Let us fix our gaze on the Father and Creator of the whole world and cleave to his splendid and excellent gifts of peace, and to his good deeds to us. Let us contemplate him with our mind, let us gaze with the eyes of our soul on his long-suffering purpose, let us consider how free from wrath he is towards all his creatures.
The heavens moving at his appointment are subject to him in peace; day and night follow the course allotted by him without hindering each other. Sun and moon and the companies of the stars roll on, according to his direction, in harmony, in their appointed courses, and swerve not from them at all. The earth teems according to his will at its proper seasons, and puts forth food in full abundance for men and beasts and all the living things that are on it, with no dissension, and changing none of his decrees. The unsearchable places of the abysses and the unfathomable realms of the lower world are controlled by the same ordinances. The hollow of the boundless sea is gathered by his working into its allotted places, and does not pass the barriers placed around it, but does even as he enjoined on it; for he said “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” The ocean, which men cannot pass, and the worlds beyond it, are ruled by the same injunctions of the Master. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter give place to one another in peace. The stations of the winds fulfil their service without hindrance at the proper time. The everlasting springs, created for enjoyment and health, supply sustenance for the life of man without fail; and the smallest of animals meet together in concord and peace. All these things did the great Creator and Master of the universe ordain to be in peace and concord, and to all things does he do good, and more especially to us who have fled for refuge to his mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the majesty for ever and ever, Amen.
The utterly ineffable love of God—as I at any rate experience it—which can be more easily experienced than spoken of, is a certain inexplicable light. Even if speech should cite or compare a lightning flash or a dazzling brilliance, still, the hearing cannot take it in. Invoke if you will the rays of the morning star, the splendours of the moon, or the light of the sun itself—in comparison with that glory they are all more obscure and murkier by far than an ink-black night and the gloom of a dense fog compared with the flawlessly clear light of the noon-day sun.
Such loveliness is not seen by bodily eyes; it is perceived only by the soul and the mind. If perchance this loveliness has grazed the mind and heart of the saints, it left embedded in them a most fiery sting of yearning for it, till at length, as if languishing in the fires of such love and shuddering at this present life, such as these would say: When shall I come and appear before the face of God? (Ps 41:2), and again, one who is burning in the flames of this ardour would say: My soul has thirsted for the living God (Ps 41:1), and being insatiable in his desire, would pray that he might see the delight of the Lord and find shelter in his holy temple (Ps 26:4). So therefore we naturally long for and love the good…
How shall we ever be able to repay our gratitude for the gifts of God, which are so many as to surpass number, and so great and of such a kind that just one among them all obliges us to give thanks to our benefactor for our entire life? For I leave aside all other benefits—which are themselves magnificent and splendid—yet are outshone by the greater and the better as are the stars by the more resplendent rays of the sun— since there is no leisure for us to enlarge on them more fully, even if we could enumerate the divine benefits to us in lesser things.
So then, let us pass over in silence the daily risings of the sun and the whole world illumined by the brilliance of a single torch. Let us pass over in silence the orbits of the moon, the changing patterns and vicissitudes of the atmosphere, showers from the clouds, streams and springs from the earth, the expanses and depths of the sea, the whole of the earth and the living beings that are born of it, those which teem in the sea and those which are established and flourish on the land, all that is assigned to the service and use of our life.
These things therefore and countless others I leave aside. There is however one thing only, which even if someone could leave it aside who wanted to, we cannot pass over in silence, and though it is impossible to hold back, it is however much more impossible to utter anything worthy and befitting. This one thing so great of which I speak is that God gave to man knowledge of himself and made him a rational animal on the earth and provided for his enjoyment the delight and loveliness of ineffable paradise. And when he was deceived by the craft of the serpent and fell into sin and through sin fell headlong into death, he by no means despised him, but gave him the Law for a help, set angels over him, sent prophets, checked the impulses of vice by the severity of threats, stirred desires for the good by the most lavish promises, and declared beforehand the end of either course in many images.
Yet when after all these things were hardened in our vices and our disbelief, even then the generosity of a faithful Lord did not turn away from us or forsake us, and we, notwithstanding our ingratitude for all his benefits, were unable to deflect or shut out his mercy towards us, but were recalled from death and restored to life again through our Lord Jesus Christ who, though he was in the form of God, he did not deem that he was equal to God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7). And he took on our infirmities and bore our sicknesses and was wounded for us, that by his bruises we might be made whole (Isa 53:4-5, 11), and he redeemed us from the curse, having become a curse for us (Gal 3:13) and was condemned to a most shameful death (Wis 2:2) that he might recall us to life. And it was not enough to give life to us who were dead, he even bestowed a participation in his divinity (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) and lavished on us the gift of eternity, and he prepared for those who believe and love, beyond all that we could seek or understand what eye has not seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man (1 Cor 2:9).
