This is my first blog post in a while, and a lot has happened to me for the past few months. I’ve been to the hospital and I’ve been dealing with sleep apnea and have been recovering from it as well. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post on that, but today I wanted to write something else.
Be warned: This is a difficult topic to read about, let alone write about. I won’t explain how I got this news for the sake of the people involved, but recently I had heard of the news that a person who was close to my friend had been arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a minor. This, frankly, shocked and scared me because this person had been close to my friend and his family, and I had met this person on more than one occasion. After the wave of sickness I felt, I began to feel anger, white hot anger. There are few things that disgust and anger me more than the violation of another human being’s dignity, especially when that person is a defenseless child.
It reminded me of a time where I had, in a journalism class, went to the sentencing of a man who had been arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a senior. I sat there and saw the man make his final comments before he received his sentence, which at the time (and I still now) felt like it was far too lenient on the man, whose actions had been so horrific. After the sentencing, I basically walked around downtown, feeling sick to my stomach and feeling this hatred. Pure hatred. This didn’t shake my belief in God, but it did confirm my belief in Hell. At the time I felt like this was why Hell existed, to finally avenge those who suffered at the hands of those who abused their abilities and their positions of authority and power at the expense of the innocent. If you asked me at the time, I would have been completely comfortable with bringing back the death penalty just for that crime, even though in my high school years I argued against it.
It also reminded me of a recent book I finished, the story of Michelle Knight, one of the three survivors of the Cleveland Kidnappings. The Cleveland Kidnappings were a series of kidnappings done by Ariel Castro, who kept these women imprisoned and under constant sexual and physical assault for over a decade. I finished the book within hours of purchase. I couldn’t stop reading it because as much as reading Michelle’s sufferings angered me, it was an account of her survival of this assault against her dignity by a person who lacked any respect for such. Even now, as inspired as I was by her strength, her book was easily one of the most difficult texts I’ve ever read.
Why do I tell you all of these things? How do all of these things connect? One of the common threads I realized was the pure anger I had towards all three of these men. Here were these three men, taking advantage of the innocent and those in need, abusing them at their core and attacking their very core. I was angry. I was mad. Many people I know have said and would argue that such acts are unforgivable, period. And for a long time, I felt the same. There was something about that assault that crosses a line that was never meant to be traversed.
I want to tell you one more story. There was a young 12 year old girl named Maria, who was continually harassed by a farmhand on her father’s farm. Desiring her, he eventually attacked her and stabbed her repeatedly, and within hours this child died. But on her lips wasn’t the anger that I had. It wasn’t this hatred and vitriol that I would have easily argued as justified. Instead, she spoke of the needs of her family, and of forgiveness of this man. On her deathbed, her concern wasn’t to see her attacker burn in Hell for eternity. It wasn’t even that he would get the chair. Rather, it was that she forgave him before she died. There is another person who did this same act while He was dying. While Jesus was suffocating in his own blood on the Cross, he forgave those who put him there. He forgave us, who put Him on the Cross.
Maria is now properly known as St. Maria Goretti, canonized by St. Pius XII. At her canonization ceremony was her family, and her attacker, Allessandro Serenelli, who repented of his sins at a vision of Maria, and received forgiveness from Maria’s mother, 27 years later. Michelle Knight, from the last time I checked, has been attending culinary school and has been rebuilding her life, having also forgiven Ariel Castro, who killed himself in prison. Why had these women, who suffered greatly, found the strength to forgive when I had only felt anger and hatred?
In Isaiah 55:8, the Lord says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD”. For the longest time, I had heard this verse quoted when people would discuss the problem of evil, or of Scriptural passages that were hard to understand. But people often miss the point of this verse, which is seen in the previous verses: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” For us, when we see violence or unrighteousness, we (righteously) are angered and demand justice for those who are wronged. And our view of justice is the equal (or greater) measure of suffering dealt out to the victimizers. But for God, it is His desire that the evil ones repent, that those who have done wrong return and forsake their sins. God looks upon Allessandro Serenelli, Ariel Castro, the man I saw at the sentencing and the man who knew my friend, and He desires not their suffering, but their salvation. He desires true justice, which is the repair of the lives of all those affected by sin, the ones who commit the sins as well as the ones who are hurt by those sins. God is unhesitatingly ready to pardon these men, and those who suffered at the hands of these men share this holy, powerful gift. These survivors reflect God at His core, they represent the God that I believe in, the God that I have sworn my heart to.
It is our way to demand reparation by violence, reparation by suffering. But God has made it clear that His way isn’t ours. And He made it clear when He sent Jesus for our sake, who forgave us when we had been righteously condemned for what we had done. These victims share in the Passion of Our Lord, and they share in His merciful love and saving work in their beautiful forgiveness, a forgiveness which ultimately blots out the evil actions committed against them. That forgiveness is God’s way because it is more powerful than anger, more pure than hatred, more just than anything we can truly do. And this is what I am called to, and what you are called to. Of course, we would all agree that this seems insane, this seems contradictory to what we believe about God. But our God is a paradoxical God: His greatest moment of victory is when He’s bleeding and suffocating to death on a Cross. His greatest power is not seen in the glory of battle, but in the glory of seeing the sinful and the weak and the suffering with love, a love that doesn’t wander or stumble or fade. And His greatest moment of justice is not the condemnation of all of humanity into Hell, but it is when He looks upon each and every single one of us. He doesn’t look away. He doesn’t give up. We are called to forgiveness in the Our Father, because to forgive is to share in that life of God. It’s to share in His very being.
