triune God.
One reason why it was regarded as unintelligible by rationalists and Deists, and as mere “ivory tower” theory by many believers, was that it had become separated from the story of the gospel.
— Noble, T.A. (2013-02-19). Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Didsbury Lecture Series) (p. 128). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
John Wesley: Can Any Christian Revival Continue?
I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
John Wesley: The Whole of Christian Perfection
What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, ‘My son, give me thy heart.’ It is he ‘loving the Lord; his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.’ This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:’ Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets: These contain the whole of Christian perfection.
— John Wesley, Sermon # 76 “On Perfection.”
Many more John Wesley quotes on the topic of Christian Perfection can be found here: THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION. And here’s a link that will take you to the Table of Contents of John Wesley’s own compilation of his teachings on this topic: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
Two Wesley Quotes on Christian Perfection
Todd Stepp, who blogs at Wesleyan/Anglican posted these comments from John Wesley on the Facebook Confessing Movement page:
The first one relates to a theme I was trying to get at by speaking of Christian Perfection as an Ecumenical Doctrine:
The PERFECTION I hold is so far from being contrary to the doctrine of our Church that it is exactly the same which every clergyman prays for every Sunday: ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may PERFECTLY LOVE THEE, and WORTHILY MAGNIFY thy holy name.’
— John Wesley, “Answer to Rowland Hill’s Tract” in “The Works of John Wesley” vol. 9, p409.
Wesley refers here to the familiar Anglican Collect for Purity. This prayer was translated by Thomas Cramner from an 11th Century Latin prayer appearing in the Leofric missal.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The point being that the experience of faith that he taught is nothing more than the fulfillment of that prayer. And, if we are going to pray it — shouldn’t we expect it?
This second quote is crucial to Wesley’s claims about Christian Perfection:
Thursday 21st, inquiring how it was that in all these parts we had so few witnesses of full salvation [i.e., entire sanctification; Christian perfection], I constantly received one and the same answer: ‘We see now, we sought it by our WORKS. We thought it was to come GRADUALLY. We never expected it to come in a moment, by simple FAITH, in the very same manner as we received justification.’ What wonder is it then that you have been fighting all these years ‘as one that beateth the air’?
— John Wesley, “Short History of People Called Methodists” in “The Works of John Wesley” Vol. 9, p. 475.
It is by faith and not by works. Trying harder will not make us better — it is always a matter of trusting more deeply. We do not begin in the Spirit and then work out our salvation in our own energy — it is by grace through faith from beginning to end.
Heschel: Blame Religion for its Own Defeats
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
HT: Fr. Ted Bobosh.
William Law: The Best Prayer Book
“The way to be a man of prayer, and be governed by its spirit, is not to get a book full of prayers; but the best help you can have from a book, is to read one full of such truths, instructions, and awakening informations, as force you to see and know who, and what, and where, you are; that God is your all; and that all is misery, but a heart and life devoted to him. This is the best outward prayer book you can have, as it will turn you to an inward book, and spirit of prayer in your heart, which is a continual longing desire of the heart after God, his divine life, and Holy Spirit. When, for the sake of this inward prayer, you retire at any time of the day, never begin till you know and feel, why and wherefore you are going to pray; and let this why and wherefore, form and direct everything that comes from you, whether it be in thought or in word.”
— William Law, The Spirit of Prayer 
Expecting the Guidance of the Holy Spirit
I think that many times in the past I prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — but without a clear expectation in my mind that I would have it in the course of the day.
But, I have learned to expect the Spirit’s guidance — if, indeed, I have prayed for it.
The great preacher F. B. Meyer expresses it well:
Expect the Holy Ghost to work in, with and for you. When a man is right with God, God will freely use him. There will rise up within him impulses and inspirations, strong strivings, strange resolves. These must be tested by Scripture and prayer, and if evidently of God they must be obeyed. But there is this perennial source of comfort: God’s commands are enablings. He will never give us a work to do without showing exactly how and when to do it, and He will give the precise strength and wisdom we need. Do not dread to enter this life because you fear that God will ask you to do something you cannot do. He will never do that. If He lays aught on your heart, He will do so uninvited; as you pray about it the impression will continue to grow, so that presently, as you look up to know what He wills you to say or do, the way will suddenly open, and you will probably have said the word or done the deed almost unconsciously. Rely on the Holy Ghost to go before you to make the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth. Do not bring the legal spirit of ‘must’ into God’s free service. ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.’ Let your life be as effortless as theirs, because your faith shall constantly hand over all difficulties and responsibilities to your ever-present Lord. There is no effort to the branch in putting forth the swelling clusters of grapes — the effort would be to keep them back.
— F. B. Meyer, quoted by Daniel Steele here: TESTINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. (more…)
Wesley: Two Paths
From long experience and observation I am inclined to think, that whoever finds redemption in the blood of Jesus, whoever is justified, has then the choice of walking in the higher or the lower path. I believe the Holy Spirit at that time sets before him the ‘more excellent way,’ and incites him to walk therein; to choose the narrowest path in the narrow way; to aspire after the heights and depths of holiness, — after the entire image of God. But if he does not accept this offer, he insensibly declines into the lower order of Christians. He still goes on in what may be called a good way, serving God in his degree, and finds mercy in the close of life, through the blood of the covenant.
I would be far from quenching the smoking, flax, — from discouraging, those that serve God in a low degree. But I could not wish them to stop here: I would encourage them to come up higher. Without thundering hell and damnation in their ears, without condemning the way wherein they were, telling them it is the way that leads to destruction, I will endeavor to point out to them what is, in every respect, ‘a more excellent way.’
— John Wesley, Sermon 89 “The More Excellent Way.”
John Wesley: Offering Salvation to Every Creature
I appeal to every impartial mind…whether the mercy of God would not be far less gloriously displayed, in saving a few by his irresistible power, and leaving all the rest without help, without hope, to perish everlastingly, than in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that consent thereto, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power, and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved.
— John Wesley, “Predestination Calmly Considered.”