What return, therefore, shall we make to the Lord for all that he has given to us (Ps 115:12)? Yet he is so generous and tender that he seeks no recompense, but is enough for him, that for all that he has bestowed he should be loved. Who then is so incurably ungrateful as not to love his benefactor for benefits so great and of such a kind?
Basil of Caesarea – The Rule of St Basil
What if Eden was a place not of perfection per se, but of perfect grace?
What if Adam enjoyed bliss, not because of absolute spiritual and physical wholeness, but by virtue of God’s graceful declaration that humanity was “very good”? We are so used to thinking of sinlessness, righteousness and perfection as static states, but what if they are defined not existentially, but relationally? What if the one thing that matters above all else is not some externally visible sign of perfection, but the heart of humankind in relation to its creator?
So, let us suppose that to an outside human observer Adam and Eve were not perfect. For example, they were naked, and yet it is fair to imagine that God’s plan might have been that they would not remain naked. And yet they were ontologically righteous, by God’s grace, which they lived in by virtue of their submission to his Lordship. They were innocent of their nakedness, since they lived in perfect grace. Likewise, the creation was declared “very good”, and yet it still waited to be subdued and held under the dominion of Adam, Eve and their descendants. Creation too was good, because it was under God’s Lordship via his good vice-regents who were to steward it. It became less than good not by the loss of Adam’s extrinsic abilities, but by the loss of Adam’s potential under God’s lordship.
Some helpful threads might emerge. Firstly, the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, is not an arbitrary test with an arbitrary punishment, but a highly significant way of accepting God’s Lordship and therefore remaining in his grace, or rejecting it and implicitly stepping out of his grace. The curse becomes the inevitable result of stepping outside of God’s grace, it is the curse of self-determination, of knowing too much, too soon; knowledge without wisdom, strength without stature. God wanted a meek human race, but instead we embraced the will to power. The knowledge of good and evil is loss of spiritual sight, we can only see in terms of ultimate good and evil, not in terms of grace. We judge, envy, steal, kill, become idolaters and sin in every way because we cannot see ourselves, others, God, or his world with grace.
Secondly, God’s love is revealed as gracious from the very beginning, nurturing and blessing his inchoate image in the humanity he has formed. Like DNA, his image in man was perfect, but not yet perfectly expressed. That would take generations upon generations, a world full of grace and righteousness. He would have delighted to see his creation grow in wisdom and stature, worshipping and maturing in spirit and truth. Teleological imperfection is not sin.
Thirdly, justification could be seen as the declaration by God that we are righteous as we step back into his Lordship through faith in Christ, and therefore back into the grace that Adam received. It is declarative but inherently and inevitably transformative too.
Fourthly, it would affect our understanding of mission. The church is an edenic community, waiting for the fulfilment of his creation, both in our bodies and the world around. However, like a great palace that has been left to go to wrack and ruin, we can still see the creation’s original glory shining through, and in seeing we can recognise what can be redeemed and glorified through the gracious extension of the Kingdom of God, in our own lives, in culture and in the created order.
Fifthly, and this is probably the point of immediate importance, it would affect how we see the role of grace with the Church community. Under the Lordship of Christ, we must not seek first to be discipleship hothouses, nor theological fortresses, nor sanctified classrooms, but communities of love. And love’s first expression, whether in a fallen world or simply an incomplete one, is always grace.
With a tremor of its wafer wing,
They say, a butterfly in Beijing
Can, in time, spin a tornado
across the Kansas plain,
Or hurl a tidal wave booming
Into Carolina’s tranquil bays.
So, what then of a kiss for the dying,
An embrace for the untouched,
Or a tenderness to the crushed?
What of a whisper of grace,
A word of love unfurled,
Or a door to truth flung wide?
Will not these unwind the twisted heart
And still the waves of endless whys?
Is this not the fountain spray
That soars through time
And splashes eternity
In our eyes?
Whispers of Grace by Mark Greene
(With thanks to Ian Coffey’s Blog for the text of this poem, which I had been looking for since my time at LICC, but was unable to find, even on Google!)
“The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required. Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.”
The Incarnation of the Word of God by Athanasius
“a great reformation and revival . . . will happen the same way the early Christians conquered Rome. Their program of conquest consisted largely of two elements—gospel preaching and being eaten by lions—a strategy that has not yet captured the imagination of the contemporary church.”