We have all been the opportunity for forgiveness by a merciful and loving God. It’s easy (and to be honest, emotionally preferable) to demand the shedding of blood from those who have done such horrific acts. But we cannot limit our God. We cannot say “no, no, He cannot forgive this”. We often say this of ourselves, and of others. But if God is God, if He is who He says he is, then we MUST believe that He can forgive all sin, no matter how dark, no matter how vile. Because that’s the kind of God we have. That’s the kind of God that saved me, and who wants to save you. Please, pray for sinners, especially for the men mentioned above and for those like them, because we are called to love as Jesus loves. And that love doesn’t take a day off. It doesn’t get switched off. It perseveres.
This post is actually part of a previously written draft post I had saved a few months ago. I’m going to post what I wrote then, and have my updated part below that completes the post.
“To look upon a woman lustfully is to separate her body from her soul, and thus to bring about death. The death which is summoned is a spiritual one, but it comes to him who would attempt to bring about such a divorce of body and soul. What God has joined together, let no man rent asunder”
When I first read the above quote, it resonated with me on a very personal level, but not in the conventional way that you would think. Yesterday I was listening to a Catholic Answers podcast. Dr. Taylor Marshall was speaking in the podcast, and at one point he makes the observation that sin scatters, sin divides people and it breaks relationships, both spiritual and material, apart. It is this fact about sin that makes sense of the statement that sin is the source of death. What is death for the human person? It is the separation of their soul from their body.
Christians believe that God created us both with soul and with flesh; we are like the angels and like the animals in our respective states. It is wrong to say that we are spirits merely riding around in meatbags, and it is just as wrong to say that we are only a meatbag altogether. God specifically made us with a physical body and with a soul; the two were never meant to be separated. How the Incarnation solves our issue, that of death, is that Jesus Christ who is God has assumed our state; he has become human. And with His human body and human soul, and with His divine nature, He alone was able to enter into death and to return from it, defeating whatever hold death had on Him and on all those joined together with Him.
As sin scatters, death scatters the body from the soul. The Resurrection is the ‘No’ to death, it is God Himself participating in our reality, in our humanity and mending it, using Himself as the ‘thread’, if you will. It is also the ‘No’ to Gnosticism. Such groups as Scientology would argue that we are merely spirits and our bodies mean nothing, not realizing that the Paschal Mystery of Christ defeats Gnosticism and its descendants. As the Scripture says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, having been knitted in the wombs of our mothers by the hand of God.
Seven and a half months later…
It has been a while since I wrote the above, but the point I was trying to get to this article was that I had realized that Gnosticism and other similar and false viewpoints have much in common with pornography. I say that in light of the above quote, in that the man who watches porn is not watching it with the heart of the person in mind. No, we’re specifically separating the person we see on the screen from the soul that God has given to that person, a soul that we’re to care about and love.
Every porn addict has, no matter how many videos they’ve seen, a series of favourite “actresses” (I abhor using that word in this context, but I honestly can’t think of another word) that they continually go back to. I’ve been a porn addict for 9 years now, and my “favourite” was a young woman who I had seen a large amount of videos of. For years, my thoughts when I did have them of her were either thoughts of lust or of shame. No matter how I saw her, she was nothing more to me in my head than an instrument of either satisfaction or of guilt. I didn’t see her as a human being.
I read an article that discussed how a related cousin of the woman I had lusted after wrote a column about his discovery of her involvement in pornography. I saw pictures of her when she was a child, and I felt this shame about having used such a human being for my own ends. This woman is a human being who is loved and who was made to be loved, not abused. Yet in my head, all of the images I had of her were of her being dehumanized. And in my experience of seeing her in pornography, I realized that I had been guilty of bringing out a spiritual death, in that I reduced her to a non-spiritual entity in my eyes. Here is this person created by God with both a soul and a body, and in my perversion I attempted to rip apart the two to please my own stupid desires.
“What God has put together, let no man tear asunder”, says the Scripture and the quotation. I am sick and tired of participating in the dehumanization of men and women in an “industry” that consumes the soul and spits out the torn pieces of all of those involved. Pornography is stupid precisely because it hurts everyone involved, both the consumers and the producers of it. It consumed me, and it consumed this woman and hundreds of other souls, both men and women around the world. I’ve had enough of both participating and inflicting this spiritual death on myself and on those whom I see in pornography. That’s how the above quote affected me, because it was explaining exactly how I had been treating those involved in porn. Where Gnosticism separates the soul from the body in favour of the body, I had been separating the souls of those women in favour of their bodies.
The Incarnation is the answer to this, just as much as it is the answer to Gnosticism. Jesus heals the separation of the body and the soul by placing Himself as the seal over that wound. The God-Man Jesus is the one that heals our brokenness, our weakness, and our false views of ourselves and of those whom we harm, precisely because He suffered both in body and in soul, saving us in His death and Resurrection. The Incarnation is the cure to lust and to gnosticism, which tend to have the same goal in mind. St. Bernadette, please pray for all of us.
