Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits: great sacrifices and great sufferings, part two


(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Application" portion of Lecture Three. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Four in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture III. Part Two - Application

The Greatest Performances or Sufferings in Vain Without Charity

According to Edwards, the doctrine of our previous week of study should be applied...

1.  In the way of self-examination.
"Doubtless, if we examine ourselves, we may see much of hypocrisy.  But is there any sincerity?  God abominates the greatest things without sincerity, but he accepts of and delights in little things when they spring from sincere love to himself....And God accepts of even a little sincere love. Though there be a great deal of imperfection, yet, if there be any true sincerity in our love, that little shall not be rejected because there is some hypocrisy with it."

Thankfully, as we move on to self-examination, Edwards begins with encouraging words.  He would not have us focusing solely upon our hypocrisies, which are sometimes so glaring as to blind us to the seemingly small deeds and passions which evidence the true work of God's saving grace in our lives, lest we lose hope.  For all of us who have been born again into the family of God, there will be an underlying passion for God and appreciation for His beauty which will incline us to want to know the joy of His smile upon us. Though lesser motives will compete for predominance, and occasionally gain a foothold, they will never successfully extinguish this spark of God's grace in our hearts. His Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption and never fails to leave the imprint, faint as it sometimes seems, of His holy character on our lives. So, as we examine ourselves let us take comfort that God does see what is sincere in our faith and love, even when we can't. And beyond that, God delights in what He sees.

Edwards goes on to unpack what he means by "sincerity", holding up for us four of its prominent qualities.

"Four things that belong to the nature of sincerity:"

First, Truth. - "That is, that there be that truly in the heart of which there is the appearance and show in the outward action."  In other words, when we are truthful, our words and deeds will be a clear and accurate reflection of what is really going on in our hearts. Truth is free from artfulness.  Truth does not behave in a way that seeks to put a gloss on what it really feels.

This is not to say, however, that it is better to behave badly toward someone when you feel badly toward them - for the sake of honesty.  We have the duty to treat others as we would wish to be treated, whether we feel like it or not, and we should carry out this duty, whether we feel like it or not.  However, let us not confuse this grudging obedience with love.  Let us not fool ourselves, or think we are fooling God.  Let us not think this is good enough, or worse, think it ranks higher in the eyes of God because we do it even though we don't feel like it - as though God should be grateful to us.  Try this attitude on your spouse sometime and see how loved they feel.

Second thing, in the nature of sincerity is Freedom.
"...it is an ingenuous, free obedience, and not legal, slavish, and forced, but that which is performed from love and with delight.  God is chosen for his own sake; and holiness for its sake, and for God's sake.  Christ is chosen and followed because he is loved, and religion [Christianity] because it is loved, and the soul rejoices in it, finding in its duties the highest happiness and delight."
Our behaviors are "free" when they are motivated by love for God and appreciation of the beauty of His holiness.  As children delight to emulate an adored parent, and lovers delight to bring a smile to the face of their beloved, so are we when we when our words and deeds our borne out of love to our God.

Third... is Integrity.

The word "integrity" has come to have some added connotations to us that may detract from the sense in which Edwards used the word, which means, "The condition of having no part or element wanting; unbroken state; material wholeness, completeness, entirety" (Oxford Universal Dictionary).  Or, to use Edwards' one word definition, it means "wholeness".  As Edwards puts it, "God is sought, and religion is chosen and embraced with the whole heart, and adhered to with the whole soul....There is a proportion and fullness in the character.  The whole man is renewed....The seeds of all holy dispositions are implanted in the soul, and they will more and more bear fruit in the performance of duty and for the glory of God."  This love for God will affect every part of us. It will touch upon all our attitudes and extend to all our relationships. Not only will our words and deeds be affected, but our hopes, desires and delights.

Fourth thing that belongs to the nature of sincerity is Purity.

Edwards here refers to the absence of "defilement, and impurity, and uncleanness".  Though his meaning is rather similar to that of integrity, it speaks less to extent, and more to depth, or quality.  As integrity is the reaching into every corner of the soul.  Purity is the clean-ness which must accompany it.  And so, while I can more easily recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of my life, which speaks to integrity - I find the aspect of purity even more challenging.  Every corner is touched, but, ever corner is not perfectly clean.  Do you long for this purity?

2.   ...to Convince those who are still in an unregenerate state, of their lost condition.


"Natural, unrenewed men would be glad to have something to make up for the want of sincere love and real grace in their hearts; and many do great things to make up for the want of it, while others are willing to suffer great things.  But, alas! how little does it all signify! No matter what they may do or suffer, it does not change their character; and if they build their hopes upon it, they do but delude themselves, and feed upon the east wind."

 When Christ returns in judgment "doings or sufferings will not avail.  They will not atone for your sins, or give you God's favor or save you from the overwhelming storms of his wrath.  Rest, then on nothing that you have done or suffered, or that you can do or suffer; but rest on Christ.  Let your heart be filled with sincere love to him; and then, at the last great day, he will own you as his follower and as his friend."

Do not reject God's plan and sacrifice for your soul.  Do not imply with your striving and earning that what Christ has done is insufficient, or reject His perfect offering in order to offer up to God your imperfect one in its stead. Trust in Christ, and Christ alone for your salvation!

3.  Exhorts all, earnestly to cherish sincere Christian love in their hearts.

"...let it be the one great thing that you seek.
Seek it with diligence and prayer;
and seek it of God, and not of yourself.
  He only can bestow it."

This is our goal, and why we've undertaken this study.  It is my hope and prayer that our time devoted to this subject will lead to this very thing.  Is it the one great thing you seek - to love God with sincerity?

2 comments:

Estelle said...

Of such great benefit do I find these teachings on love, that I cannot read them without making notes - thank you, Laurie!
David's Psalm 51 came to mind:
v6 "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being.."
v10 "Create in me a clean heart, O God..."
Yes, may our hearts be filled with genuine love for Christ!

Lisa notes... said...

I'm keeping up with the readings, but not my writings. Just getting around to posting this one:

http://lisanotes.blogspot.com/2010/02/oh-yeah-thats-nothing-lecture-iii.html