Quote found here: http://theresurgence.com/2013/11/12/going-out-of-business-for-jesus
Another great work of the Holy Spirit, which is not accomplished, is the bringing on of the latter-day glory. In a few more years—I know not when, I know not how—the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a far different style from the present. There are diversities of operations; and during the last few years it has been the case that the diversified operations have consisted in very little pouring out of the Spirit. Ministers have gone on in dull routine, continually preaching—preaching—preaching, and little good has been done. I do hope that perhaps a fresh era has dawned upon us, and that there is a better pouring out of the Spirit even now. For the hour is coming, and it may be even now is, when the Holy Ghost shall be poured out again in such a wonderful manner, that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased—the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the surface of the great deep; when his kingdom shall come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven. We are not going to be dragging on forever like Pharaoh, with the wheels off his chariot. My heart exults, and my eyes flash with the thought that very likely I shall live to see the outpouring of the Spirit; when “the sons and the daughters of God again shall prophesy, and the young men shall see visions and the old men shall dream dreams.” Perhaps there shall be no miraculous gifts—for they will not be required; but yet there shall be such a miraculous amount of holiness, such an extraordinary fervour of prayer, such a real communion with God, and so much vital religion, and such a spread of the doctrines of the cross, that every one will see that verily the Spirit is poured out like water, and the rains are descending from above. For that let us pray; let us continually labour for it, and seek it of God.
Charles Spurgeon – The Power of The Holy Ghost (Sermon, 1855)
“It is a glorious divine manifestation of God unto the soul, shedding abroad God’s love in the heart; it is a thing better felt than spoken of: it is no audible voice, but it is a ray of glory filling the soul with God, as He is life, light, love, and liberty, corresponding to that audible voice, ‘O man, greatly beloved’ (Dan. 9: 23); putting a man in a transport with this on his heart, ‘It is good to be here.’ (Matt. 17: 4.) It is that which went out from Christ to Mary, when He but mentioned her name– ‘Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.’ (John 20: 16.) He had spoken some words to her before, and she understood not that it was He: but when He uttereth this one word “Mary”, there was some admirable divine conveyance and manifestation made out unto her heart, by which she was so satisfyingly filled, that there was no place for arguing and disputing whether or no that was Christ, and if she had any interest in Him. That manifestation wrought faith to itself, and did purchase credit and trust to itself, and was equivalent with, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ This is such a glance of glory, that it may in the highest sense be called ‘the earnest,’ or first-fruits ‘of the inheritance’ (Eph. 1: 14); for it is a present, and, as it were, sensible discovery of the holy God, almost wholly conforming the man unto His likeness; so swallowing him up, that he forgetteth all things except the present manifestation. O how glorious is this manifestation of the Spirit! Faith here riseth to so full an assurance, that it resolveth wholly into the sensible presence of God. This is the thing which does best deserve the title of sensible presence; and is not given unto all believers, some whereof ‘are all their days under bondage, and in fear’ (Heb. 2: 15); but here ‘love, almost perfect, casteth out fear.’ (1 John 4: 18.) This is so absolutely let out upon the Master’s pleasure, and so transient or passing, or quickly gone when it is, that no man may bring his gracious state into debate for want of it.”
William Guthrie, The Christians Great Interest, Chapter 6, (1668) - quoted by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones in his sermon: “Baptism in the Spirit (6)“
“Dec 26, 1689. After that I had long, seriously, and repeatedly thought with myself, that besides a full and undoubted assent to the objects of faith, a vivifying, savoury taste and relish of them was also necessary, that with stronger force and more powerful energy, they might penetrate into the most inward centre of my heart, and there being most deeply fixed and rooted, govern my life and that there could be no other sure ground whereon to conclude and pass as a sound judgement on my good estate God-ward; and after I had in my course of preaching been largely insisting on 2 Cor. 1:12. This is my rejoicing, the testimony of a good conscience, etc.
This very morning I awoke out of a most ravishing and delightful dream, that a wonderful and copious stream of celestial rays, from the lofty throne of Divine Majesty, did seem to dart into my open and expanded breast.
I have often since with great complacency reflected on that very signal pledge of special divine favour vouchsafed to me on that noted memorable day; and have with repeated fresh pleasure tasted the delights thereof. But what of the same kind I sensibly felt through the admirable bounty of my God and the most pleasant comforting influence of the Holy Spirit, on Oct. 22, 1704, far surpassed the most expressive words my thoughts can suggest. I then experienced an inexpressibly pleasant melting of heart, tears gushing out of mine eyes, for joy that God should shed abroad his love abundantly through the hearts of me, and that for this very purpose mine own should be so signally possesed of and by his blessed Spirit. Rom. 5:5.”
From “The Works of the Rev. John Howe”, and quoted by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones in his sermon: “Baptism in the Spirit (6)“