I think one of the central issues that I have been struggling with in my walk with Christ is my understanding of the mercy of God in light of my own perpetual tendency to fall into sin. I struggle with a lot of sins towards anger, selfishness, and frankly, lust. And I find that because I keep walking into these sins, I’m used to feeling the lack of grace that sin brings. It’s like a really, really dirty piece of clothing. It’s much harder to clean it or to even see it as capable of being cleaned in the first place.
Now, I don’t have any real reason to distrust the mercy of God; rather, I should distrust myself and my own powers. I should rather place trust in the mercy of God and run towards Him, even though there are times where I feel this anger and this selfishness that makes me just pull away for hours on end. Though in reality, I realize that it’s a lot more of my pride getting in the way than any real sense of distrust. I remember learning at a retreat the concept of hope as trust in God’s power, mercy and promise. Or as described, God CAN forgive sins (God’s power), God WANTS to forgive sins (God’s mercy), and God has SAID that He will forgive sinners who repent (God’s promise). God forgives the repentant.
But I’ve been proud; I’ve served Satan with my own two hands. I’ve hurt a lot of people, some of them purposefully. How can I be forgiven? This brings me to St. John Chrysostom. “Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave”, says St. John Chrysostom. St. John makes it extremely clear; at the core of every person doubting the power of God’s mercy is the fear that God has limited mercy. God can only forgive this many times; after I sin I have no hope left. Forgiveness is dead if I sin again.
Yet what does St. John say? Forgiveness itself has risen from the grave! The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the resurrection of the forgiveness of sins. For it proves that God is greater than death and sin; the Resurrection is the testament to God’s love for humanity. It is this ultimate statement: “I have let you crucify forgiveness. You have nailed it to this wooden cross. It is dead; the blood of forgiveness runs upon the ground, and it is on your hands and upon your heads. The blood of the God who forgives has pooled upon the ground; God, the only source of forgiveness for sins, the only one capable of rectifying the world and ourselves is dead, you have killed Him. Yet He has risen from the grave. Forgiveness died, and has defeated death. Therefore, sinners can’t be afraid to approach the Cross and ask for pardon; Forgiveness Himself, the Lord Jesus does not wait idly by to condemn, but has bled His love upon the ground for us. His glory now is shown. Death has been defeated once and for all, as has the fear of rejection of the repentant. God receives sinners, and eats with them.”
Therefore, those who are truly contrite cannot be afraid. And God does not ignore the ones who want contrition, but gives them this new heart so that they may come to Him and feel the love that He has been waiting for all of eternity to show them. The trick is true contrition; you have to really be sorry for what you’ve done. And if you don’t feel that way, ask God to give that gift to you. Because God is the loving Father; He knows how to give good gifts. He gave His greatest gift to us on a wooden cross out of love for us. Repent and believe in the Gospel! The Gospel is that Forgiveness has risen from the grave. Jesus has conquered.
This is a true statement, isn’t it? I mean, when you wake up in the morning, the fact that you can see that the sun has risen is not because you see the sun outside your window, but because you see everything in your room illuminated by the light from the sun. Or you see your neighbourhood in those early morning shades, icy blues and warm oranges cast against the houses and the street. You see your world not because you stare directly at the sun; you would miss everything that the sun illuminates (as well as damaging the eyes). As imperfect of an analogy this is, this does help capture the necessary element of what Christians define as faith. Faith allows a man to see everything that God illuminates, and thus leads the man to God.
Because Christians can, they are called to bring those shadows out into the open, one might say. This is why you see every great saint in history saying, first and foremost, “I am a sinner”. From St. Peter to Pope Francis, and every single holy soul in between, those words expose the very thing which is hidden from the people without faith. It exposes the shadows, makes them known. And in this way, Christ (who is the true sun that brings light to all things) casts His light upon the shadows and destroys them. He destroys the shadows. Those who have faith have the vision to see everything that is true and beautiful, and perhaps more importantly, everything that is vile and ugly. Perhaps this is another reason why Our Lord was crucified; to show ugliness as it really is. It isn’t the the poor man covered in sores, nor is it the woman missing her limbs, nor is it the man crucified on a wooden cross. It’s the evil within the hearts of men. It’s that evil, that sin, which causes men to revile one another. It’s that evil which causes men to speak and to commit violence on each other, and to abuse women and children and themselves while justifying it as their “own best interest”. What is truly ugly is that selfishness that paves the road of hell. Yet we can’t see this with our normal vision. Only through faith do we see it. Likewise, only through faith do we really see the beauty of the poor and of the needy, for they are God’s people, who are still neglected by many, including and especially by myself.
I apologize, I tend to ramble. The point that I’m trying to get at is that none of what I’ve said above is visible without faith. One must have faith in order to see what is beautiful, and what is ugly, and the truth in all of that. This is the nature of faith in God. It’s not mere optimism, nor is it wishful thinking. It’s recognizing the truth of our existence, in all of the beauty and ugliness that it contains, and how all of it points to Jesus, to God. Faith in God is the vision of what things are, and more importantly, what they are meant to be according to Him, not to us. To believe, to have faith in God, isn’t to see things in an extraordinary way, but to see things as they actually are. Please pray for me, that God increases my faith.
“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
From these verses in today’s Gospel reading, we see a major question answered. It’s often asked whether God needed to die on the Cross in order to redeem humanity. And the answer is yes. But not for the reason you’re thinking. God’s omnipotence and transcendence leave him with lacking nothing. God cannot physically lack anything. While He can be “deprived” of what He deserves, this doesn’t change what God *has*, which is everything.
Rather, God had to die on the cross, all those years ago, because He said He would. As I’ve said, God has certain qualities which are impossible to change. God is omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. God is also *true*. He can’t lie. If He says something, then it will happen. Therefore, when God saw us reject Him and lose everything that we ever needed and wanted, when God saw us suffer through every single cut, bruise, broken relationship, and descent into sadness, He said “I’m coming after you.”
The fact of the matter is that Jesus died on the cross not because He had to because He needed to suffer an infinite punishment for our redemption, but because He had made an eternal promise. God cannot lie; He cannot change His mind. His very being is that of Truth. You can’t interpret Him any other way. And as a result, He made the promise that He would not destroy, but that He would save. This is certainly not to say that we shall not destroy ourselves, leading ourselves to the fires of Hell. But it is to say that He has left His House open for those who wish to return. It is that the Cross, the frame of this Sacred Door, is the symbol of the value of God’s Word. He said that He would not forget us, nor that He would leave us in darkness. He has said that He would never stop until you are found. He wants you to come back home. to come back to where you were always meant to be; in His house.
When a man loves a woman, he will at some point do something to show the seriousness of his love for her. This ranges from memorizing the details of a first date, to buying an engagement ring. In any of these things, it is the man making a promise by way of a sacrifice to prove to the woman of His love. If I can be so bold, I would say that what we see in the quoted Scripture is an example of this. We see Moses raising up a staff with the bronze serpent, so that the people of Israel would be healed. Our Lord then says that as this occurred, so must He be raised up on his wooden throne. He is saying that what Moses did was an example of the promise which He has made to each and every single one of us. And His promise is that He will not forsake you. If you humble yourself, recognize your failures and recognize how much God loves you despite this, if you repent of those sins, then He will hear you and bring you back from the pit.
But this promise needed to be shown beyond mere symbol, but in action. Thus, the man may buy the engagement ring, but until He stands at the altar, waiting for his bride, his promise is null. Thus, we see that Christ has walked his way to this altar, this cross. And we see that He stands there on this cross waiting, as “…a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”, for you. Jesus needed to be crucified, to die on that cross, because He said that He would. He does not lie. He doesn’t change His mind. God loves you. This is not a mere platitude. This is the radical saying that the One who has everything, Is everything, and Will be everything for the rest of Eternity chose to suffer every single thing that you have ever felt, because He wants you to be with Him. He wants you.
Therefore, today we exalt the Holy Cross of our King, because we stand on top of the wall, that wall which can be climbed by way of that same cross, and we want all of you to climb inside from this desert, and to rest with us. God loves you; He will not leave you or forsake you. He said He wouldn’t.
“A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours.That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.”
The above quote is from Sinclair Ferguson’s article here. Ferguson in this article quotes St. Robert Bellarmine, one of the great Counter-Reformation saints and theologians who had stood against the Protestant revolt. Ferguson notes that St. Robert had said that the greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance. The above quote then highlights the Reformed theology that Ferguson draws on, as well as how Ferguson compares that theology to the theology of the Church. I shall start from the above quote and give my critique of Ferguson’s article from here.
Ferguson highlights three “ifs” that are supposed to be the counters the above ‘Solas’ of Protestantism, which provide this assurance to Protestants. To pair each up, faith alone is contrasted by Ferguson as “faith need[ing]to be completed by works”, Christ alone as “Christ’s work is somehow repeated”, and Grace alone as “grace not free and sovereign”. Now, as for the second and third statement, the Church agrees completely that it is Christ alone by grace alone that we are saved (CCC 1460, 2011). It is the first statement, “faith alone”, which is ultimately false. Ferguson has said that “if faith needs to be completed by works…then something always has to be done, to be ‘added’, for final justification to be hours”. While I object to the word “added” (for the works which we do are God’s works, Philippians 2:12-13), I will agree that the fact that faith alone cannot suffice is why the Protestant teaching of assurance cannot stand. While of course Ferguson will not agree with me that faith alone failing is not a fact, I would then reference St. James (no, not verses 2:24-26). St. James says this:
“Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:20-23).
The Scripture itself is quite plain; Abraham’s saving faith was completed by the works which he did in obeying God; these works due to the grace of God complete faith, and therefore the Scripture was fulfilled which says “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). This verse is used to describe justification in Romans (Romans 4:3), and it is likewise doing the same thing in James 2:22. Because of what the Scripture says, I would argue that a Protestant must realize that faith alone does not belong in the realm of biblical truth. And because of this, Ferguson is correct that one cannot have this assurance about salvation. We do have the hope of salvation, which is a far more biblical teaching.
No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!
This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).
Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!
This is where I must protest against Ferguson. St. Bellarmine did not reject “free, unfettered grace”, but had actually stood for it. What is dangerous is the man-made teaching of assurance; there are far more CDs, articles and podcasts which are dedicated to how converts to Catholicism had seen the “fruit” of assurance, leading people into apathy and sin. I agree with Ferguson that Christ is our High Priest. I will point out, however that Ferguson adds to the text quoted after, where Ferguson says “Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22). While these words seem small, the actual text says “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The difference between the two is that in Ferguson’s version, the heart is sprinkled clean just like (as in, analogous to) our bodies being washed with pure water. Whereas the biblical text is that both are actually occurring; the pure water is related to the washing of the heart, because it is baptism. Perhaps this is a tangent, but this is a point I wished to make.
I agree with all of what Ferguson says in the last paragraph above, except where Ferguson jumps from our faith making us righteous before God to this justification not being able to be lost and not needing to be completed. This is clearly false according to the Scripture. With justification not being able to be lost, this is proven false in the book of… Hebrews! Yes, the book which Ferguson loves is a Catholic book (as is the Scriptures). In Hebrews, we see in chapter 10, verses 26-31 this:
“For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
The above verses show clearly (and I note that these are the verses written just after what Ferguson quotes) that the author of Hebrews is warning those Hebrew Christians not to sin, because if they do they shall deserve a far worse punishment than the one earned by those who break the Mosaic Law. And these who do sin are not pagans or nonbelievers, but are thsoe who have “spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Ferguson quotes the previous verse in Hebrews which says that we have been saved by the blood of Jesus, and are therefore confident to enter into the sanctuary. As you can see, Ferguson does not show this verse because he fully knows that it destroys the false notion that there is an assurance that a Christian can have about his salvation that excludes any chance of apostasy or unrepented sin. Again, from the Bible (and from the same book Ferguson quotes from), we see that assurance is a false teaching.
As noted in the previous argument that I made with the first quotation, St. James makes it clear that our faith is completed by works. This is what we are judged on at the Second Coming (Matthew 25:31-46). Because this is essential, our final justification does not occur until either we are dead (or until the Second Coming occurs if we are still alive to see it), because our works must be judged. As a result, justification must be completed by works; to say otherwise is to reject biblical teaching.
“With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).”
Ferguson first does not realize that we do not stand before God with assurance, but with hope. This is shown in what Ferguson then quotes verses 23-25, which says this:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
As you can see, we can hold to the confession of our hope without wavering not because we have been cleansed entirely for sin and are unable to have sin attributed to us again, but because of who God is. God is the one who promises, and God is faithful. Therefore, we can trust in the power of God to save us from our sins, including the ones we commit here now. This is why we can hold to this confession of hope, not “assurance”. The above verses do not say that because we have this assurance, we will not waver in faithfulness, but that we should (“let us”) hold to the confession without wavering, because of who God is and because of his faithfulness.
We then are told to consider how to spur one another to good works, which Ferguson chalks up as being to assurance, though again, the phrasing is not “we can do this now because of this assurance”, but “let us do this because of our hope in God’s promise”. And then in verse 25 we see Ferguson trying to say that according to the verse, those who have assurance have an ongoing communion with Christians in worship and fellowship, even though the verse says that we are not to neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Here we see that the verse is not saying that “because you have assurance, you can meet together in worship and fellowship”, but it is saying that “you must not neglect meeting together, as some Christians have the habit of doing”. And again, the same is true about the last point that Ferguson makes; it is not a “we can do this because of assurance”, but “we must not neglect to meet together, and we must encourage one another as the Day (the Second Coming) occurs.
It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.
Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!
Again, I first agree with Ferguson that we are saved for works; works are our purpose as a Christian; and that we are God’s workmanship. However, note that the good fruit is what determines the good tree. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, as the Lord says. Therefore, the Lord will inspect our fruit. As He did with Israel, when he saw that the tree bore no fruit, He cursed it to never bear fruit again. And the Lord says that “every tree that does not bear good fruit shall be thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Unlike what Ferguson claims, the Bible actually says that the fruit is what makes the tree. If the tree does not bear good fruit, it is not a good tree and it is cut down. Again, while I am sure that there are many Protestants who do act as Ferguson says, doing good works and living with charity while accepting this teaching, at the same time there are those who do live a life of antinomianism because of this teaching.
Finally, I agree with Ferguson that God is not hiding behind Christ, waiting to strike at us with anger, but that the love of God compelled the Lord Jesus to give His life for our sake, so that we can be set free from our sins and rise to new life with Christ. However, (though this is a tangent and a discussion to be had later), the Protestant emphasis on Penal Substitution directly contradicts what Ferguson claims. How he fits his statement with Penal Substitution is lost on me. The jab at the Communion of Saints is ironic, as this is what Ferguson says “full assurance” is capable of producing. However, because it is not capable of doing anything, those who accept it do not choose to participate actively in the Communion of Saints (such as with the Blessed Virgin or with the other saints). Ultimately, what Ferguson claims is “God’s truth and grace” is a non-biblical heresy which does not belong with Christian doctrine. What is biblical and true is the hope of salvation,where we follow St. Paul who says this:
“Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Lest we become disqualified from the good fight of faith, from the race in which we run to win an imperishable wreath, we must not have this false assurance of salvation, but we must follow St. Paul, who had hope in the promise of the Risen God and subdued his body so that he would not lose his salvation.
In the Christian religion, we recognize what is known as the “old man” and the “new man”, described in the Scripture. The Old Man is our former self, unbaptized, the creature without the grace of God. This Old Man is constantly trying to survive, like a scorpion hiding from predators in the desert. However, the New Man is with grace, this is how God had planned for us to become; renewed by true love. The fact of the matter is that the Old Man is in love with sin; the New Man is in love with the source of Love; and therefore the two are diametrically opposed. The Old Man is always trying to kill the New Man; yet the New Man has defeated the Old Man and the Old Man is crucified; completely and utterly dead. Though the truth is that when we sin, we are performing CPR for the Old Man, who is struggling to consume us.
This is a letter which I’ve been meaning to write. I know you from the inside out. I know what you want, I know everything that you’ve wanted and said and have tried to do. You’re a black smear that I keep trying to wash off my skin. You desire nothing else but to use and abuse people who I care about, people who I respect, for your own self pleasure. You’re a selfish bastard. Where is your wealth? It is in whatever pleasure you get from hurting other people.
Why do you keep trying to stay alive? What is the point to all of this? All of your sins are my sins; I know what you’ve done. It drives me insane because I want nothing else than for you to die, because you’re everything I don’t want to be. You’re a reflection that I see every night, and the image is perfect even though the mirror is shattered. What you do I do; what you think I think. And every night I have to sit there, realizing that you’ve had your way. Whatever you do and whatever you feel, I can’t shake off. I can’t get away.
The God that I claim to worship deserves far better than the failure that you are, that I am. Not this sinful fool, not this stupid bastard that doesn’t even have the courage to stare that same God in the face after his sins. But I keep hearing your voice. In whispers and in short bursts, you sneak verbal poison into my head and you remind me that I can’t deny that your sins are mine. I can’t deny that I am the one responsible. My guilt is the propane you use to light me up and drag me down.
But this is where I’m going to stand my ground. No matter how far down you drag me, no matter how hard this is, you’re going to die. I know for a fact that I can’t kill you. I’m not strong enough. I’m too weak alone. But I believe with all of my heart that the God I worship has not left me alone. He has seen you and He has seen me. He has claimed me for His own! Therefore you’re going to die. I don’t care how much blood I have to bleed, I don’t care if I need to walk on broken glass. You’re not going to outlive me, because my God is a jealous God. He slays anything that stands in the way of His beloved. And you’re in my way.
My God can destroy an entire kingdom with a man and a stick. My God can collapse cities with the sound of a trumpet. My God can slay giants with a boy and a small stone. My God saves the poor, raises the lowly, and brings the dead back to life. My God chose to be tortured and nailed to a Cross just so He could show you the truth; that you have no chance. He conquers all. Jesus conquers everyone and everything with His love. This is why you’re going to die; because you don’t know love. You know lust; you know gluttony. You know greed and pride. You know how to hurt, how to abuse, how to confuse and how to make everyone feel so low. And that amounts to nothing. Nothing at all.
When Jesus was crucified, that was a warning call to you. Because He is going to crucify you. He is going to take the same nails which bound Him to His wooden throne and will smash them through you. And you’re not going to come back. You’re not going to be raised. He’s going to make you choke, and cry, and suffer, and He’s going to humiliate you with your powerlessness. This is because He was made to be tortured, to be abused, to suffer and be humiliated; and through His divine love, Jesus was raised. But your pride and your selfishness with be an anchor, and I will watch as you’re dragged down to where you belong. This is where it ends.
“Interfice errorem, diligere errantem” – “Kill the sin, love the sinner”
― St. Augustine
Recently there has been quite a stir over the recent actions of Edward Snowden who had released private information to the public by way of the press showing how major surveillance was being performed not only on foreign countries but on U.S. citizens and other citizens of allied nations of the U.S. People are quite upset to find out about this because they believe both that their privacy should have been respected, and that there should be a transparent relationship between the government and the public. People do not want to be kept in the dark.
Now, this is true on many levels. If I were on a cruise ship and I saw that there was some sort of major danger heading our way (*cough* *cough* Insert obvious and unoriginal Titanic joke here *cough*), would I not be both morally obligated and personally invested in trying to tell people this important message? Or if I was going to have a son, and I wanted people to know, would I not talk to people about something that important?
If we are so conscientious about our personal safety, about our desire for truth within our society and with the good things that have happened to us in our lives, why in the blue hell are we Christians so afraid of preaching the Gospel? I’m not at all ignoring those who have been focusing on doing this; I am speaking first and foremost to myself (yes, I talk to myself!), and then to those who are as equally convicted of this. Why are we so afraid?
My friends; Jesus is the God-Man who suffered the Passion, had died on a Cross, and then resurrected from the dead! Jesus has destroyed sin and death! We can find forgiveness for our sins, and most importantly we can enter into communion with the God who has been loving us before all of creation. Is this not worth spreading? Is this not worth telling people? We can’t live a life of censorship. We can’t claim the name of Christ and walk with a black bar over our mouths and over our hearts. Either we have been marked by the love of Jesus Christ Crucified, or we haven’t. We are either saints or not saints; we cannot be half-saints.
We need to follow Christ crucified. We need to look at Him, at his love for us that is shown so powerfully in His act of love to God and to us on that Cross. We need to have faith in Him. He is patient; but He also demands that we make a choice. Let’s talk to people, let’s show this suffering world the beauty of the Christ King who has suffered for it. Let us not leave the Gospel of Jesus Christ a few sheets of paper spotty with censors, but let us show the Gospel unadulterated.
I have a bad habit of catching onto things that my friends were interested in at least a year or more before I was. For example, I first started watching CSI by Grade 9, when most of my friends watched the show by Grade 6 or 7. I would end up playing Halo and the sequels at least a good six months after my friends had finished the game. Or more recently, I’ve just started listening to Limp Bizkit (yes, of all things, Limp Bizkit). As you can tell, I usually catch on well after everyone has already gotten the memo, after everyone has rode that particular train.
This also has been true in my spiritual life. By the time I realize “Oh, virtues and holiness are essential and intrinsically connected with love of God and neighbour, and I should actually start focusing on advancing towards that”, I look at people around me, both near and far, who are far more advanced than I am. They’re charitable. They genuinely love God, they want to follow Him and live that life of holiness that is fuelled and crowned by His love. I’m just figuring out that.
Now, I would agree with those who say that we shouldn’t compare spiritual advancement in a certain light. While it is good to recognize how far someone else has gone in holiness, we shouldn’t get scrupulous or envious of such advancement apart from the purpose of that life of holiness, which is a pure and sincere love of God and those whom He has loved. But as I have noted, it is good to recognize how far someone has advanced in the spiritual life and to desire to continue further ourselves. While this seems obvious, it has taken me time to realize this.
And an epiphany occurs! Those who are fighting in the spiritual life are always late to this party. We’re never going to be the first to realize any sort of spiritual truth because of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is this Truth, and was here first. And His life, ministry, and ultimately his Passion and Resurrection reveal the entirety of this truth, and therefore anyone who advances in this is simply in the footsteps of the One who has gone before us first. We’re supposed to be the ones just figuring this out; there will always be the Lord Jesus, as well as those Saints who have gone before us, who have imitated and exemplified the love of God and the holiness that comes from this love. As usual, when we compare the heavenly to the earthly, it is better to be standing on one’s own head in order to view the heavenly properly. While it may be a negative thing to be just catching onto what most people have already experienced or have enjoyed or have figured out when it involves earthly things, it is actually a positive thing to recognize that. It’s positive because it comes with the understanding that you’re actually on this path at all. Better is the man who is falling and stumbling on the path of righteousness, picking himself up after each time, than the man who isn’t on that path at all.
What I find interesting is that I’m thinking about what I’m writing, thinking “Oh, this is true, this is good to write!”, while forgetting that this has already been written somewhere else:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:28-30).
It is better to be the man who is on the way with Jesus, struggling and having come from a life of sin and evil, than to be a man who has lived a pious life but is not on the way with Jesus. It is better to be late to the party than to never go to the party at all.
I had spent the weekend doing three things. I had been working at my job, and I had been barely sleeping due to having went to a birthday party on Saturday night after work and an early Mass in the morning. Oh, I also had been spending some time in thought (which is quite shocking!). While I did have some interesting experiences at work (which I may write about later on), what I want to focus on is what happened between the end of my Saturday shift and the start of my Sunday shift. It’s a bit of a story, but I do have a point with it.
I finished work and went over to a restaurant where my friend and some others where waiting and pre-drinking for the birthday party. Now, I don’t use the term to differentiate between the two; drinking is drinking. But that is how I understood the whole point of being at the restaurant. At this point, my friend had been drinking quite a bit. The plan for the night was to go from the restaurant to a street where there were multiple bars to hop around. I’ll explain how this plan fell apart. First, there was the fact that we couldn’t get a taxi until 11 at night (to clarify, we had been waiting since 9:30). Then once we finally reached the street we were going to and got to one of the better bars, I had ordered my second beer while everyone ordered shots and a couple beers. Those who had beers were nursing them slowly, as expected. This didn’t include my friend, nor did it include the two girls that we had met that my friend was planning on meeting up with for his party, they ordered the shots. Having finished said shots, they had planned to leave the bar now and to hit another bar. Of course, this ran counter-intuitively to us consuming fine beer, but we acquiesced and continued forward to a club across the street. The same experienced occurred; the girls were dragging us around and my friend was honestly too drunk to really listen to any other opinions. This is where I had my first moment of realization. All I saw were a bunch of people near their drinks, huddled in circles. No one was dancing, there wasn’t any real party going on even though the music was loud and constant.
Then we walked to one of the more popular bars that I had used to frequent when I was a couple of years younger, and waited in line. The group (myself included) convinced my friend that it would take too long to actually get through the line to get into the place, so we had decided to walk towards another club. Of course, throughout this I barely drank (we couldn’t sit anywhere long enough, which I realize was a blessing in disguise), and I had realized that I had to stay behind and wait for my ride to pick me up. What struck me then was how my friend responded. He wasn’t upset, he wasn’t anything except completely smashed. So I left him and the party and headed back. After picking up a snack and a drink from the donair place next door, I leaned against the wall and stared around. I saw people doing the same thing that they did in the club I was just in. They were standing around, smoking cigarettes with solemn faces. Some people were laughing, having also gotten wasted, and then there was this couple.
The man was wearing a red shirt and jeans, the woman a white shirt and leggings. They were fighting; he kept screaming at her about his perception of her flirting with some guy, while she kept insulting him and even hit him at one point. I’ll be honest with you, my first thought was “please don’t hit her”. Perhaps I’m old fashioned or I’m a chauvinist or something, but I don’t like guys hitting girls. He continued to yell at her and kept telling her to hit him again. I talked to a bouncer about what I was seeing, but he didn’t get involved. Imagine this picture; everyone is either drunk, smoking and standing around awkwardly, or they’re fighting. And then you have this weird looking large guy, unshaven, with a black vest and a bottle of sparkling orange drink and a bag of fries in his hands. While you could perhaps think that some of these people were enjoying themselves, I looked around and realized that I wasn’t. I wasn’t enjoying watching what these people were chasing after.
They were chasing after pleasure, whether from liquor, smokes or from each other. People are dressing themselves up and walking to a place with the goal of forgetting; they aren’t there to think. They aren’t there to come to terms with whatever they have in their lives. They are there to ignore it, either through some form of illicit pleasure or from fighting with one another. I remember coming here before. I remember the beers and the shots I’d take, how I’d feel my mind losing grasp of motor control or reservation and how I preferred that over the stress and anger that I felt plaguing me. I knew how these people felt. I could see how these people stared at one another; if the eye is the lamp of the body, then the lamps I saw were dimmed, almost shut off entirely. I know for a fact that two years ago, I felt just like this. This is what I enjoyed; I enjoyed the mindlessness, the numbness that made me feel like responsibility just melted away. Now, I hated it. I wanted to scream at these people, because what I was seeing wasn’t people trying to party, trying to live a life. It was watching whatever darkness people were struggling with float up to the surface; it was watching that darkness possess people and cause them to resort to anything as a cure.
I didn’t want this. I didn’t want this guy to keep screaming at this girl. I didn’t want this girl to hit this guy. I didn’t want to look at these people and watch them try and drink or inhale or drop or scream the darkness that possessed them. And I didn’t want to do this myself either. I knew for a fact that I was going to this party thinking “I’m not going to get drunk”, and honestly believing that, while knowing for a fact that I wasn’t physically capable of self-control around liquor. If I had spent time in those bars, actually sitting down, I could have wound up in the crowd and been just another body in the mess that was the street. But I am convinced that the Lord used this time to show me with a sober mind the truth about where I was and what needed to change. While I am not encouraging people to end up at near occasions of sin, I am saying that God had spared me from what could have been another time of sin in my life.
The Church is called to preach the Gospel to all men, at all places and at all times. After seeing these people, I realize that the Gospel is needed to be preached more now than ever. We need to go out and we need to reach everyone; a part of this is advancing in our walk with God in holiness. If we are going to convert this world, we need to be converted ourselves. This leads me to the rest of what happened between these two work shifts.
I had woken up and headed to Holy Mass. The Scripture readings for that Mass were very applicable to what I had felt and thought and learned last night. The first reading was a few verses from the first and second chapter of Ecclesiastes. I’ll quote them here:
“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!…For here is a man who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and to another, who has not labored over it, he must leave his property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune. For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.”
If you look at the people that I had seen, what was their goals? Go to work, make money, perhaps buy some things, maybe even a home or some other expensive thing, go out on nights like this and numb themselves from their concerns. All that they work for, all that *we* work for, will one day pass into the hands of other people when we die. Furthermore, we are not given rest even when we aren’t working. We spend our lives in grief and spend our nights with our minds running from what we need to face, which is that darkness, that evil sin that follows us around. As you can expect from the title of my post, the Gospel reading for today is from the 12th chapter of Luke, where the Lord Jesus speaks of the parable of the man who had decided to tear down his barns due to his large harvest from his crops and to rebuild larger barns for his harvest. The point is that this man is very, very wealthy, and this man decides to rely on this wealth as his comfort for his life; he shall spend it enjoying life. Then we see that the Lord tells this man in the parable that “Tonight your soul is demanded of you!”, and then says that this parable is for those who are wealthy in material goods but not towards God by way of faith and love of Him and of our neighbors.
That night I had been outside, I had realized that all of these people are trying to chase away their mortality, as I had once been. They indulge in poisonous pleasures and behaviours as a form of defiance of what they know, which is that they are going to die. We are all going to die. I am going to die. Getting drunk won’t change that, nor will a one-night stand or a pack of smokes. We have to come to terms with our actions after we are dead. We can either chase these things away through work and through mere pleasure, as these people had chosen to do. Or we can be the only ones in the crowd making that choice to stay sober, to stay awake and to know that there will be a time where our lives will be demanded of us. We will have to face God at some point. And God is honestly loving and merciful, always giving us a chance to come to Him. If this were not so, then I would be long gone, I would not be writing this. But God is just, and we will have to face our actions. We will have to face that time when we yelled at that girl, when we yelled at our family, when we got so wasted that we couldn’t speak properly, when we chose to ignore the sacrifices that build the riches towards God, and when we chose to indulge in the soft pleasures that disappear like vapour. We need to think of this every single day. I am not saying we need to be depressed or nihilistic, but we need to be aware of what will happen and who we need to place our trust in.
This weekend, God showed me something important. I am going to face God, either at my death or at the Lord’s coming. This won’t change. What the question is is what am I going to say to Jesus. This is what we are all facing. And while the path is narrow, there is a path to tread to the right answer. This involves self-control over ourselves, for the sake of the broken-hearted, the prisoners, the poor. We must follow Christ and strive in virtue and self-control! Or else we remain wandering in the stupor of booze, fights, tears, and cigarette smoke, and we have no hope. All things are vanity, but God remains. I’ll end with the second reading of the Holy Mass, from Colossians:
- 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices 10 and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.